A Philosophy of Victory

Essential internal reforms must logically begin in Russia. This is required by the Special Military Operation (SMO), which has intensified the contradictions with the West—and with the entire modern Western civilization—to the extreme. Anyone can now see that it is no longer safe to simply use the norms, methods, concepts, products of this civilization. The West spreads, along with its technology, its ideology, which then permeates all spheres of life. If we recognize ourselves as a part of Western civilization, then we must readily agree to this total colonization and even enjoy it (like in the 1990s). But in the case of the current confrontation, which is fatal!—such an attitude is unacceptable. Many Westerners and liberals have already become fully aware of this and have therefore left Russia just when the break with Western civilization had become irreversible. And it became irreversible on February 24, 2022, and even two days earlier—at the moment of recognition of independence of the DPR and LPR—on February 22, 2022.

In principle, everyone has the right to make a civilizational choice of loyalty or betrayal. At least with those who are involved, everything is clear—it is clear now and was clear before. At least they are consistent—after losing liberalism in Russia, they went off to their own.

It is more complicated with those who are still here. I mean those Westerners and liberals who still share the basic norms of modern Western civilization, but for some reason continue to stay in Russia, despite the rupture that has already taken place between it and the West. They are the main obstacle to real and full-fledged patriotic reforms.

Reforms were inevitable, because Russia found itself not only cut off from the West, but also essentially at war with it. On the eve of World War II, the USSR had a sufficient number of important strategic industries created by Nazi Germany. And relations between the USSR and the Third Reich were not particularly hostile. But after June 22, 1941 obviously the situation changed dramatically. Under those conditions, continuing cooperating with the Germans—legitimate and encouraged before the war—took on an entirely different meaning. Exactly the same thing happened after February 22, 2022—those who continued to remain in the paradigm of the hostile (liberal-fascist) civilization, with which we are at war, found themselves outside the ideological space that clearly emerged with the beginning of the SMO.

While the presence of Germany on the eve of WWII in the USSR was specific and single-pointed, the presence of the liberal-fascist Russophobe West on the eve of the SMO was well-nigh total. Western technologies of methodology, norms, know-how, and even, in part, values permeate our entire society. This calls for a radical revision. But who will carry it out? The people who were educated during perestroika? The liberal and criminal 1990s? The people of the 1980s and 1990s who were trained and educated in the 2000s? All of these periods were under the basic influence of liberalism as an ideology, as a paradigm, as a fundamental and comprehensive position in philosophy, science, politics, education, culture, technology, economics, the media, even in fashion and in life. Contemporary Russia knows only the inertial ruins of the Soviet paradigm and everything else is pure liberal Westernism.

There is no alternative paradigm; at least none in power or among the elite, at the level at which the civilizational confrontation should now unfold.

Today, we oppose the West as a civilization against a civilization. And we need to define what kind of civilization we are. Otherwise, no military, political and economic successes will help us. Everything will be reversible. The trend will change and everything will collapse (I’m not even talking about the necessity to explain to Ukrainians, who will henceforth be inside our zone of influence or directly inside Russia) who are we, after all? At the moment there is only the inertia of Soviet memory (“granny with a flag”), Western Nazi propaganda (“vatniki”, “occupants”), our—so far only initial—military successes and complete confusion in the local population. And here the voice of Russian civilization should sound. Clearly, distinctly, convincingly. And its peals must be heard in Ukraine, and on the territory of Eurasia, and in the whole world. It is not only desirable, it is vital, just as cartridges, missiles, copters and bulletproof vests are needed at the front.

It is most logical to begin the reforms with philosophy. It is necessary to form the General Staff of the Russian Logos, either on the basis of an existing institution (after all, not a single humanitarian institution can or will ever do this: liberalism and Westernism still dominate everywhere), or in the form of something fundamentally new. Hegel said that the greatness of a nation begins with the creation of a great philosophy. He said it, and he did it. This is precisely what Russian philosophers need today, not vague and out-of-touch agreement about the SMO. We need a new Russian philosophy. Russian in content, in essence.

And the reform of all other branches of humanitarian and natural science knowledge should start from this paradigm. Sociology, psychology, anthropology, culturology, as well as economics, and even physics, chemistry, biology, etc. are based on philosophy, are its derivatives. Scientists often forget this; but recall what “PhD” actually means, in any of the humanities or the natural sciences. PhD—“philosophiae doctor;” that is, “doctor of philosophy.” If you are not a philosopher, you are an apprentice at best, not a scientist (“doctor” is Latin for “scholar,” “learned”).

This is where the most important internal battle of starting civilizational reforms in Russia itself (as well as in the entire space of our expansion, in the entire zone of our influence) will unfold—the battle for Russian philosophy begins.

And here there is a clearly shaped pole of the internal enemy. These are representatives of the liberal paradigm—from analytical philosophy to the postmodern, to the completely feeble-minded cognitivists and transhumanists, who maniacally insist on reducing man to a machine. I’m not even talking about outright liberals and liberal progressives, proponents of the totalitarian concept of “open society,” feminism, queer studies, and the “queer culture” raised on sorority grants. This is pure “fifth column”—something like the Azov Battalion banned in Russia.

It is very easy to draw a portrait of the philosophical enemy of the Russian Idea and Russian civilization. It is not simply a question of connections with Western scientific and intelligence centers (which are often on quite close terms), but also of adherence to a number of quite formalizable attitudes:

  • belief in the universality of modern Western civilization (Eurocentrism, civilizational racism);
  • hyper-materialism—up to and including deep ecology and object-oriented ontology;
  • methodological and ethical individualism—whence the philosophy of gender (as a social option) and in the limit transhumanism;
  • techno-progressivism, the development of Artificial Intelligence and “thinking” neural networks;
  • hatred of classical theologies, spiritual Tradition, philosophy of eternity;
  • denial or ironic ridicule of identity;
  • anti-essentialism, etc.

This is a kind of “philosophical Ukraine,” scattered throughout virtually every scientific and educational institution that has anything to do with philosophy or basic scientific epistemes. These are signs of philosophical Russophobia, since the Russian Idea is built on the basis of directly opposite principles:

  • the identity of Russian civilization (Slavophiles, Danilevsky, Eurasians);
  • placing the spirit over matter;
  • communality, collegiality—a collectivist anthropology;
  • deep humanism;
  • devotion to Tradition;
  • careful preservation of identity, nationality;
  • belief in the spiritual nature of the essence of things, etc.

Those who set the tone in contemporary Russian philosophy vehemently defend liberal attitudes and just as vehemently reject Russian ones. Such is the powerful stronghold of liberal Nazism within Russia.

It is precisely this firing-point of the enemy, this high-ground, that we will have to take in the next phase. Moreover, liberal Nazis are defending themselves against philosophy no less fiercely than the Azov Battalion or the desperate Ukrainian terrorists from Popasna. They wage information wars, write denunciations of patriots, and use all levers of corruption and apparatus influence.

At this point, it is appropriate to recall a little—personal, but very revealing—incident about my dismissal from the Moscow State University (MSU) in the summer of 2014 (note the date).

From 2008 to 2014, at the Sociology Department of MSU, together with the Dean and founder of the department, Vladimir Ivanovich Dobrenkov, we organized the rigorous work of the Center for Conservative Studies, where we did just that—undertake the development of a Russian civilizational epistemological paradigm. Without hesitation, we supported a “Russian Spring.”

But, in response, we received a vicious letter from…Ukrainian philosophers (initiated by the Kyiv Nazi Sergey Datsyuk), demanding the “expulsion of Dobrenkov and me from MSU. And most strangely—but then, not very strangely—the leadership of MSU met the demand. Dobrenkov was removed from the post of Dean, and I, frankly, left of my own accord, although it looked like dismissal. I was asked to stay, but on humiliating terms. Of course, it was not Sadovnichy who resolved this issue, but he was rather gracious and open-minded and approved my appointment as the Head of the Department, which passed all voting procedures at the Academic Council of Moscow State University.

But then, something happened. The “Russian Spring” was curtailed. And the question of the Russian world, Russian civilization, and the Russian Logos was removed from the agenda altogether. But it was symbolic—the initiators of the abolition of the Center for Conservative Studies at Moscow State University were Ukrainian Nazis—theorists and practitioners of Russian genocide in Donbass and Eastern Ukraine as a whole. Exactly the same people with whom we are now at war.

This is how liberal fascism penetrates Russia. Or rather, it penetrated a long time ago; but that is how its mechanisms work. A denunciation comes from Kiev; someone inside the Administration supports it; and the next initiative to deploy the Russian Idea collapses.

Of course, you can’t stop me—over the years I’ve written 24 volumes of Noomachy, and the last three are devoted to the Russian Logos. But the institutionalization of the Russian Idea has again been postponed.

My example, of course, is not an isolated one. All or almost all thinkers and theorists involved in justifying the identity of Russian civilization have experienced something similar. We are dealing with a philosophical war. A real one—a fierce and well-organized opposition to the Russian Idea, supervised from abroad, but carried out by local liberals or just ordinary officials, passively following fashion and trends and a well-organized information strategy of direct agents of influence.

We are now at the point where the institutionalization of Russian Discourse is needed. Everyone has seen in our information war how controllable and manipulable the attitudes and processes in society are. But this is a consequence. The most serious clashes take place at the level of paradigms and epistemes. He who controls knowledge, Michel Foucault wrote, is the one who has true power. True power is power over the minds and souls of people.

Philosophy is the most important front line, and its implications are far superior to the news from Ukraine that every Russian is so avidly watching today—how are our people doing? What new frontiers have they seized? Has the enemy wavered? Herein lies the main obstacle to our victory.

What we need is a philosophy of victory. Without it, all will be in vain, and all our successes will easily be turned into defeat.

All true reforms must begin in the realm of the Spirit. And as news from the front is sought in the news—what about the institution of philosophy? Still holding its ground? Has it surrendered yet?

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

Featured image: “Fireworks on Victory Day,” by Mikhail Bobyshovl painted in 1961.

The Importance of Gaetano Mosca

A great book opens one’s eyes to processes that one may have missed had one not read it. Likewise, its power lies in activating one’s own abilities of thought to see more clearly what others may not notice at all or merely glimpse as a blur in the fog.

Few books I have read are better guides and eye-openers about how to think structurally, historically, and comparatively about politics generally, and the major crises of our time, crises that have largely been induced by a ruling class that has globalist ambitions, than Gaetano Mosca’s Ruling Class. Reading it can also help one be better attuned to the political fluxions that draw us toward the break-down of politics as the means for staving off those terrible forces of human destruction and rejuvenation—war and revolution, which are the inevitable consequences of a failure to adequately maintain and cultivate the powers of peace.

The ruling class of the West, which forms the core of a globalist elite, draws us into an external war—that remains at this stage a proxy war—and (most conspicuously so in the United States and Europe) a civil war that is playing itself out politically and institutionally and has already destroyed the very possibility of a common political culture.

1. Canonical and Great Books

Some books found peoples and nations; some assist in the founding of institutions; some open pathways for new types of orienting of human beings and help us forge a new reality; some provide the language and thought patterns of an epoch; some books are prophetic; and some provide the wherewithal that best defines the problem of an age. The most influential of these great books are canonical. And in spite of the ideological attack upon the canon which was part and parcel of a sweeping attempt to accommodate Western institutions to the knowledge and intellectual capacities of poorly-educated and under-read undergraduates and graduate students, canonical books exist because our world would simply not be the same were they to not have existed. This was also why it was commonly assumed amongst professors, teachers, and the professional classes that every educated person should acquaint himself with certain books at some point in his life-time.

The canon also reflects the problems of the ages and the most significant of attempted solutions—which is why it is so diverse, if I may be permitted to use a word that has become an ideological truncheon in the arsenal of managerial and progressive moral absolutes. A canonical work might not be error free, or it may be fraught with problems (Marx’s Communist Manifesto or Capital or Rousseau’s Èmile and Social Contract are obvious examples), or just simply defiant of traditional ethical appeals (Machiavelli’s Prince). Nor does the canon contain a collection of like-minded sentiments or responses to the human condition. And the idea that it is simply the point of view of white men makes no sense, given the shoddiness of the category—are people from what is now the Middle East, Northern Pakistan and Central Asia white?—or the authors of the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Koran, the Analects, the Tao Te Ching, and the Bhagavad Gita, which all are canonical works?

Then there are books which, though lesser known, if read attentively, can change how you see the world forever. They may not be canonical, but they express profound insights which, if remembered, would help us greatly in making sense of our world. I consider the writings of J.G. Hamann and Herder, of Franz Rosenzweig and Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy to be good examples of these kind of books. In the case of both pairs of thinkers, they were contemporaries of much more influential and famous philosophers—viz., the former were contemporaries of Kant, the latter of Heidegger. But whereas Kant and Heidegger remain essential to the philosophical tradition and hence to the curriculum of Philosophy (at least to that curriculum that breathes outside of the straightjacket of Analytic Philosophy), if one has attentively read Hamann et. al., then one can quickly identify a range of egregious deficiencies in the philosophies and legacies of Kant and Heidegger, and his ‘68 progeny.

Then there are books that were ignored at the time of their publication; or having made a strong impression upon a discipline or the public have faded from view, only to undergo a revival because they have been (re)discovered by later generations who see that they address something of profound importance about their lives and times. Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, for example, were “stillborn” only to be reborn; while Mises’s Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis, took on a new life when the Soviet Union was collapsing.

Explosive times, invariably, call out for the most thoughtful and inventive of people to make sense of them. And great books are inevitably forged out of the explosive fall out; the materials and problems of times in great crisis. Though, we should note, that human beings are crisis producing creatures—which is why those who believe in progress invariably are forced to temper their enthusiasm when their own circumstances and age go to hell.

But let us first address the tumult of our time, which is the reason I suggest Gaetano Mosca’s Ruling Class is a must read.

2. Global Leadership Aspirations versus those Non-Compliant Critics from the “Led-ship”

We are living in a period of civil wars in the West being played out in its institutions, as the ruling political class, and the various interests it represents and deploys for its objectives, overturns (in large part by redefining the character and roles of all) traditional social institutions. It is a civil war that is rather typical of all civil wars—a ruling class furnishes the world in a way that suits its interests; but such furnishing requires great sacrifice from those whose lives are an important part of this new furnishing. And the proposed purpose, the changing circumstances, and the new future being made, do not fit well with the interests (the ways of being in the world) of those who are required to get in step with the dictates of the ruling class.

