A New Historical-Political Debate: Greatness And Miseries Of The Spanish Empire

In recent years we have witnessed a very unusual publishing phenomenon. María Elvira Roca Barea, a high school teacher from Malaga, published in 2016 a historical essay, entitled, Imperiofobia y leyenda negra. Roma, Rusia, Estados Unidos y el Imperio español (Imperphobia and the Black Legend. Rome, Russia, the United States and the Spanish Empire). Despite its title, the book met with great success, ending up selling more than 100,000 copies.

The fact that a book whose subject matter revolves around the Black Legend reached such a number means that people without specific training in the field of history are interested in this topic, and that is precisely where the interest in imperiophobia (“the fear of empire”) lies, not only from a historiographical point of view, but also from a sociological, political or ideological point of view.

History is not a static science, but something that often acts as a pendulum swing that oscillates amidst the topics that generate interest and about which it is written. The fact that historiography does not cease to be a reflection of the concerns and interests of society is a recurring theme in historiographical treatises.

As Gonzalo Pasamar has pointed out as an example of the first steps of Contemporary History, these are inseparable from the political and social changes of the 19th century. In the same way, we see the death and birth of new historiographical trends, in step with the times, as when, from the second half of the 1960s, among the background factors that led to the decline of historicism we can cite the disappearance of the main historians of the generation that developed their careers during the Weimar Republic and Nazism, the student mobilization, or the end of the political hegemony of conservative governments.

In the same way, Charles-Olivier Carbonell surmised that in the 1930s an economic history, oriented more towards exchanges, prices or currency, and not towards the modes or processes of production, as well as a social history that was not limited exclusively to the question of classes, but to that of groups and their form of interaction, such as rural and urban communities, minorities or the marginalized, was constituted.

The Annales school itself is the child of a very specific political and historiographical conjuncture without which neither its genesis nor its consolidation can be understood. It was a period between two world wars, when the process of progressive decline and the end of the historiographical hegemony that had been typical of the Germanic world since about 1870, and which would enter into crisis with the First World War and then with the political rise of the Nazi party, took place.

It is pertinent to frame the publication of Roca Barea’s work within a very specific context, which is related to the image of Spain, both within Spain’s own borders, especially in Catalonia, and at the European level. It is a portrait that has become, if possible, less favorable since the massive Diada of September 11, 2012, the beginning, as Enric Ucelay-Da Cal has pointed out, of the so-called “pro-independence process” that became more radical as the “molt honorabilidad” [“great honor”] of former President Jordi Pujol was called into question, for his undeclared fortune abroad, in what can be understood as an attempt to distract attention, and which has ended with some Catalan politicians convicted by the Supreme Court for the crime of sedition.

In reality, the origin of this situation, at least in the Catalan context, should not be sought from the time Carles Puigdemont was elected president of the Generalitat, nor since the ruling of the Constitutional Court on the Statute of 2010, but from the time Jordi Pujol became president of the Generalitat in 1980, with a mandate that, as is well known, would last until 2003, when he was relieved by the socialist leader, Pasqual Maragall.

The feeling of belonging to a wider community, the Spanish one, seems to have been diluted in Catalonia, a society that shows a great polarization between a countryside with a pro-independence majority and a more cosmopolitan and integrated urban centers. At the same time, the decades-long indifference of the hegemonic Spanish parties, the PP and PSOE, captive to the need for votes that the party dominated by Pujol could provide them, led to a tacit agreement – that some would receive support in Madrid, in exchange for “Pujolism” being imposed in Catalonia without too many obstacles.

As a result, the concept of “Spain” was erased from politically correct language, as if it were a cursed word with Francoist reminiscences, and was replaced by the term the “Spanish State,” which seemed innocuous and neutral. All this was due, to a large extent, to the influence of the media as well as to essential elements in the process of building any nationalism, such as education, language or history, always manipulated from a prism aimed at satisfying nationalist anxieties. It is in these circumstances that Imperiofobia appeared as a kind of counterattack that seeks to vindicate the Spanish past, sometimes considered as a taboo, or perhaps as a counterweight that tries to balance the image of Spain.

Of course, the manipulation of history by nationalism is by no means a new element. J.T. Delos drew attention several decades ago to the national sentiment influenced by Germanic thought, whose peak was experienced in the 20th century and according to which, through the invocation of historical rights, blood and soil, there was belief in the “collective soul, in the dark and instinctive forces that prevail in the life of peoples and in the development of their institutions over the decisions of individual freedom,” thus being closer to nature and the physical conditions of life, and less to rationality, and ultimately oriented towards racism, since the principle of their unity was concentrated around race. Delos felt that, in Germany, the language community provided great arguments for national claims, and the poets seized on this argument from the beginning of the 19th century, while politics turned it into a weapon of war.

During the second half of the 20th century, interest in studying the concepts of nation and nationalism increased notably, which led to the publication of numerous works that made this subject one of the historiographical favorites and on which it is very difficult, given the abundant bibliography that continues to be published today, to undertake a detailed study. Ernest Renan, with his work entitled, What is A Nation? gave the initial indication signal for the defense of linguistic and consensualist theories about the nation.

Contrary to what was advocated by the essentialist theses, which served as theoretical support for the Galicia of Manuel Murguía, the Spain of Modesto Lafuente or the France of Jules Michelet, the nation is not in this case something immutable and eternal, but a reality dependent on external instruments, which make up the nation-state, and internal instruments, mainly language and national education, as analyzed by José Carlos Bermejo. This group of theorists also included Anthony Smith, Ernest Gellner, Eric Hobsbawm and Benedict Anderson, who in 1983 coined the famous term “imagined communities,” in one of his books which marked a turning point in the debate that had been taking place on nationalism in recent decades.

In Spanish history we find several examples that show the need for nations to connect themselves with prestigious ancestors. The authors of the great narrative constructions, Juan de Mariana at the end of the 16th century, or the aforementioned Lafuente in the mid-19th century, emphasized the need to remember, for example, the main heroic deeds of Antiquity, which although they did not end in victory, as in the case of the sieges of Saguntum and Numantia, or in the biographies of Viriatus and Sertorius, were nevertheless heroic episodes. Both their memory and the bravery and courage shown in those resistances against the invader were to be internalized by the students who filled the classrooms in order to create citizens committed to the nation and the patriotic values it defended.

This yearning led in most cases to elaborate racist doctrines whose objective was to define “us” very well, since “we” were pure and uncontaminated by the rest of the races, which in most occasions were considered inferior. The case of the Basque Country is very curious, because during the 16th and 17th centuries the Cantabrians stood out as the first representatives of the Basques, a situation that remained more or less stable until the first decades of the 19th century, when this reference was still hegemonic among its cultural and political elites, when referring to the most remote past of Biscay, Gipuzkoa and Álava.

However, from the 1870s, we witness the emergence of the Iberians as the ancestral referent of the Basques, and by the end of the century, Sabino Arana formulated the first Basque national identity, completely separate and exclusive of the Spanish identity, based, as is well known, on race as the nuclear principle of his doctrine. And all this, as is natural, with the aim that the nation would sink its roots in the oldest and most glorious soils possible; or, in Fernando Wulff‘s expression, would be the depository of the “patriotic essences.”

But, as J.T. Delos observed, the nation is a product of social life and nationalism, that complex mixture of doctrines, political claims and passions. This same author, as Anderson would later do in Imagined Communities, stressed that aspects such as national sentiment are nothing more than manifestations of a collective conscience linked to historical conditions and a given environment, in such a way that the community exists insofar as there is a common state of conscience; that is, the awareness of “us” is given by the belief of forming an original entity that is constituted by opposing third parties, who are usually the enemies that all nationalism needs; and, secondly, by the will to perpetuate common life.

On this path, of which all the elements that make up the nation are part, the nation tries to generate a series of differentiating features that make up the identity of that people, since, as David Lowenthal has pointed out in a classic book, the ability to evoke the past and identify with it, both collectively and personally, offers meaning, purpose and value to our existence.

The Imperiophobia-Imperiophilia Debate

The purpose of Roca Barea’s book is, as she states in the Introduction, “to understand why [black legends] arise, what clichés shape them and how they expand until they become public opinion and a substitute for history.” The book, whose subject matter is one of the most controversial in the history of Spain and on which there is an enormous amount of bibliography, is divided into three parts.

The first, entitled “Empires and Black Legends: The Inseparable Couple”, begins with a review of the origin and meaning of the expression, “black legend,” including authors, such as, Arthur Lévy, Cayetano Soler and Emilia Pardo Bazán, who, according to Roca Barea, was the first author to use the expression, in April 1899 in the Salle Charras, in Paris, to refer to anti-Spanish propaganda. The analysis continues with Julián Juderías, who used the expression “black legend” as a title to his well-known book, in 1914.

However, according to Roca Barea, in recent decades there has been a tendency to deny the existence of the Black Legend. To justify this, she mentions a travel documentary broadcast on Spanish Television eight years ago where, under the theme of the discoveries carried out by the Portuguese, English, Turks or Spaniards in the 15th and 16th centuries, only unedifying facts were mentioned in the case of the latter.

On the other hand, there were a number of authors concerned with concealing, if not denying, that the Black Legend had existed or, in the best of cases, that it disappeared a long time ago. Among them, Henry Kamen and his book, Empire, where the British author defends the idea of Spain as a poor country, stand out. Roca Barea, with a certain ironic tone that she does not abandon throughout her book, concludes that Spain only “became an empire by a stroke of a pen; or, in other words, Spain did not build an empire but, let us say, fell upon it by chance.”

Next, and still within this first part of the book, Roca Barea begins to analyze the respective black legends of Rome, Russia and the United States, leaving the Spanish Empire aside, for the moment, since being the most abused, it will need a much larger space than the rest. Roca Barea states that the racist prejudices that affected the United States and Russia were born in France. The first author responsible for this was Arthur de Gobineau, author of the well-known Essai sur l’inégalité des races humaines, when he stated that the mixture that was taking place in the United States would end up provoking “a race without beauty or intelligence,” which would result in “the end of the different races,” and would also put an end to “the clear supremacy of the white race.” Whereas, in the Russian case, the French Enlightenment would be directly responsible; Russia went from being an example worthy of imitation, before the Treaty of Paris, to becoming a historical reality doomed to failure after the signing of the same.

After reviewing the three cases cited, Roca Barea finds a common thread that binds these three examples, which consist of the “mixture of admiration and envy.” In this way, she establishes “a fairly solid model of what we have been calling imperiophobia”. Roca Barea goes on to say that this would be “a particular kind of prejudice of racist etiology that can be defined as the indiscriminate aversion towards the people who become the backbone of an empire.”

She concludes the first part of the book by completing this definition a little more, in order to maintain that imperiophobia is particularized by two basic features. Firstly, that it does not go from a more powerful people against a weaker one, but the other way around. Secondly, by its intellectual immunity, given that, in Roca Barea’s opinion, “it is a prejudice of good tone, that is, it is not considered a prejudice but a completely justified and reasonable opinion,” and even finds “its most perfect accommodation among the literate classes, “which is logical “since it owes to them if not its birth, then certainly its development and spread until it became public opinion.”

The second part of the book, dedicated to the study of imperiophobia against the Spanish Empire, which, in her words, would not differ in essence from the cases previously analyzed, doubles the length of the other chapters because it is the paradigmatic example. Some of the episodes, characters and institutions that have traditionally contributed to forge a certain negative image of Spain that is associated with the Black Legend are touched upon. Thus, she reviews the major highlights, starting with the imperial military expeditions carried out by Charles V in Italy, and continuing with the conflict in the Netherlands during the reign of Philip II; Germany and Protestantism; Great Britain; as well, decisive and controversial episodes such as the Inquisition or the conquest of America and the work of Fray Bartolomé Las Casas, to cite some of the most relevant examples.

The fact that Roca Barea begins the epigraph dedicated to the Netherlands with the anthem of the Netherlands is noteworthy, since it highlights some clichés that are recurrent in the image projected both of the Spanish and the Spanish, as we will see. the image projected both of the Spanish and of what is Spanish, as we will have occasion to see later on. The lyrics read:

O that the Spaniards rape thee,
My Netherlands so sweet,
The thought of that does grip me
Causing my heart to bleed.

This question is interesting because it puts us before the mirror of the foreign vision of Spain and the Spaniards. In this sense, José Varela Ortega has just published a fundamental book. It is about how Spaniards have defined themselves and how they have been seen from the outside in a pendular movement that has oscillated between contempt and exaltation, between misery and exaltation.

Stereotypes, as Varela Ortega points out, although imprecise and inaccurate, have the virtue of being very effective. Vague or unproven assertions are the ideal breeding ground for these types of ideas to be successful. It is not only the merit of those publicists who, from the end of the 15th century to the present day, the period analyzed in this book, have proposed a distorted vision of our history, but also of Spain itself because many Spaniards were incapable of articulating a discourse that would counteract these stereotypes, a discourse that could mix both self-criticism and self-esteem about the image that was being projected from the outside, along the lines that Roca Barea also defends in Imperiofobia.

In fact, Varela Ortega gives an example of the prejudices that would continue to plague Spain, not only from the historical point of view but also from the judicial one, and that would translate into a double yardstick, depending on whether the events took place in Spain or in another country.

According to Varela, it is curious “that the U.S. press pontificates about the little left hand of Spanish politicians,” in a country where not two years ago the Supreme Court “unanimously rejected as unconstitutional a petition for the right to secession, signed by a hundred thousand plus citizens of Texas, who harbored desires and pretensions very similar to those of the Catalan nationalists.” Not to mention the German Constitution, which would expressly prohibit the secession of a federated state, so that the territorial unity of the Republic might remain “inviolable;” or, in other words, a case similar “to the secessionist process [which] would force any government of the Federal Republic to intervene in any land”.

The persistence of certain clichés about the history of Spain is a fact that both Roca Barea and Varela Ortega analyze in their respective texts. If we focus on the profile of Philip II and the Duke of Alba, we will see that their reputation in Europe is far from positive, even today.

Roca Barea mentions that a professor at the University of Ghent, named Lieve Behiels, examined, in the 1980s, textbooks used in Belgian education from 1843 to 1986. Behiels concluded that the Duke of Alba was described in most of them “with negative or very negative adjectives:” nineteen times he was called “cruel” and only five times a positive appellative, “brave,” was applied to him.

In the same vein, José Varela warns that, today, in a recently published and infantile Histoire de la Belgique (History of Belgium), the image presented of Philip II and Alba is that they tried to introduce the Spanish Inquisition in Flanders, an extreme event that is uncertain; and about the duke it is stated that he was “little less than a psychopathic butcher even by [the assessment of] current professional historians, such as Robert Goodwin.” A little further on, Varela argues that the Duke of Alba “came to represent the image of violence and cruelty, associated, from then on, with Spaniards in general,” making the Duke the “bogeyman” of Dutch children to this day.

It is true that both Philip II and the Duke of Alba are true protagonists in the Black Legend. Not in vain, for it was William of Orange who wrote his Apologie in 1581 as a rebuttal to the Edict of Proscription, under Margaret of Parma, which had been made public in August of the previous year, where he was accused of treason, rebellion and disloyalty, with the aim of developing a story or an alibi to justify the crime of lèse majesté that he had carried out against his king, a crime we must not forget was one of the worst that could be committed.

Some of these characters who contributed to the origin and consolidation of the Black Legend have been marked by the taint of treason. Indeed, there were active traitors because they wrote slogans, pamphlets or texts denouncing the alleged abuses perpetrated by Philip II and his administration, such as, William of Orange himself or Antonio Perez and his Relaciones, who perhaps perfectly represents the prototype of the traitor in the history of Spain. However, we also find other traitors who are passive, such as Don Carlos, a young prince who left no testimonies to incriminate his father but was nevertheless used and exploited with the aim of showing the ruthless behavior of his father, the king, and who ended up being associated with the “Demon of the South.”

In the eyes of Spanish historiography, Don Carlos was understood as someone dominated by a lust for power, to the point of wanting to overthrow his father with the help of some Flemish subjects who were very unhappy with the treatment meted out by Philip II; he would end his days without his father’s pardon, in a prison cell at the age of barely twenty. Don Carlos went beyond the limits of history, literature and his time; and proof of this is that Friedrich Schiller was inspired by him to compose his drama, Dom Karlos, Infant von Spanien, and of course Giuseppe Verdi and his work, Don Carlo, which premiered in Paris in March 1867, and which definitively consecrated the image of a despotic and cruel Philip II, even to his own son.

Imperiofobia then turns to two fundamental elements of the Black Legend, the Inquisition and the conquest of America, which are the themes with which Roca Barea closes the second part of the book.

In regards to the Holy Office, Roca Barea devotes herself to demonstrating that from “Frenchified literature to the theater of Martínez de la Rosa,” there has been “what we could call a complete normalization of the myth of the Inquisition in Spain itself within the political-literary world of the 19th century.” Her aim is to demonstrate how that myth was created, and she begins by stating that the identification of the Holy Office “with the Antichrist is already found in some texts from the 1530s; that is, at a surprisingly early date, and not only in Germany.” The procedure, in the author’s opinion, was always the same: “a small part of truth served to raise up a big lie that justified a prejudice of racist etiology that so far refuses to recognize what it really is.”

She then cites some of the testimonies that came to justify this thesis of the myth of the Inquisition. Among the authors she mentions are Reginaldo González Montano, author of the Sanctae Inquisitionis Hispaniae Artes, whom she suspects was a Spanish apostate; Francisco de Enzinas, another apostate of Burgos origins, who wrote, with the help of his brothers Jaime and Juan, a Historia de Statu Belgico deque Religione Hispanica, under the name of Franciscus Dryander; or Matthias Flacius Illyricus, who wrote a complete history of the Protestant Church and its martyrs, Catalogus testium veritatis (Catalogue of Witnesses to the Truth), dated 1556.

Again, as had happened with the Black Legend, “the myth of the Inquisition passed unshaken to the Enlightenment, and then to Romanticism and liberalism, and from there to the present day.” And not only that, but, in Roca Barea’s opinion, the acceptance of this myth is also influenced by the laziness of Spanish society, incapable of counteracting centuries of insults against the Holy Office.

She cites a report broadcast by La 2 of Televisión Española, entitled “The Inquisition: A Spanish Tragedy,” which was aired on May 22, 2013; also the fact that by typing into Google, “tortures of the Inquisition,” “you will find 171,000 results; and these only in Spanish;” or that in a survey carried out by the Council of Europe in 2009 on the occasion of the fourth centenary of the telescope, among students of the European Union, “30 percent of students think that Galileo was burned at the stake by the Inquisition, 97 percent are convinced that before that, he was tortured” and that almost one hundred percent believe that the phrase, “Eppur si muove” (“and yet it moves”) was in reality said by Galileo.

Authors such as Varela Ortega have called attention to the fact that the Holy Office does not need a special appellation. Therefore, it is revealing that not even in English do they refer to the Inquisition as just the “Inquisition,” but rather the allusion is made through the formula “the Spanish Inquisition,” even though the Spanish Inquisition was by no means the pioneer, although it was the one that obtained the most fame or repercussions.

According to José Martínez Millán, the episcopal Inquisition, administered by local bishops, was born with Lucius III. From 1231, with the bull, Excommunicamus of Gregory IX, it became known as the Papal Inquisition, already subordinated to pontifical power. Even within the borders of the Iberian Peninsula, as García Cárcel wrote in a short article, the Castilian Inquisition had antecedents in Aragon. In the words of Varela Ortega, the polemic could be summarized, not without a certain irony, as follows: “It is already known that it [the Inquisition] is Spanish; that of other countries, does not count (the fact that it came from France and that it acted there until almost the French Revolution hardly anyone knows about or is interested in knowing, outside of the odd expert).”

Roca Barea’s next objective is to list data that demonstrate that the Inquisition was not as savage, bloodthirsty and arbitrary as it has been made out to be, adjectives that, incidentally, respond either to the difficulty that often exists with certain institutions, battles or characters when it comes to distinguishing between reality, myth and prejudice, or directly to ignorance. Perhaps, in the history of Spain, one of the best examples of this sense is offered, as we are seeing, by the Inquisition itself.

Furthermore, she establishes a comparison with the rest of the European countries to prove that their legal system was more severe than that of the Inquisition. As an example, she mentions that studies, such as those of Henningsen and Contreras, bring the number of people condemned to death by the Holy Office, between 1550 and 1700, to a total of 1346, while Henry Kamen‘s estimates amount to 3,000 victims. In contrast, Sir James Stephen calculated that “the number condemned to death in England in three centuries reached the chilling figure of 264,000 people,” adding that some convictions “were for crimes as serious as stealing a sheep.”

This series of clues leads Roca Barea to conclude that, in reality, the Inquisition “was never a shadow power, nor did it have the capacity to control society,” since the inquisitors, in general, “worked under difficult conditions and their work was quite routine and bureaucratic. ” Consequently, the Holy Office is for the author “an icon, and its mental representation belongs more to the world of symbolic realities than to that of historical truth.”

From 1480, the Catholic Monarchs, in possession of the functions they had acquired by virtue of a papal bull signed by Sixtus IV in 1478, appointed Juan de San Martín and Miguel de Morillo as inquisitors, and the first act of faith took place in February 1481, in which six people were killed. This is the beginning of a period that Joseph Pérez defines as one of “terror” and about which Modesto Lafuente declares in his Historia general de España: “It was the first step, product of an error of understanding of the enlightened and kind Isabel, whose consequences she did not foresee, and whose results were to be fatal for Spain.”

A chronicler of the time, Andrés Bernáldez, considered that between 1480 and 1488 “they burned more than seven hundred people, and reconciled more than five thousand and threw them into perpetual prisons, where there were such prisons, where they were kept for four or five years or more.” This is perhaps the harshest period of the Holy Office, although the one chosen by Roca Barea to establish her estimates, on the other hand, begins in 1550, some twenty or thirty years after this brutal stage of the Inquisition took place.

Equally problematic are the figures offered by Sir James Stephen, among other reasons because, first of all, Roca Barea does not indicate in which three centuries these hundreds of thousands of murders were committed. Sir James Stephen, who, let us remember, lived in the 19th century, states in his book, A History of the Criminal Law of England, originally published in 1883, that, if the average number of executions in each county was 20 per year, the total would be 800 per year in the 40 English counties, data that Julián Juderías also cites, following Stephen: “And following the same author with his calculations, he arrives at 264,000 executions in three hundred and thirty years.” Naturally these are unrealistic figures which, moreover, would have us to believe, without evidence, that the intensity was always uniform over more than three centuries. In any case, it is difficult to maintain, as Roca Barea does, that the Inquisition belonged more “to the world of symbolic realities than to that of historical truth,” or that it did not have “the capacity to control society.”

The other extreme that attracts Roca Barea’s attention in the construction and maintenance of the Black Legend is the conquest of America, to which she devotes the final pages of the second part of Imperiofobia. The hypotheses she maintains with respect to the Conquest are similar to those defended for the Holy Office: “In the case of America, the deformations reached such a point that it has been impossible to try to make history without adopting a belligerent defensive attitude.”

Under this premise, Roca Barea sets out to bring to light the efforts of the Spanish Empire to provide what was necessary to accommodate life in the Americas. She mentions that between 1500 and 1550 “some twenty-five large hospitals were built in the Indies, in the style of St. Nicholas of Bari, and a much larger number of small hospitals with fewer beds,” to the point that in Lima, she tells us, there was one bed for every 101 inhabitants, which we should not expect in each of the cities of the Americas, although she does think that “this pyramid has a broad base of support, as evidenced by the fact that few of these institutions failed.”

If in the field of health this is just some of the data she brings to bear, in the case of education she offers much more that ranges from the creation of higher education centers, which she estimates at more than twenty, and the number of graduates that came out of them, which she estimates, until independence, at “approximately 150,000… of all colors, castes and mixtures.” Likewise, she does not miss the opportunity to establish a favorable comparison, indicating that one must add “the totality of the universities created by Belgium, England, Germany, France and Italy in the colonial expansion of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to approach the number of Spanish-American universities during the imperial era.”

In relation to the conquest of Tenochtitlan-Tlatelolco, José Varela indicates that, as in all American conquests, it was indispensable to collaborate with other indigenous ethnic groups subjugated by the Aztecs “who forced them to a very demanding regime of tribute and decimated them, imposing on them macabre human sacrifices and systematic and very numerous ritual cannibalism.”

In this sense, Varela Ortega argues that it might even be legitimate to question the term conquest because “in most places there was no conquest at all,” to such an extent that the characteristic feature was “the scarcity of warlike acts and the abundance of negotiations.” In this respect, it cannot be denied that, in the conquest of America, which extended beyond the 16th century, there were new formulas for convivencia or coexistence. However, it is quite a different matter to suggest that the military conquest and political, economic or religious subjugation were not the basic pillars of the process, so it does not seem important to argue that these events did not respond, in effect, to a conquest.

However, the main protagonist in the entire chapter dedicated by Roca Barea to the conquest of America has a name of his own: Fray Bartolomé Las Casas and his Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias (A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indias). Roca Barea dismisses this work as an unreliable historical source; she discredits it because simply, “it produces astonishment and pity,” so no one “with a little intellectual serenity or common sense defends a cause, however noble it may be, as the Dominican did.”

To some extent the life of Las Casas, the Spanish religious, was overshadowed by this work, of which there were many negative comments by prominent authors. But what is certain is that Las Casas had a very broad and systematic bibliographical production, covering several volumes, ranging from the political to the religious, passing through the social and the legal.

In fact, the protective legislation passed in 1542 was inspired by the reflections of the friar. To understand the historical transcendence of Las Casas, it is necessary, on the one hand, to take into account all his work and not only the Brevísima, and, on the other hand, to draw attention to the context in which he lived and avoid the great myths that surrounded him and contributed to create a distorted profile of him. In this way, it is possible to reach a broader understanding of his real persona, a task to which Bernat Hernández devoted himself in his most recent biography.

One of the lasting consequences of Las Casas’ book was, in Roca Barea’s view, to have facilitated “the birth of the myth of the indigenous Eden crushed by the evil white man,” arguing that it did not matter “whether the native is anthropophagous or head-shrinking,” but that “his state of nature makes him intrinsically good.” Subsequent translations into English, French or German, along with the famous engravings of Théodor de Bry in which sadistic, bloodthirsty and brutal scenes, such as that of the natives being devoured by dogs, can be seen, helped to spread and sustain the Black Legend.

Throughout the third and last part that integrates Imperiofobia, Roca Barea links, as she did already in the first part, the French Enlightenment with the creation of Hispanophobic prejudices, to the point of affirming that “Hispanophobia in France does not occupy an eccentric and marginal place, but is part of the central body of ideas of the Enlightenment.” She cites in this sense those authors responsible, among whom she highlights, Pierre Bayle, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Guillaume-Thomas Raynal, the Encyclopédie or the articles published therein by Louis de Jaucourt.

The essential summary drawn from the French cultural environment about the Spanish is, as the author summarizes, the following: “Spain is a country of ignorant and uneducated people; Spain is backward; the Inquisition and, therefore, Catholicism are to blame for the backwardness and uneducatedness of Spain, and in general of any place in contact with it; Spain is not part of civilization.” And again, Roca Barea again draws the comparison with the political, economic and social situation of France at that time, marked by a deficit that it is unable to control, by successive cholera epidemics, by a backward banking system or by the fact that “there is no running water or sanitation in Paris, and it was the most malodorous capital in Europe.”

But the basic idea with which the book ends and which we have already stressed throughout this discussion is the assumption about the Black Legend by the Spaniards themselves, who are responsible, in the final analysis, for not creating a narrative to counteract the accusations and falsehoods heaped on the national past. In the first place, Roca Barea blames Spanish liberalism, saying that all the clichés of Hispanophobia “rejuvenated by the Enlightenment are already assumed with perfect naturalness, as an unappealable and self-evident truth, in El fanatismo” (Fanaticism by Meléndez Valdés).

Regarding Valdés’ book, an author who, according to her, naturally assumes the clichés of the Black Legend, she mentions that during the reigns of Charles III and Charles IV there were four death sentences handed down by the Inquisition, the last one in 1781. A year later, Anna Göldi became the last witch burned by Calvinism, which leads Roca Barea to argue that “the bonfires go out in Europe almost at the same time from coast to coast,” in an attempt to play down the importance of the Spanish case.

According to the scheme proposed by Roca Barea, the relationship of the Spaniards and their elites with the clichés of the Black Legend were structured as follows. During the “golden centuries,” the Spaniards, although aware of the Black Legend, did not take much interest in it, and when they did, it was in a tone of “cheerful contempt.” In the eighteenth century, part of the elites began to take on certain clichés of the Black Legend. And from the middle of the 19th century onwards it became a natural part of Spanish life because society needed these prejudices to explain its own situation and, at the same time, with reasons admitted by all, to evade its responsibility.

In conclusion, Roca Barea suggests the need, on the one hand, to admit that the Black Legend and its consequences are still alive, and, on the other, to create an alternative discourse that combats the inaccuracies and insults perniciously maintained about the history of Spain. As an example of the former, the author delves in the last pages into the cinematographic sphere to note that, in most of the films analyzed, especially those that deal with the prevailing historical themes, the image of a Spain dominated by fanaticism, backwardness, tyranny and cruelty prevails. With respect to the second point, and in the words of the author, the book was written “to help clarify not the past, but the future.”

It is pertinent to mention at this time that with Imperiofobia Roca Barea completes her views of the Black Legend, and which she leaves off in the Enlightenment. The basic thesis she defended in Fracasología. España y sus élites: de los afrancesados a nuestros días (Failurology. Spain and its Elites: From the Frenchification to the Present Day), is made clear in the Introduction when she says, “There is a moment from which a significant part of the Spanish elites assume the discourse of the Black Legend because it is the winning discourse of the eighteenth century.” Under this premise, Roca Barea sets out to follow the path that takes her from the time the Bourbons acceded to the throne down to the present, with the aim of demonstrating that the prejudices associated with the Black Legend still survive in Spanish society.

Continuing her account near the end of Imperiofobia, Roca Barea maintains that it was in the century of the Enlightenment when a series of problems were born that Spain still suffers from today, such as, the rejection and moral condemnation of the Habsburg period, for which the Spanish elites were responsible because of the influence of Frenchification. Of course, and in line with her previous book, the source of the necessary breeding ground for the clichés to survive was France, especially with regard to Spain’s responsibility for the Inquisition and the destruction of the Indies. The Spanish inferiority complex would explain not only why these prejudices were present in the 18th century, but also why, by the 19th century, the intellectual and political elites cared little about the dismemberment of the empire and its eventual decomposition.

The Black Legend is, in the end, and in Roca Barea’s opinion, “the hanger from which hangs northern supremacism,” made possible because “not only has the Roman Church been completely defeated, but also because the Spaniard, the last of the sons of Rome to rule in the West, has been defeated.” The essential conclusion that this whole series of arguments brings forward for Roca Barea, what she wishes to emphasize, is that “from the situation of cultural subordination there is no way out without the assistance of the elites.”

She concludes Fracasología by arguing that the weakening of Spain can be seen in how the Fifth Centenary of the Discovery of America was celebrated and how the Fifth Centenary of Elcano’s and Magellan’s Round the World Tour is being celebrated. If Portugal, “with eight million inhabitants, is in a position to impose its presence on an equal footing in the celebration of a historic event, a milestone in the history of mankind,” that means that “our country has reached a state of extreme weakness,” to the point that “Portugal is right now capable of imposing its will on Spain, which has five times its inhabitants.”

The truth is that the theses defended by Roca Barea have raised debates, if not very heated controversies, which have gone beyond, in something that is rarely seen, the scope of academic discussion. This can be seen very well when in the newspaper El Mundo, in its edition of December 26, 2019, a heterogeneous group formed by journalists, lawyers, writers, academics or university professors signed a manifesto “In defense of Elvira Roca,” whose purpose was to reject the information given by the newspaper El País on December 20, 2019, according to which Imperiofobia gave, in at least about thirty instances of incorrect or even non-existent references. Among the signatories in support of Roca Barea were personalities, such as, Carmen Iglesias, Director of the Royal Academy of History, the playwright Albert Boadella, and the philosopher Fernando Savater.

The response published by El Mundo revealed “an astonishing campaign of public vilification directed at the researcher Elvira Roca Barea,” a harassment that had its origin in the pages “of the newspaper El País, with no holds barred,” but which “was taken up by other media.”

The final paragraph of the manifesto closes by linking it with one of the clearest argumentative lines of Roca Barea’s book, that is, the assumption of the prejudices about the Legend believed by Spaniards themselves, who also do nothing to remedy it – an idea which yet persists, although this time in journalism, since as one reads, “the very article in El País, in its efforts to disavow the book, Imperiofobia, does nothing more than confirm one of the theses that its author defends;” and this is, as we have just pointed out, “the resistance of a part of present-day Spanish intelligentsia to admit the survival of the Black Legend among us.”

However, perhaps the most forceful response to Imperiofobia has been the book by José Luis Villacañas, professor of philosophy at the Complutense University, Imperiofilia y el populismo nacional-católico (Imperiophilia and National-Catholic Populism), which is another history of the Spanish Empire.

There were two motivations, according to Villacañas in the Prologue, which prompted him to write this book. In the first place, because he considers Imperiofobia a “harmful and dangerous” book; and in his opinion, it is “an ideological artifact that has initiated the offensive of a reactionary thinking whose effects we are now clearly observing.” And secondly, because Roca Barea’s book attacks “in an insidious and grotesque way” everything that this author defends in his work, to the point of qualifying what Roca Barea does in her book as “reactionary intellectual populism.”

Imperiofilia is an amendment to the entirety of Roca Barea’s book. For Villacañas, both Imperiofobia and the reception it has received are the reflection of something he defines as follows: “The success of the book reveals the limited cultural demands of certain elites of the country, who, faced with a world they no longer understand nor know how to lead, need a legitimacy that Imperiofobia offers them in a brutal way.”

Thus, in the first part of Imperiofilia, he sets out to dismantle the theoretical scheme on which the work he intends to refute is based, by questioning aspects, such as, the distinction he makes between the “superiors” and the “inferiors,” the relationship between intellectuals and the maintenance of imperiophobia or the use he makes of the term “empire.”

According to Villacañas, the essential point in Roca Barea’s book is when she suggests that in order to analyze such complex phenomena, “the variable is still the difference between Catholics and Protestants;” so that “if you go against a Lutheran empire, then you are neither anti-Semitic nor racist.” On the other hand, “if you go, for example, against the Spanish Empire, which expelled the Jews in tragic conditions and exterminated them as a very ancient peninsular people, then, by a strange rule of three, you are anti-Semitic.” In his opinion, this type of approach meets not only with the approval, but also with the complicity, of “famous film directors, influential journalists and far-sighted editors,” who applaud without hesitation Roca Barea’s hypotheses.

In the second part of Imperiofilia, Villacañas exposes what he considers to be the two fundamental categories that constitute Imperiofobia, following the case studies chosen by Roca Barea: Imperial victims and the victimizers. Within the first group we find Rome, Russia and the United States, while in the second group we find Italy, German Protestants, England and Holland.

Villacañas understands that, in the epigraph dedicated to the imperial victims, Roca Barea’s objective is none other than to defend the idea that the use of the power of empires does not produce a bad conscience, which is why she presents a precursor, Rome, in the process of forming Black Legends. From his point of view, she is only interested in proving Rome’s innocence: “At last the eternal city finds its advocate before history. Now its ghost can rise again and put on the white robe of the innocents of history.”

On the contrary, regarding the victimizers, Villacañas thinks that what Roca Barea wants to demonstrate above all is that Protestant Germany is the true enemy of Spain; or, in other words, the precursor and forger of the Black Legend, an opinion that he does not share, since he believes that the beginning should be placed in the wars of the Netherlands. Furthermore, he does not accept Roca Barea’s interpretation of Luther’s or Calvin’s behavior when he says that the latter, in a period of four years, had fifty-four people burned, alleging that Calvin “may be an unsympathetic character, but to turn him into a pathetic criminal is unfounded.”

Villacañas also says that, in general, Roca Barea’s description of Italy, Germany and England is “superficial and inconsistent,” and adds that in the case of Holland it borders on “delirium.” And, finally, he recalls that the entirety of Imperiofobia is riddled with messages that lead to Catalonia, which is why he wonders if, in reality, there is the possibility that Roca Barea “wants to send the tercios to Brussels, to extradite Puigdemont, or to continue celebrating autos de fe, and force the good people to roar after the inauguration of the inquisitor of the day.”

At the part dedicated to Spain, Villacañas simply dismisses Roca Barea’s argument regarding the Holy Office and the conquest of America. At the heart of the matter is his own deficient methodological apparatus. In relation to the Inquisition, he maintains that the sources most used by the author of Imperiofobia to document her assertions are “comics” or “television documentaries;” or what amounts to the same thing, “the sources of the new populist science.” Again, he insists that it is Roca Barea’s intention to compare the Inquisition with the way the French courts used torture, for example, in order to demonstrate in this way, in a view clearly favorable to the Spanish Inquisition, that it was more regimented.

Villacañas summarizes Roca Barea’s view of the American issue as an attempt to limit everything to a battle between the Catholic world and the Protestant world, which prevents the observation of reality with the necessary clarity to understand it. All of this is clothed by the tendency to use “populist anachronisms,” since anachronism is the method most loved by what he calls “intellectual populists.” From Roca Barea’s treatment of Las Casas, valuable because it can thus be demonstrated that a Spaniard initiated the Black Legend, perhaps making good the idea of that negative community which evolves directly towards a lack of community, and to other aspects, such as, the fact that in America, in the 18th century, “the most audacious theories of the Enlightenment were arriving and being studied,” which he regards simply as exaggerations.

Villacañas devotes the end of the book to two other topics to which Roca Barea does not pay as much attention as to the previous ones: the Enlightenment and liberalism. In both cases Villacañas’ opinion is similar. On the one hand, when analyzing the Enlightenment, he says that Roca Barea “is not interested in the movement of ideas nor in understanding them,” but only in “counting the Catholic embassies that were set on fire by the English and pursuing this cosmic battle of which she is the last champion, the last crusade, the Spanish Joan of Arc.” When time comes to say something about liberalism, she does it to point out that “what interests the author of liberalism itself is the will to put into circulation the concept of Latin America as opposed to that of Hispano-America, which affects the Spanish Empire and constitutes the last sign of imperiophobia.”

Imperiofilia closes by recalling that Roca Barea’s success is based on the need that, in the absence of a Spanish nationalist response to the excesses of Catalan nationalism, there is compensation “in a work that calms many insecurities, generates absolute loyalty and attends to the unhappy conscience of many of those who see themselves endangered as a people.” Imperiofobia, he concludes, is ultimately “a product of Steve Bannon’s factory, mixed with the castizo heart of Gustavo Bueno’s imperial melancholy, used by the founding fathers of the Association in Defense of the Spanish Nation in its inaugural proclamation, and current inspirers of the VOX political party.”

The historiographical debate between María Elvira Roca Barea and José Luis Villacañas is nothing more than a reflection of the polarization suffered by Spanish society at present, since it has also had its manifestation in the media. It is not a question of reiterating here the fundamental role that historical knowledge plays in any democratic society, but of vindicating the need not to trivialize it in order to obtain political, economic or ideological advantages.

This becomes even more pertinent in a society dominated by immediacy, where slow and original thinking seems to be disappearing and history tends to satisfy old longings for grandeur. Otherwise, we will continue to be prisoners of a historical narrative riddled with inaccuracies, which refuses to debate with researchers and specialists and which finds in anachronism its best ally; or perhaps this is just a symbol of our own curse, and therefore we are condemned to be haunted by it throughout our history.


Bruno Padín Portela is a historian, with a Masters in Archaeology and Ancient Sciences and a PhD in History from the University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain). He has published articles in Spanish and has written international reviews analyzing topics related to Spanish historiography, especially the role of traitors in the accounts of the histories of Spain. He is also the author of the book, La traición en la historia de España.


The featured image shows, “The Conquest of Tenochtitlán in 1521,” an anonymous work, painted ca. 17th century.

The Banality Of The Humanities In Spain

Lucian of Samosata says in his treatise, How to Write History, that one can only be a good historian if one can tell the truth; that is, if one wanted to tell it; and if one did not wish to flatter the powerful. That is why many times the great historians have swum against the current; and when the data are systematized and the usual interpretations are dismantled, a history book can seem impertinent. Such was the case of the book by Darío Fernández-Morera, The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews Under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain. It is a work based on overwhelming evidence, which puts facts before prejudice and goes against the political and academic clichés in force in Spain, which make the image of the past, which is often offered, an inversion of what the past actually was. An example of this is the book by Jorge Elices Ocón, Respeto o barbarie: el islam ante la Antigüedad. De al-Andalus a DAESH (Respect or barbarism: Islam in the face of Antiquity. From al-Andalus to DAESH), which is a faithful portrait, not of the past, but of the political and academic world of Spain today.

In present-day politics of Spain, ideas, controversies and political debate have almost disappeared. Ideas have been replaced by easy-to-use labels, which lack content and are nothing more than a series of words, which fabricate a world parallel to the real world; and the course of this fabricated world is then followed. This is the world of so-called political correctness. And the natural niche in which its slogans are generated in Spain is the academic world.

It is a world of armchair tolerant people, who pretend to redeem the world with their studies, almost always opportunistic and of low academic level, in which they make anachronistic arguments about tolerance in the past.

Such is the case of J. Elices Ocón, who is a perfect example of politically correct opportunism. His book is a doctoral thesis, which is not a guarantee of academic rigor, which was done under the auspices of a project financed with public money, and which shows that getting public money is not a guarantee of anything either. Elices Ocón establishes a continuity between al-Andalus, that is, the Muslim kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula (and his focus is solely on the 10th century), and Daesh, born in Syria ten centuries later, and not in Cordoba, where an important caliphate existed. If he wanted to talk about intolerance in Hispanic Islam, then he would have to examine how the Umayyads had already implanted religious rigorism and oppressed the Christians, and then deal with the Almoravid and Almohad invasions, which took religious rigorism to extreme limits at that time. But that is of no interest to him. In Islam, as in other religions, the demon of hatred, fanaticism and violence always nests in a corner of the soul, which the author seems to want to incarnate exclusively into Christianity.

To demonstrate respect for classical antiquity in Islam, the author limits himself to collecting scattered data on the reuse of capitals, ashlars, and even sarcophagi used as containers for liquids, without realizing that such reuse was common since antiquity, because it takes a lot of work to carve a pillar, let alone make a capital. To be surprised, as Elices Ocón is, that Muslims appreciated the value of the Hispanic Roman aqueducts and bridges, or that Ibn Khaldun, a Muslim historian who believed that history begins with Mohammed, said that the pyramids of Egypt were built by the men of the past and not by mythological beings, can only be explained by his intention to defend, in a wrong way, that there can also be tolerance in Islam, and to confuse tolerance with common sense. Curiously, he hides the fact that, as can be seen in the book by Darío Fernández-Morera, the Muslims destroyed buildings and churches in order to reuse their materials, for example, in the construction of the mosque of Córdoba.

To the quotations of isolated materials, he adds the knowledge of classical texts. The author hides the fact that in the Hispanic Muslim world no one knew Greek, and that Aristotle was translated from Greek into Syriac and from Syriac into Arabic – and by Christian scholars under Muslim rule.

Since Elices Ocón focuses only on the 10th century in Andalusia, he forgets that the Byzantine Empire ended in the 15th century and that it was there that monks preserved classical texts unknown in the West, such as Plato. To maintain that St. Isidore of Seville had less knowledge of the classical world than the supposed Hellenistic scholars of the Caliphate of Cordoba, because Isidore was a Christian, makes no sense. Dioscorides’ book De materia medica, which Elices Ocón cites as an example of interest in the past, was translated into Arabic by a monk sent to Abderraman III by the emperor of Byzantium in order to teach Greek to the slaves in charge of the translation. It was translated for use in medicine, just as Dr. Andrés Laguna would do in the 16th century, when he translated it into Spanish for use as a vademecum. If to this we add that Elices Ocón does not mention that in the Toledo School of translators, promoted by a Christian king, Alfonso X, the translators of Arabic were basically Jews, then we will see how political correctness censors the past and stifles everything.

It is because of political correctness, sold as history and financed by public funds, that it is said that the actions of Daesh can make sense in the context of the struggle against imperialism, citing the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamyan (Afghanistan). It is true that the remains of the past have been destroyed at all times, but it is also true that Islamic fundamentalism in Afghanistan punishes, for example, apostasy from Islam with 20 years in prison, the burning of the Koran with public execution, by stoning in the case of women, and any public criticism of the religion with 8 years in prison, if there is a trial, or with execution by the free will of whoever is considered the just executioner.

Spanish humanists today live in a glass bubble. They write their books to win merit, which has nothing to do with knowledge, but everything to do with the standards that their colleagues create to evaluate and finance themselves with public money. They ignore much of the established knowledge, such as that collected by Darío Fernández-Morera in his systematic study, because they only work to accumulate a capital of minor publications, often in journals that they control or create. That is why they believe that to quote an author is to do him a favor. That is why, as J. Elices Ocón does, when there is a Greek author, such as the geographer Strabo, who has been studied from different perspectives in Spain and in Europe by numerous authors in different books, instead of referring to this whole tradition of studies, he limits himself to citing a minor article in a medium level journal, authored by a researcher – probably a friend – who will thus increase his capital of citations, within the networks of reciprocity and distribution of quantifiable honors that the humanities have become in Spain.

Are these new humanities, which ignore the value of systematic work, of the study of texts in their original languages, and which ignore the moral responsibility of the historian, described by Lucian, of any use? Well, no. The humanities thus understood serve no purpose, and nothing would be lost if they were no longer financed with public funds, because they contribute practically no new knowledge, nor do they have any capacity to take root in the concerns of citizens.

So increasingly, what readers demand from the humanities is offered to them by novels and all sorts of works of fiction, not by humanists. The new purple-prose humanists know that they are incapable of arousing interest beyond their academic bubble. They ask to be financed by the state – but as they know that their works can only be accepted, not read, in the field of propaganda and political correctness, they proclaim themselves prophets of a new banal world, which they call the “digital humanities” and emphasize the value of history as a resource to promote tourism. But then Medina Azahara, on whose door, by the way, the severed heads of the enemies of the caliph were hung as a lesson and warning to one and all – was also destroyed by the Muslims themselves.


José Carlos Bermejo Barrera is Professor of Ancient History at the University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain). He has published numerous books in the fields of mythology and religions of classical antiquity and the philosophy of history. Among these are The Limits of Knowledge and the Limits of Science, Historia y Melancolía, El Gran Virus. Ensayo para una pandemia, and most recently, La política como impostura y las tinieblas de la información. He has published numerous works in academic journals, such as History and Theory; Quaderni di Storia, Dialogues d’Histoire Ancienne, Madrider Mitteilungen. He is a regular contributor to the daily press.


The featured image shows, “Moors in conversation,” a mural on the ceiling of the Sala de Los Reyes, at the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain, ca. 1375.

Afghanistan: The Allies’ House Of Cards

The Taliban’s sweeping advance and the collapse of the state of Afghanistan surprised almost everyone, including some military commanders who did not realize that each war is different from all the previous ones and that doctrines in practice can be useless in the face of new realities. The military tends to have a conservative mentality, not only politically, but in their own profession. That is logical, because war is an extreme situation from all points of view; and to be able to face great dangers it is necessary to have the certainty of method to defeat the enemy, or at least not to lose one’s life, and to be able to withdraw at the right moment.

Strategists, and public opinion, which often has a plausible vision of what war is, thanks to good war movies, believe that the core of war is the battle, or the succession of battles. A battle is a confrontation of two armies in a scenario in which victory and defeat are decided. Battles may be in the open field, in a war of tactics, or in the capture of a city. Each battle depends on the number of soldiers in each army, their armament, or firepower (literally, rifles and artillery), but also on who is in charge of the command and the will of the troops not to retreat, to attack the enemy and to take casualties.

After the Second World War, the land-battle model was the confrontation of mobile units, armored or not, maneuvering in coordination with artillery and air forces, which can decide combat at certain moments, destroying armored vehicles, artillery or infantry. The problem is that, as John Keegan rightly pointed out in his book, The Face of Battle, the increase in mobility and firepower has made it almost impossible to conceive of gigantic mechanized confrontations (as was the battle of Kursk in World War II, in which German and Soviet armored vehicles annihilated each other by the thousands) in order to speak of the end of battles.

We conceive the capture of a city in the same way as a battle. In a city like Stalingrad, an army is entrenched, and others attack it with artillery, aviation and infantry. The result is that, first of all, the besieged city becomes a fortress of trenches in its ruins, and its capture is much more difficult. The bombardment of cities during World War II served almost no purpose, neither from the military nor from the economic point of view, as historians and military men have recognized. The Americans and the British invented “massive saturation bombing,” which consisted of drawing a huge area around the city and razing it to the ground like a steamroller. Such bombings serve no purpose, except to destroy indiscriminately and kill civilians, as happened also in Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan.

There are also wars without battles, without fronts, in which the military doctrine is useless, if it is not revised and the war converted into something else. We are talking about guerrilla warfare, fought almost exclusively by the infantry. General Norman Schwarzkopf, who won the First Gulf War in a series of battles to annihilate the Iraqi army, thanks to his air, artillery and logistical superiority, but who actually lost it, as he himself admits, because he was ordered to save Saddam Hussein and allow the withdrawal of Saddam’s elite units, the Republican Guard, at the last moment, in order not to favor the expansion of Iran, as he states in his biography.

When he came to Vietnam, as an infantry lieutenant colonel, he found a unit lacking in discipline, but one which was excellently armed and provisioned. The standard drink for his soldiers was Coca Cola; they were served ice cream for dessert and drug use was quite widespread and allowed by looking the other way. This was because in Vietnam, one out of three soldiers fought in units that were usually no larger than a company. They were replacement soldiers, 18 or 19 years old, serving for one year, who had neither the solidarity of their comrades nor of their officers. Those who were about to be discharged ridiculed the rookies. Only soldiers who had survived a few battles, as in other wars, tended to survive. In the Battle of the Bulge, the average life of a soldier who had just arrived at the front was less than 14 hours; and the same thing happened in Vietnam with rookie soldiers and officers. A rookie officer did not survive more than two days; and the killing of officers, simulated as a fall in combat, was very frequent in Vietnam, as in other wars.

Schwarzkopf says that he would have liked rather to be in command of the Vietcong. A Vietcong soldier survived in the jungle by carrying a cloth tube full of raw rice that he cooked every day. As he knew how to hunt and fish, he did not need to carry more food. And he had the support of the local population, or he could demand it from them with little effort. And above all, the General points out, he had a cause to defend – his country, and so he could face the horrors of hand-to-hand combat.

The American infantryman, who would spend one or two weeks in the jungle, in a war in which the number of classic battles was minimal, left with a kit weighing about 35 kilos: his rifle, the ten standard magazines that he supplemented with as many in cartridge cases, grenades, food and other supplies needed to survive those days. In addition, as their new weapon, the M-16 failed, the soldiers ended up being allowed to carry weapons of their choice. All this to enter an unknown terrain, inhabited by peasants whom they could not know whether they were hostile or not, and who they had come to defend. This often unsurety often led to many surprises. In an effort not be face such surprises, the Americans resorted to destroying entire villages, or razing them to the ground by requesting air support from their superior officers. In Vietnam, for example, no colonel was killed in combat. and because of all this, the soldiers came to the conclusion that they were fighting a dirty and senseless war, which would end in a resounding defeat.

Something similar has happened in Afghanistan. The military commanders did not get to know the country. They did not encourage the study of local languages, but used interpreters, which can be very dangerous in a country with fourteen ethnic groups, and a country which is also very extensive, more or less the size of Spain, with a very high elevation, and fragmented by large mountains. A country without railroads, highways, navigable rivers and few airports, which meant that entire areas were never penetrated by western troops, because of disinterest or inability.

The occupiers, instead, focused on cities and created static defense systems, from large bases to fortified forward posts. This allowed the movement of militias, such as, the Taliban, through an unknown country. As Afghanistan is an agrarian country based on irrigation, the population is concentrated in the large valleys, or lives scattered in small groups among the mountains. In this scenario there were hardly any battles, and when they took place, as in Tora Bora, the infantry soldiers were Afghans, who had about 80,000 dead, in a war that brought the Taliban more than 84,000 casualties and thousands of prisoners. The western dead did not reach 4000, although there were thousands of wounded and casualties of post-traumatic stress, more than a third, as in Vietnam.

The Allies abused their firepower, especially in the air, which caused, as in other wars, dozens of innocent victims, and undermined the support of the population. For the allies, the war was ruinous, both economically (because they had to import everything) and militarily. They invested 2.2 trillion dollars (the USA alone). But that money generated gigantic flows of corruption among companies, the army and the local government. The local-created army was poorly armed, with light infantry brigades, without tanks in its tank units; and furthermore, it was divided among the zones of the country, creating territorial defense units for each of them, but not a powerful maneuver force.

Under these conditions, when a country that was never controlled, even though it benefited from major improvements in education, health, women’s rights, economy, technology and communications, is corrupted from head to toe, at all levels of the army and the civil service, the house of cards begins to shake. The army intelligence units were infiltrated by the Taliban, whose sympathizers increased among the population. These units believed that they could save themselves by grasping at straws. So, there was no need for big battles. The Taliban could not be annihilated because the Afghan army lacked adequate air and artillery resources.