The civil war of our time, in other words, is the struggle over whether the future will be dictated by a globalist elite and those who (often unwittingly) work on their behalf, or by those who oppose the goals and means of that elite, and the sacrifices that are required to achieve it. On the one side stand those who believe they are striving for human progress, and that progress involves greater “emancipation,” “safety,” “diversity and inclusion,” and “equity.” Yet, as their critics point out, they are creating a world which is far less equitable, safe or free. They are contributing to a divide between the immensely rich, the highly paid leaders, and administrators, celebrities, elite athletes, and all those who are employed to do their bidding by supervising and instructing everyone in what to think and say, on the one hand, and the rest.

The rest are those who are meant to make up the great “led-ship,” who are to do the bidding the various leaders, the “representatives” of sustainability, global justice, world health—and pretty much anything else said leaders can think of—and thus the “rest” find themselves increasingly beholden to leaders. Irrespective of their intentions, the more vocal opponents of this ruling elite can see that they are aiding and abetting corporate technocratic globalism, and its accompanying suppliers of governance (administrative states beholden to larger global administrative powers, such as the EU, and the UN), knowledge (from big tech/media and its fact-checkers to the requirement that scientific research be funded by state-corporately authorized research institutions and bodies which comply with consensuses that are manufactured within various professional associations, again complying with corporate and state requirements, and standardized curricula crafted around ostensibly universal rights), health (Big Pharma, and WHO, medical associations, and boards), and safety (the Industrial Military Complex and international military alliances whose very existence requires manufacturing wars, which may never be won, but which help ensure a continuous resource stream from tax-payers to arms manufacturers, bureaucrats and the military so that a global standing military reserve will never cease to exist).

What to those who embrace this globalist order and its rulers and minions is a more caring, safe and compassionate, environmentally sustainable world order, is to others but mindlessness and mental enslavement, infantile indulgence, and the suppression of the more traditional institutions and roles, which have provided people with a sense of the fit between themselves and the kind of freedom that was worked out over multiple generations in the numerous spheres of sociality. Whereas supporters of globalism can be found everywhere—though, the further away one gets from the West, such supporters exist in ever smaller numbers—the opponents of this global elite do not form a natural alliance: being a traditional Muslim, Jew, or Christian does not mean that the common ground—one’s traditional faith—is very common or solid as a base for an alliance. Conflict and wars are the inevitable accompaniments of traditional life-ways. But the delusion of the globalist elites is that under their direction there will be perpetual peace.

Again, critics of the globalist elite (which take NATO as its military shield) will point out that what is happening is not that war as an existential feature of human existence has ceased, or even diminished, but the grounds for its existence have shifted, and the beneficiaries for its existence have assumed the authority of being the planetary peace-providers.

If nature abhors a vacuum, then the nature of our global administrative, financial, communication systems have created a vacuum that has been filled by a globalist ruling class—a Superclass, as David Rothkopf, who served in the Clinton administration, formulated it in his book of that name. (Rothkopf, who is not at all hostile to this elite, makes the case that while membership is relatively mobile, it numbers around six thousand people at any given time). In filling that vacuum, the global elite have required that the world adopts itself to their interests, which are the interests that support their authority. But, again, their interests, simply do not suit the overwhelming number of people who live on planet earth, and do not feel that this superclass is of any benefit to them—critics of the superclass go further and see it as a class whose ambition wildly outstrips its competence, and is thus a destructive force, far greater than what nature and our other social formations would generate.

The globalist ruling class inaugurates another fundamental break with tradition—and at the danger of repeating myself—the modus operandi of the globalist elite is its break with all real traditions, involving a kind of substitution racket, like fake gold being passed off as real gold. This particular break is that previously whereas power formations which move beyond those of outright enslavement or tyranny are historically formed symbiotically, so that a sacrificial order is established—no serious sacrifice is required of the globalist elite themselves: they can pay others to enforce others to make the sacrifices that are intrinsic to social reproduction (notably sacrifices of the independence of mind to the ruling ideas, the sacrifice of one’s faith to the higher absolutes of globalist/corporatist/progressivist ideology, and sacrifice of one’s relative economic well-being).

For all its aspirations, though, Globalism Inc. remains largely politically ineffective outside of the West, and the great geo-political non-Western globalist alternative to Western globalism, China, is one that far more carefully attends to bringing along the ruled with its ruling class—which is not to say that on certain divisive issues it will not do what ruling classes always do, i.e., brutally enforce its authority. The way it has managed to cement its authority by avoiding a civil war is to ensure its adherence to traditions in a way that makes it something of a mirror image of the West. But, to repeat, there is no natural allegiance between the traditionalism of the Chinese and those in the West, who find greater solace in their traditions than in the new elite counterfeit fabrications. To question these fabrications in the West as counterfeit, based upon (collective self-)delusions and/or deception, is now to be a “right-wing extremist,” and to question any of the ticket items that are advanced through these fabrications, and to even speak of a globalist elite is to be a dupe of a conspiracy theory, which is to say that those making a play to be the global ruling class smother resistance by ideological indoctrination, accompanied by social, economic and political enforcement.

The primary reason that the West has been the leader of the globalist agenda, from its social alliances, to policy, to ideology is because the West has been created through wars and revolutions, and the relative success of its institutions, prior to breeding a class determined to destroy them, has been the incorporation of a dynamic which enables adapting to its changing technological and socio-economic circumstances. In the West, it is not the case that those who wish to preserve their traditional way of life are wishing to leap back to pre-modern times, as, for example, has been the case in much of the Islamic world’s response to modernization. Thus, for example, in the United States, those who are most outspoken against the progressive direction of their country identify themselves as “patriots,” i.e., as defenders of the American revolution and the principles it founded and which have evolved in its wake.

Today, the ruling class in the United States has largely embraced switching the founding of the United States from the date marking the independence of a colony from a foreign oppressive power it defeated in a civil war by declaring “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” to a date which takes its founding as an act of enslavement, and its perpetuity as one of a trail of injustices that must now be rectified by those who will lead its people (who no longer are merely the citizens and their children) via the legislature, the executive, the judiciary, the media, the classroom, and wherever else people may assemble, speak, or reflect.

Of course, there are still some people who belong to the political class who are on the “wrong side of history,” the side that identifies in the United States with the founding fathers, who are appalled that the new ruling class works in tandem with the youth of the nation and its educators to overturn institutions, tear-down statues, change the names of military bases, schools and other buildings and, rewrite their history books and school curricula, so that the men who founded the United States may have their status removed and their personage shamed, and the more diverse, and the tolerant ruling class who represent the truth of power and an emancipated future may live in safety, free from the “moral odium” of their forebears. The civil war that is taking place is one which exists because the ruling class has changed. It has gone globalist, become “virtuous,” and got “woke.”

There is, I believe, no better book for making sense of what is now transpiring than Gaetano Mosca’s Ruling Class.

3. Mosca Elements of Political Science and Their Importance for Understanding the Affinities Between Totalitarian Ruling Classes

Apart from its providing a number of key elements to help make sense of the times we are living through in the West, I came to the conclusion, right at the end of my academic career, after picking the book up again for the first time in nearly fifty years (when I had been too young and stupid to realize what gold it was) that Mosca’s Ruling Class is, along with Aristotle’s Politics and Thucydides’ Peloponnesian Wars, probably the best foundational text for studying Political Science that has ever been written. (For all its greatness, I would not say that Quigley’s Tragedy and Hope is a foundational text for studying Political Science)

The Italian title of The Ruling Class (when literally translated) is Elements of Political Science, the first edition of which appeared in Italy in 1896; the English translation of the revised edition of 1923 appeared in 1939. The English title is perhaps a more catching one, and it does capture the content of the book. But I think it regrettable that in an age where Political Science is little more now than a disciplinary name rather than a genuine academic discipline that this book is rarely read by those who study Politics. Today, as would be evident to anyone who simply read the titles of papers presented at the American Political Science Association, with the possible exception of rational choice theory (which I think is irredeemably flawed by its inattention to culture and history), most who teach Political Science are morally committed political partisans who have little or no interest in exploring their role within the ruling class. Or indeed thinking outside of the two-dimensional model and its intersectional variant, which would make them and their chosen groups oppressed members of a society they wish to transform, instead of being paid employees (mostly of) the state whose task it is to educate and socially prepare the next generation for reproducing the kind of society that its “leaders”—its ruling class—deem as desirable.

As the Italian title suggests, in dealing with elements of a science of politics Mosca’s book is one that cuts across cultures, which is to say it is a structural examination, a study of the laws that lead to rulership and its class-based nature. Though the structures and laws examined by Mosca are analyzed in their historical genesis and mutations, which is to say Mosca’s study is also an historical study, as it must be given that history provides the condition of our circumstances, just as our response to circumstances also make history. Thus, it examines the changing conditions which give birth to the different social needs and opportunities for different types and classes, and hence the different priorities of governance and those who form the political class of a time and people. It is also comparativist in its approach. In his “Introduction” to the Ruling Class, Arthur Livingstone provided a good summation of Mosca’s method:

He will of course take the facts about society from any source or method that can supply them, only so they are facts—from economics, from anthropology, from psychology, or any similar science. He does explicitly reject for the political-social field any absolute exclusive acceptance of climatic or north-and-south theories, anthropological theories based on the observation of primitive societies (the question of size is important), the economic interpretation of history (it is too unilateral), doctrines of racial superiorities and inferiorities (many different race theories have had their moments of splendor), and evolutionary theories (they fail to account for the rhythmical movement of human progress—biological evolution would require continuous improvement.

The book opens with Mosca showing the inadequacy of most competing approaches to Political Science, noting that various claims to Political Science “are still, little more than philosophical, theological or rational justifications of certain types of political organization which have for centuries, played and in some cases are still playing, a significant role in human history.” Then, it proceeds to lay down the foundational fact upon which there can be political life, as well as a science of it:

Among the constant facts and tendencies that are to be found in all political organisms, one is so obvious that it is apparent to the most casual eye. In all societies—from societies that are very meagerly developed and have barely attained the dawnings of civilization, down to the most advanced and powerful societies—two classes of people appear—a class that rules and a class that is ruled. The first class, always the less numerous, performs all political functions, monopolizes power and enjoys the advantages that power brings, whereas the second, the more numerous class, is directed and controlled by the first; in a manner that is now more or less legal, now more or less arbitrary and violent, and supplies the first, in appearance at least, with material means of subsistence and with the instrumentalities that are essential to the vitality of the political organism.

Mosca then notes that “in every political organism there is one individual who is chief among the leaders of the ruling class as a whole,” but that person may not hold supreme power according to law. No head of state can rule without the support “of a numerous class to enforce respect for his orders and to have them carried out.” Indeed, it is because of the need for competing and potentially conflicting forces to be coordinated, so that peace between them reign, that a figure symbolizing unity and bearing ultimate sovereignty can act as a mediator between them. That is, it is sovereignty which is a consequence not a precondition of a larger class of “interested” parties; but once established its success depends upon a fit between the sovereign’s interests and that powerful class that commands and coordinates subordinate powers. Of course, that power is originally martial—and the Ruling Class is particularly attentive to the importance of the changing nature of armies in the transformation of ruling classes.

Mosca also notes that just as states require a unity of ends and agreeable means between the sovereign and the most powerful class which girds its authority, there is also a need to draw from the “masses” a group to facilitate and enforce the functions of the rulers. As he puts it:

and granting that he can make one individual, or indeed many individuals, in the ruling class feel the weight of his power, he certainly cannot be at odds with the class as a whole or do away with it. Even if that were possible, he would at once be forced to create another class, without the support of which action on his part would be completely paralysed. On the other hand, granting that the discontent of the masses might succeed in deposing a ruling class, inevitably, as we shall later show, there would have to be another organized minority within the masses themselves to discharge the functions of a ruling class. Otherwise all organization, and the whole social structure, would be destroyed.

…the real superiority of the concept of the ruling, or political, class lies in the fact that the varying structure of ruling classes has a preponderant importance in determining the political type, and also the level of civilization, of the different peoples.

In the chapter “Principles and Tendencies in Ruling Classes,” Mosca notes that it is the middle-class that generally supplied the personnel for the bureaucracy; that it is the moral level of the bureaucracy that signifies the moral level of the ruling class; and that the members of the bureaucracy tend to “believe in their own infallibility,” and are “loath to accept criticisms and suggestion from persons who are not of their calling.” With the expansion of the state into ever more areas of what were once considered private domains of life, and the expansion of those who work with the state, combined with those who are not of the bureaucracy generally but who are affiliated to a party and/ or committed to a political program and work in the corporate and private sector to achieve the kind of state they desire, this combination of moral assuredness and hostility to criticism threatens to generate the kind of opposition that typically leads to the overthrow of a ruling class. Just as the partitions between private and public spheres, the market and state have been pushed aside, thus indicating the death of old fashioned liberal democracy, the bureaucracy no longer has either the aspiration or pretence of being non-partisan. Its members now almost totally represent the program of the “liberal (anti-democratic) progressive.”

The totalitarian trinity of people, party, and leader(ship) has been a complete success in the United States, while most other nations still play by two party rules when it comes to the parliament, but administrations, service providers, school and university curricula, legislation regarding sexuality, policies for multiculturalism, advancement of identity politics and minorities, hate speech etc. are systematically progressive and utterly globalist. And when even it comes to the parliament, as the example of Boris Johnson and BREXIT illustrates, today there are all manner of serpentine ways that political rulers may slip from defender of the nation and its mores to employee of Globalist Inc. Ultimately the most ambitious and most driven members of a ruling class have little regard for older rules of etiquette precisely because of their own sense of moral conviction, and the ability they have to appoint and reward those who share their convictions.

The greater part of the Ruling Class is an historical analysis of the varying ruling class structures and the historical and social conditions that have given rise to them. Apart from any comparisons between Mosca and his contemporaries, who also were developing an elite theory of politics, which I touch upon below, the idea of a ruling class is most commonly associated with Marxism. But the difference between the Marxian deployment of the term to advance its own political program, and Mosca’s analysis, is two-fold—and it is this difference which I think enables us to see why Marxism is ideology, while Mosca’s work a contribution to Political Science.

First, the Marxists promise a future where there will be no ruling class. But that future could only be realized if there were a unity of purpose and such a vast coalition of interests that politics, rulership, class, and divisions between people would have ceased to exist. Thus, Marx’s claim that communism would eliminate the division of labour whist providing material abundance of a sort so that all could live according to their ability and needs. This is a unity that simply has never existed for any protracted period of time, and could only exist were different social interests eliminated—but they are generated out of the division of labour—and it is the division of labour that is the sine qua non of large-scale production, not the desire of someone to dabble in one or other form of creative productivity as it suits him.

Marx simply could not demonstrate how the elimination of the division of labour could defy everything known about economic production and create more abundance than it did when groups existed on such a small scale that what division of labour existed (such as between the sexes and the ages) was negligible. Which brings us to the second point: the Marxist future, irrespective of Marx’s own inability to see what he was doing, is nothing more than a verbal conjuration. In that sense it is the perfect means for those whose primary “skill” is rhetoric. The link between oratory, sophistry (the use of education for the advancement of one’s political power), demagoguery, and tyranny was critically observed by Plato; and that link has only become more intense within the displacement of the old ruling class by one in which verbal prowess and rationalization is fundamental to political legitimation.

Marxism is but one means by which a class, trafficking in words and ideas and persuading people to follow the objectives they lay down, and the means they authorize to achieve those objectives, has come to rule. Of course, that class needs resources; and the most common means available to it are: theft (a means used by the Bolsheviks for a relatively short while, and a means which the United States and, with the European Union, set to follow, are using in their proxy war against Russia), taxes, and donations to political parties.

Marxism did not die with the end of the Soviet-style central planning. In the West, it has survived in its non-Leninist incarnation, as an intrinsic ideological component of the Humanities curricula of elite Western universities. It has survived because it is an ideology whose endgame irreality is of no relevance to its success as an ideological way of oversimplifying reality for an aspirational ruling class keen to find a path to professional careers providing them with the power to build the world around its leadership. The particular interests of those who identify with any one of the radical variants that have come out of Marxist critique is to rule and thus decide how resources are to be deployed for which purposes by which people. This is ideologically passed off as achieving an absolute good – universal emancipation.

Marx himself appealed to a future of spontaneous universal cooperation based upon the complete mutuality of interests of the species (once the bourgeoisie were eliminated). But the impossibility of having large scale productivity and consumption growth without a market and capital investment, and of having political direction without a ruling party and state has meant that Marxism, and its various academically refined spawn, is but one piece of the ideological puzzle justifying the actuality of a ruling class that deploys a combination of value imposition, technocracy—its inevitability and spread being well noted in another very important book, James Burnham’s The Managerial Revolution—and financial control. It is achieved by a completely politicised social, pedagogical, and economic alignment or coordination of human action- what the Nazis call Gleichschaltung, which in turn requires suppressing any resistance whether of thought or deed. In so far as the process is ideological – the result of thinking built around political ideational alignments—this ruling class is far more attuned to the dangers of thoughts and words than were any inquisitors or contemporary mullahs.

In sum, while Mosca sees the ruling class as the inevitable accompaniment of all large-scale social organization, Marxism passes off the notion of the ruling class, and indeed politics itself, as but a transitory phase of social existence, whilst creating a rhetorical smokescreen for the rise of a political class that, if successful, claims to speak on behalf of universal interest and thus, if successful, should be able hold its power into perpetuity.

Typically, when Mosca’s work is raised, it is grouped along with other theorists of political elites, most notably Roberto Michels and Wilfried Pareto. Unlike Michels who had been a Marxist before becoming an anarcho-syndicalist and supporter of Il Duce, and Pareto, whose support of Mussolini was brief (Pareto died in 1923) and something of an ill-fit, given the liberal nature of his economic thought, Mosca was a liberal, but not one who was oblivious to its failures and shortcoming, and the threats posed to it by fascism—he wrestles with the problems of representative government in the book’s final chapter.

Although there was some dispute between Pareto and Mosca over who should get the prize for being the first to focus upon political elites as forming the basis of political science, the more important contrast within the elite theorists is between Mosca and Michels.

Michels’s study of the social democratic movement had led him to the observation that oligarchy was the inevitable type of all political organization; and his support for Mussolini expressed his willingness not only to embrace the fact of the inevitability of elite authority, but to endorse a political ideology in which elite power was openly factored into the political program and party.

Ironically, today, while fascism is the pejorative hurled about to discredit anyone who objects to the ticket items of globalist progressivism and corporatism, the globalist program and agenda is built around the unquestionable moral and political authority of cultural and global “leaders” who are increasingly schooled in leadership programs. The preoccupation with leadership today reaches from culture to industry to universities to politics. A jarring example of how central leadership is to politics today was to be seen in an election poster I saw nailed up all over the place in Australia’s recent election. When the poster is translated into German my point needs little further comment: ”Australien braucht einen Füherer, keinen Lügner.”

People in liberal democracies so frequently and blithely speak of politics in terms of the need for political leadership that they seem completely ignorant of the fact that unlike fascist, or communist states, in liberal democracies the most important role of the government (at least in peace time) was not to lead but to provide the conditions so that people might peaceably lead their own lives as best they saw fit.

Michels, like our present globalists, is rather typical of a certain kind of mentality that begins with abstractions and ideals about what political power may achieve if expressing the popular will, but which, in dealing with the actual requirements of maintaining political power, readily either abandons its more democratic rhetoric or simply twists it haphazardly so that it can get on with the business of directing who does what. The business of deciding who must do what—and along with this, who gets what from whom, and deciding what occurs to them, if they won’t do it, is the end of politics; and thus, a task that befalls every ruling class.

Moreover, for all the idolatry surrounding politics today, as if it is the means for solving all our problems, the state, though impossible to do without, is a blunt means (its powers are force, persuasion, and bureaucracy) of orchestrating human action. The problem with totalitarian forms of government is not that their political class makes political decisions, but the expansive combination of the range of decisions and components of life that become absorbed under their political reach and authority, and the intolerance shown towards those who question its authority.

Apart from the idolatry of progressive ideas, and leadership, the use of the state and corporations to ensconce a technocratic elite doing the ideological bidding of a globalist ruling class that demands unity in peacetime, of the sort that in a traditional liberal democratic society would only be required in wartime, is indicative of the totalitarian nature of the modern globalist project. Hence too it must control what can be said, and the best way to control that is to indoctrinate children into the values and narratives that the ruling class holds as absolute.

Also, all distinction between war and peace is being destroyed in Western democracies—we are being attacked by a never-ending series of threats requiring militant response, from the destruction of the planet due to anthropogenically induced climate change, to viruses and infectious diseases that can only be stopped if we all follow the leadership provided by pharmaceutical companies and state authorized medical “advisors,” and the numerous others who have been authorised to identify the correct information and “facts” on any topic warranting totally unified militant action.

Thus, there can never be a time when the ruling class takes a step back from its leadership role. Now we have the impending threat of an actual war—just yesterday General Milley advised the graduating class of West Point of the “increasing risk of global war.” There is, indeed, an impending threat, though the question is not only why, but whether the alliance of Western powers is actually less rather than more totalitarian than the global powers it opposes.

The great challenge of modern liberal-democracy is to maintain a political culture in which the social tensions are fecund enough to make social adaptations of a sort that prevent the political body from succumbing to either traditional ossification or progressivist delusions of governance becoming a mere shell concealing implacable wills. It is an irony that the ruling classes supporting fascism and globalism respectively positioned themselves in antithetical ideological terms with respect to the past and future—whilst both were captured by the internal dialectic of their political means: the fascists presented themselves as Rome reborn, but their emergence and the forces they mustered were all extremely modern. The globalists, on the other hand, appeal to a future free from oppression (a utopia); but they can only achieve this by the old-style means of enforced unity; what Friedrich von Hayek saw as the limited power flow of an order of taxis, which is typical of military and bureaucracy.

The Marxist tradition had gone along with the Saint-Simonian formulation that the future would be free of politics; and in its place there would simply be the administration of things. That tradition had a longer pedigree in utopian writing generally, though Rabelais’ depiction of the Abbey of Thélème had identified the nub of a tradition that runs through Rousseau, and the various socialist writers like de Mably through Saint-Simon and (in spite of their polemics against utopians) Marx and Engels: that nub was political unity. As in the Abbey of Thélème, there would be no leaders because everyone wanted the same thing and everyone did exactly what was required at the time of its requiting.

Both fascism and Marxism were born out of this faith in unity—though in the case of fascism the unity (people, state, party) required at its theoretical foundation an all-knowing, caring leader. In the case of communism, the cult of the personality was not something that was forged theoretically but developed out of necessity, as a party that had seized power in a coup, and defended it in a civil war, was faced with conflicting decisions about what to do about the food supply—should it be collectivized immediately, or allowed to operate through market inducements?—and workers who did not like the labour conditions required of them by those who had promised such liberation and now were shipping people off to prison camps.

Whether fascist or communist, these two modern responses to future-building not only required a mass that complied with what its ruling class dictated, but a mass which was ideologically committed to that ruling class and hence indoctrinated in supporting all its choices. The real difference between liberal democratic regimes and fascist and communist ones had nothing to do with abstract theories—which were, of course, prevalent enough—but with how openly one might grumble about the ruling class. One might say that the grumbling made little difference; but taking away someone’s right to grumble involves deploying state and corporate resources to that end – and hence job opportunities – it also only fuels the grumbling and discontent. Which is also partly why the levels of social discontent in so much of the Western world is so high.

The ruling class of today’s Western democracies now has no compunction in doing what the fascists, and Marxists before them did: and ultimately that is because it is the same kind of people demanding the same objective—that their will be done on earth as it is in the heaven of their ideas.

Reading Mosca will not help anyone prevent this; but reading him does help one place what is happening now in a larger, historical perspective, whilst also providing one with a healthy dose of scepticism, so that one does not fail to note that the primary interest of a ruling class is the preservation of its right to rule. In and of itself that is understandable; but the matter of whether they are doing a good enough job in facilitating the interests of the ruled is something else. And a ruling class that must control information-flows is one that has shown that it no longer cares about the interests of those they rule—which is always the beginning of their own demise.

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

Featured image: “New Gods, Old Monsters,” by David Whitlam; painted 2020.

Overcoming Idols: A Conversation with Wayne Cristaudo

In this episode of More Christ, Wayne Cristaudo discusses his criticism of the roles of pride and abstraction in the modern world; how our proclivity to succumb to idolatry is at the root of what he calls ‘idea-ism’ and ideology; the primacy of contingent encounters and the Holy Spirit in his own life; and the thinkers he loves.

More Christ is a channel created by Mark Connolly, which is devoted to dialogue about the world, the cosmos, and how the Christian life and the surprises of the Spirit lead to the flourishing of life. The show’s thematics are Christian, its reach universal.

Featured image: “Phoenix,” Aberdeen Bestiary, 12th century.

A Stepping-Stone out of the Cave: An Interview with Daria Dugin

Here is a fascinating interview with Daria Dugin, the daughter of the philosopher Alexander Dugin. The conversation is wide-ranging and serves to contextualize what is currently happening in the world, namely, the struggle between globalist hegemony and multipolar alliances. This interview is made available through the kind courtesy of Breizh-Info.

Breizh-info (BI): Would you introduce yourself to our readers? Isn’t it difficult for you sometimes to bear the name of Dugin, and thus to be necessarily assimilated to your father?

Daria Dugin (DD): I graduated from the Faculty of Philosophy at Moscow State University with a degree in the history of philosophy. My research focused on the political philosophy of late Neoplatonism, a subject of endless interest. The main line of thought in the political philosophy of the late Neoplatonists is the development of the idea of an omology of the soul and the state and the existence of a similar threefold order in both. Just as there are three bases in the soul, so in the state (and the Platonists describe the Indo-European model, later perfectly theorized in the work of Georges Dumézil) there are also three domains—this model manifests itself in antiquity and the Middle Ages. The existential and psychic understanding of politics is in fact lost in many ways today. We are used to seeing politics only as a technique. But Platonism reveals a deep link between political and psychic processes. There is an urgent need today to restore such a comprehensive view of political processes; that is, to examine “existential politics.”

Daria Dugin.

I am honored to be in the same boat as my father (on the same existential ship), being the daughter of a great researcher of the Tradition, author of the 24-volume work Noomachia (“wars of the mind”—an analysis through the three logos of all the cultures of the world). The fact that we are under sanctions from the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom is also a symbol that we, Dugins, are on the path of truth in the fight against globalism. Therefore, I would say that it is an honor to be born in such a family.

BI: Tell us about your current work?

DD: I am a political observer of the International Eurasist Movement and an expert in international relations. My field of activity is the analysis of European politics as well as geopolitics. In this capacity, I appear on Russian, Pakistani, Turkish, Chinese and Indian television channels, presenting a multipolar world-view of political processes.

My areas of interest are both the European civilization space and the Middle East, where a kind of conservative revolution is taking place—from Iran’s constant confrontation with American hegemony or Syria’s struggle against Western imperialism, to Turkey, which is now showing interesting tendencies to move away from NATO and the Anglo-Saxon geopolitical bloc and is trying to build its foreign policy on a multipolar basis, engaging in a dialogue with the Eurasian civilization. I think it is important to follow the processes in the Middle East region; it is one of the stages of the struggle against imperialism.

On the other hand, I am also very interested in African countries; they represent “The Other” for Europe and Russia, from the analysis of which one can better understand his own civilization. Africa has always been an element of dream for Europeans as well as for Russians—remember Arthur Rimbaud’s Journey to Abyssinia and Harrar, or the Russian poet Nikolai Goumilev, who was inspired by Rimbaud (“African Diary”) and a series of poems about Africa, in which he actually reveals Africa as an unexplored civilization, full of meaning, which Western colonialism cruelly tried to undo and destroy. Today, tectonic shifts are occurring on the African continent, and the confrontation of civilizations: Western and authentically African (so different and unique) is extremely interesting.

For me, a particularly important topic is the development of the theory of a multipolar world. It is clear that the globalist moment is over. The end of liberalism is now at hand—the end of liberal history. At the same time, it is extremely important to understand that a new stage full of challenges, provocations and complexities has begun. The process of creating multipolarity, of structuring civilizational blocs and establishing a dialogue between them is the main task of all intellectuals today. Samuel Huntington, as a realist of international relations, has rightly warned against the risks of a clash of civilizations. Fabio Petito, a specialist in international relations, stressed that the construction of a “dialogue of civilizations” is the central task and “the only way forward.”