The Taliban were allowed to take over a rural environment, which the politicians never bothered about. And so, given a decayed government, it was only a matter of waiting for it to fall under its own weight, to give birth to a new rural country, with a minimal state, and one ready to become a colony producing raw materials: lithium, copper, uranium, agricultural and livestock products, at the service of the colonial powers that will take over from the Allies, such as, China, Pakistan, Iran or the new Russia, which will probably recognize the new Afghan state, in the face of impotence, bordering on the ridiculous, of the USA and the European Union.


José Carlos Bermejo Barrera is Professor of Ancient History at the University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain). He has published numerous books in the fields of mythology and religions of classical antiquity and the philosophy of history. Among these are The Limits of Knowledge and the Limits of Science, Historia y Melancolía, El Gran Virus. Ensayo para una pandemia, and most recently, La política como impostura y las tinieblas de la información. He has published numerous works in academic journals, such as History and Theory; Quaderni di Storia, Dialogues d’Histoire Ancienne, Madrider Mitteilungen. He is a regular contributor to the daily press.


The featured image shows an untitled piece by Jahan Ara Rafi, painted in 2013.

What Really Happened In Afghanistan?

Early in 2021, Afghanistan once again found itself in a situation similar to the early 1990s, when the Soviet Army withdrew from the country. The then president, a technocrat educated in the Soviet Union, was head of the government in the communist system, installed by the USSR. Poverty, war and violence were widespread. The opposing forces wanted to establish an Islamic system.

The result was an end of support from the Soviet Union, overthrow of the communist government by the mujahideen (the Arabic term for those carrying out jihad; the term also means “strugglers”), civil war between different ethnic groups of mujahedeen, and later the Taliban regime’s takeover of the country and their hosting of Al-Qaeda, which planned the 9/11 attacks from inside Afghanistan – which made the international community and the US intervene in Afghanistan. The Taliban regime was toppled.

There were significant changes in the ensuing 20 years, particularly valuable achievements were made in the cities. But despite all the achievements, Afghanistan remained a poor, violent, corrupt, and one of the worst countries for women, children, and religious and ethnic minorities. As in the 1990s, at the start of 2021, the Afghan president was a technocrat – but this time educated in the US and president of a government backed by the US and the liberal West. The opposing forces, however, were still the same, claiming that they wanted to establish a pure Islamic emirate, in which they would apply their Islamic Sharia.

After the withdrawal of the Soviet Army from Afghanistan in 1989, the Afghan government fell under the mujahideen. There was a bloody civil war in the country, and finally the Taliban took power. Between the years 1996-2001, the Taliban carried out massacres against ethnic and religious minorities, such as, the massacres of the Hazaras in Mazar-e Sharif and Bamyan provinces. As part of the application of their Islamic Sharia, the Taliban flogged and stoned hundreds of women publicly, punished thousands of people for simple things, such as, shaving the beard, having a “western” hair style, having books in foreign languages, listening to music or watching films. As part of their foreign policy, they established close ties with Islamic fundamentalist states such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan (the only three states that recognized the Taliban) and some other Arab states.

Moreover, the Taliban provided shelter to Al-Qaeda, the most dangerous terrorist organization of the time, which planned the 9/11 attacks. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the United States used its right to Self-defense, a right ensured to States by article 51 of the UN Charter. At the same time, the United States requested its allies to join the war on terror and use their right to “collective defense” given by the same article of the UN Charter. As a result, NATO countries for the first time invoked their article 5, which provides that an “armed attack against one NATO member is an attack against all members and so they will take actions to assist their Ally.” That was how the war against terrorism in Afghanistan started. Primarily, the military camps of Al-Qaeda and Taliban were destroyed and then the Taliban regime was ousted from power.

After the Taliban was toppled, the US also got engaged in nation-building in Afghanistan. The Bonn Conference was held in Germany, which paved the way for an interim government to be formed by representatives of different ethnic and religious groups in an inclusive manner. The interim government, as part of its duties, held a loya jirga (traditional grand council) to make a new constitution, which was ratified in 2004, and in theory, guaranteed some freedom, as long as said freedom did not contravene any religious teaching of Islam. Although some form of religious freedom could be inferenced from the constitution, Islam was established as the official religion of the state.

The main issue with the new constitution was that, as in the last century, it centralizes the power to the center, something that alienates different peoples, as they cannot even select their province and district governors. However, one of the most important thing about the new constitution is that, in theory, it allowed women and girls to enter schools and universities, and the social and political arena.

State institutions were built from scratch. Universities and schools were opened for both women and men, although in many provinces women could never attend schools and universities in large number. Operations against terrorism were carried out, along with development projects in many parts of the country; and despite widespread corruption in the Afghan government a lot of progress was made in communication, media and many other areas. All that progress came at a huge human and financial cost, both for the international Community and for the people of Afghanistan.

Despite all the hard-won achievements and changes, many things did not go well. And so on August 15, 2021, Afghanistan fell and a serious human tragedy began. To understand why things ended the disastrous way they did, there is a need to carefully delve into the past. One of the reasons why things did not go well was because the US, NATO and the Afghan government did not pay attention to how the Taliban transformed itself over time. Thus, the US and NATO always had a static, monolithic understanding of the Taliban, while the Taliban and its strategy kept evolving.

The Greek historian Thucydides explained that war was waged for three reasons: honor, fear and interest. In the case of Afghanistan, many argued it was honor (in both religious and tribal context) for which the Taliban continued to wage war, after they were toppled by a US-led coalition in 2001.

Others argued that the irrational Taliban continued the war simply because they were manipulated by a charismatic leader (Mullah Omar), were indoctrinated in religious madrasas, were closely tied to the Pashtunwali culture that valued avenging dead relatives and blood vengeance. However, these arguments were only partly true. While culture had a significant role in shaping the Taliban’s way of war, the group and its war were explicable within familiar strategic concepts both classical and more contemporary. The Taliban had developed a strategy to succeed and ultimately became winners.

Afghans are more generally survivalists. In that sense, the Taliban, formed primarily by Pashtuns, are no different than the rest of the people. Despite the fact that religiously the Taliban believe in the other world and praise martyrdom, in the battle ground, their top priority is not directly going to paradise, but to survive and succeed. The same survivalist nature is the key to explaining why, in the conflict areas, people change sides, always siding with the expected winner, or playing both to avoid recrimination by the possible top-dog.

In 2001, the Taliban was toppled by the US-led coalition in the course of just a few weeks and by 2006 many American and NATO authorities counted the Taliban as ultimately defeated. However, some historians and military analysts were skeptical of the narrative that said the Taliban were dead. Some years later, the skeptics were proven right. The Taliban, who were pronounced dead several times, refused to die, and went through a process of transforming into the “neo-Taliban” – they gradually adapted to changes that could help them reach their strategic objective of becoming the winner.

Thus, after being toppled, the Taliban gradually emerged and secretly started spreading their handwritten messages in the form of “night letters,” face-to-face warnings, and in some cases, radio broadcasts, emphasizing the narrative that time was on their side and the infidels would have to leave. The Taliban leader Mullah Omar had said, “…the Americans and NATO have all the watches, but we [the Taliban] have all the time…”

As the Taliban positions were being bombed since 2001, they exploited territorial bases in Pakistan to survive, and replenished their manpower with fresh recruits of stateless, transnational jihadists with expertise, money, and weapons, but also with Pashtun, Arab, Uzbek, Chechen and other volunteers. Then the Taliban carried out periodic offensives, mobilized Afghan riots among civilians alienated from the state because of food shortage and the state’s great corruption and failure.

While in power, the Taliban practiced and imposed strict Sharia and “pure” Islam. On the battlefields, the Taliban started to sacrifice their culturally and religiously-rooted beliefs and taboos for survival and success. For example, despite the religious and cultural emphasis on human remains to be buried, the Taliban fighters usually left the bodies of their dead behind and did not risk removing them from the battleground. The “neo-Taliban” resorted to Al Qaeda-style tactics – roadside explosives, kidnappings. That was well-calculated – because the international and Afghan forces were not affected as much by five days of fighting as much as they were affected, for example, by a suicide attack or a roadside bomb.

The Taliban are mainly formed by Pashtuns, but as part of their evolving policy to gain popularity, the group tried to include the rival groups such as Tajiks and Uzbeks in their movement. They were very successful in that. For instance, provinces such as Badakhshan, Takhar, and Kundoz, which are Tajik and Uzbek dominated respectively, fell to the Taliban very easily this year. It was partly because the Tajik and Uzbek locals were divided and many became vulnerable to Taliban ideology.

The Taliban even tried to recruit Hazaras —a group different from the Taliban ethnically, linguistically, and religiously— but were unsuccessful simply because Hazaras remember the Taliban’s ethnic cleansing and massacring of thousands of Hazaras in Mazar-e Sharif and Bamyan and thus still fear their return.

While in power, the Taliban were known for technophobia. The Taliban’s Sharia police were breaking devices such as television and computers. But in the recent years, the “neo-Taliban” have vastly been using every means of technology to spread their propaganda. By 2006, the Taliban had representatives in Iraq to learn video production from Al-Qaeda, so that they could use produce videos and publish them on the internet.

Considering the fact that the Taliban considered depiction of humans as evil, the use of new technology was revolutionary. Similarly, when in power, the Taliban punished people for listening to music; but in the last few years the group has used music with religious content as a way to spread their propaganda, strengthen the morale of their fighters and deliver their message in the most suitable way to the illiterate people. Like modern fascism, the Taliban hates modernity, but wants the benefits of its technology.

The coalition and the Afghan government destroyed opium fields, but the Taliban offered protection and defense of the opium fields, which made the group more attractive to the Pashtun locals in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, in which the largest percentage of the world’s opium is produced. The Taliban’s protection of the opium fields and its direct involvement in the drug industry, although in opposition to their religious beliefs and their leader Mullah Omar’s fatwa in 2001 to ban poppy cultivation, was strategically calculated, and provided the Taliban with an annual income of around $420 million.

The Taliban also used the time during which the US was engaged in Iraq and allocated much of its manpower, spending and political capital to the war in that country, and during which time, Afghanistan was not the priority. For example, in 2007 there were 27000 American troops in Afghanistan, while in Iraq the number was around 155000. This neglect helped the Taliban to strengthen even more.

As part of their evolving policy to gain popularity, they relaxed their restrictions on social behavior. For instance, while in power and even many years later, the Taliban only allowed religious schools for boys and totally forbade girls’ education. Between 2001-2006, the Taliban destroyed over 200 schools, killing tens of students and teachers. Years later, they allowed schools for boys in their territory; but this never meant the Taliban were ultimately sincere or committed in the long term to change their education policy.

Another stereotype which is mainly promoted by the Taliban themselves is that the Taliban are very much tied to martyrdom and going to paradise, which is true, but at the same time, while in wartime, the Taliban have proved to be more subtle operators. There is a famous case in which Taliban leaders trimmed their beards —shaving the beard was punished under the Taliban— to avoid being captured.

Innovation of suicide bombers, an affront to popular understanding of Islam in Afghanistan, came with a utilitarian justification by the Taliban leaders; meaning that as it was proved effective, so it was allowed and justified by their version of Islam. A suicide bomber’s dream might have been paradise, but to a Taliban leader that was an important way to reach their objective.

The Taliban sacrificed dogma for popularity. They sacrificed religious belief for success. They shifted from technophobia to using technology and cyberspace to spread their message and propaganda. They sacrificed the Pashtunwali code, for example, to attack pro-government Pashtuns, again for their ultimate success. The Taliban gradually formed a parallel government and virtual state aiming to become the real government and state over time.

Part of the Taliban success was because of the willingness of the Western media to broadcast the Taliban claims. The Taliban have always used human shields, occupied small towns to maximize collateral civilian deaths caused by Afghan and international forces, and blamed everything on the government and NATO. All their claims were broadcast by the Western media. The Taliban were particularly good at exploiting audience perceptions of the media. For instance, the Taliban removed weapons from the corpses of their dead fighters and made them appear as non-combatant and then showed the bodies to the media.

Some argued the Taliban’s center of gravity was their leader, but they were proved wrong. Because when their leader died, the Taliban could successfully keep it secret for months and finally overcome the leadership issue. In recent years, the Afghan government tried to create divisions among the Taliban by supplying and creating smaller factions,; but that only empowered the Taliban and endangered the Afghan government. As one Taliban faction leader described it once: “…we don’t depend on government, the government depends on us. They think they use us, but no, it is we who are using them and their equipment to advance our own goals…”

What was interesting about the Taliban factions receiving supply from the government is the significant change in their view of the issues. In their propaganda, the Taliban always refer to the Afghan government as “the puppet of the West,” and to those working for the government as “slaves of the slave;” while in wartime, the Taliban received support from the Afghan government without any hesitation, but then cleverly used it against the Afghan government.

While it is not clear how much the Afghan government and its intelligence services have infiltrated the Taliban, it is crystal clear that the Taliban had many sympathizers and infiltrators in the Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police; but probably not on a serious scale in the Afghan National Directorate of Security.

In early 2021, the Taliban had around 80,000 full-time fighters and had significant income sources, such as, illegal mining and opium money. In the peace deal with the US, in February 2020, the Taliban guaranteed the freedom of their prisoners —many of them accused of committing serious crimes.

A great many of the reasons why Afghanistan fell so rapidly are related to the Afghans and many of them date back to 2014 when Ashraf Ghani became president, after a fraudulent election, in which he was announced the winner, while his rival, Abdullah, who did not compromise, became Chief Executive Officer, after mediation by the US Secretary of State, John Kerry.

During his time as president, Ghani alienated other groups, by depriving them of any real role in decision-making, and surrounded himself exclusively with Pashtuns. In the multi-ethnic Afghan society, monopolizing power has always been one of the main issues why the nation-building process fails and the governments collapse.

In his election campaign, Ghani promised that he would eradicate corruption. But when in power, he failed to address the issue. Ghost schools and ghost soldiers, for which Afghan authorities were paid, were just a small part of the endemic corruption in the country.

What further demoralized people about the democratic system was the moral corruption of those in power, including the people very close to Ghani. The scale and the level of corruption was incalculable. Even widows of Afghan soldiers had to sexually gratify officers to get pensions; and there were allegations that members of the Afghan administration offered posts in exchange for sexual favors.

There has always been ethnic division and ethnic tension among different groups in Afghanistan. Larger groups usually gained power, with the help of external sources, and in some cases committed atrocities and victimized smaller groups – and they have never been held accountable for what they did, which goes in explaining why there has been so much hatred and so little trust. However, after the new constitution was ratified in 2004, there was hope that a nation would be built from the different ethnic groups.

But people have remained divided, up to the point that even at schools and universities, students of different ethnicities have made ingroups, so that even inside the classrooms the interaction was mainly by way of groups.

If anything ever was national, in the real sense of the term, in the last two decades and probably in the last century, that was the Afghan National Army. For the most part, it was because it was largely trained by the US-led NATO forces, in which ethnic composition, as primarily set by the US, was inclusive, in which all ethnic groups could see themselves as belonging. In the Afghan National Army, soldiers developed profound friendships, bonds, trust and loyalty. Even though while the whole country and institutions were drowning in corruption, the national army maintained some positive motivation, and even gradually gained the trust and respect of ordinary people.

Nevertheless, since 2014, when Ashraf Ghani became the president, the Afghan National Army gradually became an instrument in the hand of the populist president who was accused of ensuring Pashtun domination, even if it came at the cost of ethnic and social division of the country, or strengthened the terrorist group, the Taliban. Since 2014, non-Pashtun generals and officers have continuously been fired or sent to the frontline and killed. Politicizing the Afghan National and Defense Security Forces further weakened it.

Late in 2016, Ghani and, as sarcastically described by some, his “three-man republic” started a campaign to engage the Taliban in peace talks. This campaign, in which apparently millions were spent to spread the idea that the Taliban had changed and it was time to negotiate with them, was flawed. The campaign was not launched after a military gain over the Taliban; but rather it begged and bribed the Taliban to start peace talks. As part of the campaign, in 2018, Ghani offered a careless ceasefire to the Taliban. This miscalculated ceasefire paved the way for the military presence of the Taliban in major cities, including the capital, Kabul, which the Taliban had never left. The Taliban’s presence in the cities gave them the opportunity to campaign for their group by exploiting the mullahs who already sympathized with them.

The idea that Afghanistan did not have a military solution also became attractive in the US. “Peace entrepreneurs” like Khalilzad, who was later appointed as the US Especial Envoy to Afghanistan, took advantage of that idea. Khalilzad emphasized that there was no “military solution” and took the lead mediating peace negotiations on behalf of the US with the Taliban.

Regardless of how much the US authorities lied to the American public about the war in Afghanistan and what had been achieved, Khalilzad’s efforts to make peace or find a way out for the US from Afghanistan were deceitful and irresponsible. His negotiations with the Taliban did not end in peace, led to the emboldening and strengthening of the terrorist group which the US fought for its harboring of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. While the Taliban has never denounced its cooperation or ties with Al-Qaeda, Khalilzad kept assuring everyone that the Taliban had changed and was sincere in its talks, and that the group could become a partner of the US, in fighting terrorism in Afghanistan and the region.

While Khalilzad was selling the idea of a “changed Taliban” and that political settlement was possible, the UN reported that the Taliban continuously violated the conditions of the peace deal signed on 29 February 2020, which included a ceasefire, reduction in violence, and engagement in peace talks with the Afghan government. The report indicated that the Taliban, in fact, had increased their attacks, violence and target killings. Most of the five thousand Taliban prisoners, who were released from Afghan government prisons, rejoined the war.

In addition, the Taliban continued applying their Sharia in the territories under their control. Considering all that, it was foreseeable that the withdrawal of the United States and NATO forces would have serious consequences for Afghanistan, particularly for women, and ethnic and religious minority groups.

At the same time. according to the study “Women, Peace and Security Index 2019/20” carried out by Georgetown University, in cooperation with Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), Yemen and Afghanistan were the worst countries for women among 167 countries that were studied. Such was the situation when the international forces were – still – in Afghanistan, supporting the Afghan government and the Afghan Army. None of this was taken into account by Khalilzad, who was searching for a way out and very soon.

In effect, Khlilzad was negotiating with his eyes closed. For instance, according to different reports, since last year, the political elite and civil society activists, journalists, and in some cases university professors and intellectuals with clear points of view against the Taliban ideology, fell victim to Taliban targeted killings —which were unclaimed or denied but probably in most cases carried out by the Taliban.

There were various other disturbing signs. Young Taliban sympathizers spoke of a “great revenge” on those who in one way or another were against the Taliban ideology. What that indicated was that the Taliban would have no respect for any commitment they made with the United States, or whatever they said in front of the cameras of the international media. The group was deceiving the whole international community and buying more time. That is why, as soon as the foreign forces left, the Taliban continued to take control of the country by force.

In February 2020, the US and the Taliban signed an Agreement in the Qatari capital of Doha, but with the absence of the Afghan government. Based on this agreement, the Taliban was to stop its offensives against the US and NATO forces; end its ties with Al-Qaeda; not allow Afghanistan’s soil to be used by other transnational terrorist groups to attack the US and its allies; reduce violence and begin intra-Afghan peace dialogue. On the other side, the US would withdraw forces from Afghanistan and guarantee the release of 5000 Taliban fighters.

Months after the agreement was signed, 5000 Taliban prisoners were released, most of whom were reported to have rejoined the Taliban in their Jihad. The Taliban indeed remained committed to not attacking the US and NATO forces after the agreement; but its relation with al-Qaeda continued to exist and even strengthened, and its offensives against the Afghan forces also increased.

In April 2021, US president Biden announced the end of the “forever war” in Afghanistan and the total withdrawal of US troops from the war-torn country. Despite some NATO members, for example, Germany’s approval on extending its military mission in Afghanistan for one more year, the US withdrawal plan consequently led to the withdrawal decision of all NATO forces from Afghanistan. While the date set for the total withdrawal was 11 September, most NATO members had already brought their troops home by early July.

Since the announcement of the withdrawal, violence has surged, peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government did not have any result, and the Taliban continued to rapidly overrun a significant number of districts. In June alone, Afghan government forces lost more than 700 military vehicles and other equipment —of course donated to the Afghan army by the US— to the Taliban. The continuous loss of territory and military equipment gave the Taliban fighters’ momentum, and impacted negatively on the Afghan security forces, who no longer had air support from the US forces.

By ending its military presence, the US not only lost its most significant leverage with the Taliban, but also emboldened the group to claim victory by means of jihad. What the international community and the US must take note of is that a Taliban victory in Afghanistan sends a strong signal to other Islamist jihadists in other parts of the world that they too can become winners. Most importantly, the US and the international community should realize that what happens in Afghanistan does not stay in Afghanistan. When terrorism takes stronger roots in Afghanistan, it will pose a threat to the rest of the world.

Now the situation seems pretty similar to when the United States left Iraq, and when ISIS gained strength and started massacring Yazidis and other minorities. The U.S. went back and took part in destroying the ISIS. But in the case of Afghanistan, going back is much more difficult and more costly. What is clear now is that those who were vulnerable before have become even more vulnerable; and as human rights defenders and workers are targeted by the Taliban, the worst fear is that ethnic and religious groups such as the Hazaras could silently face ethnic cleansing or even a genocide in Afghanistan.

As for ethnic minority groups, the Hazaras who make up about 15-20 percent of the country’s estimated 36 million population – but they face a greater danger. Since 2014, they have been targeted several times. First, it is impossible for this Shiite group to adopt to the Sunni Taliban rules. Secondly, they belong to different ethnic groups, possess different physical characteristics, speak different languages, and most importantly, the Hazaras have changed very much in the last two decades.

For example, according to the survey “A Survey of the Afghan People: Afghanistan in 2019,” conducted by The Asian Foundation, “Hazara respondents (92.3%) are more likely to strongly or somewhat agree with women’s equal access to education.” That is the highest level in the country.

Education for girls almost became a universal phenomenon among the Hazaras. But now with the Taliban in power, Hazaras are much more under threat of the Taliban, ISIS-K and other terrorist groups than they were before. Different UN reports indicate that there have been several cases of targeted attacks against the Sikh minority and the Hazara community in the last few years. The last remaining Sikh and Hindus left Afghanistan for India, meaning there is no Hindu left in Afghanistan.

Some groups are preparing for resistance against the Taliban. Compared to other groups, Hazaras have less access to arms, as they handed in their arms as part of the process of Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR), administered by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in 2003.

What really happened? Corruption and tribalism among the Afghan elite, and the inability of the US and NATO to understand the enemy. How could the Taliban not win?


Gabriel Vilanova is the pseudonym of a young Afghan scholar whose memoirs, Afganistán: Una república del silencio. Recuerdos de un estudiante afgano, have recently been published in Spain.


The featured image shows the work of the graffiti artist, Shamsia Hassani, in Kabul, ca. 2013.

Open Letter To The President Of Mexico, On The Aztecs And Their Cannibalism

The Argentine political scientist and historian, Marcelo Gullo Omodeo, professor at the National University of Rosario, recently published an important book with the evocative title, Madre patria (Mother Country), dismantling the Spanish Black Legend from Bartolomé de las Casas until today.

This book, with a preface by Alfonso Guerra, former vice-president of the Spanish government (1982-1991) and former vice-secretary of the PSOE (1979-1997), has not failed to raise some controversy.

The president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (whose name clearly testifies to his Spanish origin), recently responded with disdain for the idea expressed by Gullo, according to which Spain, for the majority of the indigenous peoples, liberated Mesoamerica from the dreadful Inca oppression.

It should be kept in mind that on March 1, 2019, López Obrador even sent a letter to the King of Spain, Philip VI, demanding an apology for the conquest of America.

In an uncompromising open letter, reproduced in the newspaper, El Mundo and the website ElManifiesto, Professor Gullo dispels doubts and sets the record straight. [Arnaud Imatz]


Mr. Andrés Manuel López Obrador,
President of the Republic of Mexico

Dear Mr. President:

On August 13, on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the liberation – though for you, the fall – of Tenochtitlán, you quoted verbatim, without naming me, a paragraph from my interview that appeared in the newspaper, El Mundo, on Friday, July 23, following the publication in Spain of my book, Madre Patria. Desmontando la leyenda negra desde Bartolomé de las Casas hasta el separatismo catalán.

In your speech, you said, “There are issues that need to be clarified as much as possible. For example, a few days ago, a pro-monarchist writer from our continent claimed that Spain did not conquer America, but that Spain liberated America, because Hernán Cortés, and I quote, “gathered 110 Mexican nations that were oppressed by the anthropophagous tyranny of the Aztecs and fought with him.” You have also accused me without any evidence – and without even bothering to examine my academic background or gather information about my anti-imperialist political trajectory – of being a representative of colonialist thought.

Since I agree with you that some points need to be clarified, I would like to remind you that the Mexican archaeologist, Alfonso Caso, former rector of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, states that “human sacrifice was essential in the Aztec religion.” That is why in 1487, to celebrate the completion of the construction of the great temple of Tenochtitlán – of which you inaugurated a monumental model on August 13 – sacrificial victims were gathered in four rows that stretched along the causeway connecting the islands of Tenochtitlán. It is estimated that during these four days of celebration, the Aztecs killed between 20,000 and 24,000 people.

The North American historian, William H. Prescott, who can hardly be suspected of “Hispanophilia,” gives an even more frightening figure: “When the great temple of Mexico City was dedicated to Huitzilopochtli in 1486, the sacrifices lasted several days, and 70,000 victims perished.” In his book Historia de América, the Uruguayan, Juan Zorrilla de San Martín, explains that “When they took the children to kill them, if they cried and shed tears, they rejoiced more because it was for them the sign that they would have a lot of water in the year.” The number of victims sacrificed each year was immense,” Prescott admits, even though he is one of the most critical historians of the Spanish conquest and one of the most fervent defenders of Aztec civilization.

Hardly any author estimates it at less than 20,000 per year, and there are even some who raise it to 150,000. In his famous work Cannibals and Kings. Origins of Culture, the North American anthropologist, Marvin Harris, writes, ” The main source of food for the Aztec gods was prisoners of war, who were marched up the steps of the pyramids to the temples, seized by four priests, spread-eagled backward over the stone altar, and slit open from one side of the chest to the other with an obsidian knife wielded by a fifth priest. The victim’s heart—usually described as still beating—was then wrenched out and burned as an offering. The body was rolled down the pyramid steps, which were built deliberately steep to accommodate this function.”

What became of the sacrificed dead? Where were the bodies of those human beings whose hearts had been torn out at the top of the pyramids taken? What was done with the body of the victim? What was the fate of these bodies sacrificed to the gods day after day? Anthropologist Michael Harner, who has analyzed this question with more intelligence and courage than many other specialists, answers, “There is really no mystery about what happened to the corpses, since all the eyewitness accounts largely agree – the victims were eaten.”