Thus, in order to consolidate the multipolar world, the border areas (intermediaries) between civilizations must be treated with care. All conflicts take place at the borders (intermediate zones) of civilizations, where attitudes clash. It is therefore essential to develop a “border” (intermediate) mindset, if the multipolar world is to function fully and move from a “clash” to a “dialogue” of civilizations. Without this, there is a risk of a “clash.”

BI: What is your view on the war in Ukraine? And on the reactions in the West and in the world?

DD: The situation in Ukraine is precisely an example of a clash of civilizations; it can be seen as a clash of globalist and Eurasian civilizations. After the “great geopolitical catastrophe” (as the Russian president called the collapse of the USSR), the territories of the once-united country became “frontiers” (intermediate zones)—those spaces to which the attention of neighbors increased, with NATO and especially the United States interested in destabilizing the situation on Russia’s borders.

In the 1990s, consistent work was initiated with the frameworks of the new governments, of the new states. Ukraine is no exception. The 2014 events in Ukraine, the Maidan, supported so fervently by both Nuland and the famous Bernard-Henri Levy (soldier of ultra-globalization), were a turning point; in fact, they opened the door to the establishment of a direct globalist dictate over Ukraine. Moreover, liberal and nationalist elements, which were more or less neutral before 2014, joined a united front with a globalist and pro-American agenda. For eight years in Ukraine, Russophobia was cultivated by various programs and history was rewritten, until the physical massacre of Russians—the same eibght terrible years for the Donbass with daily bombings. The French public can listen to the documentary filmmaker Anne Laure Bonnel, witness of these eight years in Donetsk, who is not afraid to tell the truth in her films and interviews.

The unanimous support of the West for Ukraine in 2022, the supply of weapons on an unthinkable scale—all this looks like agony—the agony of a globalist regime that is beginning to lose ground to multipolarity. For me, the most important pain is that Europe has succumbed to the influence of globalist propaganda, and instead of remaining neutral, has sided with the war. In many ways, this was certainly the plan of the United States, which had so systematically and continuously provoked the entire conflict by pumping weapons into Ukraine. From the U.S. alone (according to Transparency International), over $658 million was invested in aid to Ukraine between 2014 and 2017.

At the same time, we see that Latin American countries, the Middle East, China and India have not adopted a globalist position. Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro said his country “firmly” adheres to Russia’s position. In Cuba, people were seen carrying Russian flags and Z-symbols during a demonstration on May 1, as mentioned by the German channel ZDF. Argentina has accused the West of having double standards. The country’s vice-president, Cristina Kirchner, said the country was in conflict with London over the Falkland Islands. In Brazil, presidential candidate Lula da Silva said in turn that Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky was responsible for what was happening in his country. China spoke out against NATO expansion and U.S. provocations. India tried to maintain its strategic neutrality (in the 1990s, India itself was the target of painful U.S. and Western sanctions for refusing to join the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty)—the country whose oxygen the West sought to cut off and deprive of high technology, then stood its ground (largely through cooperation with Russia, which did not join the sanctions and advocated their abolition).

A number of Middle Eastern countries supported Russia’s special military operation (Syria, a long-time Russian ally, knows the battle against globalism better than anyone). There are growing calls for NATO withdrawal in Turkey, and the president refused to approve the admission of Sweden and Finland to NATO.

Many African countries, especially those with strong antiglobalist sentiment, have not supported Western criticism of Russia (Mali, Sudan, CAR, Zimbabwe, Republic of Congo, Eritrea). These reactions indicate the end of the myth of a “single world space.” Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine has accelerated the formation of a multipolar world and catalyzed many geopolitical processes.

BI: Don’t you think that Russia is isolating itself? What do you think will be the consequences of all this?

DD: I think it is the opposite. Russia is finding new partners and the processes of sovereignty (e.g., economic de-dollarization) are starting to accelerate. Russia is trying to be “punished” by Western countries through sanctions. But the effect on the Russian economy is not very noticeable (“International sanctions against Russia do not seem to impact the daily life of Muscovites,” a journalist mentions in a report by BFM TV). The sanction-policy of the West has been a catalyst for the search for new partners and the de-Westernization of our country.

At the same time, these sanctions have hit European countries hard, becoming a kind of “hara-kiri” for many European economies. This is very disturbing news. But apparently that was also part of the American plot to destabilize the European continent. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said that Budapest does not support the imposition of ill-considered sanctions against Russia. “Sanctions against Russia are like an atomic bomb; they could lead us not only to not being able to feed our population but also to receiving a mass of migrants at the border,” said the Hungarian Prime Minister.

New blocs have emerged. “Developing countries, including China, India, Indonesia, Brazil and others that refused to take sides, following Western sanctions against Russia, should consider ways to strengthen their economic coordination to withstand further shocks from the West. It is important to note that developing countries should seek a solution through financial and trade cooperation,” wrote a reporter for China’s Global Times. These are very interesting geopolitical processes. So, Russia has not been a victim of isolation—it has been the pioneer of a multipolar world order.

BI: How does the Russian population react to this war, which has obviously already caused a lot of losses on the Russian side?

DD: Any military operation always involves losses. It should be noted that the figures provided by Ukrainian sources (and they are the ones that are broadcast in the Western media) are not correct and should be verified. We are facing a situation of information war in which everything from military reports to figures is politicized.

In the Western media, there is unfortunately hardly any alternative view of events. In 2016, Ofpra produced a dossier on Pravy Sektor (“Right Sector”), an ultra-Ukrainian group: “Pravy Sektor is subject to allegations of anti-Semitism and xenophobia, homophobic demonstrations, illegal detentions and other abuses of power. It created an armed militia, the Ukrainian Volunteer Corps, which was involved in the conflict with pro-Russian separatists in the Donbass. Tensions between the Ukrainian Volunteer Corps and the authorities continued until the Corps was integrated into the regular armed forces.”

Those who were looked at with suspicion in 2016, have become heroes in 2022. The wives of the fighters of Azov (a group responsible for the cruel murders of Russians in Donbass) meet the Pope in the Vatican. It is very strange that something that seemed forbidden only two years ago has become mainstream in Europe. Or the meeting of BHL with Marchenko, the former head of the Russophobic and xenophobic radical battalion Aydar (a terrorist organization banned in Russia).

Today, liberalism goes hand-in-hand with xenophobia and Nazism. This is a paradox. But it can be explained if we understand the “totalitarian nature” of modern liberalism. This is the subject of manipulation of information and data.

As for the reaction of the Russians, the overwhelming majority supports the special military operation. In their eyes, it is an understandable defense of Russia’s geopolitical interests and a fight against Russophobia, because a regime has formed in Kiev that denies Russians the right to self-determination (language, culture, identity) and existence. Some elements of society immediately left the country after the outbreak of hostilities—they went to the United States, Europe and Israel. Significantly, Anatoly Chubais, former head of the Russian presidential administration and one of the ideologues and leaders of economic reforms in Russia in the 1990s, left the country. In the 1990s, the Patriotic Front called him a “traitor” and responsible for Russia’s economic difficulties. This is symbolic. There are such cases, for sure.

Everyone around me supports the special military operation, not only in words, but also, for many, in deeds, providing humanitarian aid to refugees and the region. Moreover, they have not only been doing so for the last few months, but for many years—over the same eight years that the West knows so little about.

BI: As a journalist, what do you think about the censorship of RT in the European Union, or of Sputnik, and the silence (if not approval) of a majority of European journalists?

DD: This is an unprecedented case of violation of the “freedom of expression.” Freedom of expression implies the possibility of different points of view, sometimes unpalatable to the authorities. RT and Sputnik are not instruments of Russian propaganda, but platforms for discussion. I watched many programs of RT France, and they were interesting because they included experts with an alternative point of view to that of the mainstream media. The fact that journalists in Europe did not react in any way to these blockades shows the “totalitarian” nature of the entire Western media world. This is very sad. Let’s hope that the re-information media will remain active and will hasten the destruction of the disinformation block.

BI: In France, the economic consequences are already being felt (notably the increase in gas prices). How can a vicious circle be avoided?

DD: The anti-Russian sanctions are beginning to drain the European economy. Le Pen, during the debate with Macron, rightly called them “hara-kiri” for the French economy. But let’s think—who needs a weakened Europe? Afflicted after COVID, weakened by anti-Russian sanctions, Europe will have to focus all its forces on the issue of rescuing its own economy. In such a situation the beneficiaries are the USA, which will manage to establish its control over the continent.

An independent Rimland is unacceptable for the Anglo-Saxon civilization. The growing anti-American and anti-NATO sentiment (in France, note, Mélanchon, Le Pen, Zemmour and many other candidates have actively criticized France’s membership in NATO and called for an almost Gaullist scenario of 1966) is a threat to the world domination of the USA. Therefore, the idea of anti-Russian sanctions was implemented with the self-serving aim of weakening the region. The EU elites have acted as intermediaries, proxies of the globalists in this enterprise, and have dealt a blow to the welfare of peoples and European populations.

BI: A final word?

DD: I urge all readers to think critically and question the reports published by the media. If the Western liberal elites insist so much on supporting Kiev and demonizing Moscow, it is because there is a profit logic behind it. Everything must be questioned. This is an important principle that allows us to keep a sober eye.

In a society of spectacle, of propaganda and of the totalitarian nature of Western systems, doubt is a fundamental stepping-stone to get out of the cave.

Featured image: “Plato’s Cave (Study for a Monument),” by Tom Hopkins; painted in 1986.

Antoine Arjakovsky: An Ecumenical Metaphysics

Antoine Arjakovsky directs the Politics and Religion Department at the Collège des Bernardins in Paris. He is also Director Emeritus of the Institute of Ecumenical Studies at the Ukrainian Catholic University.

His research focuses in particular on Russian religious philosophy (Bulgakov, Berdyaev, Shestov), as well as on issues of the theology of politics, such as democracy, justice and fraternity (Votez Fraternité ! Trente propositions pour une société plus juste [Vote Fraternity! Thirty Propositions for a more Just Society]). He has just published Éssai de métaphysique œcuménique [Essay on Ecumenical Metaphysics]. in which he analyzes our troubled times and, above all, proposes a new epistemology based on ecumenical science.

This conversation comes through the kind courtesy of PHILITT. [Translated from the French by N. Dass]

PHILITT (PL): In the introduction to your book, you begin by making an observation. Contrary to those who say that our world is going well, and that the impression of the contrary is only a distortion effect, proper to a Western consciousness that has always been haunted by the idea of decadence, you affirm that, on the contrary, our societies are facing a “poly-crisis.”

Antoine Arjakovsky (AA): Yes, but it is not to be a great prophet to note this. You just have to look at the many reports of the United Nations or the IPCC on this subject. For example, the latest Oxfam report published in January 2022 explains that the health pandemic has considerably increased social inequalities in France and in the world. The top five wealthiest people in France have doubled their wealth since the beginning of the pandemic. They by themselves own as much as the poorest 40% in France. Since March 2020, the world counts a new billionaire every 26 hours, while at the same time 160 million people have fallen into poverty.

Antoine ArjakovskyDR.

Everything that formed a coherent whole in the 1990s has disintegrated in less than twenty years. There is, of course, the climate crisis and the biodiversity crisis, with the dramatic consequences that we know about, with the coronavirus pandemic. But there is also the crisis of international relations, the rise of social violence, etc. Some consider that these crises have always existed, that there has always been war, violence and injustice. But the truth is that these inequalities and the devastation of forests and oceans have taken on proportions unknown in the past. Add to this the progression, at the speed of a galloping horse, of the postmodern paradigm within most political or media elites—that is to say, of a worldview according to which there is no truth but only interpretations—then you understand why this poly-crisis is deep, long-lasting and, to put it bluntly, quite worrying.

PL: One could use the come-back that this triple economic, ecological and philosophical crisis is purely conjunctural, linked to certain contemporary mutations of the market, of technology and of ways of thinking, and that the system will eventually resolve it.

AA: The current poly-crisis has deep causes, which have to do with the fact that postmodern thinking deprives man of the spiritual energy that would allow him to truly act on the world. Indeed, in such thinking, only the individual can have sufficient resources to survive and transform a world characterized by its power relations, its senselessness and its violence. But this obviously is not the case. On the contrary, we can see that this conception renders man completely powerless. It is time to recover the elementary truth that budgets are moral documents. This is the guarantee that new public policies are possible in order to build not, according to the vision of the Moderns, a sovereign and all-powerful State, but, in a more spiritual way, a State at the service of fraternity.

PL: If I follow you, since the crisis originated in a worldview and epistemology that is both utilitarian and individualistic, its solution can only be to return to a more spiritual epistemology.

AA: Alongside the postmodern paradigm, there is another crystallization of consciousness, which can be called spiritual, that was carried into the 20th century by very different thinkers such as Nicholas Berdyaev and Kate Raworth, Victor Frankl and Karol Wojtyla (later John Paul II). This challenged not only the classical and modern worldview but also its postmodern conception.

I will take here only the example of the realization of the Austrian and Jewish psychiatrist Viktor Frankl. On October 19, 1944, he was deported to Auschwitz by the Nazis. On his return from deportation, he gave a famous lecture in Vienna in which he explained that modern psychoanalysis failed to understand the world because of a faulty epistemology:

“Having an atomistic, energetic and mechanistic concept of Man, psychoanalysis sees him in the last analysis as the automaton of a psychic apparatus. And it is precisely there that the existential analysis intervenes. It opposes a different concept of man to the psychoanalytical concept. It does not focus on the automaton of a psychic apparatus but rather on the autonomy of spiritual existence. ‘Spiritual’ is used here without any religious connotation, of course, but rather simply to indicate that we are dealing with a specifically human phenomenon, unlike the phenomena we share with other animals. In other words, the spiritual is what is human in man.”

This shift in consciousness from a postmodern conception to a spiritual worldview has occurred in an often discrete way in just about every discipline in the 20th and 21st centuries. Today agnostic philosophers, such as Dany Robert Dufour for example, do not hesitate to trace manifestations of the spirit in the life of the world back to the metaphysical and theological figure of the Trinity. Here is the conclusion of one of his recent conferences at the Collège des Bernardins: “I am an atheist betting on a new ecumenism (convivialism) and invoking the Trinity to ward off the devil.”

PL: This new spiritual worldview must, according to you, be developed in what you call an “ecumenical metaphysics.” However, this term seems at first sight to be difficult to understand. In fact, the term “metaphysics” does not have a very good press today, and since Kant it has been associated with the idea of an outdated or even misguided philosophy.

AA: It is urgent to get out of the current schizophrenia of the university which consists in separating the two spheres of belief and rationality. Kant himself, in The Conflict of Faculties, was opposed to such a division. He, the philosopher of pure reason, explained at the end of his life that he was also a Lutheran believer who would like to be able to converse with theologians. The misfortune was that in his time theological rationality was entirely dependent on political power. Today, we are no longer in that situation. On the contrary, we can see how much theological rationality and philosophical rationality have to say to each other in the same way that the Catholic faith has understood that it could be enriched by contact with the Protestant and Orthodox faith. Hence the interest for me to think today about the bases of an ecumenical metaphysics capable of thinking together the universal and the personal, but also the real world and the spiritual world.

In reality, ecumenical metaphysics is a global vision of the world that seeks to understand all reality and to participate in it. Here the term “ecumenical” is understood as the Kingdom of God that comes to earth whenever human beings actualize divine justice. This conception of universality becomes personal and communal. It also breaks down the ancient representation of space-time. History is neither cyclical nor a long empty corridor. It has a vertical meaning, one might say. The kingdom of God on earth is fullness in spirit and truth. This is why I explain in my book that Wilhelm Visser’t Hooft was right when he explained in his book The Meaning of Ecumenical that there is a somewhat forgotten meaning to the term “ecumenical—that of a universality that gives access to reality in a meta-confessional, meta-religious and meta-convictional way. From the Christian point of view, this can be perfectly justified by the fact that Christ himself announced to his disciples: “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself” (Jn 12:32). But, of course, this personal sense of universality must also be understood in its sapiential dimension, its dimension of wisdom.

PL: You have said on many occasions that this ecumenical metaphysics must be “sapiential,” but also “personalist.”

AA: For Aristotle, metaphysics had to be katholou; that is to say, it had to be capable of taking the whole thing. Metaphysics, when it rediscovers its spiritual sources, in a sapiential and personalist way, becomes fully ecumenical. It is a question of holding together in its entirety God, the world and the human being as a thinker. This is why it is necessary to understand the individual in his infinite dignity as a person, both microcosm and macrocosm. It is also a question of rediscovering the intuitions of figures as different as the author of the Book of Proverbs, of Rumi, of Paracelsus or of Shankara in order to grasp the being in all its sapiential depth, which is at the same time unobjectifiable yet nonetheless describable. This leads to a non-dual understanding of the world, as in the Eastern religions but also in the great Western mystics.

This metaphysics, because it poses a tension between the created and the uncreated world, makes it possible to reconcile four major understandings of truth in the history of philosophy: truth as correspondence between the thing and the intellect (Aristotle); truth as fidelity to a promise (Augustine); truth as coherence between what one says and what one does (Rescher); and finally truth as consensus between the members of a community (Peirce). This existential and “in tension” conception of truth is opposed in this sense to the voluntarist vision of truth, dominant today, which conceives it only as that which functions in relation to what is (Bacon); that is to say in a technocentric way, which leads to the transhumanist utopia, as Franck Damour has shown well.

PL: This ecumenical metaphysics appears to be a culmination of your work, in particular that of Russian religious philosophers, such as Berdyaev, Bulgakov or Chestov, whom you quote extensively in your book.

AA: The Russian religious thinkers of the 20th century, such as Nicolai Berdyaev, Sergei Bulgakov or Lev Shestov were among the first to understand that it was possible to understand the universal as a personal and symbolic reality. These thinkers knew German thought very well, from Kant to Marx. They understood with Nietzsche that the modern metaphysics that separated the domain of “why” (which was reserved for special metaphysics) from the domain of “how” (which was reserved for general metaphysics) was absurd. They recognized with Heidegger that Western rationalist thought had enclosed being in objectifying concepts, and that it was henceforth a question of recovering all the depth and all the freedom of it.

For the Russian religious thinkers, although they did not always go to the end of their intuitions, it is appropriate to associate the logic of the subject as Person (Berdyaev), the logic of the verb as Wisdom (Bulgakov), and finally the logic of the predicate as self-consciousness (Shestov). This post-idealist and post-phenomenological worldview has the great merit of renewing metaphysics, as soon as one grasps the complementarity between these thoughts, as I try to show in my book.

Thus, for example, Shestov showed how rational thought was, since Aristotle, based on the principles of identity, non-contradiction and the excluded third. This meant that all reality was equal to itself, that one could not say one thing and its opposite and that there was no third term that was both A and non-A. Rational binary thought, based on these principles, relied on the adequacy between the thing and the intellect to understand the world. And it defined “proof” as the explanation of a phenomenon by its universalizable repetition.

But this is a vision of the world which the different religious traditions, from the East and the West, say is a form of naivety with respect to the non-dual organization of reality. Man, who has however an infinite dignity, must in this rationalist conception submit to the order and to the appearance that the phenomena want to give of themselves. It is, according to Shestov, a form of passivity which leads to fatalism or to war. This form of thinking leads to a priori judgments which force to understand all reality as an abstract and uniform thing. It consequently denies to think truth as the fruit of a personal experience.

Featured image: “The Last Supper,” by the Master of the Amsterdam Death of the Virgin; painted ca. 1485-1500.

Martin Heidegger, Russia and Political Philosophy

Martin Heidegger’s writings have recently attracted a great deal of interest in various countries. Interpretations of his texts differ. But what is interesting is the constant criticism of his legacy by liberals, no matter where it occurs, no matter what the object of this criticism is (whether his work as a university professor, his interest in ancient Greek philosophy and related interpretations concerning modernity, or his position on the German political regime before and after 1945). One gets the impression that liberals want to deliberately demonize Heidegger and his writings—the depth of thought of the German philosopher does not give them peace of mind. And it is clear why—his work contains a message to create a counter-liberal project that can be implemented in many different forms.

Dasein and the Political

This will be discussed in more detail below, but for now it is necessary to make a brief excursus into the history of the study of Martin Heidegger’s ideas in Russia.

In the Soviet Union, Martin Heidegger’s ideas were not known to the general public. First, because his activities peaked in the period when the Nazis were in power in Germany. Heidegger himself, like many ideologues of the conservative revolution in Germany, criticized many aspects of National Socialism, but in the Soviet era all philosophy that did not follow the Marxist tradition was considered bourgeois, false and harmful. The only exception is perhaps the work of Vladimir Bibikhin; but his translations of Being and Time and On Time and Being were published in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. In addition, these translations were repeatedly criticized for their simplistic approach, misinterpretation of terms, linguistic errors, etc. And the lecture courses on early Heidegger at Moscow State University were given by Bibikhin in 1990-1992—the time of late perestroika, when much was allowed in the USSR. Nevertheless, it can be noted that in Moscow, in the late 1980s, a circle of followers of Heidegger’s ideas formed in the scientific community. There was a similar situation in St. Petersburg, which was later reflected in translation and publishing activities.

Since the late 1990s other works of the German thinker have been translated and published. The quality of the translation has improved considerably (other authors have been doing this), and Heidegger’s legacy began to be taught at various universities in the country. For philosophy departments, Heidegger’s basic concepts have become compulsory for students to know. However, the study of philosophical ideas does not mean that students will become philosophers or that they will refer to certain concepts in relation to political processes. Plato and Aristotle are studied in high school—but who now seriously uses the various ideas of these philosophers of ancient Greece when discussing socio-political issues?

Interest in Heidegger’s ideas, in the context of Russian politics, was stimulated by articles and speeches by the Russian philosopher and geopolitician Alexander Dugin in the mid-2000s; and later these ideas were systematized and presented in voluminous texts.

In 2010, Dugin’s book, Martin Heidegger: The Philosophy of Another Beginning, was published by the Academic Project; and the following year its logical sequel, Martin Heidegger: The Possibility of Russian Philosophy, was published. In 2014, the same publisher published both books in a combined volume entitled, Martin Heidegger. The Last God.

Dugin’s interpretation of Heidegger’s ideas is also linked to the history of Russian ideas, Orthodox Christianity, and the particular path of state development (including the theory of Eurasianism).

Of course, it makes no sense to retell Heidegger’s philosophical teachings in a journal publication. About a hundred volumes have been published in Germany, including entire works, lectures and diaries. Let us dwell only on a few points which, in our view, are applicable to the political context.

First, Heidegger has many neologisms that he introduced to describe the unfolding of time and being. The key concept is Dasein, often translated as “Here-Being.” The French philosopher Henri Corbin translated the term as “human reality.” But to fully understand many terms, it is better not to translate, but to try to fathom in the original by finding something similar in the native language. For example, das Man expresses the inauthentic Dasein, which has fallen into the everyday. And in authentic existentialism, Dasein has the property of being to death, Sein zum Tode, which represents essential horror. Terror is the opposite of fear, which fills the world with external things and the inner world with empty experiences.

Interestingly, modern Western politics and liberalism as such are built on fear. This tendency goes back centuries and is directly linked to the formation of Western (European) philosophy.

Let us add that one of the properties of Dasein is spatiality, since space depends on Dasein. But on the other hand, it is not a function of time. Conditionally Dasein is between the external and the internal, the past and the present; it is borderline and instantaneous.

And Dasein has existential capacities—being-in-the-world (In-der-Welt-Sein), being-in (In-sein), being-with (Mitsein), care (die Sorge), abandonment (Geworfenheit), disposedness (Befindlichkeit), fear (Furcht), understanding (Verstehen), discourse/telling (Rede), mood (Stimmung).

Another important element of Heidegger’s philosophy is the theme of the fourfold (Geviert), which is Heaven, Gods, Earth and People. They are depicted in this way: Heaven at the top left; Gods (immortal) at the top right; People (mortal) at the bottom left’ and Earth at the bottom right. There is an axis between the humans and the gods, as well as between Heaven and Earth. The bosom of the quadruped is the most authentic modus vivendi of Dasein existence.

It should also be noted that Heidegger separates the former from the past, the present from what is now, and the future from what is to come. Dasein, according to Heidegger, must make a fundamental choice—between the coming and the future, i.e., the choice of authentic existentialism and questioning of Beyng (Seyn) directly. Then the coming will become the future. If it chooses non-authentic existentialism, then the future will only be the future, and therefore it will not exist.

Describing all these elements of Heidegger’s philosophy in detail, Alexander Dugin asks the question—Can we speak of a specifically Russian Dasein? What are its existential potentialities? How does it differ from the European Dasein? He comes to the conclusion that a specific Russian Dasein exists. And not only Russian. At the basis of every civilization there is a special “thinking presence,” Dasein, which predetermines the structure of the Logos of that civilization. Consequently, each nation (civilization) has its own special set of existentials.

It is telling that in 2016 Heidegger’s diaries Ponderings II-VI, known as the Black Notebooks, 1931-1938, were published in Russia, and were issued by the Gaidar Institute, a liberal organization that in conservative circles in Russia is considered an agent of Western influence in the country (Yegor Gaidar was the author of liberal economic reforms in Russia under President Yeltsin. He was the Minister of Finance in 1992, and also served as Acting Chairman of the Government of the Russian Federation and Acting Minister of Economy of Russia in 1993-1994. Because of his reforms, inflation started in the country, the process of privatization was launched, and many sectors of the economy were destroyed).

It is considered Heidegger’s most politicized work, since in his diaries he speaks not only of the philosophical categories that troubled him, but also of the role of the Germans in history, upbringing and education, and the political project of National Socialism.

The Gaidar Institute was probably aiming at yet another attempt to discredit Heidegger’s teaching; but it worked the other way around. The publication of the diaries was received with great interest.

It is also paradoxical that it was in this book that Heidegger criticized liberalism, noting that the “liberal” sees “connectedness” in his own way. He sees only “He sees only ‘dependencies’—’influences,’ but he never understands that there can be an influencing which is of service to the genuine basic stream of all flowing and provides a path and a direction” (45, 106, p. 28).

Here are a few more quotations from this work, which, in our opinion, are interesting in the framework of the topic under consideration:

“The metaphysics of Dasein must become deeper in accord with the innermost structure of that metaphysics and must expand into the metapolitics “of” the historical people” (22, 54, p. 91).

“The worthiness for power out of the greatness of Dasein—and Dasein out of the truth of its mission” (7, 22, p. 83).

“Education—the effective and binding realization of the power of the state, taking that power as the will of a people to itself” (17, 45, p. 89).

“At issue is a leap into specifically historical Da-sein. This leap can be carried out only as the liberation of what is given as endowment into what is given as task” (35, 98, p. 173).

As Dugin points out, while early Heidegger assumed that Dasein is something given, later Heidegger concluded that Dasein is something that must be found, justified and constituted. And in order to do this, a serious thought process must first be undertaken (see, Heidegger’s What is Called Thinking).

It is important to understand that although Heidegger’s ideas are considered a kind of completion of European philosophy (which began with the ancient Greeks—and this is symbolic, since Heidegger built his hypotheses on an analysis of the texts of ancient Greek philosophers), he was often classified as a thinker who overcame Eurocentrism. For this reason, many of Heidegger’s concepts were positively received during his lifetime in regions where a critical direction of philosophy was developing in relation to the European heritage as a whole.

In the twentieth century, for example, there was great interest in Heidegger’s work in Latin America. In Brazil, Vicente Fereira da Silva, in Argentina Carlos Astrada, Vicente Fantone, Henrique Dussel and Francisco Romero, in Venezuela Juan David García Bacca, and in Colombia Rubén Xierra Mejía turned to Heidegger’s work.

The Iranian philosopher Ahmad Fardid’s words that Heidegger can be perceived as a figure of world significance, and not just as a representative of European thought, also confirm this.

Since Fardid himself was a consistent critic of Western philosophy (his concept of Gharbzadegi— intoxication with the West—is well known), which he said contributed to the emergence of nihilism; this admission is quite revealing.

Not only in Iran, but also in other Asian countries, Heidegger had followers. In Japan, his student Nishida Kitaro founded the Kyoto School of Philosophy in the 1930s, although Heidegger himself was recognized in this country as a carrier of the European spirit (after the Meiji reforms in Japan, there was an excessive fascination with everything European, especially German culture and philosophy). However, it is interesting that the concept of “existence” applied by Heidegger was reinterpreted in Japan in the Buddhist spirit as “actual being” (genjitsu sonzai), and the Nothing was interpreted as “emptiness” (shunya). That is, the Japanese took Martin Heidegger’s basic concepts as they understood them and often mixed his terms with those of European existentialists, such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and Gabriel Marcel. Another Japanese philosopher, Nishitani Keiji, also adapted Heidegger’s ideas to traditional Eastern models, as was often done in the East.