The numerous scientific works – doctoral theses, books published by world-renowned researchers – that we have today leave no room for doubt that in Mesoamerica there was one oppressor nation, the Aztecs, and hundreds of oppressed nations, from whom the Aztecs not only took their raw materials – as all imperialism in history has done – but also their children, their brothers and sisters. … to sacrifice them in their temples and then distribute the dismembered bodies of the victims in their butcher shops, as if they were pork chops or chicken legs, so that these human beings could serve as substantial food for the Aztec population.

The nobility reserved the thighs, while the entrails were left for the general population. The scientific evidence we have today leaves no room for doubt. The number of human sacrifices practiced among the peoples enslaved by the Aztecs was such that they built the walls of their buildings and temples with skulls.

That is why, on August 13, 1521, the Indian peoples of Mesoamerica celebrated the fall of Tenochtitlan. You even had to acknowledge in your speech, Mr. President, even though you did so reluctantly and between the lines, that it is materially impossible that with only 300 men, four old arquebuses and a few horses, Hernán Cortés could have defeated Montezuma’s army of 300,000 disciplined and courageous soldiers. It would have been impossible even if the 300 Spaniards had had automatic rifles like those used by the Spanish army today.

Thousands of Indians from oppressed nations fought alongside Cortés against the Aztecs. That is why your compatriot José Vasconcelos says that “the conquest was made by the Indians.” And what happened after the conquest, after those first hours of blood, pain and death? It is precisely the opposite of what you say. Spain merged its blood with that of the defeated and with that of the liberated. And let us remember that there were more liberated than defeated. Mexico now teemed with hospitals, bilingual schools and universities. Spain sent its best teachers to America, and the best education was directed at the Indians and mestizos.

Let me remind you, Mr. President, that the Spanish liberators – sorry: the conquistadors – were so respectful of the culture of the so-called indigenous peoples that in 1571 the first grammar book in the Nahualt language was published in Mexico, that is to say, 15 years before the publication of the first grammar book in English, in Great Britain. All the facts show that when Mexico became independent from Spain, it was much richer and more powerful than the United States.

Forgive me, Mr. President, if I risk overstepping the mark, but I would like to suggest, with all due respect, that on February 2, the anniversary of the despicable Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo – by which the United States seized 2,378,539 square kilometers of Mexican territory – you organize a great event like the one you held on August 13.

May I also suggest that, in order to give more importance to this event, you invite the President of the United States, Joseph Biden, and that, in a great speech before the American President, you demand that he apologize to the Mexican people for stealing Texas, California, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and Arizona, lands that were unquestionably part of Mexico.

Finally, dear President, I would like to tell you that since my childhood I have always felt a sentimental attachment to the oppressed peoples – perhaps because I was born in a humble house, in the city of Rosario, in the Republic of Argentina – and that if I could travel back in time, once or a thousand times, I would join the 300 soldiers of Hernán Cortés who, with the greatest courage known in history, freed the Indians of Mexico from the anthropophagous imperialism of the Aztecs.

Marcelo Gullo Omodeo,
August 27, 2021


The featured image shows a heart sacrifice, from the Tudela Codex, ca. 1540.

Priestly Celibacy – It’s Called, Grace

Boulevard Voltaire is a site whose political courage, including in the defense of Christianity, can only be praised. But the rather mediocre article by Arthur Herlin, on the book co-authored by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, reflects an error of thought which leads to an inane conclusion: celibacy is not a dogma.

Obviously, since this is a question about the organization of the Church and not of the content of faith. It is therefore necessary to do a bit of history, and in particular the history of the Gauls, if one wants to understand the question and stop uttering nonsense.

In the fourth century, the Church of France was Gallo-Roman; that is to say that its liturgical language was Latin. But the men who constituted it were also acculturated “Gauls.” Somewhat like Augustine was an acculturated “Punic” who spoke Latin, thought in Latin and prayed in Latin. They were part of the Greco-Latin culture which had been imposed when Gaul was subdued and had entered the orbis romanum. After the great persecutions, of which the frightful martyrdom of the group of Christians of Lyon (with the star of Saint Blandine at their center) was left as a memory in a letter well-known to the historians of ancient Christianity, and which attests to its antiquity, the Church of Gaul could finally organize itself, build monasteries, delimit dioceses and develop freely. From this fifth century, which was an apogee and an interval between the barbarian incursions and the conversion of a conquering Frankish king, we have a rich historiography that only the post-modern inculture of our devastated parishes has plunged into oblivion. It is enough to open and read, without omitting the footnotes, La Gaule chrétienne à l’époque romaine by E. Griffe to become aware of it. For those who doubt.

At the very top of the virtues that the Church demands of its priests is continence. When the new priest came from the world, it often happened that he was married. In this case, the same rule applied to him as to the bishop – he would have to renounce the custom of marriage and live with his wife as with a sister. The bishop’s wife was even called episcopa; the priest’s wife was called presbytera. These women played a major role, relieving their husbands of worldly tasks: “they render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, so that through their husbands they may give to God what is God’s.” And these tasks were not only cleaning the churches (which their maids did) or feeding the guests. They were concerned with the management of temporal matters in the broadest sense.

Such questions cause much debate from the very origins of the diocesan churches. By the fifth century, these imperative constraints had aroused criticism. In the region of Toulouse, a priest named Vigilance (sic) had criticized the continence imposed on priests. St. Jerome’s De septem ordinibus Ecclesiae and Contra Vigilantium attest that the discipline (not the dogma) of celibacy did not take hold among the clergy without reluctance. The authority of the Apostolic See, but above all the favor enjoyed by the monastic ideal among the faithful, contributed to the acceptance of this discipline. This monastic ideal was imposed during these centuries of unhindered development, supported in particular by a monk from the East (from Antioch), John Cassian, who brought the knowledge of the conventual organization of the monasteries of Egypt and contributed to its adoption, while the rule of Benedict of Nursia had yet to be formulated.

Abstinence is the visible face of a spiritual state called “chastity,” a term that our sexuality-crazed world (heterosexual as well as homosexual and soon transsexual) can hardly apprehend anymore and which it sees as an unattainable and destructive ideal of humanity. But this only reflects the state of decay of our post-modern world and in particular the deep contempt that our society feels for the human body, reduced to being only an object of enjoyment. Including, supreme indignity, not to say infamy, the body of children.

Things reveal their secrets with difficulty, and the sexual mystery less so than any other.

We all know, if we have read a little, or loved, that there can be no human love which does not normally include, at least in desire, carnal union. By renouncing it, even in desire, the religious who takes a vow of chastity sacrifices two things. He sacrifices what Augustine calls the flesh, and what constitutes one of its deepest instincts, the properly carnal instinct. But this is only the visible, always somewhat spectacular aspect of the religious state.

Whether he is aware of it or not – and it is better if he is aware of it – the priest or the monk makes a sacrifice which reaches the abyss of man’s natural aspirations. He sacrifices all possibility for him to desire and thus to reach that earthly paradise of nature whose dream haunts the unconscious of our human race and which Jacques Maritain has very nicely and justly described as the mad love between man and woman, that glory and heaven of here below, where a dream from the depths of the ages, consubstantial with human nature, becomes reality, and of which all the hymns sung down the centuries of yore have revealed the nostalgia inherent in poor humanity.

I will add to the list of hymns: the romances on M6 TV, the dramas of passion of the septième art, starting with the adaptations of Tristan and Yseult (although the potion that we made them drink partially absolves them). But this potion can also be understood as the metaphor of a power against which we can do nothing, this madness called amorous passion that can alienate all reason. Human madness which we value in great literary works, but especially in many tragedies. It is of such a renunciation that the vow of chastity is above all the sign. The priesthood, it is sacrificed masculinity.

The priesthood is not alone in being called to this discipline: marriage sanctifies this powerful carnal instinct. There is a marital chastity whose purpose is not primarily the regulation of births. By submitting to a partial continence, which is called a discipline and which is a specific form of the virtue of temperance – man confronts an instinct which is that of his species, an instinct that dwells in his person as a foreign dominator and that holds it and torments it with a tyrannical violence. All literature testifies to this, and Zola as well as Balzac have perceived and shown it with consummate art – a furious force, immensely older than the individual, through whom it passes, and that chastity defeats. I examined many years ago, during a strange colloquium on the Chaste and the Obscene, how Zola shows, in La Curée, the slow path from lechery to obscenity. Our world, which pretends not to hide anything anymore, is an obscene world.

Solely in natural order, chastity is a release and therefore a liberation.

In the spiritual order, it is a mystery, that is to say a super-intelligibility which requires, in order to be adequately understood and interpreted, a little bit of intelligence, reflection and, incidentally, culture.

In the 5th century, these renunciates, called, sancti, priests or laymen, contributed greatly to the evangelization of a Gaul that was largely Christian in number and in its network, but not necessarily yet deeply Christianized.

May (Heaven permit) the aspiration to spiritual chastity, of which continence is only the visible part, return to our Churches. If it is not the whole of holiness, if it does not guarantee purity of heart, it contributes admirably to it.

The priest does not come to the priesthood with a rope around his neck, forced and coerced – he responds to a call in the depths of his being and his flesh as a man.

Why should we doubt that this call will not profoundly transform his very flesh, and give his whole person the strength to assume this renunciation throughout his life? This has a name – sanctification. The man called to the priesthood receives a sacrament, a sign that works what it means. He receives it in the Name of Jesus, who said it himself – my yoke is light.

The brutal forces of the world which surround us, the degraded and degrading vision of human sexuality – everything contributes to make us forget, even to make us reject the basic fact of Christianity: an infinitely superior energy, a divine energy called Grace, communicated by the sacrifice of Jesus, eternally commemorated at each service.

It is because human energies (renewable, but with a lot of entropy) are transformed by this divine energy that the Grace of Baptism requires to be supported by the other sacraments. This is the only interest of ecclesiastical, monastic or other discipline – to allow the Christian to convert in himself this divine force which transforms him, in the God who nourishes him and on whom he nourishes; and this in a world that does not shine by its goodness, nor by its intelligence, let alone its justice.

Continence is a visible state that reveals an invisible state – that of chastity. The Virgin Mary is the most accomplished figure of it, and this is the reason why the priesthood nourishes a devotion to her. More discreet, even more silent, is the other great figure of this chaste humility which is given to us to contemplate in order to accomplish it in ourselves, according to what we are – the figure of Saint Joseph.


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


The featured image shows, “Christ Blessing,” by Fernando Gallego; painted ca. 1494-1496.

EUTM-M: A New UN Training Mission

The EU could have a military training mission in Mozambique in few months; the bloc’s head of foreign policy said, to help the southern African country counter Islamist insurgents. “I think we could approve this mission,” Josep Borrell told reporters, before a meeting of EU defense ministers in Lisbon, where the topic was to be discussed. The problem appears to be in identifying countries of the Union, in addition to Portugal, willing to provide personnel.

Borrell previously said that 200 to 300 military personnel could be sent to Mozambique by the end of the year. Portugal had already sent 60 instructors to its former colony in May to begin training Mozambican soldiers to counter the Islamist insurgency, share information and use drones to track the movements of militants.

Portuguese Defense Minister Joao Cravinho had said other countries were willing to send personnel but without providing further details. Obviously, Portugal would be the “leading nation” of the mission, said Cravinho and that he expects the activation of the mission, which is likely to be called EUTM-M (EU Training Mission – Mozambique), by the end of the year, taking advantage of the pause that the Islamist insurgents have been handed, because of a victorious operation by local troops.

Mozambique has been grappling with an insurrection in its northern province of Cabo Delgado since 2017; and the violence has grown significantly over the past year. Dozens of civilians were killed in Islamic State-related attacks in the coastal city of Palma in April, and a $20 billion liquefied natural gas project, run by French oil giant Total, was halted by the violence.

It is useful to remember that the Community of Southern African States (SADC), for political reasons, after having formulated a proposal to send a multinational force of 3,000 soldiers in support of the Maputo forces, took a lot of time before being deployed. Finally, a Rwandan contingent arrived in August and immediately fought the insurgents, crushing their units; Angolan and other contingents finally are on their way to Mozambique. Furthermore, the USA, always at the request of the Maputo government, has sent a training and support mission to the local forces engaged against the Islamist militias.

Finally, the UN, which since 2019, has faced a persistent (and unresolved) political struggle between the government of Mozambique and the opposition movement (RENAMO) that had been also operating in the north of the country, and to facilitate dialogue, appointed the Swiss diplomat Mirko Manzoni as Special Envoy of the Secretary-General. Manzoni, assisted by a small office, is working in quietly to re-establish dialogue between the parties.

A Necessary, Comprehensive Review

For several years, the UN and the Member States have discussed how best to support some of the ongoing military operations in the Sahel, a region suffering from increasing levels of violence, as well as political, humanitarian, and environmental crises. Since December 2017, the UN has offered to support the Joint Force of the G5 Sahel, through a complicated series of agreements. Today there are growing demands from the United Nations to establish a specific body dedicated to supporting the multinational force. The issue is not new, as early as the mid-2000s the UN began using its peacekeeping funds to support other missions.

Africa has been at the center of these activities, starting from 2006, with the supply by the UN of the so-called “support packages,” initially light and subsequently more substantial, to AMIS, the African Union Mission in Sudan (to which even NATO had provided significant support).

Then, in 2009, came the decisive step. The UN established a United Nations Support Office for AMISOM (the African Union mission in Somalia), the first dedicated mechanism funded by peacekeeping. In 2015, it was reconfigured into the UN Support Office for Somalia (UNSOS), which continues to operate to this day and is dependent on the Department of Logistics Support. Some experts believe they are repurposing this model, which works quite well, in support of the G5S. The leaders of the G5 Sahel have called for such a mechanism; the Secretary-General of the UN also suggested it.

However, there are some perplexities and issues for debate. Formally, the G5S is not a peacekeeping force (in reality, even the AMISOM is not, as it is a fighting force). Peace operations are generally defined as involving civilian and uniformed foreign personnel, working in support of a peace process (and in apparent contradiction to what has been said, AMISOM is also this and has civilian personnel for political, civil, humanitarian and police forces to train local ones).

The Joint Force G5 Sahel does not meet this definition. In fact, it is a set of military forces (with heavily armed police forces) operating on their national territory (Mauritania, Mali, Burkina, Niger, Chad), and which have limited activities, “hot pursuit” (i.e., during a cross-border action).

Earlier this year, Chad deployed its own contingent in the region, where the borders between Burkina-Faso, Mali and Niger meet, but based on a specific agreement and for a specific time (then the Chadian government withdrew from the area because of national needs after the death in combat (though at home) of President Idriss Debi). So, for the most part, the countries contributing to the G5S Force are simultaneously the “hosting state.”

Legally, therefore, the issue does not require the authorization of the UN Security Council, because it is an example of collective self-defense, authorized by the states on whose territory the personnel of the force operate and the existence of an integrated HQ (in Bamako), and it is not enough to transform a sui generis force into a full-fledged multinational force. Rather than legal authorization, G5 Sahel leaders would like to obtain a Chapter VII mandate from the UN Security Council for the force, which allows access to UN peacekeeping funds, as has been the case in Somalia, following the AMISOM model.

When the host state and the contributing country are the same, this would pose significant challenges for the UN to identify national operations (as opposed to joint forces) and to ensure accountability (financial, legal, and ethic-political). It would be one thing if the G5 Sahel states were transparent and timely in reporting their operations; but they were not (and the use of materials and equipment provided by many EU states to the force are an example).

Furthermore, as the latest report by the UN Secretary General noted, MINUSMA (and partners such as UETM-Mali, EUCAP Mali, EUCAP Sahel and several states) underlined the persistent lack of information from the Joint Force G5S on the conduct of operations.

Another problem is that the G5S force already benefits from multiple support mechanisms. There are bilateral security assistance agreements from over a dozen states, as well as the European Union (EU). In addition, the UA is still working out how to deploy 3,000 reinforcements for the Joint Force G5S. Since February 2018, a trust fund has also supported the force by receiving approximately $145 million from Saudi Arabia, Rwanda, Turkey, UAE, and the West African Economic and Monetary Union. As mentioned, it also receives the support of MINUSMA (logistic, medical, technical, and engineering assistance).

Despite some recent improvements, compliance and accountability issues persist, in that Joint Force G5 Sahel personnel are regularly accused of violating international humanitarian law. Recent improvements include the establishment of a casualty and accident monitoring and analysis cell in January 2021; sending radio messages prior to operations to all intervention units on their legal obligations; and monitoring the capture, detention, and transfer of detainees. It is true that AMISOM also constantly suffers from liability and compliance problems. But persistent legal violations by the G5S contingents risk scrapping this hypothesis, together with the recent coup in Mali.

Finally, using a dedicated UN mechanism, funded by the organization’s assessed peacekeeping contributions to primarily support domestic counter-terrorism operations would set a dangerous precedent as it would undermine the UN’s claims of impartiality and further blur the border between peace operations and internal counter-terrorism activities. It would also likely encourage other states and organizations around the world to seek similar UN support for their own domestic counter-terrorism operations, which in some circumstances are dubious and a cover to crack internal oppositions.

Old Ghosts

It seems that the Balkans, including the Western ones, cannot get rid of old patterns. In early June, the Council of Europe warned that divisions between ethnic communities are deepening in Montenegro, stressing that the monitoring of hate speech needs to be improved. In its report on the implementation of the Convention for the Protection of National Minorities in Montenegro, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe noted that the authorities said that the social distances between almost all ethnic groups have increased. This contributed to the Committee’s view that divisions between communities could deepen and become more marked. Episodes of religious discord between different communities of the Orthodox Church were also noted, the report said. Despite that hate speech is criminalized, there is little social media monitoring by the authorities because no agency has the mandate to do so.

The Council called on the authorities to pay particular attention to the prevention of hate speech in consultations with the new media law and to ensure that the law addresses the problem of online hate speech. The Strasbourg body said the new media law must clearly define responsibilities for published hate speech and authorize a state agency to monitor and sanction cases of hate speech online.

The European Commission’s 2020 progress report on the country warned that hate speech and verbal abuse in the media and social networks have worsened. It then urged the Montenegrin authorities to increase the capacity of the judiciary to deal with hate speech and to ensure that such cases are investigated, prosecuted and properly sanctioned.

The Council of Europe has also invited the authorities to clarify the use of other state symbols in Montenegro, as the lack of clarity on the display of symbols of other states risks being a cause of abuse and further exacerbates the divisions present in the Montenegrin society.

Montenegro’s national symbols law does not prohibit ethnic minorities from displaying their national symbols; but it also requires them to display the national flag next to these symbols. or risk fines of between 100 and 500 euros. Belonging to the Albanian and Serbian minorities, they seem to be the object of the greatest number of actions by the security forces.
Montenegro is a multi-ethnic state and it is unusual not to have a community that makes up more than half of its population. About 45% of its population of about 630,000 people identify as Montenegrins, about 29% as Serbian, about 11% as Bosnian (Bosniak) or Muslim, and 5% as Albanian. But the report by the Council of Europe underlines the permanent fragility of the region, both for the old and for the new states there.

The events of Montenegro are exemplary in representing the injustices of history. In fact already during WWI the small kingdom had disappeared from the agendas of the Allied and the Associated, and despite a different willing assimilated to the Serbian-dominated Yugoslavia and its autonomy, during the Titoist era, already limited, ended again from 1991 until it reached full independence in 2006.

Montenegro was dragged into the maelstrom of civil war and associated with the Serbia of Milosevic and his gloomy associates. Independence, as often happens, develops very strong identity dynamics (especially when they have been deliberately ignored and repressed) and situations that have already been seen and that no one wants to review, are resumed.

But recent polarizations have not helped the initiation of a dialogue and choices. In present-day Montenegro, issues, such as, NATO membership and the EU accession process, have (re) ignited rivalry, along with Serbian (and Russian) concerns, further worsening conflicts; and the civilian populations still risk being held hostage to ambitions and ethnic cleansing by unwanted foreigners, and unlikely revenge, also touching upon the religious dimension, witnessed by the very harsh separation between the Serbian and Montenegrin Orthodox churches and also the revival of old and semi-forgotten Albanian and Kosovar claims on border areas (respectively Bar, Ulcigno and Berane).

The Mysterious Island

A mysterious airbase is under construction on a volcanic island off the coast of Yemen that is in one of the world’s crucial sea nodes for both energy shipments and commercial cargo. Although no country has claimed jurisdiction on Mayun Island in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, shipping traffic associated with a previous attempt to build a huge track across the island, less than six kilometers long.

The internationally recognized Yemeni government officials now say the UAE is behind this latest effort, although the UAE announced in 2019 the withdrawal of its troops from a Saudi-led military campaign fighting Yemen’s Houthi rebels, and that shortly before a tough political confrontation had opposed Riyadh and Dubai over the presence of Emirate forces on the Yemeni island of Socotra.

The runway on Mayun Island allows anyone who controls it to project power into the strait and easily launch air strikes into mainland Yemen, ravaged by a bloody war that has been going on for years. It could also provide a base for any operation in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and neighboring East Africa, now one of the most important regions on the planet.

Satellite images showed construction work on a 2-kilometer runway, and other installations and hangars to equip this installation with the capacity to host attacks, surveillance, and transport aircraft. A previous attempt, started towards the end of 2016, and subsequently abandoned, had seen work on an even longer track (over 3 kilometers).

Yemeni officials said the recent tension between the UAE and Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi stemmed in part from the Emirati’s request to his government to sign a 20-year lease for Mayun. The initial (and halted) construction project came after the UAE, Saudi and allied forces recaptured the island from Iranian-backed Houthi militants in 2015.

Other sources note that the Emirati’s apparent decision to resume construction of the air base comes after they dismantled their military installations in Eritrea, and used as a starting point for the campaign in Yemen, revealing not only a mere geographical reorientation, but confirming its strategic interests in the region.


Enrico Magnani, PhD is a UN officer who specializes in military history, politico-military affairs, peacekeeping and stability operations. (The opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations).


The featured image shows a mural about the lost boys of the Sudan.

Roman Joy

We will never tire of Rome. There is an ever-present joy in descending from the Quirinale, where the lies the mummy, Draghi, and entering the Field of Mars. A first love glows every time. You spend your day crisscrossing this heavy city, crushed under the domes, sedimented under the layers of time and ruins. Rome resembles a scraped and re-scratched palimpsest. On a speech by Cicero is inscribed a sermon by Augustine; on an elegiac poem, a lustful sonnet by Pietro Bembo. The precept of Lavoisier in chemistry becomes a rule: Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed.

The Sol Invictus, luminous and virile divinity, was adored by the military and by Aurelian. According to Paul Valéry, this glaring fault holds within it the power of creation, the drive of life, good health. In its wake, Saint Faith of Rome, a martyr of the second century, daughter of Sophia, sister of Elpis and Agape. Hadrian arrested them, was captivated by their beauty and piety, but decided to put them to death. Faith was stripped, tortured; from the torn off breasts flowed milk. Supported by her mother in her ordeal, her head was cut off.

In Via Veneto there is the Martini sign, fizzing in the night, red-orange, like a new sun; a huge invitation to party – new rites and mysteries of a modern temple: Consumption. Rome is the concrete idea of permanence.

Visiting Rome over the years consists of constantly sifting through treasures with your eyes. First, thinking about the elementary things and then ending up moving for a painting by a 16th century painter in a church that opens only one day a week. And so begins the Roman adventure. What one has visited, one must see again. The traveler must, like a Sisyphean task, revisit what he has seen, revisit what he believes he has seen and what he would like to see again. On the next trip, everything will have to start again. A perpetuum mobile. The mystery of Rome is the closed palaces, full of beautiful things; the lit rooms that you can see from the street at night and to which you have no access; the doors of monasteries and convents that close onto rose gardens and palm trees. The city nurtures the desire, the lack and the urge always to go and see, further.

The Romans play a worldly carnival all year round. In the center, near the Palazzo Madama, a broom of officials and non-officials, carefully tied, brushes through the streets; priests from all over the world, old and western, young and Asian, flood in. The cassock is forbidden. You can still find journalists and intellectuals from the 1970s, with their unattractive physique as in Ettore Scola’s The Terrace. These shirt-wearing commies, with windshields as glasses, still take methodical routes through the city, a gazette under their arm, a pipe in their mouth. Here, a beautiful mother, there, a former TV presenter finished off by the scalpel. Roman nobility rubs shoulders with the marginalized; Russian fortune tellers, bums, obese people on Vespas in vest, a cigarette butt between lips. Rome answers to the celestial and terrestrial Venus, to the great beauty, and to the Fellinian vrenzole. It is torn between total luminosity and the most obvious vulgarity.

However, three Roman figures seem to me incredible in their taste of the beautiful, the good and the true.

Lucius Licinius Lucullus, after having known successes and political failures, withdrew from public life, retired, and settled in his properties to live the high life. His name remains attached to the splendid gardens at the site of the Villa Medici. It is necessary to imagine a vast plain above the city, excellent orchards with numerous citrus fruits, peaches, apricots. Lucullus had the taste for fountains, porches in the shade, thermal baths lined with exquisite mosaics, deep in perspective, powerful of face. In Tusculum, above Frascati, he had planted the first cherry trees of Europe. Lucullus also excelled in the art of the table, cultivated the great refinements; what Plutarch noted with severity by recalling this anecdote. When his cook brought him only one dish, he retorted: “This evening, Lucullus dines with Lucullus.” The cook thereafter made sure to always plan a banquet when Lucullus dined alone, with many dishes, bottles, and the desserts.

In the first half of the seventeenth century, Scipione Borghese was the great cardinal of pleasures. Between the nymph and the gladiator, his eminence showed himself as a great builder, restoring churches, building the great villa to which he gave his name. There he collected paintings and priceless works: a Hermaphrodite from the second century, as revealing of his penchant for men as for women; paintings by Caravaggio, and those of the Cavalier d’Arpin and Raphael. He was also the patron of Bernini, whose art culminates in Daphnis and Chloe, a masterpiece of life and death frozen in fingers that transform; a body that molds itself into bark, hair that passes branches.

Mario Praz, in the twentieth century, chose modest elegance. An art critic, he lived in seclusion in a Roman palace where he collected twelve hundred objects – paintings, drawings, furniture, sculptures from the last century; Napoleonic works but also neoclassical English paintings; conversation pieces; some wax bas-reliefs. The House of Life is his masterpiece, in which he speaks of his life and his work, as if they were the rooms of a house.

Rome is conducive to drunkenness and good food. Happiness is everywhere, desire flows, with all its variety – the lively joy in the sun, the relaxation in the afternoon, the light madness in the evening. What joy it was for me to befriend Julien Rochedy. How we feasted at Al Moro, a landmark for ministers of the regime, on seppioline with artichokes, gamberi al pomodoro, and spaghetti alle vongole. Familiar delicacies take on a double flavor in Rome. Try Giolitti’s ice cream, with almond and hazelnut, topped with panna montata. Genius. The Judeo-Roman cuisine is also excellent. In the street that leads to the theater of Marcellus, admirable as a set of legos among the columns, the Oratorio Venditorum Piscium, the apartments embedded in the heavy stone, you will find the Jewish kitchens, with their oriental air. Moshe will serve you fried artichokes as an appetizer, salted, crunchy to the tooth, fried brains, stew or a piquant and fragrant cod couscous.