Parallels between Eastern traditional philosophy and Martin Heidegger’s analysis have also been drawn in Korea (Hwa Yol Jung).

In this respect, Russia and the study of Martin Heidegger’s legacy is a kind of bridge between Europe and the East, between the rigid rationalism that began to consume European consciousness from the Middle Ages and the abstract contemplative thinking characteristic of Asian peoples.

To be blunt—Eurasianism and Heideggerianism are, in a sense, interrelated and spiritually close trends among contemporary ideological currents in Russia.

There can only be a profound understanding of the one when the other is understood; although separately the two schools can also be seen as independent philosophical teachings (which is often done by secular scholars and opportunistic political scientists).

Leonid Savin, is Editor-in-Chief of the Geopolitika.ru Analytical Center, General Director of the Cultural and Territorial Spaces Monitoring and Forecasting Foundation and Head of the International Eurasia Movement Administration. This article appears through the kind courtesy of Geopolitika.

Featured image: “Heidegger,” by Fabrizio Cassetta; painted in 2012.

Alexis de Tocqueville’s Stumbling Block


Alexis de Tocqueville is a great mind of the hedgehog variety. Writers, Isaiah Berlin said, are roughly divided into two species: hedgehogs who stay in the same intellectual place for life, and foxes who scamper from place to place. The political writer Tocqueville deliberately chose the tactic of the hedgehog (minus the prickles); he centered his thought around a few core ideas whose facets he explored and whose implications he pursued tirelessly. What are these core ideas? They are three in number:

  1. The great business of the modern world is democracy or equality;
  2. The great cause par excellence is freedom, or more precisely freedom associated with the spirit of religion;
  3. The parasite or the nuisance is revolution, or rather the revolutionary spirit.

Tocqueville’s entire intellectual life is summed up in a reflection on these themes, a stubborn and tormented reflection from which came two great books: De la démocratie en Amérique [Democracy in America] (1835 and 1840), the first volume of which made him a famous man at the age of thirty. Second, after the coup d’état of December 2, 1851 made him an author once again, L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution [The Ancien Régime and the Revolution] (1856), the second volume of which remained unfinished. In the interim, Tocqueville had engaged himself wholeheartedly in politics—he was a deputy from 1839 to 1851 and a minister for a time under the Second Republic—but he always remained a politician on the fringe, and his ambitions were disappointed. In all circumstances, he remained unwaveringly faithful to the same cause, the one that inspired his whole life: the liberal cause (Tocquevillian version).

The second book is a great work, which however is an incomplete effort. Tocqueville did not succeed in solving the problem that is at the heart of his thought—he groped, rectified, resumed and never succeeded. The problem is this—how to think in one go about this great democratic or egalitarian revolution that is today generating a new world and that formidable and singular event that was the French Revolution? How to think about the dynamics of equality and the dynamics of the Revolution together? Or more precisely, how to fit the dynamics of the Revolution into the dynamics of equality?

A New World

On the one hand, Tocqueville was deeply convinced that in the new lands of America and in the old societies of Europe, times had changed or were changing. The same destiny commanded both: the Americans are born equal; the Europeans are becoming equal. The great democratic revolution that had been working on Christian humanity for centuries had reached a threshold—one world was dying: that of the old aristocratic society, and a new era was opening up: that of modern society, characterized by the democratic social state. From one world to the other, the relations between men have changed in nature. The modern society is radically new and this novelty is due to the spirit which animates it, the democratic spirit—men think, feel equal there.

On the other hand, Tocqueville was very close to this French Revolution, which stunned the world, and which sent to prison or to the scaffold his parents, grandparents and his great-grandfather (Malesherbes), and which seemed to set French political history apart. How to decipher what contemporaries perceived as an unprecedented storm? For Tocqueville, the general meaning of the event was clear—it followed from his vision of History: The French Revolution was part of a movement which exceeded it. It was a “democratic revolution,” in the sense that it was inserted into the march of the modern world towards equality.

But why did this march towards equality take on this unbridled and bloody pace? How to think about democratic movement and Jacobin crimes together? The difficulty tormented Tocqueville and fed his concern about the political future of France. There was, he explained, during this democratic revolution, a parasitic element that grafted itself onto it. The Revolution began with the magnificent impetus of 1789, where the spirit of equality and the spirit of liberty were combined. Then it quickly slipped under the sway of this parasitic spirit, a spirit of rupture, violence and tyranny, which he names, after Royer-Collard, “the revolutionary spirit.” Tocqueville was here in tune with the other liberals of his time. He was led to sort out within the Revolution and its inheritance the good grain from the chaff. The politician Tocqueville opposed Guizot; he nevertheless shared the same objective—to purge post-revolutionary France of the survivals of the revolutionary spirit, in this sense to finish the Revolution.

The Revolutionary Spirit

But the difficulty remained. What is the origin and the posterity of this revolutionary spirit that has engendered so many misfortunes? In Tocquevillian terms, the question becomes more complicated— where does this parasitic spirit of democratic times come from? What is its future in democratic societies? And finally—what is the relationship between the revolutionary spirit and the democratic spirit? Tocqueville never stopped stumbling over these questions.

He mulled over them again and again in Democracy in America, and especially in the second volume, where there is an implicit comparison between the American version of democracy, a democracy without revolution (no “Old Regime” to be destroyed), and the French-style democracy, born in the form of a democratic revolution. But Tocqueville hesitated, oscillated, and in the end seemed to step back. He first presented the revolutionary passions as democratic passions pushed to the extreme; then he opposed them by explaining that the democratic spirit tends to extinguish revolutionary passions.

The issue is not clear-cut, nor is it clarified in The Ancien Régime and the Revolution, where he again operates on two fronts. On the one hand, he vigorously develops his famous thesis, faithful to his basic idea, which brings the Revolution into line—the revolutionary subversion only continued the monarchic subversion of the old aristocratic society and perfected in its turn the centralized State that would be culminate in the work of Bonaparte. The Revolution was thus only one moment among others, even if it was particularly turbulent and violent, of the continuous march towards equality. But on the other hand, he laid bare the components of another interpretation wherein the Revolution took on the colors of a new phenomenon, unprecedented in History—principles that were a “new religion,” actors who were “new beings,” “of an unknown species”—in other words, this revolutionary spirit, which had something irreducible and on which Tocqueville’s basic idea always stumbled. A part of the Revolution remained enigmatic; and until the end, Tocqueville would continue to come up against this enigma. Here is what he wrote a year before his death to his close friend Kergorlay, while he was working on the second volume of The Ancien Régime and the Revolution:

“There is moreover in this disease of the French Revolution something particular that I feel, without being able to describe it well, nor to analyze the causes. It is a virus of a new and unknown species. There have been violent revolutions in the world; but the immoderate, violent, radical, desperate, audacious, almost mad and yet powerful and effective character of these revolutionaries has no precedent, it seems to me, in the great social agitations of past centuries. Where does this new race come from? Who produced it? Who made it so effective? Who perpetuates it? Independently of everything that can be explained in the French Revolution, there is something in its spirit and in its acts that is unexplained. I feel where the unknown object is, but I can’t lift the veil that covers it. I feel it as if through a foreign body which prevents me either from touching it well, or from seeing it” (2).


Let us resume. Seen by Tocqueville, the modern scene looked like this: the cause of equality has won but the cause of liberty is still in the balance. The cause of equality has won because aristocratic society is dead or dying irrevocably. The aristocratic spirit is fading away, which was a false spirit, but of which we must nevertheless try to preserve one element: the spirit of excellence. On the other hand, the cause of liberty, the one to which Tocqueville was attached with every fiber of his being, is in abeyance, threatened by the possible consequences of the democratic movement, directly threatened in France by what survives of the revolutionary spirit. From this, stem the two questions that are at the heart of Tocqueville’s thought and from which we have seen that he never dissociated himself:

  1. What is the logic of this democratic spirit. and what dangers does it pose to human freedom (and human excellence)?
  2. What is the origin and the posterity of this revolutionary spirit that has poisoned French politics since the Revolution?

But it is by wanting to think of these two questions in a single way that he condemned himself to the grindstone. Tocqueville considered the revolutionary spirit only as an abusive mistress or a bastard daughter of the democratic spirit; and thus he forbade himself to think, or to think to the end, this revolutionary spirit as a rival in its own right of the democratic spirit and of a nature to subvert the democratic spirit totally. Convinced that the modern world was shaped first and foremost by the democratic spirit, he remained trapped in an overly homogeneous vision of the world and thus of the French Revolution. Tocqueville was the brilliant analyst of the democratic spirit. His stumbling block was the revolutionary spirit. He brought to light the dynamics of equality; he failed to decipher the revolutionary dynamics.

Perhaps Tocqueville was also trapped in another way by the democratic spirit. I want to say this: the privileged actors of History according to Tocqueville are the ordinary men, their ideas and their feelings. It is the average men who animate, lead democratic societies; in the case of the French Revolution, it was “the French” or “the nation” who generally made History. Tocqueville underestimated the role of minorities within the revolutionary process and perhaps also within the egalitarian dynamic. No doubt, he notes on several occasions, the role played by minorities under the Revolution and the practices of usurping the will of the people. But he never thinks through this subversion, which not only corrupts political democracy but transforms it into a fiction or an appearance. The impulse of his mind always brought him back to general causes and to the democratic logic that is the basic idea of his interpretation. In this, he gave in, it seems, to a flaw in which he himself saw a tendency of the democratic mind—the abuse of general ideas.

In the United States, Tocqueville saw a people masters of themselves. In France he heard, resounding through the memory of time and his own research, the revolutionary rhetoric invoking tirelessly the “will of the people.” Was he not a victim of what Augustin Cochin called the great fetish of the French Revolution—the “People” as actors in their own History?


If this interpretation is correct, Tocqueville was an incomparable guide to understanding much of the modern world—but not all of it. In fact, history has both confirmed and denied him.

In the second volume of Democracy in America, there are, as we have noted, many variations; but there is nevertheless a dominant tone—the risk of revolution tends to disappear in democratic societies, thanks, so to speak, to the democratic spirit which leads to a peaceful life, withdrawn into the private sphere, oriented towards well-being and devoid of political passions. The culmination of this analysis is the famous chapter in which the author takes the exact opposite view of the common opinion and of the justifications given by Guizot to the “politics of resistance” that he advocates; that is to say the chapter in which he explains “why great revolutions will become rare” in democratic centuries.

Tocqueville’s concern then changed object—no longer the risk of a new political revolution—the French Revolution was over—but there were now the possible or foreseeable consequences of the democratic movement: social atomization, extreme individualism, the development of a new form of despotism (a tutelary power, invasive but far-sighted and gentle, a welfare state, an extreme version, as it were).

A Premonitory Vision

But Tocqueville anticipated History and in particular the History of France. This peaceful democracy, where individualism triumphs; this quiet society where the spirit of equality and material ambitions irritate souls but do not arouse any political passion, it is not the France of the 19th century where the revolutionary spirit remained, it is the French society of today, where revolutionary traditions are dead; it is more generally the Western society of our time, where egalitarian individualism has recently unfolded its full force. Reread today, Democracy in America shows a brilliant genius as a sociologist. By digging into the dynamics of equality, Tocqueville deciphers our social life and gives us the keys to understand our relations with our fellow human beings.

On the other hand, he wrongly prejudged the political future of France. The denial—the revolution of 1848—was not long in coming, sounding the death knell of his illusions. He confessed them himself in a passage of his Memoirs where a feeling of despair pervades: Will the French Revolution ever end? Will France ever be able to reach harbor?

“Constitutional monarchy succeeded the Ancien Régime; the Republic, the Monarchy; the Republic, the Empire; the Empire, the Restoration. Then came the July Monarchy. After each of these successive mutations, it was said that the French Revolution, having completed what was presumptuously called its work, was finished—it was said and it was believed. Alas! I had hoped it myself under the Restoration; and still since the government of the Restoration had fallen; and here was the French Revolution which started again, because it is always the same one. As we proceed, its goal moves away and grows murky… I do not know when this long voyage will end. I am tired of making for the shore in the deceptive fog, and I often wonder if this dry land which we have sought for so long indeed exists, or if our destiny is not rather to batter the sea eternally” (3).

It will take time for France to reach the port and the time of revolutions is not yet over. In the twentieth century, the Bolshevik Revolution took over, whose actors presented themselves as the heirs of the French Revolution. The Bolsheviks also toppled an old aristocratic society and built on its rubble a new social order that prided itself on embodying the truth of democracy. Yet the dynamics of this revolution clearly escaped Tocqueville’s categories, and his analyses are of little help here. There is something else. Tocqueville speaks of gold, but only in one sense.


Tocqueville does not explain the whole French Revolution; he does not explain the whole modern world. The one and the other are linked. There are several dynamics at work within the modern world; there are several dynamics born of the French Revolution: the dynamics of equality and the one we call the dynamics of ideology. The French Revolution is thus not a block, it is composite. But it should not be broken down in the classical way, that of the liberals of the 19th century who opposed 1789 and 1793. The distinction, it seems, was made as early as 1789.

This composite character explains why the French Revolution could be sometimes opposed, sometimes related to the American Revolution. On the one hand, the French Revolution was animated by its own dynamic which made its singularity and whose heritage largely explains the specificity of French political History. It is this same dynamic or a dynamic of the same type that animated the Revolution in the East and whose acquired strength broke with the collapse of the Soviet regime; and it is this heritage that has just been erased from French politics. In this sense the French Revolution is over.

On the other hand, the French Revolution is of the same family as the American Revolution: it marks the entry into the world of equality. And it is this dynamic of equality that is redoubling today, dragging along both American and French society. In this sense the Revolution (French or American) continues. This explains, it seems to us, the end of the French exception.

If this analysis is correct, the contemporary period is a period of rupture, even if it is not always perceived as such. The French Revolution not only provoked a formidable explosion that shook the world and lit a blaze whose fire has only just been extinguished, it also, along with the American Revolution, set off a repeated bomb whose effects are working on our societies as never before since the “explosion” of the 1960s. The status of politics and the nature of social relations have been profoundly modified.