The streets of Rome are characters. Via Giulia behind the Campo dei Fiori looks like a dowager alternating knitting and rosary beads. It is straight, austere, gray on one side, held together by official and severe buildings. A bridge crosses the street, covered with ivy, like a dark mantilla of a woman in mourning.

Via dei Coronari is a kind of woman of the century, one foot in the old world, the other in modernity. The antique stores are full of preciosities, trinkets and relics in silver and gold, official portraits of popes, swords, furniture, massive candlesticks. Proof of this strange feminine paradox, the conversation and the permeability to progress; a store sells plastic ducks dressed as the Queen of England, Michael Jackson, Trump; next to it another one sells only lead figurines of the Napoleonic empire.

Via Margutta, on the other hand, is the most sensual; kind of feline, playful, whimsical, sparkling. Its walls are warm, yellow, ochre, saffron, taupe, sometimes washed out; ivy climbs up the walls, pearl-like roses. It is a young socialite, home to gallery owners, jewelers and artists. In its streets that go up and down, André Suarès, even at noon, this great madman, roamed the city in search of the terrible absolute of the beautiful, the good and the true. In the evening, a French bribe-taker coming out of a cantina would fight with a cursed painter with a rapier. In the morning, the writer of the Jet-set, Jep Gambardella returns home, after a party; no more drinks, no more contact lenses, smoking, and finding on the Aventine, a monk come out of the monastery to say a final goodbye to his sweetheart.

The statues in Rome also live. In the church of San Francesco a Ripa, which gave the title to a short story by Stendhal, Blessed Ludovica Albertoni is in ecstasy. She holds her chest, ready to leave it. Here, there is no fourth wall of the theater of which Henri Beyle speaks, no spectators as in the Cornaro Chapel where Saint Theresa is ecstatic at the other end of the city. The layout is more sober, the line more sure, more incisive in the last productions of the artist. The dress is agitated, swollen by the waves of love, while her face remains virginal. Her body betrays terrible convulsions while her gaze carries the delicate vision of paradise.

In Sant’Andrea del Quirinale is the most successful work of Pierre Le Gros the Younger, a French student of Bernini. One reaches the camera del polacco. What is it? It is a room where is the recumbent Stanislaus Kotzka, a young Polish Jesuit, who passed through Vienna, and died when he came of age in 1568. It is a baroque pearl. The young man sleeps, dressed in a black marble that contrasts with his white porcelain skin. The success of the statue lies in the way the rigid cassock is rendered as if it were encased in cuttlefish ink colored marble. His face is soft but his feet are icy.

What can you say about Michelangelo’s Christ in the Basilica in the Santa Maria sopra Minerva! It is a mass, a rock, extra pure. It is the Redeemer who manifests himself to us as a truth that takes up all the space in a life. Christ poses, swayed-hip, naked. The knees are so delicate that Sebastiano del Piombo said they were worth all of Rome.

But finally, Pasquino, does he have something to begrudge these sculptures, the darling of the people? It is a statue from the third century. In 1501, a hand placed a pamphlet on it predicting the death of Alexander VI Borgia. The term pasquinade was then derived, referring to an anonymous pamphlet often written in Roman dialect. With time, Pasquino became the first talking statue of the city, bearing popular reactions, the bloodshed and the acid laughter of the Romans. There are still salacious messages, claims and heart-felt messages: “Berlusconi, figlio di Minghia,” “Nun si necessità sesso, er governo fa er culo ogni giorno!” “er Premier è un vampiro, certo, ma li Italiani nun hanno piu sangue, dispiacce!”

It is more than natural, it is said, according to the custom of tourists, to sigh with admiration before the supreme beauty of the Sistine Chapel. For once, let us leave these marshmallows chewed up into liquid, sky-blue sky dishes and let us admire the Christian mosaics of the first centuries. Let’s start with the mosaics of the Basilica of Saints Como and Damian. After passing the courtyard and the fountain with dog heads covered with moss, you open the door and what jumps at you is a cobalt blue sky, marked by red clouds, under the feet of Christ, who descends from the sky in front of Peter, Paul, Como and Damian. The vision stops you dead in your tracks and grabs you.

Not far away is the Basilica of St. Clement. The mosaics are more careful and finer. We see on the apse deer drinking from a spring that feeds a kind of bush, representing a forest, from which grow branches, woods, trees that take up all the space and shelter monks, hermits, shepherds. The cross in the center is represented as the arbor vitae. In this religious jungle, you can see Saint Gregory and Saint Ambrose. Above the cross, in the sky, the only hand of God sends his son for the salvation of the world.

In the Rione dei Monti, there is the Basilica of Santa Prassede. You have to go to the left chapel, put a coin in the machine to turn on the light. Illumination! Largesse! The Chapel of Saint Zeno is illuminated. It looks like the miniature of a Greek Convent of Meteora. A kind of gold coin box. You have never been so close to the quivering mosaics, glittering like yellow, golden and blue fish scales. You have to see this simple and sober Christ supported by four angels. The faces are pretty, little sketched, almost naive, but the whole of it enfolds you with a warm joy. You even forget that Bernini delivered his first youthful work right next door.


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


The featured image shows the mosaic of the vault of the Chapel of Saint Zeno, from the 9th century.

Those Pesky Poles! Forever Defying Totalitarianism

1. Polish Peskiness Brought Down the Soviet Union, While The Soviets Transferred The Baton Of Imbecility To Educated Westerners

Is it the Bigos (hunter’s stew), is it the Zurek, is it the Blintzes, is it the Pierogi, or the Krupnik which makes the Poles so damned obstinate, so pesky?

Or is that a people, whose nobles went against the current in the sixteenth century by devising a noble system of democracy (an elected monarch with a functioning parliamentary legislature) when other European countries were becoming increasingly absolutist, really don’t like being bossed around by bumptious authoritarian idiots?

Or is that a people who were written off the map for more than a hundred years don’t like being written off or out of history, and that a people who fought and successfully defended themselves against the Bolsheviks in 1919-21, only to be invaded by the Soviets and Nazis, don’t like being victims of the deranged imperial dreams of others?

Or is it that a people who were duped into becoming a communist country and Soviet vassal have inoculated themselves against being duped again by ideas that promise to be very heaven but turn out to be hell?

Or is that a country whose Catholic identity was just too strong for the communists to successfully suppress continue to hang onto their religious identity when Western Europeans view their own history, and religious heritage, with a mixture of ignorance and shame (unfortunately without being ashamed of their own ignorance)? One Polish refugee from communism, Aleksander Wat, in My Century, thought that

Poland’s mainstay was not in revolts but in “disengaging from the enemy,” specifically, the country’s overwhelming Catholicism, precisely that parochial, obscurantist, and often vulgar Polish Catholicism, which, however, purified itself and grew deeper “in the catacombs” and truly found its shepherd in the person of the Primate, Cardinal Wyszyński. That Catholicism made the Polish soul impervious to the magic of “ideology” and the knout of praxis, and it was not the rebellious writers and revisionists who caused the Polish October but – apart from Stalinism’s crumbling power and cohesiveness – the steadfast, constant, unyielding mental resistance of that Catholic nation, its “dwelling” in transcendence.”

Whatever it is, though, those Poles sure are pesky for anyone who thinks they should roll over and take a boot on their necks. They probably vote in such large numbers for the Conservative Law and Justice party just to give the finger to the Western Europeans elites who all want the Poles to come to their party of endless progress – and self-annihilation.

In the upside-down world represented by the European Union and mainstream Western European political parties, it is authoritarian to oppose dismantling the values of Christendom which gave the West its greatest achievements. Likewise, West European elites cannot stand the fact that a predominantly Catholic country has the temerity to want to defend its Catholic tradition from a group who might be more smiley than the previous Soviet bullies, and who generally tend to like to get their way with promises of giving or withholding large pots of money rather than bringing in tanks. But the pesky Poles wipe off their smiles and make them hot under the collar when they say thanks for the money and trade deals, but no thanks to the tactic of welcoming Muslim migrants and refugees to transplant not only themselves in their flight from economic and political hardship but their traditions and, in too many cases, their pan-Islamist aspirations on a remaining national bastion of Christian soil. The Western European elite wants all opposition to its values and institutional overhauling to fold in exactly the same way as they themselves are folding to their geopolitical enemies. They seem to struggle to understand why a country, whose workers openly took to the streets against the communists in 1956 and then again from 1980 formed the union, Solidarity, to defy, with eventual success, their Soviet masters, won’t simply take the money and obey. Why they think they will succeed where the Soviets failed is but one more example of how all the mountains of bureaucratic EU drivel is a cipher of mental vacuity, merrily redesigning the world in the image of its own emptiness – the confirmation, if one will, of an intelligentsia which once spawned, Being and Nothingness, merely becoming nothingness. And whereas the Western elites, like their US counterparts, all accepted the eternally enduring presence of the Soviets, the Poles became the spearhead of what would ultimately inspire others from Soviet satellite countries to also stand up to their Soviet masters.

Yes, there were many things that bought about the demise of the Soviet Union, from a disastrous war in Afghanistan to a nuclear power plant accident, which revealed the dangerous incompetence of trying to preside over nuclear power with a system in which raw power and ideology always trumped over truth and competence, to a US president, depicted by the intelligentsia as a cross between Bozo the clown and a third rate actor who thought he was a cowboy, who defied the conventional wisdom – that the Soviet Union was an undefeatable superpower – by upping the arms race to levels which bought an already ailing economy and a gerontocratic power, loosening its grip through age and a generational power transfer, to its knees.

But one could not underestimate the peskiness of the Poles when it came to the fall of communism. There was the outspoken and very pesky Polish Pope who had inspired the formation of Solidarity, and who refused to go along with the rot in the Church that was all for Christian Marxist/communist dialogue, and liberation theology, itself little more than a Soviet propaganda front posing as Christian teaching. And then there was the pesky Polish priest who was closely connected with Solidarity, Father Jerzy Popiełuszko, who was murdered by members of the security service. His murder only served to ensure that Solidarity would be an even bigger thorn in the side of the communist government than it had been before.

Generally, though, it is the sad fact that when the Soviets were well on the way to losing the military war, they were already defeating the West in the propaganda war. Their victory was pyrrhic because their attempts at open-ness and reform proved to be as disastrous as the rest of their attempts to realize the dreams of a bunch of ideas spearheaded by people who thought their knowledge and philosophy could create a system that was both perfect and unprecedented. All that was left was to leave their communist allies presiding over their satellite dependencies in the lurch, and walk away from a political system that was taped together by lies and people spying on each other, and an economic system that could not produce enough bread, let alone computerised arms systems to rival the US. (Whether to their credit or not remains to be seen, but the Chinese had already decided to drop the economic system while holding onto the political system). So, the Soviets had a bargain basement jumble sale where Western grifters and con-men like William Browder, the grandson of the American communist party leader Earl Browder, and the local mafia scooped up the assets of a country.

And while almost all the Soviet scholars went over night from being media talking heads and clueless political scientists explaining why détente was a very good deal, to historians scratching their heads over why the biggest event since the Second World War took place without them having a clue it was coming – that wannabe American cowboy Bozo and a handful of his anti-Soviet advisors, who had been reading a few astute economists who had identified the gigantic budgetary hole covered by creative accounting, which involved simply transferring next year’s income to this year’s, who saw what the Poles saw – that Soviet power was just one more in a long line of heavily guarded Potemkin villages.

Though to be fair to the smarts of the Soviets, while they could not run a country, they sure knew how to dupe the minds of Westerners. For just as from the time of Lenin’s take-over to Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin, the Soviets had managed to convince many of the leading minds of the intelligentsia in North and South America, Western Europe and Australasia about the virtues of Soviet communism, up until its demise, the Soviets had created all the key critical phrases and “talking points” that radicals of the 1970s and 1980s would use when it came to the power politics of the Cold War. They would all castigate Regan as a warmonger for calling the Soviet Union an evil empire, for devising a bomb that would kill people without destroying buildings, for walking back on détente and upping the arms race, and for having the temerity to plan a missile shield system that was thereby, according to the radicals and Soviets, increasing the likelihood of nuclear war, even though, they would add, with absolute assuredness and without a blink, it was a scientific impossibility. The dialectic of imbecility had already been a successful experiment, conducted by the Soviets upon the better educated saps in the West.

For anyone who can recall, the media reported almost daily on the well-meaning protesters in Western Europe wearing gum boots, rainbow dyed tee-shirts, peace signs and carrying their kiddies on their shoulders – while on MTV, Sting, like so many singers who believe that being able to knock out a good tune gives them a terrific handle on geopolitics and how to achieve world peace, having taken time off from saving the Amazon, was earnestly intoning: “If the Russians love their children too/ How can I save my little boy from Oppenheimer’s deadly toy?? (Allow me to put it on the public record, so that on Judgment Day I can say in my own defense – for all my sins, Lord, no matter how hummable his tunes, I could never stand the sanctimonious strains of Sting.) All their anti-nuclear protests were directed at weakening military opposition against the Soviets – for, they intoned repeatedly, it was NOT the Soviets, but the USA who was bringing the world to the brink of destruction. This was of course before the next (pre-COVID) all-encompassing catastrophe – global warming/climate change, which would push aside nuclear disarmament as the source of hyperbolic panic requiring an elite of wise and all-knowing saviours.

The most radical Westerners thought they were super smart in being non-Stalinist, non-Soviet Marxists. But they were to use the phrase coined by the pesky (Lithuanian born) Pole, Czeslaw Milosz, “captive minds.” This is perhaps why, in spite of not being attracted to the grey lump that the Soviets had served up as communism, Western radical students could not tolerate Soviet dissidents being given any kind of platform. I was studying in West Germany in 1984 and recall a poorly attended talk by a Soviet dissident. The West German university students booed him for being a US Cold War stooge.

Today the tactics and narratives that the Soviets had fostered long before the Cold War in creating disunity in the USA by fueling racial strife so it becomes a civil war, are now not only commonplace in universities and schools but in corporations and the White House itself, which approves of critical race theory being taught even in the military. The communist strategy of subversion was all mapped out in detail by the KGB defector Yuri Besmenov, and his book, Love Letter to America, written under the pseudonym Thomas Schuman. But his warning was already a generation too late – at the moment, the US was poised to win the Cold War, it had lost its mind (its universities, its media, Hollywood and other idea-brokering institutions) to the same terrible ideas that the Poles and others were trying to shake off.

The legacy of the communist victory – leaving China alone to pick up the spoils – is now so obvious, that half the US sees it. And it is certainly not those US citizens who control the formation and circulatory flow of the ideas of the ruling class. It is also significant that two of the best recent books that are diagnosing the spiritual, intellectual and social suicide of the Western world are by Poles, Ryszard Legutko, and Zbigniew Janowski. The former is a member of the European Parliament as well as the author of The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies, and more recently, The Cunning of Freedom: Saving the Self in an Age of False Idols.

Legutko came to prominence a couple of years ago thanks to the stupidity and bellicosity of students and staff at Middlebury who, having slapped up posters and a Facebook page denouncing Legutko as a “f****ing homophobe and sexist,” prevented him from speaking about the dangers of totalitarian democracy engulfing “free societies.” The public talk having been cancelled, the professor who invited Legutko to the college had his nine students hold a secret ballot (yes, this is how free students are today in an American university) to see whether Legutko should give the intended lecture to them.

They voted yes (sanity prevailed for a moment), and he did manage to commence his lecture to the professor’s small class. But as more students filed in and word got out, that too was subverted and Professor Legutko was escorted off campus. I doubt if any of the staff or students had the wherewithal to even read his book, let alone ask whether their confirmation of the “thesis” of Legutko’s book was really making a better world. They were just like anti-Semitic Christians, who never understood that their tactics only served to illustrate the deficiencies of their own personal faith, character, and behaviour. Unfortunately, the world is made more by the deficiencies of who and what we are and do than by the neatness of our (ostensible) moral reasons and ideas. But good luck finding twenty professors in the USA who know or care about that.

Just as some Muslims kill people to protest against those who publicly dispute that Islam is a religion of peace by referring to violent imperatives in passages of the Koran and hadith, elite students and academicians of today want to end hate, serve social justice and overcome all oppression by screaming at and shutting down anyone who thinks that they are just a bunch of bullies, know-it-alls, and spoilt brats, who know nothing serious about society or even justice. Though there are spoiled brats in Poland (and members of its intelligentsia) who also want to join the mental and spiritual suicide being undertaken by their Western counterparts, and whom the Western elites are recruiting into its ranks.

Hence a group of them, who had sought to enforce a ruling of the European Court of Human Right’s work that proscribed all religious symbolism from schools, also hauled Legutko before a District Court in Kraków. His crime? Apparently, it was calling them “spoiled little brats.” Sadly, just last month, Legutko found himself attacked again by students and members of the Philosophy Department of the Jagiellonian University, where Legutko teaches.

The reason for this was his letter to the university Rector about the dangers of the university having put in place a Western style administrative department for equity grievances. The letters – which are appearing in the Postil – illustrate the same pathetic and sanctimonious reasoning, self-serving moral platitudes, and appeal to authority as are found today in every Western university – confirming yet again that philosophers are not inoculated against being seduced by their own moral vanity, and are no more inclined than anyone else to take on the burden of historical memory, when required to think for a moment about what ethically fragile and generally unwise creatures, such as we do with the machinery of abstractions, once it is set up to ensure social control.

Janowksi, like Legutko, grew up under communism, but he returned to Poland last year, after thirty-five years in the USA. From my correspondence with him, Janowski is a born teacher, and it seems that he found many US students who greatly appreciated what he had to teach. But he was worn down by the mental midget-ism and wokeness that had taken over the university, along with the university administration who would periodically carpet him for his contrarianism.

As anyone who knows the least thing about Western universities today, university administrators have mastered the racket of having students and the state pay their exorbitant salaries, while simultaneously shutting down, and clearing out all genuine intellectual work in the Arts and Humanities, and while creating the safe spaces so their students learn that all whites are racists and that the USA is the most racist country in history.

Janowski has captured this farcical replay of totalitarianism in the USA (if I may borrow Marx’s tweaking of Hegel on history) in his excellent book, Homo Americanus: The Rise of Totalitarian Democracy in America. But before looking more closely at the works by Legutko and Janowski, I want to briefly discuss that earlier generation of pesky Poles who were trying to bring down communist totalitarianism – one of them, Leszek Kolakowski, was Janowski’s PhD supervisor, and hence a direct source of inspiration for him.

2. Poles Against Communist Totalitarianism

While there is a very long list of Polish critics of communism, I suspect that the two most well-known to Western readers are Leszek Kolakowski and Czeslaw Milosz, the former a philosopher, the later a poet. Given that communism is a poetic fabrication, resting upon a metaphysical contrivance, it is fitting that philosophers and poets expose its centre as being nothing more than thoughtless and abstract words; that is, words that are void of the sediments of soul that good poets are attuned to access, or the conceptual sharpness that provides philosophical insight into our actions and the world.

The central feature of Milosz’s Captive Mind, written in 1951, when the young Kolakowski was still a believer in communism, is its depiction of poets and writers whose love of words and art eventually lead them all to betray their muse as they (for diverse reasons from their own ideological need to believe, and their self-induced blindness to economic and political opportunity to fear) succumb to mental captivity.

In Milosz’ own case, we are not dealing with a particularly political animal, even though the Captive Mind provides some valuable reflections upon how the ideology of communism and its “philosophy” of dialectical materialism kills the spirit. Milosz, though, was a man who could distinguish between what is truly venerable in poetry, and hence why commitment to it cannot be compromised by ideological fiat, and vacuous verbosity.

The cross roads that placed Milosz between the choices of following the power and opportunities that came from using his pen in the service of power or keeping true to the muse, was very similar to Kolakowski – who might have been an ideological hack had philosophy not remained his true love. And it was also his love of philosophy that enabled him to see the sheer untruth of the endeavour he was devoting his faith to.

Communism is a jealous God, and it is a philosophical God that requires total metaphysical possession of the mind (to be sure it is also a crippled philosophical God demanding crippled minds). Its claim to possess the scientific method, dialectical (historical) materialism, to enable its practitioners to identify the objective laws of history, and the larger historical meaning of the political and economic circumstances of the hour, is a big claim that reality rebukes at every opportunity.

Kolakowski had a keen metaphysical sense and that sense runs through his philosophical writings where the “big questions” remained his philosophical preoccupation until his death. Back in the 1950s, it was becoming clear to Kolakowski that dialectical materialism was a very small – and ultimately paltry – box of mental tricks when it came to dealing with the “big questions” that required really using the powers of the mind.

In some ways, communism was always about one’s mental powers, whether one really wanted to develop them, or whether one was happy to learn and apply a philosophical dogma and defend it at all costs. Marx would always resort to invective when anyone disagreed with him; and in that respect, he set the precedent of what one had to do – bully, threaten and silence one’s opponents – if one wanted to protect a set of doctrinal principles and commitments – the method of dialectical materialism – from philosophical critique.

Thus it was that Lenin, who had read very little philosophy, took time away from his revolutionary screeds and tactical writings to study Hegel’s Science of Logic (and just in case anyone might think he was not serious, it was not the shorter Logic of the Encyclopedia but the big thick one!) – the study remains clear for all and sundry to read thanks to his disciples preserving his notebooks as if they were holy writ.

The “study” is mostly transcription, and gloss with comments and marginal scribblings – all of which confirm that Lenin was completely clueless about what Hegel’s philosophy was. Thus like a deranged school master after all the screaming and dribbling (“Hegel conceals the weakness of idealism;” “ha-ha he’s afraid! Slander against materialism Why??”), he also found things in Hegel he could give big ticks to (“excellent!” “subtle and profound!” “a germ of historical materialism,” and such like).

Lenin already knew that history is made up of material forces which are dialectical, and that communism is the dialectical resolution of the class antagonisms of history. But serious Marxists believed that anyone who really wanted to enter into the inwards of the development of history had to read their Hegel. Albeit, by never forgetting that philosophy, as Marx had explained, consisted of two teams, idealists (those who thought the world came from their own heads) and materialists (the smart ones who knew there was a world outside of the head).

Thankfully, cholera had taken Hegel out before he had to read this nonsense, which was first aired by Marx’s pal, Ludwig Feuerbach, who failing to understand that when Hegel wrote a work on logic, he was writing (to be sure, it was a radical exposition and argument) on the process involved in how we think. Feuerbach, to great applause from Marx, criticized Hegel for not understanding that if he closed his eyes and wandered unawares into a tree, the bump would teach him the tree existed independently of his thought or knowledge about it. Pathetic, isn’t it?

Even Marx, as he got older, realized that really Hegel (he and Engels would refer to him affectionately in their correspondences as “the old boy”) was a much smarter dude than Feuerbach, who by then had taken his materialism to such dizzying heights as coming up with the formulation “one is what one eats” – in the German it looks cleverer – and thus becoming a forefather of today’s dietary obsessives.

Still, Marx thought that Hegel had grasped that history develops through antagonistic forces which give birth to an immanent resolution, which will ultimately enable man to reconcile himself with his essence as a cooperative labouring being. This was, to put it mildly, a cross between a trivial dilution and very silly application of Hegel’s rather profound, if ultimately unsustainable, account of how our thinking and knowledge (and hence the sciences) develop. So just as Marx and Engels had already told him, Vlad could now claim that Hegel, though a bourgeois, had been a real asset for the communists.

Lenin’s other great work of philosophical criticism was Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. It was, mainly, though not exclusively, a polemic against Ernst Mach and Richard Avenarius (two philosophers very little read today). One might well ask what on earth would a critique of two post-Kantians, trying to identify the role of cognitive operations within modern science. has to do with overthrowing the Tsar and sparking off a global revolution against capitalism? Good question. The answer is – to repeat – that Marxism was always a philosophy, and that Marxist philosophy considered any other explanation about how to think, and even what should be thought about, as an existential threat.

One of the many dangers of making a metaphysic dictate the direction of social, economic, political and cultural development is that it is a recipe for paranoia – having exaggerated what it can achieve, it then exaggerates the damage which other ideas, which do not fit into that metaphysics, may do.

This was all interestingly bought out in the book Encounters with Lenin by the Bolshevik apostate, Nicolai Valentinov (who also wrote under the name Nikolai Valentinov-Volski). He had the misfortune of telling Lenin in a conversation that he found Mach and Avenarius interesting – at which point Lenin went ballistic, frothing at the mouth and screaming about two authors, which Volski points out, he obviously had not even read. (It was only later that Lenin would sit down with their books and belatedly prove the point that even when he read their books, he failed to understand their point).

So, really being a Marxist or a Leninist boils down to a very simple and stupid thing – believing that Marx and Lenin are always right about the essential way the world is and how to fix it. The fascist decalogue simply stated “Mussolini is always right,” which made it explicit that anyone donning the black shirt should also take out his brain. Mussolini though, preferred his brainless followers to believe in the myth of the nation instead of the scientific truth of historical materialism – so at least Mussolini knew the difference between myth and science (even if he knew as little about the science of society as the Marxists did).

By insisting that their brand of socialism was scientific, Marxists were really saying that Marx had discovered a method for understanding human nature, history, society and political economy which was unassailable. So, Marx was always right. The same line of reasoning then led to the faith that Lenin was always right/Stalin was always right/Mao was always right, etc. Little wonder that the Bolsheviks so effortlessly followed the fascists in making a complete unity of their leader, their party and their people (at least the ones that did not need to be liquidated or re-educated in slave labour camps).

Of course, as the schisms got too big to hide – which is the inevitable consequence of a thinking that is both uncompromising and murderous – Marxists had to have a Reformation and work back to the beginning. Which was why the post-Stalinist, New Left, wave of Marxists also returned back to the “salon” and classroom, where Russian communism originated, i.e., among the class of intellectuals and university students – only this time, they did have a developed world to take over, and the task of institutional capture had been set out by Antonio Gramsci. But that is a whole other story.

This long excursion into Marxism-Leninism as a philosophy is really to highlight the question, how could any serious philosopher not see that this is a path to mental captivity? That a number of people, who were philosophically gifted, nevertheless capitulated, is akin to Milosz’ account of seriously gifted writers and poets becoming ideological hacks.

Kolakowski may have started going down the road to ideological hackdom. In spite of the broad sweep of the claim, one cannot help but detect a certain autobiographical note in the title as well as the opening sentence of his book from 1988, Metaphysical Horror” “A modern philosopher who has never experienced the feeling of being a charlatan is such a shallow mind that his work is probably not worth reading.”

In Metaphysical Horror Kolakowski presents the horror through the optic of a Spinozian spin of Cartesian skepticism: “If nothing truly exists except for the Absolute, the Absolute is nothing; if nothing truly exists but myself, I am nothing.” For my part, I cannot help but see this as a metaphysical extrapolation of a soul that in saving itself from the Absolute of Marxist Leninism, but asserting its own foundational certitude, is left wondering – if all of its world and its life’s meaning amounted to nothing.

Perhaps I am reading too much into this which is pitched in a manner commensurate with the timelessness of the metaphysical disposition. But as I have said, both communism and modernity are the creations of the metaphysical imagination. And having freed himself from the captivity of Marxism, Kolakowski dives into the metaphysical imagination, with its Absolute, with the kind of resolve that only a true disciple of philosophy as the search for the Absolute and the absoluteness of life’s meaning, could muster: “Once we know,” he offers in that same work, “that errors and illusions occur, questions about a reality which can never be an illusion, or truths about which no mistakes are possible, are unavoidable.”

But whereas Marx and all his progeny end up being what Eric Voegelin, the Austrian philosophical contemporary of Kolakowski and refugee from Nazism, identified as “gnosticism,” then the search for the Absolute may become, as it did for Kolakowski, a humbling affair in which one realizes that there is, again from Metaphysical Horror, “No access to an epistemological absolute, and …no privileged access to the absolute Being which might result in reliable theoretical knowledge.”

How to face up to this without absolutizing one’s own self, with all its aspiration to know, and accepting the ceaseless limits of its knowledge, is to avoid falling into the trap of nihilism. Sometimes it takes a man almost a life-time to lay out the aspect of his soul that leads him to turn off the path that seems secure and easy, but is ultimately a dead end. Kolakowski’s metaphysical writings strike me as the expression of an aspect of his soul – his character – that had to be released through exploring the most pressing conundrums that have been woven into our civilization, through the symbols of religion and the questions of philosophy.

In any case the philosopher in Kolakowski realized as a young man, with everything before him, that the stodgy metaphysical mush that passed for philosophy in communist Poland was connected to the grim reality of daily life that passed for socialism. Not being able to simply go along with the idiocy and lies any longer – a visit to Moscow in 1950 had already shown him what idiots were running the show – in 1956, he fired off a number of missives that contrasted socialist myths and reality. One, “The Death of Gods” (available in the collection of essays, Is God Happy?) seems to be the work of a writer torn between the idealism of his old self and the determination of the new self to be uncompromising about the truth:

“When at the ripe age of eighteen, we become communists, equipped with an unshakeable confidence in our own wisdom and a handful of experiences, undigested and less significant than we like to imagine, acquired in the Great Hell of war, we devote very little thought to the fact that we need communism in order to harmonize relations of production with the forces of production. It rarely occurs to us that the extremely advanced technological standards here and now, in Poland in 1945, require the immediate socialisation of the means of production if crises of overproduction are not to loom over us like storm clouds. In short, we are not good Marxists. For us, socialism, however we go about arguing for it in theoretical debates, is everything but the result of the operation of the law of value. Defended with clumsy arguments cobbled together from a cursory reading of Marx, Kautsky or Lenin, it is really just a
myth of a Better World, a vague nostalgia for human life, a rejection of the crimes and humiliations of which we have witnessed too many, a kingdom of equality and freedom, a message of great renewal, a reason for existence. We are brothers of the Paris communards, the workers during the Russian Revolution, the soldiers in the Spanish Civil War.
We thus have before us a goal that justifies everything….
We believed that socialist rule would naturally lead to the swift and total disappearance of national hostility, nationalist prejudice and tribal conflict. Instead we found that political activity which goes by the name of socialist can encourage and exploit the most absurd forms of chauvinism and blind nationalist megalomania. In culture these manifest themselves in the form of naive deceptions and infantile sophistry, but in politics, concealed behind a thin façade of traditional internationalist slogans, they assume the much more dangerous and sinister form of colonialism.”

Another from that same year was “What is Socialism?” which is basically a list depicting the totalitarian reality of life in a communist country, that is preceded by the sentence, “Here, then, is a list of what socialism is not,” and first on the list was “a society in which someone who has committed no crime sits at home waiting for the police.”

It is true that Kolakowski was not alone in speaking out against what socialism had become and he was swept up in a hopeful wave of defiance and bravery. And it is this importance of this bravery that cannot be underestimated when one considers how totalitarian regimes come undone: ideas are nothing in themselves, they are made by people and they make people. That is to say, bad and stupid ideas only take off and become instruments of annihilation, cruelty and stupidity because they appeal to and help make people who are ready to kill, be cruel, imprison others who aren’t as stupid as they are, that is people who will stop at nothing to get their way and who have no doubt about the rectitude of their view of the world and the solutions to its ailments.

All the pesky Poles mentioned in this essay would have had an easier and cushier life in Poland and the USA had they just gone along with the cruel and stupid ideological conformists and enforcers, who had and have all lost their minds, hearts and souls. Milosz could not have come up with a more prescient title than the Captive Mind if he had to depict what is happening today. But the shocking thing is how easily today our Western intellectuals and academics have entered into mental captivity.

In part, this is because they had already swallowed the poison of liberal freedom that both Legutko and Janowski address. And whereas they had done so in the tenured and most comfortable of circumstances, the writers, poets, philosophers whom Milosz depicts in the Captive Mind had lived through a time of extraordinary suffering. The poet Beta (a pseudonym for Tadeusz Borowski), for example, had been in Auschwitz, and witnessed and chose to survive by doing all that was required of him by his Nazi masters.

Perhaps souls like Borowski were simply harder to ensnare, and perhaps we in the West have been breeding monsters of ignorance who have now become ignorant monsters, and they are so sensitive they suffer like someone upon the rack if they but think of anyone who does not believe that the sum total of their knowledge (which could fit on a tiny packet of cards) for understanding and judging the past, present and future of the human race suffices for total emancipation.

For, let’s be real –ideologues typically enter into a state of apoplexy when someone challenges their diagnosis or remedies of a state of affairs which they designate as social injustice because they do not want anyone challenging their authority – the “injustice” is just a “trigger” (hence the need for trigger warnings) sending them into states of rage. This is not to deny the existence of social injustices; but today’s woke would not know how to identify, let alone fix, an injustice (for that would require thoughtfulness, and nuance) if it were ripping out their entrails.

When one reads Milosz, one is saddened by humans with characters and talents who were lost to communism, when one reads today’s woke journalists or academics or listens to the hysterical screaming of the kids demanding the world be what will make them feel safe (no police, for example, or no “whiteness”), the sadness is not in characters that have been lost, but in characters that have been malformed from the moment they could talk, and thus who have no notion of what it is to think.

The first wave of pesky Poles had often initially swallowed the poison of socialism. Milosz and Kolakowski had both had promising careers with the communist regime – Milosz was a cultural attaché in the United States and Paris, though falling foul of the party, he was able to find political asylum in France and then move to the United States. His Captive Mind was an early exposé of what communism did to the soul and it which quickly became a modern classic.

Kolakowski’s intellectual journey away from socialism was a far slower one – from believer to “revisionist,” during the so-called “Gomulka thaw,” when the Polish communist party itself was seeking for new ways to socialism, to disbeliever. As an exile, first in Montreal (where he taught at McGill) in 1968, Berkeley (University of California) in 1969, and then Oxford in 1970, he was free to philosophically engage in the two topics that seem to me (though I have not read his entire corpus) to be his major preoccupation: the metaphysical needs of the human spirit, and the disaster of Marxism as an “answer” to that need.

In the West he saw first-hand how the kinds of ideas that he had believed in in his youth were being recycled by the New Left. The irony was that Kolakowski himself had been something of an inspiration for the New Left. To them , and any others who were interested, Kolakowski would have to spell out what everyone (except a historically insignificant number of Trotsky supporters and the New Left) knew – Stalinism had Marxist roots a theme that would be developed at length in his magisterial three volume study Main Currents of Marxism (written between 1968 and 1976, and originally appearing in English in 1978).

Prior to that, in 1973, the English historian and anti-nuclear weapons activist, E. P. Thompson, had written an extremely long piece, “An Open Letter to Leszek Kolakowski,” for The Socialist Register. Thompson was a pioneer of the British New Left, and a founder of the Marxist journal, The New Reasoner which would morph into the New Left Review. He had achieved some fame with his book of 1963, The Making of the English Working Class. I bought the book, as an earnest young man, some forty years ago, and while, it contains serious history which indicates what Thompson could have been without the romanticism and Marxism, it is, nevertheless, about as riveting as a trade union meeting. (Thompson liked Blake – and I love Blake – but sadly Marx ruined his mind and nothing of Blake’s poetic brilliance seeped into his writing.) I quote from its opening paragraphs to give you an idea of the kind of Marxist casuistry, doggerel and dogma that cluttered his mind:

“This book has a clumsy title, but it is one which meets its purpose. Making, because it is a study in an active process, which owes as much to agency as to conditioning. The working class did not rise like the sun at an appointed time. It was present at its own making. Class, rather than classes, for reasons which it is one purpose of this book to examine. There is, of course, a difference. “Working classes” is a descriptive term, which evades as much as it defines. It ties loosely together a bundle of discrete phenomena. There were tailors here and weavers there, and together they make up the working classes. By class I understand an historical phenomenon, unifying a number of disparate and seemingly unconnected events, both in the raw material of experience and in consciousness. I emphasise that it is an historical phenomenon. I do not see class as a “structure”, nor even as a “category”, but as something which in fact happens (and can be shown to have happened) in human relationships.”

Hello! Are you still there?

In 1978, the bit about not seeing class as a structure would become the source of a theoretical dispute between him and the French structuralist Marxist Louis Althusser – he who strangled his, equally mentally disturbed, wife. Althusser even wrote a book about it, in which he revealed that his Mum was at the root all those problems in his life that capitalism was not to blame for – i.e. whatever part of his mind and soul Marx had not destroyed was finished off by Freud.

In any case, before Althusser was a garden variety philosophical wife-strangler (and funnily enough this domestic act did not irrevocably damage his brand with Marxist feminists), and an ex-asylum inmate roaming the Parisian streets in his pyjamas exclaiming, “I am the great Althusser,” he was the epitome of Parisian Marxist cool – close to the trés cool Derrida and Foucault – and hence a leading light for those wanting to lead the rest of us poor saps into a world free from the murderousness of private property.

The Althusser-Thompson dispute was a dreadfully tedious piece of rationalism, in which Thompson ostensibly defended Marxism as empiricism. To be fair, in the windbaggery department Althusser was a veritable Zeppelin in comparison to Thompson’s mere hot air balloon, and, to change metaphors, in the great Marxist “bake-off,” it was a rather drab English mince-pie, albeit garnished with some slices of wit, versus a delicate Parisian soufflé – light, with an airy texture that requires years and years of dedication to understanding how to generate enough hot air by merely blowing long and hard enough into one’s selected chosen ingredients – a little Marx, tossed with a dollop of Lenin, and throw in a pinch of Spinoza: voilà who would need to know anything more.

Long before this and even before the Open Letter, Kolakowski, who I suspect was more given to blintz than soufflé, did a review of Althusser in the 1971 issue of The Socialist Register. It concluded that Althusser amounted to “empty verbosity which … can be reduced either to common sense trivialities in new verbal disguise.” I mention this just to give those readers who were not there a picture of what was passing for serious thought among Marxist intellectuals when Kolakowski was teaching at Oxford, and around the time Thompson’s “Open Letter” was published.

The major purpose of the hundred-page Letter was to express Thompson’s personal “sense of injury and betrayal” that Kolakowski had left the team. In the typical self-congratulatory moral tones that have become the hallmark of the post-Stalinist left, Thompson instructed Kolakowski that he did not affirm his allegiance to the Communist Party (though he never realized that he did not need to do so to be their stooge in the nuclear disarmament campaign) – he was committed to the “Communist movement in its humanist potential.”

Even such a rhetorical gem – in an attempt to ingratiate himself with Kolakowski – as “Communism was a complex noun which included Leszek Kolakowski” could not conceal the fact that Thompson, for all his reading and historical digging, was a know-all and hence, in spite of all his learnedness, was another Western useful idiot. Thus, the irony in the title of Kolakowski’s “rejoinder” to Thompson: My Correct Views on Everything. For what is obvious to anyone who reads My Correct Views is that Thompson, whose Open Letter the Marxist critic Raymond Williams himself (most tellingly) calls “one of the best Leftist pieces of Leftist writing in the last decade” (one can only imagine how bad the others were) is an “embarras de richesses” of clichés and abstract vacuities, expressing a depth of moral self-delusion that enables Thompson to glide over the true suffering of people living in a system that politically ensures a society without private property. Thus, he is able to write with a great sweep of his quill that “to a historian, fifty years is too short a time to judge a new social system.” Kolakowski, as one might expect, does not let this pass. But the real strength of Kolakowski’s rejoinder is in his own admission of modesty:

“I share without restrictions your (and Marx’s, and Shakespeare’s, and many others’) analysis to the effect that it is very deplorable that people’s minds are occupied with the endless pursuit of money, that needs have a magic power of infinite growth and that the profit motive, not use value, rules production. Your superiority consists in that you know exactly how to get rid of all this and I do not.”

Near the conclusion of the rejoinder, Kolakowski takes up this theme of the complexity of the problem when he writes:

“This does not mean that socialism is a dead option. I do not think it is. But I do think that this option was destroyed not only by the experience of socialist states, but because of the self-confidence of its adherents, by their inability to face both the limits of our efforts to change society and the incompatibility of the demands and values which made up their creed. In short, that the meaning of this option has to be revised entirely, from the very roots.”

As excellent as Kolakowski’s three volume analysis of Marxism was, not least for addressing the spiritual longing that reside within its materialist heart – thus for Kolakowski, understanding Marxism requires thinking about Plotinus, Meister Eckart, Jacob Böhme, and Nicholas Cusa as well as the usual philosophical suspects of German idealism and the young Hegelians – it did not halt the Gramscian inflexion that had taken hold of British Marxism. That was mainly thanks to the New Left Review which had been translating Gramsci and hence introducing him to British intellectuals. Though by then Thompson had fallen foul of the far slicker and more theoretically savvy Perry Anderson and his faction within the New Left Review.

Also, sadly for the battle that Kolakowski was fighting, Althusser was but one of the Parisians who were to 1968 what the young Hegelians had been to 1844-48. A slew of “radical chicsters” were sexing up a philosophical, literary and sociological potpourri of Marx peppered with dollops of de Sade, and Nietzsche and sprigs of Heidegger – they were attacking totalizing narratives, and embracing the emancipatory potential of the marginals (Foucault extended his emancipatory largess from prisoners to paedophiles), who were deployed in the grand game of leading us to emancipation.

So. while Kolakowski was providing a lengthy and perceptive analysis of how the gulag gruel of communism came to be, the game plan had changed and the New Left were in the process of dropping the workers for any other group that could be construed as a minority. Old style British Marxists naturally enough were not so hot about all this – after all they (at least the serious ones) had wracked their brains over the three volumes of Capital, the Grundrisse, and the six volumes of Theories of Surplus Value – and they fought a losing battle against the French post-structuralists over who would be the hegemons of the university and the new society at large.

The theoretical disputes mattered as little in the late 1960s and 1970s as the disputes within and between Bolsheviks, Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries had mattered prior to the breakup of the Russian empire – what mattered was that a generation of educated young people with all their radical certitudes (in all their diversity) about power, oppression, capitalism, Eurocentrism and the panoply of social injustices and victims they would rescue were catapulted into positions of pedagogical authority by a society wishing to reproduce itself through educating its professionals. The Soviets knew exactly what was going on – for it was a replay of the process that had, albeit with the catalyst of the Great War, led to the demise of the Tzar, and were able to fuel the youthful arrogance of the class they could count onto hand them a (too belated) victory.

Kolakowski, though, could do nothing to stop this, any more than he could have stopped a flood with an umbrella – he was not only of the wrong generation, but on the wrong side of historical experience. He was the past and a man of considerable experience about the nature of communism. But it was the generation who saw themselves as being of the future who were indeed making the future– and their sense of experience was generally (with the exception of the casualties of the Vietnam war in the US and Australasia) one of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll and educational and job opportunities.

Even when the economic impediments of the 1970s kicked in, the model of mass education for social reproduction had been set, and then it was just a matter of time before the curriculum had been so politicized that the universities would become what they are now – managerially administered industrial sites for the making of a compliant globalist workforce shorn of the old bulwarks of sociality from the family, to the church, to the nation, and refabricated on the basis of race, gender and sexual preference.

Apart from Kolakowski, Milosz and Wat, trying to get Westerners to see the how, what and why of totalitarianism, the Polish historian Andrezj Walicki, especially his writings A History of Russian Thought from the Enlightenment to Marxism (1979), and Marxism and the Leap to the Kingdom of Freedom: The Rise and Fall of Communism (1995) provided an in-depth critique not only of Marxism, and its development but of the various ideological dreamings that helped turn Russia and its Soviet empire and satellites into a world that reflected back what designs of perfection actually deliver.

More to the point, the class of intellectuals in the West who might have benefitted from historical knowledge about the intellectual product of communism were not that interested in such writers or their diagnosis. Sadly, then, there was no contest, for the young professors and students, between Derrida/ Foucault versus Walicki /or Kolakowski –the former were superstars (and they were clever in the same way that a kid that can count to a hundred in Latin, balancing a stick on the end of his nose while juggling bunny rabbits for a while is clever), while the latter really knew they were talking about, especially when it came to how ideas of absolute liberty, and equality and the end of oppression would turn out.

But the professors and their students were interested in identifying all the things they were sure they could fix, not with learning about how little they actually knew. Ambition, arrogance, rhetoric, formulae, facileness, slogans – indeed the exact same ingredients of self-making that had been the brew and bake of the old left, was the brew and bake of the new left. Men like Kolakowski, Walicki, Milosz, Wat were voices for such old virtues as humility in the face of historical complexity and the need to accept the limits of human achievement and the inevitability of error, weakness and ignorance.

Around much the same time, as Kolakowski was starting his life in the West, another Polish writer and refugee from communism, Leopold Tyrmand, who had written a modern anti-totalitarian classic setting down the routines of communist daily life, The Rosa Luxemburg Contraceptives Cooperative: A Primer on Communist Civilization (1972), also (Notebooks of a Dilettante [1970]) reported that at a dinner party in America “a distinguished Negro writer” asked him what percentage of the population would vote anti-Communist if there were free elections in an Eastern European country.

When Tyrmand responded that, if the elections were really free and all positions could be presented, and if there were no fear of persecution, then it would be about 85 percent, the writer responded, “I don’t believe it”- a little later exclaiming more heatedly, when Tyrmand tried to explain how things worked in Poland: “It’s impossible! It’s against any logic!” And that really is the point: people who have no knowledge about something are convinced they do, provided they think it is the kind of thing they think is of political importance.

This is what ideology and education do. This is what the captive mind is. But in Milosz’ work of that title, minds were generally captured by circumstances harrowing, fearful and brutal enough to draw out a certain weakness of the soul. But today in the West it is liberty itself that has exposed the weaknesses of soul that now presides over the political and social institutions of the West. And whilst there are some fine diagnosticians of the current and very likely fatal pathology of the West, two Polish authors, Ryzsard Legutko, and Zbigniew Janowski have written works that take us into the heart of the matter.

3. Exposing The Dialectic of Totalitarian Freedom

When Hannah Arendt wrote what would become a class of political science, The Origins of Totalitarianism, liberal democracy was considered to be a form of government in which the state had clear identifiable limits. This distinction between a state that had limitations and freedom was not just a theoretical one – people wanting to escape from the control of the state and a particular ideology had, if they could manage to get there; somewhere to escape to.

Thus, it was that a number people, including the Polish intellectuals mentioned above, who could not stand the lack of freedom, the brutality, the ideological imbecility, the incessant brainwashing and ludicrous lies of communism fled to the West. It was much the same for people escaping from Nazi Germany – though the poor bastard communists who escaped from Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union were frequently caught up in the anti-foreign campaign of the great purge and all too often found themselves in gulags or simply before a firing squad. One of the distinctive insights of Arendt’s book was her argument that the French Declaration of the Rights of Man did not serve as a means to prevent the rise of forces that would lead to totalitarianism, but rather exposed groups of people who lay outside the protection of the nation and thereby found themselves as victims of persecution within the nation.

This insight of Arendt’s is a good example of how an idea, or principle may develop into its opposite. And although Marxists generally loved to talk of dialectics, anyone who really thought dialectically could see that Marxism was a power for the extinction of all classes and ideological enemies that were perceived as obstacles to those who lived off the narrative that they enforced on others. That is, it was simply a will to power of a bunch of people who thought they knew how to rule their world to get what they wanted – which they think everybody wants – no private property, and no religion etc. for example.

One might say that the reason for this is that the dialectic that transpired was between the willfulness of a group wanting their world to be a certain way and the stubbornness of the world (i.e. lots of other people) to resist that way. The problem has to do with ideology itself. For reality (including real human beings) refuses to simply yield to abstractions that only exist due to not taking into account those parts of reality that the subject or knower simply has no inkling of or care for. Communism was just one example of that failure. Fascism was another. And liberalism is yet another.

Liberalism, though, has been somewhat slower in revealing its totalitarian essence (though some – to take three very different kinds of people – like de Maistre, Tocqueville, and Newman clearly saw its weaknesses), and, unlike Fascism and Communism, its shortcoming did not require death or labour camps. But the time of revelation is now upon us. Would that it were not the case – would that liberty could prevail over all else. But it cannot, for liberty is a concept of some complexity, and even then, it is, at best, only an aspect of a life, and when we seek to make any aspect of life the essence or condition of life – we mess up.

Ryszard Legutko’s The Demon in Democracy, and The Cunning of Freedom: Saving the Self in an Age of False Idols, and Zbiegniew Janowski’s Homo Americanus: The Rise of Totalitarian Democracy in America examine the mess.

Part of the mess simply comes from ideology itself – the desire to simplify the complexities of the real to conform to a narrative, pattern of policy and legislation and the institutions of social reproduction which will solve our most pressing problems. The problems of political obligation, of who has the right to decree what must be done to whom, and who must be followed in order keep the peace between members of the social body, are perennial.

Problems between “groups” and within them have led to a relatively limited number of solutions – this is because the problems are very similar as are the means for solving them: someone or few must make decisions that the community must comply with, there must be some way of passing on succession etc. In this respect all “political” organization is inevitably hierarchical and elite-based–obviously how the elite is selected and what is expected of them varies significantly.

Historically, that elite had evolved out of the power they displayed – usually this display was exhibited on the battlefield, though power to engage the gods was always another aspect involved in the power formation and distribution of the society. Monarchy and aristocracy are generally and essentially derived from military victory, and the power of the monarch is also derived from capacity to command the requisite alliances that sustain the peace between potential contesting powers.

Although Plato and Aristotle had envisaged a kind of political order based upon the best ideas and insights that could organize a society – until modern times this was merely a philosophical pipedream. But modernity itself, in its technological and administrative and economic and political innovations is inseparable from the emergence of a new elite, whose bread-and-butter was (as the philosopher John Locke called it) “the way of ideas.”

As the number of people appealing to and living off ideas spread the entire way of understanding political authority changed. Modern social contract theory was one symptom of the change – for each of the contract theorists envisaged a rational reconstruction of the origins of social and political development. More important than the fact that a handful of philosophers were writing about the rational foundations of society and political authority was the fact that a public who were interested in discussing ideas generally, and, more specifically, how a society should be organized was developing.

The tensions between the Americans and the British crown provided the opportunity for a relatively small group of educated men to draft a new political order in a world relatively unencumbered by past vestiges of authority, that would in turn inspire a class in a part of the old world able to find its moment in the ruins of a financial and social breakdown that it had helped on its way. For good and bad, France, albeit initially for only a relatively brief time, had provided the old world with a new way of doing and speaking about political authority.

For all the chaos of the French revolution, and the geopolitical consequences that it triggered, politics and ideology became increasingly entangled. The history of the very word ideology comes from one of the revolution’s great survivors, a philosopher and political economist, Destutt de Tracy. That is, politics became not only something that concerned people interested in ideas, it itself became equivalent to a practice which primarily required getting the right ideas to fit a world which would conform to the ideas that its educated elite had about it. There were ideological differences between different thinkers and members of the public, but thinking of politics as a political matter was becoming increasingly commonplace, so that political choices were invariably ideological choices.

This is the background against which Legutko’s book needs to be read. For the young students and staff who tried to prevent him talking at Middlebury are so sadly ignorant of where they fit within the larger forces that have bred them that they simply dismiss him as a conservative -i.e., they reduce him to an ideology – whilst seeing themselves as the guardians of freedom and justice and human decency.

The operative word though is that they are guardians, and they guard what they think, which is all too little to do justice to the scale of the problems we can divide between the perennial and the peculiarly modern. Were they aware of that, the first idea they would have to dispense with, apart from their own faith in their knowledge, is that the kinds of problems that all people including modern people inherit and generate do not all have a neat – if indeed any – solution.

The idea that there is a political pattern with a happy ending, a pattern that politically eliminates the tragic features of life is completely crazy – and even non-religious people, who are thoughtful, should be able to appreciate that one benefit of believing in the after-life is that we do not become burdened by things we cannot achieve – nor completely delusional about our capacities to do what only a God would have the power to do such as see how all things fit together. (Which is why of all the metaphysicians, I have always had a soft spot for Leibniz).

Not surprisingly, people who think they know how things all fit, and hence how to politically solve our problems tend to be very similar – irrespective of their particular ideological convictions. One is reminded of the French fascist author Drieu de la Rochelle agonizing about which team to choose as there was so little real difference between them.

In terms of his reputation, he chose the wrong one, his friend Malraux the acceptable one – but both chose murderous regimes. In terms of the character of the people who are drawn to become ideologically and politically involved Legutko observes of the transition in Poland from communism to liberal democracy how swiftly “former members of the Communist party adapted themselves perfectly to liberal democracy, its mechanisms, and the entire ideological interpretation that accompanied these mechanisms. Soon they even joined the ranks of the guardians of the new orthodoxy.” This is because they were first and foremost guardians, and in this respect no different from the Western politician who immediately adapts the ideological ideas to political realities that he must confront.

While guardians can quickly switch ideologies, today they are programmed to think ideologically. And, for me, the power of Legutko’s analysis lies in his recognition of the depth of the problem of ideology itself. For while during the Second World War, or the Cold War liberal democracy looked – and indeed was – so much better than the alternatives, the fact remains that it rests upon abstractions such as freedom and equality which, if taken as things in themselves, are not only socially damaging, but which also contribute to the elimination not only of actual freedoms, but of aspects of sociality which are intrinsic to humans convivially cooperating and bonding across time. Thus, the kind of love a parent has for its child, or that exists between husband and wife, and even between friends simply cannot be fathomed if we think exclusively in terms of qualities like freedom and/ or equality. Living relationships are intrinsically and necessarily sacrificial.