Tocqueville, saddened, died under the authoritarian Empire. He who had never reflected on history, except to enlighten the future and to promote the cause of a regulated and dignified freedom, saw the present: an adventurer turned despot, the rascals in power, the shameless servility, contradicting his analyses and his hopes. Would he be delivered today from his sadness or his anxiety? Certainly, the French Revolution as a political revolution is finished. But the democratic revolution, whose consequences he feared, brims over on all sides. Endless Revolution.

Philippe Bénéton is Professor emeritus of Rennes I and is the author of Le dérèglement moral de l’Occident, Les fers de l’opinion, Introduction à la politique, Le conservatisme.

The End of Universalism

Europe believed in universalism. It believed that cultural, religious, human, political borders were chimeras that could be erased. It believed that outside Europe the others were other selves, with the same wills, the same passions, the same objectives. Other selves that aspired, in their secret desires, to become like Europeans. It believed that values and ideas could be exported, that it was enough to formerly colonize, to normalize today, and if necessary, by means of war.

The World: a European Reflection?

Universalism was not without ambiguity. By seeing in the other a being still in the state of nature, which had to be “developed” in order to transform him into a complete and accomplished man, universalist thought was the bearer of wars and tragedies. The first colonial period (1880-1960) was an attempt to export universal values. Then, in spite of its failure, Westerners continued to try to paint the world in their own image. This was the great era of achieving development, of an intellectual colonization to which elites lent themselves, flattered to enter the Western world and to be invited to world conferences. Modernization was to follow the path of Westernization.

But there was a hitch, first in 1979, when the Iranian mullahs claimed that they wanted to modernize their country without westernizing it. This was probably an accident of history, which continued with Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein. But democracy, which was no longer just a political regime but a political ideology, had to be the strongest. Universalism, so sweet and syrupy in its language, provoked bloody wars whose wounds have not yet finished damaging the world. Yugoslavia (1991-2001), Afghanistan (2001-2021), Iraq (2003), Syria and Libya (2011-) for the main ones. Democracy was to be exported with bombs and thus reshape the faces and peoples of these countries. Political planning on an international scale failed. These countries rejected the West and its universal values. At the same time, former empires, which had been destroyed, woke up and wanted to influence the world scene: Russia, China, India; they too had technological modernity but without Western values.

In the West itself, universalism was rejected in favor of a return to indigenism; Latin America and Africa were the laboratories for this. Africa, which was supposed to advance at a forced march with elections, democracy and public aid for development, experienced an unprecedented fragmentation. In Europe itself, the assimilation and integration of non-European populations is becoming more and more complex; far from wanting to adopt European ways of life, they wish to preserve their cultures and their specificities. Universalism is being defeated within Europe itself. Thus, we have a world that is increasingly united by globalization, increasingly technologized and connected, but also increasingly fragmented and diverse because universalism has failed.

Accelerate when Failing

The characteristic of an ideology is not to recognize its failure and never to lay down its arms—when it fails, it accelerates. The end of universalism therefore means the acceleration of its defense; hence the passive or active interventions in Syria and Libya, while the failure of Iraq was obvious. Hence the refusal to see the world as it is, to think about empires reborn, to understand the motivations and ideologies that underlie the actions of other countries and peoples. To recognize the failure of universalism is to recognize the failure of nearly two centuries of world politics.

Yet this end of universalism is good news. Because it is a sentimentalism and an idealism—it has led to war; it has upset regions; it has weakened Europe. By systematically putting the debate on the level of values and morals, it has prevented any understanding and conciliation. Universalism is an intellectual break with the classical vision of man and of the relations between nations, based on human nature and the relations of forces.

The end of universalism is not because the idealists recognized their failure, it is because other peoples rejected it, because it is contrary to their cultures and their interests. Because it was born in Europe and exported to the areas held by the West, Europe is in the front row of its disappearance. The external and internal wars that Europe is now experiencing signal the end of universalism, even if many do not want to recognize it. The very project of the European Union, based on the dissolution of nations in an imperial bureaucracy, is a failure, as nations, notably Germany, are taking back their power interests. The new century that has begun is therefore at odds with the two previous centuries because of this disappearance of universalism.

School of Realists

For France and Europe, another path was possible. Far from the systematic adherence to universalism, the French school of political economy and then the school of geography proposed a realistic study of exchanges between nations. The world vision conveyed by François Guizot, Frédéric Bastiat and Alexis de Tocqueville was in opposition to the thinking of the idealists, particularly in their opposition to colonization. During the colonial period, Marshal Lyautey knew how to take into account the cultural differences of the peoples and to rely on the specificities of Morocco to ensure its economic development without undermining its historical identity.

The French school of geography, initiated by Paul Vidal de la Blache, anchored its research in the primary study of the geographical terrain and human occupation; a realistic and critical study that has never ceased to exist despite the pre-eminence of the idealist strand.

The end of the monopoly of the dollar, the establishment of a Chinese monetary zone, the fight against American legal norms, the desire of some to build an Islamic empire, the rejection of European cultures for the rediscovery of local cultures are all manifestations of the end of universalism. We thus return to the beginning of the 19th century, when the world had several empires and Europe had not yet conquered it, but with the technology and technical modernity of the 21st century. The end of universalism is therefore not a return to the past but a continuation of history.

Jean-Baptiste Noé is a French historian, who has authored of many books and articles, and is the editor-in-chief of the journal Conflits. We are thankful to the Institut des Libertés (Paris) through whose gracious generosity we are able to bring you this article. Translated from the French by N. Dass.

Featured image: “The Artist Moved by the Grandeur of Antique Fragments,” by Henry Fuseli, ca. 1778-1779.

Christopher Lasch: Historical Continuity and Memory

The American historian and sociologist Christopher Lasch (1932-1994) expressed his distrust of the ideology of progress in the context of the New Deal. His works analyzed in particular the new mentality generated by the consumer society (The Culture of Narcissism, 1979), or the rupture between the people and the elites (The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy, 1994). In Christopher Lasch face au progrès (L’Escargot), journalist Laurent Ottavi provides keys to understanding this complex and unclassifiable thinker.

This interview is made available through the kind courtesy of PHILITT. (Translated from the French by N. Dass).

PHILITT (PL): Christopher Lasch made the “ideology of progress” his primary target. In the post-war American context, what exactly does this mean?

Laurent Ottavi (LO): For Lasch, the “ideology of progress” is modern liberalism—the political philosophy of capitalism, born in the writings of Adam Smith and his immediate predecessors. It is based on the promise of a satisfaction of the desires of individuals, held to be insatiable, by the unlimited increase of production. Its fulfillment requires the liberation from particular frameworks of belonging (family, neighborhood, nation, etc.), traditions, nature and morality that set limits to individual desiderata. In this way, an ever-perfected earthly paradise of abundance and enjoyment is born.

Lasch began his research in the post-World War II era, at a time when American capitalism was centered on the consumer, to the detriment of the producer, which the New Deal had greatly contributed to—while power was increasingly in the hands of experts and multinationals—resulting in a serious democratic collapse. This was coupled with a fracture, which began a few decades ago but was unprecedented in its magnitude, between the “elites” and a people considered backward, clinging to their traditions and work ethic and deploring the collapse of legitimate and identified authority.

PL: Does his anti-progressivism necessarily make him a conservative or reactionary thinker?

LO: The reactionary is only the mirror image of the progressive. The former idolizes a past frozen in an eternal perfection, while the latter sees in the past centuries only, with the lesser good to be wiped away. The conservatives, on the other hand, have according to Lasch, a right conscience of the inescapable limits posed on human freedom by nature, the past or History. The historian also rejects the idea that conservatives are necessarily authoritarian, centralizing and unequal. Instead, they identify the need for social structures that discipline individual appetites and the importance of separating powers that might otherwise quickly be monopolized by one man.

Laurent Ottavi.

Conservatives, Lasch adds, know that respect and love are for particular individuals, accountable to each other, and not the result of invoking “universal brotherhood” or “tolerance” that locks people into welfare or victimhood. That being said, Lasch criticizes conservatives for having too often confused the acceptance of limits with submission to the authority in place and, above all, for having adhered to the ideology of Progress that destroys communities, morals and traditions to which they claim to be so attached. If he is not fully a conservative and even less a reactionary, Lasch describes himself best as a populist.

PL: The figure of Narcissus, thematized by Lasch, is a degraded version of Prometheus, “archetype of liberal modernity and its ideal of autonomy.” What characterizes the culture of narcissism?

LO: The culture of narcissism is the product of a capitalism freed from the corsets that hindered it since its beginnings. Drawing lessons from the Frankfurt School thinkers, Lasch judges that all society reproduces itself in the individual, in particular through the family. He identifies the narcissistic psychology of the new generic man, obsessed with the survival of his own person, in the age of mass capitalism.

In a world where insatiable desires collide with the wall of reality, which is close enough for great catastrophes to strike us but too far away to act on it, individuals have defense mechanisms similar to those of the child developing a narcissistic personality. The latter denies the distressing reality of the separation between him and beings that cannot satisfy all his desires. He then takes refuge in a painless union and in ecstasy with the mother or lends his parents the power to satisfy all his desires and imposes them on everyone.

At the level of a society, this translates, in the first case, into the search for a regressive symbiosis with the world typical of transgenderism, of the New Age, or of an ecology divinizing nature. In the second case, it is expressed by a desire to remake the world in one’s own image, such as the desire to exert absolute control through technology in spite of nature and biology. Without practical experience of the world, the psychological man of our time also abdicates the possibility of forging an individuality because that requires the consideration of limits. He is a dependent and deeply anxious Prometheus.

PL: In Lasch’s eyes, you write, “the American elites are less a ruling class than a ‘managerial professional class.’” What does he criticize them for and what conclusions does he draw from this fracture between them and the people?

LO: Lasch observes that the elites, that is the richest 20% who are largely executives and intellectual professionals, have lost the sense of reality because they are cut off from everything (nature, manual labor, etc.) that resists the will of man and keeps them in the illusion of wanting to reconfigure their environment and themselves as they please.

On the other hand, the elites aim not so much at ruling as at escaping the common fate within gilded ghettos where they concentrate economic, educational, leisure and transport advantages. Lasch reproaches them above all for betraying democracy, which is based on popular sovereignty, a shared ordinary life and virtues, foremost among which is moral responsibility, all of which are mocked by the elites. Fatally cornered with the reaction of the people, against a background of accumulated emergencies (social, health, security, etc.), they risk becoming more and more authoritarian in order to preserve their privileges and to maintain an unsustainable economic organization or a fractured society. For its part, the former lower middleclass risks giving in to growing resentment.

PL: Like George Orwell, Lasch seems to have identified a “common decency” among ordinary people. Many have denounced the essentialist character of such a notion. How do you respond to them?

LO: To use the expression “common decency” is not to claim to describe in an exhaustive way the characteristics of ordinary people. It simply underlines one of their dimensions, their instinctive sense of limits drawn, writes Kévin-Boucaud Victoire, “from the ordinary practice of mutual aid, mutual trust and social but fundamental bonds.”

Today, common decency is most prevalent among the former lower middleclass. It has inherited a sense of limits from the petit-bourgeois sensibility because of the difficulties of its daily life—its empowering practice of manual trades or hobbies, or its inclusion in the community framework. Lasch does not hide its possible failings by mentioning the racism, the anti-intellectualism and the resentment into which the petty-bourgeois sensibility can sink. The populism of the historian would help to defuse such failings.

PL: How precisely is Lasch’s “populist sensibility” defined? In what way can populism, often reduced to a form of “extreme right,” allow for the foundation of a post-capitalist society?

LO: His populist sensibility articulates the best of conservative, religious, socialist and liberal traditions. It would be the best way to turn the page of capitalism democratically and without the illusion of a revolutionary evening, and thus of growth, excess, wage-labor, centralization, inequality, abstraction and the fracture between the people and their elites. It requires four democratizations: economic, reviving a Republic of producers; political, involving citizens as much as possible at the local level; intellectual, reviving the lost art of controversy; cultural, finally, through popular sport and art.

Christopher Lasch adds to this an indispensable revitalization of the family, too isolated today from work, from intermediate places, such as bars, or even from neighborhoods. He opposes the progressives’ primacy of the future with a historical continuity based on memory, the mother of hope, as well as a consideration of the moral depth of the tradition of Christian prophecy.

The West Conceptualized all Paradoxes

Defining Paradoxes

That Europeans conceptualized all the paradoxes in history, with a minimal contribution by the Chinese, testifies to a major contrast in the intellectual trajectories of civilizations. As R.M. Sainsbury writes, “paradoxes are fun,” but “unlike puzzles and teasers, which are also fun, paradoxes raise serious problems.” Sainsbury defines a paradox as “an apparently unacceptable conclusion derived by apparently acceptable reasoning from apparently acceptable premises.” Patrick Hughes and George Brecht tell us that paradoxical propositions may be described as

  1. self-referential, in which the statement refers to itself;
  2. contradictory, in which the statement is false and true at the same time;
  3. and circular in which the statement is characterized by a vicious circle, or infinite regress.

Some believe that most paradoxes, whether they are semantic, set-theoretic, or epistemic, share the same underlying self-referential structure. Consider the famous Liar’s paradox: “This sentence is false.” Trying to determine whether this sentence is true or false leads to a contradiction. If we conclude that the sentence is true, then it cannot be true. If we agree that the sentence is false, then the sentence is true. Either answer leads to a contradiction, or a vicious circle. This paradox is self-referential in that the sentence is talking directly about itself.

What makes the Liar’s paradox more than a witty remark or a sophism is that both of the two contradictory conclusions were obtained by seemingly rigorous reasoning based on apparently sound premises. However, paradoxes come in different degrees of difficulty; some paradoxes, Sainsbury says, are “weak or shallow,” based on unfounded suppositions, faulty reasoning, or ostensibly vague wording. The famous Barber paradox, he thinks, is “not very deep.” This paradox asks who shaves the barber if the barber shaves all and only those villagers who do not shave themselves. This paradox makes the supposition that such a barber exists even though such a barber or such a village does not exist.

The Western mind came up with many paradoxes for which they attempted solutions—because this mind has a peculiar inclination to seek the truth according to its own self-legislated rational capacities, rather than in acquiescence to kinship norms or theocratic mandates. It is a most dynamic mind that came up with three fundamental laws of proper reasoning:

  1. the law of contradiction, which states that a proposition cannot be both true and false;
  2. the law of excluded middle, which states that for every proposition, either this proposition or its negation is true; and
  3. the law of identity, which states that each thing is identical with itself.