The broken families that litter the liberal democratic world, are testimony to the triumph of liberty in the formation of relationships, but they are also symptomatic of the problems that befall a society in which the sacrificial is ousted by a mélange of pleasure, comfort and abstraction. Where the problem of broken families makes itself most conspicuous is where the material resources which, though no surrogate for love, enable other forms of communal engagement are lacking – that is among the poorest sections of the society.

Being from privileged backgrounds or at least being able to access resources which gave them opportunities that those dwelling in ghettoes do not have, the Middlebury brats threatening to silence Legutko were particularly outraged by his diagnosis of the damage done by the sexual revolution, warnings against marriage break-down and abortion. For the ideologue such warnings must be ideologically dismissed because they are conservative.

But the truth, of Legutko’s warning, is palpable amongst the American blacks, that is amongst the class which these imbecilic brats claim to somehow speak for and represent, along with single mothers from the white underclass whose domestic life is so frequently one of violence at the hands of men who move in with them when it is convenient to do so, and out as soon as a better opportunity arises. (More’s the pity that most students who study the social sciences and humanities would have no idea of the writings of Theodor Dalrymple aka Anthony Daniels).

It is sheer thoughtlessness that could lead one to think that freedom is a panacea for solving the kinds of problems that can only be dealt with by foregoing freedom, by accepting sacrifice – and the sacrifice that is paid for by single mothers, abandoned by the children’s fathers confirms the dialectical entanglement in which freedom frequently generates its opposite.

Thus, it is that Legutko, and this is also true of Janowski, which has also led him to track down J.S. Mill’s complicity in this madness, warns his readers that the breakup of the world into the seekers and enemies of freedom is ridiculous.

As indicated by the subtitle of the Freedom book Legutko recognizes that liberal democracy’s promise of salvation is idolatrous. It is not that liberty does not have its place amongst those aspects of the human spirit that give meaning and value in a life or to a collective, but an aspect is not a god. The endless search for the realization of liberty ultimately becomes a tearing down of the social and personal dwellings of the spirit that give it a purposeful sense of place.

The cloud of the abstract replaces the solidity of real relationships, with their compromises and imperfections, and the regular routine duties which are the condition of their nourishment. Liberty today has become indistinguishable from the short-lived thrill of a sexual encounter – “the sexual revolution,” says Legutko, “is arguably the most extreme manifestation of the episodic nature of man.” That something as ephemeral as the sex act can become the basis of an identity to be used as a foundation for the structuring of society – thus requiring an endless array of writings and university courses about its importance – is indicative of a people infantilizing, and pleasuring its way into hell.

Progressives think that their virtue will not only spare them this fate, but will contribute to them creating very heaven. But these are people whose “virtue” has no benign existential bearing, nor even basic moral bearing in so far as they are members of a class whose power is predicated upon the narrative they learn, conform to, preach, and protect at all cost.

Hence, diversity, identity, equity and such like are the institutional paper currency of the will to power of a poorly educated, highly ambitious, envious, and endlessly egocentric elite who base everything upon identity and representation because they are so devoid of any real self. Their freedom is their emptiness – and their creation, as Legutko, names one chapter in his Freedom book, is “the wretched world of absolute freedom.” Such freedom is what Isaiah Berlin had defended as “negative freedom” in “Two Concepts of Liberty.” And when communism was offering something that was positively revolting, negative freedom looked like it had much going for it. Thus, Berlin’s essay, which Legutko had once considered to be inspirational, now appears to Legutko, merely a “collection of platitudes and falsehoods.”

For Legutko, far from being an ideal that was self-explanatory and invaluable, freedom has proven to be a philosophical problem – and in the West it has “got into the hands and minds of dogmatists who turned it first into a rigid, ultimately fruitless formula, and then into an ideological tool to promote a liberal model of society that I found increasingly dubious.”

The problem that has been revealed to anyone with eyes to see is the problem that “once one particular group’s freedom is confused with the legal framework of freedom, then the language of freedom is likely to become mendacious” – and that is exactly what has happened over the last two generations or so in the Western world. In an essay in the first volume of Janoswki’s collected edition of writings by J.S. Mill, Legutko had pointed out how the harm principle simply becomes the means for a group wanting to entrench practices previously considered socially undesirable making the mores, that had been intrinsic to social development, a pariah position – as has happened now with the dismantling of the traditional family and its roles.

The great myth of liberalism is that everyone’s freedom can be maximized – so as Legutko puts it – it is a society that would resemble “a department store in which everything is offered, everyone can find what they want, no one feels undeserved, one can change one’s preferences, and even the most selective desires can be satisfied.”

Peoples that were once enemies now get along swimmingly well because all get what they want – hey you can get the burka, and I can get the bikini briefs that best display my twerk – provided, of course, the submit to the rules, which require a severe surgical reconstruction of what one actually wants. This is the squared circle of a society, one in which two fundamentally incompatible loyalties – loyalty to one’s own community, and loyalty to an infinitely open system – are falsely seen as both desirable and achievable.

I used the word myth above, but the myth is really little more than a lie. And the chaos of the Western world is in large part the result of the exposure of the lie as lie, which has brought out the savage and tyrannical reaction of the “de facto rulers, educators, ideologues, guardians, and censors for all members of the society.” That chaos has been facilitated, in no small part, by the elevation of such abstractions as “human rights” which simply enable the proliferation of claimants for conditions which someone has to supply, and recognition for qualities and behaviour which someone has to give, which only fuel the expansion of a class who control not only actions, but words, and thoughts right down to which pronouns are permissible.

Against the modern doctrinal approach to freedom that has been enwrapped in a dialectic of tyranny, Legutko, drawing upon Aristotle and Plato, defends a more nuanced and classically developed notion of freedom that moves from the unlimited and unconstrained idea of freedom of a self with its vacuous sense of dignity and hedonistic drives to an understanding of the self as requiring an inner strength that results from cultivating the virtues and hence taking on the sacrifices that are the precondition of those virtues.

In Plato and Aristotle freedom as such was never a virtue, rather it is a quality of the self that is an out-growth of the development of the virtues. Readers familiar with Aristotle will recall his famous distinction between those who are slaves by nature and those who may through circumstances fall into slavery, which is suggestive of freedom being as much a disposition and not simply a legal or political one.

In this sense the classical position offers a stark reminder of how mistaken modern philosophy has been in taking abstract political goals and abstract characteristics as sufficient in themselves, whilst failing to take into account the cultivation of the self through service and obligation. Legutko reflects upon the positive freedom to be found in such lives as the philosopher, the entrepreneur, the artist and “aristocrat,” whilst drawing his reader’s attention to how each type easily becomes distorted in its modern formation because the modern self is based upon an original fundamental failure to understand not only the soul and its needs, but how the failure to cultivate its development results in the kind of mess we inhabit.

It is the lack of cultivation of free inner selves that Legutko identifies as what has been lost in the obsession with emancipation that has only emptiness as its goal. Near the conclusion of the Cunning of Freedom Legutko observes – “Living is a constant process of making sense of what’s finite in the light of what’s infinite, and of what’s contingent in the light of what’s absolute.”

The West’s tragedy is, in part at least, the ruin that comes from a failure not only to understand the laws of the spirit, but from the ideological spread of a way of thinking and being, in which those laws are buried under the weight of the finite’s own self obsession and delusions about its infinitude.

What we now have is a great mass of deluded selves constituting a pyramid presided over by the emptiest and most deluded, by the people who claim to know the All that needs to be known (the infinite as such), but who in fact know next to nothing about themselves or the world.

One only has to think of the fact that the academic study of literature in the most prestigious universities in the world does not teach how to better fathom human lives, souls, and characters, with their respective trials, circumstances, fatalities, triumphs and defeats, virtues and flaws, but to read texts as ciphers of power relations constituted by identity types. Professors and students endlessly repeat Althusser’s view of the social world as consisting of subject-less structural “bearers” in the grim and endless identity struggles for “emancipation.”

While the word emancipation is a void, defined by nothing more than the absence of oppression, we may glean some meaning of the word from the common French post-structuralist alignment of Sade (with his gargantuan mechanics of death for the pleasure of the killers), Nietzsche (with his fantasy of higher men and supermen who are beyond good and evil and are the creators of value), and Marx (with his view of unalienated life being bound up with our labouring cooperative essence).

As a vision statement it looks (in the immortal words of Johnny Rotten) ‘”Pretty Vacant,” but that is the point. For what we are witnessing now is a carbon copy of Russian’s nineteenth century with its alliance of intelligentsia and students: the complete preoccupation with emancipation and the dehumanization of any who impede their “emancipation.”

Thus, the meaning of life is read exclusively in terms of unequal power relations, and the dyadic norms that they see as all important – oppressor/ oppressed, privilege/ equity, inclusiveness/ exclusiveness, whiteness/ non-whiteness, diversity/ lack of diversity, rich/ poor, cisgender/sexual fluidity. In what became the Soviet Union, once the politicized Russian intelligentsia successfully broke down and then took control of all social and political institutions, they moved from having dehumanized their enemy (those on the wrong side of the normative dyad) into a phase of extermination.

It is the first phase of the totalitarian reality of the United States today that is the subject of Janowski’s Homo Americanus, a searing indictment of how every-day and valuable freedoms in the United States – especially the freedom to “openly or publicly” express “opinions which are not in conformity” with “what the majority considers acceptable at the moment” have become suffocated by a surfeit of democratic intrusions, into “virtually all aspects of man’s existence.”

Though it is not so much the opinions which the majority hold, but the opinions which the majority of the elite hold that are the problem. This is one of two instances where I think Janowski mistakes the sentiments and ideas that circulate amongst the ideas brokers in the US with the majority of the population.

The other is in the opening sentence, “Only few Americans seem to understand that we, here in the United States, are living in a totalitarian reality, or one that is quickly approaching it” strikes a note of warning. But given that now almost half the country believe that their president was not elected, were Janowski’s book more widely publicized I think it would have a huge audience. These are trivial matters in a book that I think is as relevant to today as Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind was a generation ago – though I think Janowski’s diagnosis is far sharper, and not given to the kind of (Straussian) idiosyncrasies that make Bloom’s version of history look like a library shelf.

Perhaps the sentence that best sums up Janowski’s “thesis” is: “The anti- communist opposition, just like Western political scientists, did not understand that 1989 was not a moment of liberation, but the moment when one collectivist ideology (communism) was replaced by another collectivist ideology (democracy).” I think this is a brilliant insight into the historically complex and dialectical entanglements which may help us identify the vast expansion of democracy beyond “its electoral confines” so that today “Equality is our New Faith.”

Although it is indicative of the high speed of acceleration occurring right now, as this elite program steam rolls over all resistance, that the word equality is viewed with less favour than it was even last year, when Janowski was still writing the book: for now, the New Word/Faith is Equity. Though, Homo Americanus is not so much an argument for this claim as a testimony of it. And for all the many authors Janowski engages with to depict the tragedy he is witnessing, the writing reminded me of none so much as Joseph Roth who chronicled the rising historically unstoppable evil of Nazism. St. Augustine’s Press are to be congratulated for publishing a book that is so urgently needed and yet so out of step with the pre-occupations and obsessions of mainstream academia today.

Nevertheless, the fact that it is a small independent (albeit quality) publisher that has taken on Homo Americanus rather than a major academic or commercial publisher is indicative of the times. For it would never have got through the gatekeeping staff within the major presses, who simply cannot get enough books on sexual or (non-white) racial identity, oppression, and emancipation. Mainstream publishing today is generally committed to ensuring that the USA follow its elite headlong into oblivion.

And it is doing so apace. For in less than a decade it has gone from the world’s leading democracy and global superpower, attempting to preserve free societies from their totalitarian enemies (sure they would, when forced to choose, support their dictators), into a country (is it, in any meaningful sense, a nation?) in which ideological imbeciles are not only elected but set the social and political agenda for the next two or three generations.

It is now a society of what Janowski calls “communist liberalism,” a society in which the media can brazenly close down stories which do not suit its political objectives (does anyone remember Hunter?), whilst manufacturing ones that do (I note that Russia-gate was just given a reboot the day I was writing this sentence by The Guardian). It has gone from being a society in which freedom of speech was widely valued as unnegotiable into being interpreted as a means of ensconcing white privilege.

It is a society which once schooled the finest minds of the Western world to encourage considered deliberation about the problems that must be confronted for the survival and betterment of a democratic society, a society which once protected (even if did not adequately value) independence of thought. It is a society that once could benefit from its social and political tensions by opening up new pathways of conviviality and community building.

Now it is a society in which every disagreement is but an occasion for expanding the endemic of the inimical, a society in which families and friends can no longer agree to disagree, where someone cannot be allowed to say what he thinks he sees – nor even deviate from the formulae of articulation that has elite consensual approval.

It is a society that regards those, like Janowski and Legutko, who warn about the perilous condition of the USA, as pariahs and enemies – terms such as “right wing” or “conspiracy theorist” now are loosely thrown about to dehumanize and delegitimize anyone who is not on board with whatever the consensus of the moment is.

It is a society in which freedom of speech is not even allowed in schools, or universities or upon the technological platforms which have become the most important source of public assembly in the twenty-first century – and which have rapidly become sources of surveillance and snitching upon those deemed politically undesirable.

Janowski’s diagnosis is a tour de force of the shrunken and sick soul that the United States has been cultivating for decades. Although Janowski was not merely a traveller to the US, the book has much in common with Tocqueville’s Democracy in America – a work Janowski draws upon frequently in Homo Americanus -, for it provides an optic of the outsider that can see the strangeness of things Americans take for granted as being what every sensible person thinks or does. In 1835 – the year that the first volume of Democracy in America appeared – Tocqueville expressed his admiration of the American experiment while also expressing warnings and criticisms of the dangers it posed for the individual and the collective.

Having become such an economic and military power, even in the relatively recent past it may have been easy to consider Tocqueville’s fear unwarranted – they weren’t. But what Tocqueville saw as ailments that were still in their incipient phase, are now totally debilitating derangements of the soul and collective. Take, for example, the following observation of Janowski that America is:

“a place where everyone is afraid of something or someone: the gays are driven by fear of straight people; the transgendered boys and girls by fear of rejection from natural boys and girls; blacks by fear of whites, whites by fear of blacks, women by fear of men, Americans by fear of foreigners, illegal immigrants by fear of Americans and the American Justice system, liberals by fear of “white supremacists,” and so on. The list seems to be endless. And their fears are presented by the activists as socio-economic and political programs.”

Or,

“We hear on a daily basis the expression “war on […],”as in the “war on terror,” “war on drugs,” “war on cancer,” “war on obesity,” “war on smoking,” “war on fats,” and so on. Another term, belonging to the same militaristic family, is “survivor,” as in “cancer survivor,” “abuse survivor,” “date rape survivor,” “assault survivor,” and so on. Signs with the word “zone,” such as “Hate-speech free zone,” “Smoke-free zone,” “Drug-free zone,” “Alcoholfree zone,” “Stress-free zone,” and “guns-free zone,” make the world appear to be a mine-field, with places that are safe and those that are not, and in order to survive in it, one has to be truly vigilant. …Universities offer phone apps so that potential victims can press a button and be saved from danger. Being constantly bombarded by the words “war,” “zone,” “safe spaces,” “trigger warnings,” and “survivor” must have a psychological effect, as it likely creates a sense of threat even though it is rare that these threats are real.”

Thus, as Janowski also rightly observes: “Politics is not seen as a way of resolving conflicting interests, in which some groups win and others lose, or abandon some of their high-minded aspirations and lower their sails, moving onto problems which people with expertise can solve. The political realm looks like a spider-web created by loud fearmongers in which the rest of us are expected to entangle ourselves.”

As I have said repeatedly, this can only be gold for the geopolitical enemies of the USA is something so obvious yet so obviously ungraspable for the US elite and leaders of its intelligence agencies and military that one cannot help but feel the curtain has already come down – because there is no spirit of a nation left worth protecting.

At one point, Janowski notes of Homo Americanus – his “goal in life is to meet the demands of a purely rational social organization, devoid of eccentricity, individuality, spontaneity, and thereby life” – which is true, but what constitutes rationality in this world is one in which reason has completely been engulfed by feelings, and feelings by phobias, and phobias generated by a self whose real historical substance has been drained by an abstract and empty axiomatic ideal of equality/equity. Homo Americanus is:

“culturally impoverished, and his knowledge of other cultures is limited to occasional visits to ethnic restaurants. Any attempt to make him rooted in national tradition—through education, habits, and social mores—is seen as an onslaught on his thin identity. He even invented his own language of defense against becoming educated, that is, against the acquisition of a thick cultural identity. It is the language of “safe-spaces” and “trigger warnings.” It alarms him that there are others who claim strong cultural identity, that there are works of literature, philosophy, and art which were written from a specific perspective. Because he is not outer-directed, or is too afraid of facing the challenge of being in a world that he did not create, he builds his identity on the only thing he has— namely, his biology or sexuality, with which he experiments and which he believes can sustain him psychologically and culturally.8 His so-called culture is not part of long history of human experience that stretches to the ancient Greeks, Romans, Hebrews, Medievals, and others; it is a fragmented and arbitrary concoction of names and attitudes taken from different time periods and cultures. But even here, we encounter a new problem. His history is often simply made up—fictitious and of mythological rather than historical nature. It is easy to see that such a concept of identity has no continuous cultural history, and as such it must be hostile to any and every culture rich in records.”

That the malnourished selves are on a such a zombie-like rampage seeking to fill their lives with meaning should be no surprise. For people will do literally anything, believe anything to fill the void of meaning in their lives. All healthy cultures transmit spiritual meaning between generations.

In the US, though, where the traditional sites of spiritual transmission – the family and religion – are construed by its elite as oppressive, and where the young who go to college are inducted into a value system requiring abeyance to abstract moral ideals which ostensibly provide the key to social perfection, complete faith in their ability to fix all the wrongs of a hateful world, total shame, if white, in their traditions (which, curiously, is now commonly considered a racial phenomenon – if the US college is anything to go by, the Nazis seem to have won the day on that stupid idea).

These idols of self, “reason,” and morality are idols of death – which is why so many zombified college youth felt so alive last summer when they got to hang out with the black underclass and pillaged, looted, screamed and watched things burn so that they could at least feel – alive.

A famished spirit is as indiscriminate as a famished stomach. The feeling of least resistance is always pleasure. And hence if sex can be unmoored from the more traditional strictures as occurred in the 1960s then the starving spirit may find momentarily relief from its anomie, alienation and despair (at one point Janoswki notes that the US has the highest depression rate in the world).

Sex might be a quick release, but it also has other consequences from new life to disease and death, from joy to guilt, regret and jealousy to mental break-down and suicide, from a wedding to the break-up of families, a sexual act can topple a government and bring a kingdom to its ruin, – all of which are why traditional societies – even those like the Greeks and Romans (check out the harshness of their adultery laws), which seem to be so much freer than Christian societies have generally been extremely cautious about the rules and regulations surrounding sex. But, as Janowski correctly observes, in US Colleges,

“students show up in classes with T-shirts or with pins (the size of a hand-palm) on which it is written: “Consent is Sexy” (worn mostly by young men) and “I love Female Orgasm” (worn by young women). They are made to participate unconsciously in an ideological campaign, whose emotionally detrimental effects for their lives they are completely unaware. Knowledge of “how to do it,” taught by the “sex-masters” with college degrees, is a new rite of passage with which colleges send their graduates to the workplace. There they deepen their initiation into the American Brave New World by taking mandatory “sexual harassment training” and “sensitivity training.'”

One notes here the means in which the bodily pursuit though seemingly the objective of fulfilment is subordinate to the ideological – which for Homo Americanus today is the spirit in itself.

That sex features in such a conflicted and ideologically twisted way in the lives of Homo Americanus is evident in all manner of ways, from the hyper-sexualisation of children, to the gyrating, twerking of barely clothed nubile young women at sports events attended by families with small children, to an obsession with sexual harassment to the extent that now being a sexual harassment officer is a career, to a culture which encourages child masturbation and openness to consider non hetero-sexual relations as life style choices, to one in which sex has to be construed in terms of the nature of the power relationships involved between the parties, to tortured attempts to identify what exactly consent involves, especially when large amounts of alcohol has been imbibed, to cases of young women regretting their casual hook-ups and making false accusations of rape. Two examples provided by Janowski, which a number of readers may remember, well illustrate simply how insane the culture in the US has become when it comes to sex:

“Several years ago, we learned about two six-year-old boys—H. Y., from Canon City, Colorado and M D., from Aurora, Colorado—who were accused of sexual harassment. H.Y. was accused of kissing a girl (his age) on the hand; M.D. for singing a line from an LMFAO song, ‘I’m Sexy and I Know It,’ to a female classmate while waiting in the lunch line. The cases were considered to be of national importance judging by the fact that they were reported in The Washington Post and on national radio.
If you think this is crazy, hold on! Victoria Brooks, lecturer in law at the University of Westminster, rushed to defend Samantha against inhuman treatment when several of her fingers were broken. Samantha, it turns out, is a sex doll who ‘worked’ in a brothel in Barcelona. Human rights activists now want sex-dolls to be endowed with a consent chip. ‘It is a step toward a consent-oriented approach to sex dolls.'”

The extension of democracy into everyday life has occurred in tandem with the democratization of institutions whose historical value lay in cultivating noble qualities i.e., qualities that were decisively non-democratic – especially the classical ones of wisdom, prudence and moderation, piety, courage, and justice (as something that was concerned with the grains of complexity and traditional expectations rather than ideological formulae).

Thus Janowski draws upon Plato’s critique of the democratic soul from the Republic. For, as Plato had observed, in so far as democracy fuels the passions of greed and covetousness (pleonexia) it contributes to a psychic dissolution that crosses over into the most unconstrained, the most lascivious kind of soul and regime, the tyrant and tyranny.

When Janowski writes “to the former denizen of the Socialist paradise, the behaviour of today’s America is painfully reminiscent of the old homo sovieticus, and more the Chinese man of the period of the Cultural Revolution,” he is speaking not only from having read Plato but having lived in a satellite of homo sovieticus who also is historically astute to how easily students can be used as tools of tyranny, especially when, as happened in that revolution and is happening today, the energy of youth is harnessed to a leadership that empowers itself by destroying institutions that thwart its ambitions.

But whereas the cultural revolution was a momentary tactic in Mao’s elimination of political rivals, in today’s US, cultural revolution is the playbook behind the professional ruling class’s tactic of clientelism. This is all too evident in the acceleration of the decline of democratic institutions in the United States today.

When Janowski commenced this project, elected officials were not openly saying that the police should not be funded, nor its president and vice-president that America was a systemic racist country, and critical race theory was not (known to be) part of the curriculum in military academies. They say this because this is the kind of clientelism that has been bred into the professional classes who find a never ending supply of clients by no longer using the state to provide welfare for a group down on its luck, or experiencing the social hell of being born into a world built by the poor choices of its parents or grandparents, but recruiting permanent dependents and finding an infinitude of disparities (invariably natural, inevitable, and not even debilitating) which are proof that the system is biased and hence needs their political interference.

When a pronoun, or traditional name of a social role such as father or mother can be interpreted as a form of social injustice or oppression, one sees what an infinite front expands in the search for equity. While the Chinese have gone from overcoming the precarious position of the communist party prior to Ji taking over the reins, to inventing and expanding the deployment of 5 G, and perfecting (diabolical as it is) the nation/state/ market corporatist nexus through the Belt and Road Initiative, the US, has employed an army of lawyers and bureaucrats and HR officers to change all manner of forms and rules so that people can feel safe with their pronoun, and the CIA and FBI can now proudly recruit trans, gay and other people of “diversity.”

The US has so confused reality with representation that “The Greatest Showman” reveals more truth about US elite aspirations as taught in universities and as required by corporations – a circus and carnival celebrating the freakish – than anything that might be learnt by studying Economics, Philosophy, History, Literature (i.e., real literature, without the bollocks of theory).

On the pronoun front, Janowski discusses the case of Jordan Peterson, who refused to comply with university policy on suitable pronouns – that is because he believed (silly him) that for all their wisdom, neither university administrators, social justice advocates nor legislators had the power to command linguistic usage.

The articulate, mild-mannered, and rigorously rational Jordan Peterson who had achieved quite some fame as a Youtube personality giving Jungian inspired lectures on psychology, mythology, religion, and other matters which ideologues hate became a wanted dead or alive alt.right poster boy for a class that increasingly despises anything that deals with aspects of self-hood beyond their imbecilic formulae. What was so noticeable about the disgusting treatment dished out to Peterson by woke academics, journalists and political commentators lining up to execute Peterson for the tricoteuse among their audience – was just how politically innocuous Peterson’s teachings were.

In a normal world – one where he was not objecting against contemporary Orwellian speech mandates – Peterson would not be seen as a political thinker at all. From what I have heard of his political views, they are those of a fairly brown bread Social Democrat dealing with the limits and excesses of capital and the state. Only in a world whose elite is bent upon social extinction is such advice as try making your bed before trying to change the world seen as akin to Hitlerism. One Marvel comic, Captain America (who recently, after some six decades in the closet finally came out as gay) made Peterson a Nazi super villain.

How stupid can college educated people be, one may ask? The answer is – very. Which is why today there is a “general tendency in the U.S. to explain virtually all social, political, and economic problems as a result of prejudice or bias. No alternative diagnosis or explanation – individual or group behavior – of any problem seems to exist. Sooner or later, everything comes down to a problem of bias.”

It does not take a rocket scientist to realize that reducing everything to bias also means that everything can be cured by those who train us about our biases and how to overcome them. Hence, as Janowski observes, in his chapter “Blind Psychology and the New Road to Serfdom” the widespread usage of the Implicit Association Test (IAT) in psychology courses in America, a test that is meant to disclose the false consciousness which our ideological and moral betters detect in us – and as everyone is biased, there is an endless need of training courses to guide us into the new civility that liberal democratic America requires.

Just as communist countries required a ceaseless dedication to the exposure of false consciousness, in America today everywhere and anywhere one must be on the lookout constantly (as is now openly request in Facebook and in university classes) for people who are either an “-ist” or a “phobe.” They are to be subject, if lucky, to public shaming, a public apology (that fine old Calvinist tradition which has swept America, and is the subject of the second chapter of Homo Americanus), or economic destruction. Janowski provides example after example of people publicly apologising, or losing their jobs or reputation due to the totalitarian fusion of state, corporations, and educational institutions operating in the US. The occurrences of this so common now that none could recall any than a mere fraction of them. I quote just some of the examples that Janowski reminds his readers of:

“In October 2017, Christ Church in Alexandria, VA, of which George Washington was a founding member and vestryman in 1773, pulled down memorial plaques honoring him and General Robert E. Lee. In a letter to the congregation, the church leaders stated that: ‘The plaques in our sanctuary make some in our presence feel unsafe or unwelcome. Some visitors and guests who worship with us choose not to return because they receive an unintended message from the prominent presence of the plaques.” In August 2017, the Los Angeles City Council voted 14-1 to designate the second Monday in October (Columbus Day) as ‘Indigenous Peoples Day.’ According to the critics of Columbus Day, we need to dismantle a state-sponsored celebration of the genocide of indigenous peoples. Some of the opponents of Columbus Day made their intentions clear by attaching a placard on the monument: ‘Christian Terrorism begins in 1492.’ In June 2018, the board of American Library Association voted 12- 0 to rename the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award as the ‘Children’s Literary Legacy Award.’ Wilder is a well-known American literary figure and author of children’s books, including Little House on the Prairie, about European settlement in the Midwest. In a statement to rename the award, the Board wrote: ‘Wilder’s legacy, as represented by her body of work, includes expressions of stereotypical attitudes inconsistent with ALSC’s core values of inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsiveness.'”

Just as statues of the wrong people or representing the wrong stance have had to go, none’s contribution to the world has been so great that they cannot be made to be publicly humiliated if they make the wrong kind of joke or remark. Janowski recounts the story of the noble prize winner Tim Hunt who made the following unforgivable remark: “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab. You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry.”

As Janowski continues: “Hunt’s friend and Nobel Prize co-recipient, Sir Paul Nurse… told the Telegraph that Hunt’s “chauvinist” comments had “damaged science.…” Finally, Sir Hunt was forced to resign from The Royal Society…In a statement, the Royal Society announced: “The Royal Society believes that in order to achieve everything that it can, science needs to make the best use of the research capabilities of the entire population. Too many talented individuals do not fulfill their scientific potential because of issues such as gender and the Society is committed to helping to put this right. Sir Tim Hunt was speaking as an individual and his reported comments in no way reflect the views of the Royal Society.”

Lest anyone think that poets in North America are not as up to speed in the ideological denunciation and apologetics stakes, Janowski reminds anyone who may have forgotten of the following statement “from the editor of one-time prestigious and oldest American magazine, The Nation” after having printed a poem that apparently contained “disparaging and ableist language that has given offense and caused harm to members of several communities:”

“As poetry editors, we hold ourselves responsible for the ways in which the work we select is received. We made a serious mis-take by choosing to publish the poem ‘How-To.’ We are sorry for the pain we have caused to the many communities affected by this poem. We recognize that we must now earn your trust back. Some of our readers have asked what we were thinking. When we read the poem, we took it as a profane, over-the-top attack on the ways in which members of many groups are asked, or required, to perform the work of marginalization. We can no longer read the poem in that way.
We are currently revising our process for solicited and unsolicited submissions. But more importantly, we are listening, and we are working. We are grateful for the insightful critiques we have heard, but we know that the onus of change is on us, and we take that responsibility seriously. In the end, this decision means that we need to step back and look at not only our editing process, but at ourselves as editors.”

Since Janowski completed the book thousands of even more crazy things have happened – as I write this last week, not only have statues of Robert E Lee and Stonewall Jackson been dismantled in Charlottesville, but of Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea. Apparently, the Lewis and Clark statue has represented Sacagawea in an offensive manner.

Anyone familiar with Zamyatin, Huxley, Orwell, Koestler and such like can see immediately that the class that believes it is ushering in progress and a kind of utopia has already managed to build quite a dystopia in the US. And in Homo Americanus Janowski provides an excellent account of the fit between what is going on in the American soul and those and other prophetic works. Those of us of a certain age will recall the power that those books once exercised.

I recently read that a Professor at a US university had stopped teaching Brave New World because students today could not see anything wrong with Huxley’s world. And now what Orwell called Newspeak is as much part of our everyday world (hence over half the population think mainstream news is fake which only forces the elites to double down in their denunciations), as public denunciations and public confessionals. A “misword,” or off-color joke (as in the case of Hunt mentioned above) from a prominent figure (who is not so important to the elite that they cannot be sacrificed) inevitably leads to the process of public denunciation, public humiliation and temporary or permanent banishment.

The phrase the way to hell is paved with good intentions sprang to mind as Janowski demonstrates what far reaching consequences the seemingly, innocuous, though somewhat patronizing, concession to seventies feminists were gouged from demanding that the collective noun “man,” and pronoun “he” be interpreted as exclusively referring to the male sex, and hence a sign of women’s social subordination and exclusion. I will not repeat here the details of Janowski’s analysis, but will just say his position would probably have led to termination of his employment had he not packed up and left the USA.

When the very one-sided gender grammar war was being waged almost fifty years ago as part of a larger attempt by some women (generally authors, journalists academics and students) in the developed world to see all of history as subject to their particular socio-economic interests, concerns and claims, few asked why, if history had been so patriarchal, would women so swiftly have voting rights within a couple of generations of male suffrage? (Answer – the family was the most important unit of economic survival so it was in the interests of the labouring and middle classes to have women voting).

Feminists generally ignored the symbiotic character that is part and parcel of all group survival, or how roles enable the cultivation of certain aspects of selfhood and social being, while enabling different aspects of the real to be disclosed, accessed, and cultivated. Compulsion, like sacrifice, is a part of all social symbiosis – the part that is marshalled when the symbiosis is itself threatened by a member wanting its own gratification at the expense of the tasks it must fulfil in its role.

To be sure, the change in social reproduction and its economic conditions did involve a change of roles and hence a reaction against compulsions – and even some career obstacles that were no longer meaningful. And, yes, patriarchy had been real in so far as historically the father was invariably responsible for the protection of the family, which is a very different thing from women in the family simply existing for the pleasure of the father. (But why bother with historical and sociological complexity and nuance if you have read Marx and/ or Freud and are going to lead the world into a future free from oppression)?

Great changes require cool heads, and the euphoric mood and post-World War Two boom was one in which haste in social changes proceeded with very little caution about what it all might mean – indeed those with the most outlandish abstractions and utopian narratives prevailed, and those who had the temerity to defend the family and religion were mocked as fools.

When Monty Python’s Life of Brian came out, John Cleese and Michael Palin “debated” Malcolm Muggeridge and the Bishop of Southwark, Mervyn Stockwood, on the historical and cultural merits versus dangers of the film. Not surprisingly given the times, many of the audience thought that undergraduate humor was more incisive than the serious issues about religious mockery raised by representatives of faith that has formed nations. Say what you like about Islam, but it is not about to be blown over by undergraduate style humour.

The so-called long march through Western institutions was more a short sprint through doors long since or largely open. In keeping with almost everything else in the post-War boom, it was more posture and play (John Lennon running around in military fatigues, and Richard Neville’s Play Power sum up the mood) than bravery or sacrificial struggle.

Thus too, long after women had received the right to vote, at a time when all traditional work roles were up for grabs (partly thanks to the sexual revolution, and the decline of the single family wage-earner and living family wage), and going to college was a common choice for women with professional ambitions, the cause of eliminating the collective noun “man” was just one more in a grab-bag full of demands by a radicalized youth demanding to take over the curricula (which in the Humanities was far too intellectually demanding for kids wanting to smoke pot, engage in talk fests, have sex and listen to cool music – anyway all you needed to really know was that it was just the system, ya know – capitalism, man).

To be sure, in the USA, and Australasia there was a reasonable element to the radicalization, viz. opposition to a war in a land that most people knew nothing about. But what may have been (if one ignores international diplomacy and the matter of honoring alliances) a reasonable opposition to the war went hand in hand with the adoption of the Soviet/Cold War style anti-capitalist propaganda – feminists not to be outdone in the stooge department frequently equated patriarchy with capitalism.

Like the woke youth of today and the Russian youth of the 19th century or the German youth of the 1930s, it was a youth who knew little about anything, but who were totally convinced that the little they knew sufficed to making the world a better place. For the feminists, any attempt to understand social roles and obligation through historical and cultural analysis were only permissible – courtesy of J.S. Mill – if the idea that men were the oppressors of women was the purpose for undertaking the analysis as well as its conclusion.

It is astonishing that the most educated and privileged members of this generation of young men and women, portrayed themselves as if their suffering (not enough sex, or drugs to go with the rock n’ roll?) was akin to the victims of the holocaust or gulags (though they rarely referenced the gulags.) Reflecting upon this hypocrisy and idiocy almost makes me want to join Black Lives Matter, were it not for the fact that movement is also full of white college educated kids as well as black privileged people crying, “Gimme gimme, I want I want.”

The significance of the easy victory over the meaning of “man” and pronoun replacement (none really cared that much to engage in a serious linguistic/ sociological/ historical fight over it, and any who did were made to look like chauvinist meanies) is not only visible in feminist studies and the like dictating our understanding of the past, but it has even entered this year into the US House rules that stipulate that “familial relationships like father, daughter, and niece will be replaced by gender-neutral equivalents like parent, child, and sibling’s child.”

That the US House has become the centre of the kind of language that is to be used throughout all the institutions is simply a forerunner to the fact that anyone and everyone will be able to be monitored on the basis of what they say and think. Big Brother has been cleaned up to be gender fluid.

And, one can be sure that there are plenty of educated young American women today who, if given a revised copy of 1984, in which the society were identical in every respect to Orwell’s original, other than it was presided over by Big Mother, would go around saying how they wished they lived in that world. But one might think, would that not be reinforcing traditional roles? To which the answer is: that’s OK when done in a good enough cause such as ensuring absolute conformity and compliance to our imbecilic orthodoxy.

Of the various prophets of dystopia, like myself, Janowski is particularly partial to the genius of Dostoevsky. He had looked into the soul of the radical youth of the generation of the 1860s and 70s and seen demons. He also foresaw the kind of diabolical world that would be requisite for the man-god, a creation of the scientistic rational calculable self. Ultimately this would be a world in which number replaces names so that all vestiges of the individual human soul could be eliminated. Zamyatin picks this insight up in his novel We, where his characters have numbers not names.

When one considers that naming is one of the most primordial acts of human orientation and how the transmutation of life is accompanied by the creation of new names, and the potential to reevaluate the old, one can appreciate that the creation of nameless selves involves completely eliminating the most elemental act of orientation and collective association.

It was the Enlightenment that first sought to rename the entire world on the basis of an understanding unperturbed by the fire of the imagination. We have not yet dispensed with names, but we have dispensed with their historical connectedness. In a world where the young can so easily equate Hitler with Churchill it is all too evident that names now are little more than numbers, more specifically algorithms (crafted by engineers for google, Facebook, Youtube, etc.) for passing on information in accordance with one’s taste and interests, but also in accordance with what the creators of the algorithms think you should be able to have access to.

Toward the conclusion of Homo Americanus, Janowski presents a number of proposals (the following are more or less quoted verbatim) for restoring sanity to the American soul and American society at large.

They include: limiting the egalitarian propaganda that permeates democratic societies; deregulating human relationships, so that the state, legal system, schools, and employers must refrain from telling people how to act; reviving the notion of civility, and condemning certain forms of toxic behavior that are justified on multicultural grounds; restricting police and legal involvement to matters that concern someone’s physical safety, whilst prohibiting them from involvement in ethical regulations concerning how men and women act under peaceful conditions; tempering environmental activism; limiting authority over our decisions, and common-sense and tradition; rescuing “education from the hands of the multicultural ideologues,” and reinstating “old intellectual criteria into education for the sole purpose of teaching students objectivity;” ensuring that colleges and universities return to the pursuit of truth; and completely abandoning the idea of equality that holds collectivist ideology together.

I do not object to any of these proposals, but the fact that such proposals are even aired as the solution to our problems suggest the extent of the social sickness and how little chance there is of a philosophical cure, at least any time in the foreseeable future. Janowski, like Legutko, is an observant and thoughtful man.

But the problem is that the modern West has created an elite where thoughtlessness – imbecility – and the pursuit of self-destruction are not only all of a piece, but are the professional requirement of institutional power. And while bad ideas are intrinsic to the problem, and while these ideas are the result of the perversity of thought that occurs through the mutation of (poor) philosophy into ideology, it is the sociological incarnation of ideas that towers over those of us who are able to get along in an imperfect world, but find living in an insane one a far greater tribulation.

And that is the problem we in the West now face with the alliance of bad philosophy, government, business and our educational system – at tertiary and school level. For these institutions are enthusiastically controlled by people with captive minds and souls who have no idea they are captive. They are the result and the perpetrators of the metaphysics of horror. We are living within a brainwashing operation of such success, that the people who are least affected by it are the people furthest away from the centres and institutions of “power.”

With all the hot air expended upon rights’ talk, rights do not sustain social virtues – our most valuable practices have to be repeated daily to be sustained. Our elite has no idea of what the best practices (to use another formulation that the managerialists have turned into a cliché) of the past have been because they have substituted the complexities of the real world for a small smattering of ideas, they have substituted what they contain in their paltry pea brains for the world.

We all have pea sized brains – and if we all fessed up to that, we might just be less inclined to equate moral rhetoric with moral substance, to embrace and enforce simple solutions which generate even more difficult problems, and a little more forgiving of each other. They think by endlessly appealing to emancipation and equity or chattering about oppression and inequality they are really dealing with reality. Of course, just a little digging would always reveal conundrums, complexities, paradoxes, which would quickly expose how paltry and inadequate these terms are.

The elite do not know, for example, because they do not bother to inquire, how widespread slavery has been and still is outside of the West. It matters for nothing that having allowed slavery to exist in the US meant that even those who wanted to eliminate it overnight had to deal with the question of what would happen to ex-slaves, how long would it take to find employment, how could they survive from day to day – of course, such economic fundamentals, as have been raised by Thomas Sowell’s “The Real History of Slavery,” in his Black Rednecks and White Liberals, are not the concern of people who know everything and just need to hold office and be on a payroll to spot who is biased and solve all our social problems with crayons, butchers paper, rotten fruit, the stocks, and the threat of unemployment.

Likewise, people who insist that nothing has changed for blacks in America since slavery care nothing for the fact that some 300,000 white men gave their lives up in the United States, to destroy slavery, at a time when it was still widely practiced in other parts of the globe.

Those who say nothing has changed, and we have to do more, like take a knee, give random reparations to any black person; or, if white, make sincere public displays of how sorry we are for being white, and how schooled we have been in the damage caused by whiteness – not only give up nothing but may end up as much on a winner as the white Robin DiAngelo who earns nearly a million dollars a year from book sales and speeches. They either do not care or know nothing of the history or extent of white enslavement. They love to use the word progress, but are indifferent to, or ignorant of the fact that the overcoming of slavery in the West was indeed an indication that finally, in some small way, the human race in some part of the world had made a little progress.

Instead of knowing how ubiquitous slavery had been, they have been paralysed by their past, have preferred myth to truth, and have sought to shame others for living in a world that has been intrinsic to the making of this one. They have believed that they are so much better than all that have lived before them. The truth is that people who think this way end inevitably up being so much worse. In the twentieth century the most toxic ideas were to believe that one’s class or race dictated who should prosper or suffer, live or die. Shockingly, those ideas did not die with Bolshevism and Nazism, but found new ways to circulate and seize the minds of those dedicated to progress.

One might recall that these ideologies loved talking about either equality and/ or community. And like our current Liberal totalitarianism: they were ruthless in denouncing and persecuting their critics; they required the most careful attention to what was said, and how it was said; they used every media at their disposal; they both drew upon the energy of youth and the ambitions of technocrats and the ideas that fitted the world-view of their respective intelligentsia; they received serious financial support (yes, the Bolsheviks too – see e.g., Richard B. Spence’s Wall Street and the Russian Revolution: 1905-1925); and they seized power in societies beset with serious problems by offering slogans and simple solutions; and when in power they delivered devastation. Societies need elites – but an elite that denies that it is an elite, which makes no sacrifices but decides who must be sacrificed, which gains its power by directing hate between groups, while claiming to be against the haters is nothing but a fraud squad.

Would that the elite of the West bother to learn something from those pesky Poles. In the meantime, we can at least celebrate that we have before us writings by those who refused to go along with the tyranny of imbecility and cruelty, as well as those who recognize some of the sources of the sickness that now afflicts the West.

I think all parents wish that their children would learn from the hard-earned lessons of their parents’ sufferings – but they rarely do. Not that I am speaking as a parent, but as someone who was lucky enough to belong to a generation whose parents had been in and emerged from hell, it gives people like myself who can see what the West is doing no joy in seeing them create hell. To the older ones (that is my contemporaries) who do it solely for profit and position, I say shame on them for not learning anything about life other than mouthing platitudes, deluding themselves and the young, and making money while doing so.

To the younger ones who are their stooges, I say pity them for their ignorance, youthful pride, and having been subject to even greater monsters of ignorance. To the pesky Poles I say praise and thanks to you for your bravery and thoughtfulness. I wish more in the West would learn from you.

And, finally, let us acclaim: pesks of the planet unite, you have nothing to lose but your subordination to an imbecilic elite, who are determined to sacrifice you for everyone’s good, especially their’s.


Wayne Cristaudo is a philosopher, author, and educator, who has published over a dozen books.


The featured image shows, “The Resurrection of Poland,” by Władysław Barwicki, painted ca. 1918.

And The West Invented Buddhism

In 2012, a group of English-speaking scholars published a book with the austere title, How Theravada is Theravada? Exploring Buddhist Identities. This was the first time that an epistemology of Buddhism was presented that was so historicized and documented, and remarkably coherent. In 2014, the French orientalist, Gregory Kourilsky, wrote a review of this work with an incendiary title, at least for those who have a sense of what is at stake: “Le ‘bouddhisme theravāda,’ cette autre invention de l’Occident” (“Theravada Buddhism, Another Invention of the West”). France, which prides itself on bilingualism to the point of now broadcasting commercials in English (with French subtitles in some cases), only put this remarkable synthesis on the Persée website in February 2019.

What is established in Kourilsky’s work can be summarized in a few lines: The expression “Theravada (or Theravadin) Buddhism” is an invention of twentieth-century European orientalists, which was gradually adopted in Asia by the Buddhists themselves.

The questioning of these concepts which have filled entire libraries is not so new. Already back in 2004, Peter Skilling, one of the authors of the book, had thrown a stone into the pond of Buddhist studies by questioning the relevance of the usage that establishes a necessary link between “Theravada” and the Pali Canon. He established that this usage is the product of norms established in Europe from the end of the nineteenth century to the middle of the following century and that this reinvented Theravada, mainly English-speaking, had progressively gained an international influence, including in the Buddhist communities of Asia.

In early academic publications, “Theravada” referred to the canonical corpus itself before designating a religious trend. Today, the term refers to the form of Buddhism systematized on the island of Ceylon during the first centuries of the Christian era, transmitted to Southeast Asia through its texts and its language, Pali. Although now universally accepted, the term appears in this sense only in Western sources, and not before the end of the colonial era. It is never used in the sense of “sect” or “school” in the religious texts of South, East and Southeast Asia. One would look in vain throughout the Tipitaka (the supposed Buddhist canon) for a single occurrence of this term and at most a dozen times in the Commentaries, and again never in the sense of “school” or “sect”. Theravada is only used to underline a symbolic link with the “elders” (thera in Pali), i.e., the five hundred disciples of the historical Buddha, and thus to claim the authenticity of their teaching).

A researcher from Manitoba, David Drewes, has recently established that three centuries of research have never been able to “scientifically” establish the Buddha’s embodied existence.

Todd LeRoy Perreira then examined the terminological uses to which scholars and observers have resorted to, to designate religious practices. He traced the history of these practices in Ceylon, Burma and Siam, which is already a key discovery. He examined in detail the orientalist works published over the previous two centuries and drew up a semantic history, from the first appearance of the term (in 1836) to its “official” adoption on the occasion of the Colombo Resolution in 1950; and he has gone so far as to tackle (or to focus on) other expressions familiar to the Buddhologist but which turn out to be just as much the fruit of academic constructions. For example, Hinayana.

The term Hinayana (“Small Vehicle”) only began to circulate at the very end of the nineteenth century, when a rivalry arose between the proponents of the Mahayana (“Great Vehicle”) and those of Pali Buddhism, whose reputation for authenticity they wished to delegitimize. At the time, the Sinhalese school was considered to be the purest expression of the Doctrine, and Mahayana was seen by Europeans as a degenerate form of Buddhism. As exchanges between Buddhists multiplied on an international scale, those who claimed to be followers of the Great Vehicle – the Japanese in the first place – were anxious to restore the reputation of their dogma, which they did by winning what Kourilsky describes as a veritable war of terminology.

This ideological opposition was superimposed on another which, although older, was no less artificial – that which opposed “Southern Buddhism” to “Northern Buddhism,” proposed by Eugène Burnouf and adopted by most Orientalists, although it referred to a somewhat simplistic geographical division.

In fact, Burnouf, an honest researcher who was considered the founder of Buddhology, had worked more or less alone, exploring a field of the history of religions about which little was known at the time. The conventional character of these designations did not prevent them from making their way into the Buddhist communities of South and Southeast Asia, whose members, receiving the growing influence of the West, appropriated them to the point of claiming to be “Theravada” Buddhists.

Thus, the nomenclatures that have been legitimately used are not based on vernacular sources but, to a large extent, on assertions imposed by the scientific community. The term “Buddhism” itself was challenged by a Sinhalese exegete as nonsense invented by Europeans.

Certain events constitute key stages in this process: the Orientalist Congress of Chicago, organized in 1893, and that of Colombo, in 1950. But before that, there were those ardent English, German, and Australian proselytizers, whom Perreira calls the “Europeans of zeal.” Renowned orientalists such as Eugène Burnouf, Thomas William Rhys Davids (founder of the Association for the Pali Language, a questionable researcher whose article modestly hides the fact that he was accused of embezzlement in Ceylon, where he was stationed and had to leave after a trial, and whose wife was a theosophist); the Russian Hermann Oldenberg; improbable theosophists like Henry Steel Olcott.

And there were also Buddhist monks whose European origin was hidden under a locally colored conventual name, the most representative of whom were Nyanatiloka (alias Anton Walther Florus Gueth) and Ananda Metteyya (alias Charles Henry Allan Bennett, the same one who imposed the expression “Theravada Buddhism” with the meaning we know today). Forgotten in this list is the most ardent propagator of Buddhism, Sylvain Lévi, who gave French Indianism all its weight, and whose disciple Jean Filliozat contributed to extinguishing the new breath of air brought by Daniel Schlumberger, who dared to question the dogma of the birth of Buddha.

The categorization of Buddhism into two “vehicles,” Mahayana and Hinayana, directly borrowed from European typology, was unknown in Siam before the second half of the 19th century. No Buddhist in Siam, before Chulalongkorn, could have defined his religious practices as belonging to one or the other of these two “schools.” It was under the influence of Europeans that Mongkut (who was to ascend the throne as Rama IV, then wearing the yellow robe) undertook to invent a Pali alphabet (called the Ariyaka) which he wanted to be universal, with the aim of interacting with his co-religionists in Burma, Ceylon, or other countries that shared with the Siamese this “authentic Buddhism” based on the Singhalese Tipitaka.

The adoption of a language (in this case, Pali) and a phraseology does not de facto imply an adequacy with the dogma usually associated with it. The Burmese ruler Kyansittha invoked Śāsana and Dharma not so much to affirm his fidelity to a “religion” (the modern meaning of which is unknown in Bagan) as to instrumentalize a rhetoric on which he could base his disposition of power and establish his legitimacy. This opened up a new research perspective for the King Ashoka, whose Buddhist character appears today as a dogma in the same way as the birth of the Buddha at Kapilavastu, never scientifically established, not even archaeologically.

(Note that the translation into English by T. Rhys Davids’ Dialogues of the Buddha was published under the patronage of His Majesty Chulalongkorn, King of Siam).

Whether one refers to the primitive texts or to the practices, whether one places oneself from the point of view of Asian Buddhists or European Orientalists, whether the methodology is that of the philologist or the epistemologist, the conclusions of the articles of these Anglo-Saxon researchers all lead to the same observation: “Theravada Buddhism” is indeed the product of an arbitrary taxonomy imposed for practical and, above all, ideological reasons.

In all this, the French colonial period is obscured, and consequently the geographical areas of the regions formerly administered by France (Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam) omitted. But this is rectified by Grégory Kourilsky, in his review, when he reminds us that “the process that led to the adoption in these regions of modern terminologies (Hïnayana, Theravada) is indebted to the initiatives taken by the administration of French Indochina to make Buddhism a vehicle for the unification of these states. redrawn by political contingencies. The Buddhist Institute, set up in Cambodia and Laos under the patronage of certain members of the École française d’Extrême-Orient (Louis Finot, George Cœdès, Suzanne Karpelès, Pierre Dupont), was one of the main tools of this dynamic, and the sources highlight the efforts made by the colonial authorities to assert the unity of “Hïnayana Buddhism” with a view to federating the Khmer and Lao peoples.

“This book,” concludes Gregory Kourilsky, “is proof that primary sources speak, to anyone who will listen, better than many of the self-sustaining theories that flood the current literature on Buddhism… In Buddhist studies, there will undoubtedly be a before and after How Theravàda is Theravàda?”

This makes perfect sense. Having said that, apart from specialists who are fluent in Pali or Sanskrit, who has access to the primary sources? A few months ago, the magazine, l’Histoire, was interested in the art of Gandhara. It was happy to reproduce, with a certain brilliance, Alfred Foucher’s thesis, which however has been revised by Daniel Schlumberger, and which recent works (especially those of the Russians) have made somewhat obsolete. It is that French Orientalism, dying, is now only represented by a few pundits who live off an intellectual heritage that has never been re-examined, and for the most part, is sclerotic. And it is these researchers who write in specialized journals for a so-called cultivated public.

But then, if these researches are so revolutionary, why don’t we abandon terms that do not correspond to the reality of what is called “Buddhism?” Why are we still happy to use them, despite our greater knowledge and caution? Why not give up these terms if they are wrong?

Because the consequences would be far-reaching. A whole bunch of charlatans living on the credulity of poor, spiritually lost and empty people would lose their golden goose. Most of the Buddhist or transcendental meditation institutes which claim to have a totally imaginary knowledge of Buddhism would have to be closed down. We would be freed from a whole bunch of scholarly chatter, including on the Catholic channels and Le Jour du Seigneur. Libraries would have to be emptied of the chattering and pedantic theses which clutter them up. It would become necessary to urgently inform INALCO and Pierre-Sylvain Filliozat, whose father, Jean Filliozat, was the gravedigger of the idea supported by Daniel Schlumberger in 1962, and his new thesis on the date of birth of the Buddha, not to mention all the priests who have risen to the top of their rank and who strut and repeat pompous and vain ecumenism, fed by all the apparatus of a hollow erudition.

What a job!… So, on second thought, let’s not give up on these terms – not to mention the fact that were the research to be renewed, there would be a lot of unemployed people lining up at job centers. It would also make a lot of people worry about the only really important question when you take your nose out of your library – who do I believe in?

As for all those prelates who claim to educate the little people of God, it could lead them to ask themselves an even more decisive question: Who do I serve?


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


The featured image shows the head of a Bodhisattva, Gandhara region, 3rd–4th century AD.