For the Western mind, if a claim is illogically inconsistent, in violation of these laws, then the claim or the reasoning behind it must be rejected.

Europeans took Zeno’s paradoxes seriously, for they seem to suggest that one could reach a logically unacceptable conclusion on the basis of sound reasoning from apparently sound premises. They wondered whether these paradoxes revealed deficiencies in the way we reason, calling for improvements in our reasoning powers, a better system of logic and a more precise usage of language. For example, Russell’s paradox (1901) of a set that includes all and only those sets that do not contain themselves as members, encouraged or was itself part of an investigation into the realm of the foundations of logic and the philosophy of mathematics, which revealed errors in classical logic that were instrumental in the development of modern logic and set theory. With this new logic, and the insights of physics and contemporary mathematics, many paradoxes have found a solution.

Reasoning Through the Contradictory Character of Reality

We would be mistaken, however, to assume that all European thinkers came to view paradoxes as mere expressions of faulty reasoning calling for a more logically perfect language, in which equivocation could not arise because all the ambiguity of everyday words was removed. Without denying the classic laws of logic, and agreeing that sentences cannot admit of self-nullifying contradictions, some Europeans came to the view that the nature of reality is contradictory, and that the human mind is limited in its capacity to offer rationally consistent answers about the ultimate questions of the universe and life. Heraclitus came to the conclusion that reality was inherently contradictory and thus paradoxical. Other European thinkers encountered complex riddles, conundrums, and puzzles for which they believed there were no rationally justified solutions. The ultimate questions of reality were inherently unanswerable or beyond rational solution or dogmatic certainty. Sextus Empiricus (160-210 AD) believed that all belief systems were ultimately grounded in dogmatic premises or criteria for which any attempt at their justification inevitably led to an infinite regress. Roy Sorensen’s A Brief History of the Paradox: Philosophy and the Labyrinths of the Mind (2003) is the best book in the English language about the many great European thinkers who have grappled for millennia with the most puzzling philosophical conundrums.

Immanuel Kant famously presented the four “antinomies of pure reason” as demonstrations of reason’s inability to reach completeness on the most fundamental questions of the universe. He believed one could give equally justified answers for

  1. the thesis that the universe has no beginning, and the antithesis that the universe has a beginning;
  2. the thesis that every composite substance in the world is made up of simples, and the antithesis that no composite substance in the world is made up of simples;
  3. the thesis that there is freedom in the world, and the antithesis that everything is ruled by necessity;
  4. the thesis that a necessary being is either part or cause of the world, and the antithesis that a necessary being is neither part nor cause of the world.

The rational inclination of the European mind should not be equated with arrogance. Kant believed that reason could come up with two impeccably solid arguments against the infinity of the past and against the idea that the past has a finite beginning, by rigorously showing how each of these positions leads to an equally absurd conclusion; and how each position is no less justified than the other. The thesis that there is no beginning, or an infinite past, leads to the absurd conclusion that we had to wait an infinite time to get to the present, and since we are living in the present, it follows that the past is finite with a beginning in time. But the antithesis that there is a beginning leads to the befuddling conclusion that there must have been a preceding time in which there was no world and no time, which leads to the conclusion that the past is infinite.

For Hegel, however, the very recognition by the mind that there are limits beyond which reason can’t provide answers is a demonstration that cognition understands its limits, and, in this respect, is capable of going beyond those limits, by realizing that the coexistence of opposites is inherent to the nature of reality: an antinomy is not, therefore, an imperfection or defect of the mind, but a demonstration that every determination in the actual concrete world is a unity of opposing contradictions. Hegel’s dialectical logic was an attempt to provide a new way of thinking through the contradictory nature of things. “Identity is merely the determination of the simple immediate, of dead being; but contradiction is the root of all movement and vitality; it is only insofar as something has a contradiction within it that it moves, has an urge and activity.”

While many contemporary logicians believe that Zeno’s paradoxes have been solved by transfinite arithmetic, originated by Georg Cantor in the late 1800s, and that there are logically consistent ways to “solve” all paradoxes, some have come to the neo-Hegelian view known as “dialetheism,” which proposes that some paradoxical inconsistencies or contradictions can be accepted without incoherence, in the sense that both “A” and “not-A” can both be true. Dialetheism is associated with the development of a paraconsistent logic to deal with sentences in which both its affirmation and its negation are true.

Lower Degree of Sophistication of Chinese Paradoxes

The only other civilization to have articulated and debated paradoxes is China. During the Warring States period (479-221 BC), a group of scholars identified with the “School of Names” (Míngjiā ) relished in the use of paradoxical and puzzling expressions, and in the discussion of the semantic relations between words and the world they pointed to. The intellectual culture of paradoxes in China, however, was fundamentally different from that of the West, in their degree of sophistication, the reaction of intellectuals to them, and the absence of philosophical reflections about the contradictory nature of the universe. The School of Names remained an isolated moment in China’s intellectual history. The Confucians in control of intellectual discussions dismissed the paradoxical expressions of the School of Names as “bizarre expressions” that discouraged young minds from the proper use of language and the obligation of educated gentlemen to promote “ritual propriety and righteousness.”

With the exception of brief texts attributed to Gōngsūn Lóng, very little first-hand knowledge of the figures associated with this School survived. What we know about Chinese paradoxes is mostly based on the Xunzi, which is an ancient Chinese collection of philosophical writings attributed to Xunzi (Xun Kuang), a 3rd-century BC philosopher associated with the Confucian tradition, who condemned paradoxical expressions as “frivolous.” While members of the Mohist School (479–221 BC) summarized many of the paradoxes of the School of Names, they did so only to offer counter-arguments against what they perceived to be sophistical ideas inconsistent with the commonsense use of language.

The current academic Chen Bo makes a strong effort to show that the School of Names reached the same level of logical sophistication and use of abstract universals as the ancient Greeks, or at least “comparable to Greek civilization to some extent.” But while Chen sometimes even tries to show that some Chinese paradoxes exhibited the abstract “concepts of class, kind, and membership” found in Russell’s paradox about classes discovered in 1901, in the end Chen barely shows that Chinese paradoxes reached the same degree of abstraction as Zeno’s famous paradoxes. He basically acknowledges this in his decision to define paradoxes in “quite a broad way, almost including all the fallacies, sophisms, puzzles, riddles, and paradoxes [which were] quite influential” in China. As Chris Fraser recognizes, there are expressions categorized as “paradoxes” that are best described as mere philosophical statements about the nature of reality, such as: “The ultimately great has no outside, call it the Great One. The ultimately small has no inside, call it the Small One.” Or, “Universally care for the myriad things. Heaven and earth are one body.”

Chen confounds his otherwise good analysis of Chinese paradoxes when he tries to argue that the mere utterance by Chinese philosophers of statements about whether “there is really an external world independently of us,” or “do we really know the states of external things,” or “do we really know other minds and their states”—actually constitute paradoxes, rather than basic epistemological and ontological questions. Chen is on stronger ground showing that the following Chinese paradoxes are “quite close to Zeno’s paradoxes of motion and infinity”:

  1. “A Wheel does not touch the ground.”
  2. “The shadow of a flying bird has never moved.”
  3. “A one-foot stick has taken away half of its length every day, it will still not be exhausted after ten thousand generations.”

For example, number three resembles Zeno’s dichotomy paradox. This Chinese paradox says that a finite-long stick can be cut into infinitely many sections since half of the length of the stick will remain no matter how many times you cut it. Zeno’s dichotomy paradox states that you will never reach a finite destination no matter how fast and how long you run since any given distance that you try to cover will consist of infinitely divisible distances.

Chen admits, however, that from the Chinese version of this paradox we can only get the concept of infinite divisibility, not the concept that all motion is an illusion. Chris Fraser correctly points out that another Chinese paradox—”The barbed arrow at its swiftest, there is time when it neither moves nor stops”—which has been likened to Zeno’s paradox of the arrow, is actually different in that the Chinese arrow is neither in motion nor at rest, whereas Zeno’s arrow is at rest in every instant of time and does not move. Zeno invented his paradoxes in order to demonstrate through rigorous reasoning that any kind of change was impossible and that reality was indivisible, despite appearances to the contrary.

Fraser further notes that the “steps in the reasoning” behind the articulation of Chinese paradoxes are almost entirely based on second-hand accounts by critics of the Schools of Names, in which the reasoning about their meaning “remains confusing and the justification for them murky.” While we know Zeno’s paradoxes second-hand through Aristotle’s writings, we do so through the highly rigorous logical mind of Aristotle. Rather than dismissing them as sophistical, Aristotle tried to find a solution to Zeno’s paradoxes. Zeno’s paradoxes raised serious philosophical problems in the Western tradition because they were seen to be based on sound reasoning and thus to constitute a challenge to the claims of reason about its ability to understand the nature of things. The solutions offered in contemporary times have come from mathematics, modern logic, and physics.

Moreover, whereas Europeans would come up with numerous paradoxes, some of which came to be associated with crises in European thought and with revolutionary advances in logic, in China the tradition of the School of Names dissipated, never to be improved upon. Thus, the paradoxes remained rather simple; basically, their prevailing theme, as Fraser notes, was that the distinctions we observe in the world are “not inherently fixed but relative to a standpoint” or scale. For example, take the paradox “The sky is as low as earth, mountains are level with marches.” It simply says that by the scale of the Great One, the difference between the height of the sky and earth, mountains and marches, are insignificant. Another so-called paradox—”Eggs have feathers”—merely states that potential feathers are already possessed by the egg.

The most discussed Chinese paradox is one attributed to Gōngsūn Lóng that simply states: “The white horse is not [a] horse” (báimǎ fēi mǎ). An entire discourse developed around this paradox. The Mohist School in particular sought to counter it with the commonsense idea that words do represent or signify things and that language should be used to communicate by appealing to commonly shared use of language, for distinguishing similar and different kinds of things. Yet, interesting as this discourse was in generating sophisticated semantic discussions, this statement seems to lack a true paradoxical nature. It seems to be a semantic claim that insofar as the terms “white horses” and “horses” denote distinct features about horses, it follows that white horses and horses cannot be equated. Critics argue that it is simply a statement that refuses to distinguish the true claim that the term “white horse” is not identical with “horse” from the false claim that the less general term “white horse” is not part of the more general term “horse.”

Cheng Bo tries to argue that Chinese paradoxes use abstract universals, terms that can be instantiated or exemplified by many particular things, much like the ancient Greeks and Europeans in the modern era. The academic Fung Yu Lan claims that the Chinese terms “horse” and bái “white” are used to designate abstract concepts—”horseness” and “whiteness.” But Chad Hansen thinks that the grammatical structure of the ancient Chinese language was such that it lacked abstract entities, such as ideas and concepts. Chinese nouns are “mass nouns,” or nouns without a plural form, which do not inflect for abstraction and plurality. Thus, it seems that the best way to understand why the Chinese were unable to conceive paradoxes with a high degree of sophistication is that their mind barely reached what Jean Piaget identified as the “formal operational stage of cognition.” It remained stuck at the “concrete operational stage,” barely reaching the formal stage, until Westerners taught them how to think in deductive ways.

The Concrete-Operational Chinese Mind

Georg W. Oesterdiefkhoff, one of the foremost Piagetian theorists in the world, is convinced that many years of cross-cultural empirical research by Jean Piaget and his followers have demonstrated that the stages of mental development of children and adolescents (from sensorimotor, through preoperational and concrete operations, to formal operations) reflect the stages of cognitive evolution “humankind” has gone through from primitive, ancient and medieval, to modern societies. The cognitive processes of humanity have not always been the same, but have improved over time. Viewing Piaget’s theory as more than a theory about the cognitive development of children, Oesterdiefkhoff has elaborated it into a grand theory covering the cognitive experience of all peoples throughout history, from primitive peoples with a preoperational mind (characteristic of children ages 2–4), to agrarian peoples with a concrete operational mind (characteristic of children ages 6–12), to modern peoples with a formal operational mind (age 12 and up).

Oesterdiefkhoff observes that “thousands of empirical studies across all continents and social milieus, from the 1930s to the present” have been conducted demonstrating that, depending on the level of cultural scientific education, the nations of the world in the course of history can be identified as preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational. The formal operational stage entails a capacity to think about abstract relationships and symbols in the absence of concrete examples, that is, a capacity to grasp syllogistic reasoning with hypothetical premises that may not refer to real objects, including a capacity to formulate explanatory hypotheses.

According to studies conducted in the 1960s and 1970s, even educated adults living in Papua New Guinea did not reach the formal stage. Australian Aborigines who were still living a traditional lifestyle barely developed beyond a preoperational stage in their adult years. As Lucien Lévy-Bruhl (1857–1939) had already observed in his Primitive Mentality (1923), dreams, divination, incantations, sacrifices, and omens, not inferential reasoning and objective causal relations, are the phantasmagorical doors through which primitives get access to the intentions and plans of the unseen spirits they believe control natural events. Adults in premodern civilizations, like ancient China, exhibit the concrete operational stage of thinking in the way they apprehend length, volume, time, space, weight, area, and geometric qualities. It is not that adults in primitive and premodern cultures are similar to children in modern cultures in their emotional development, experience, and ability to survive in a hostile environment. It is that the reasoning abilities of adults in pre-modern civilizations are restricted to what they apprehend at the perceptual level and are bound up with the sensory appearances of the world, barely transcending appearances and context-bound experiences through the development of hypothetical and abstract reasoning.

The abilities associated with the first two Piagetian stages (e.g., control over motor actions, walking, mental representation of external stimuli, verbal communication, ability to manipulate concepts involving concrete objects), have been acquired universally by humans since prehistoric times. In this sense, they can be called “biologically primary” qualities that children across cultures accomplish at the ages and in the sequence more or less elucidated by Piaget. They are universal abilities built into human nature, ready to unfold with little educational socialization. While the concrete-operational abilities of stage three (e.g., the “ability to conserve” quantities—e.g., to know that the same quantity of a liquid remains when the liquid is poured into a differently shaped container) are either lacking in primitive cultures or emerge at later ages in children than they do in modern cultures; these abilities may also be described as biologically primary insofar as they have emerged in all advanced agrarian civilizations.

It is also the case that in modern societies all individuals with a primary education acquire concrete operational abilities. The abilities required in the first three stages can thus be identified as “culturally universal.” Only formal operations cannot be said to be endogenously generated. The skills associated with this stage (inductive logic, hypothesis testing, reasoning about proportions, combinations, probabilities and correlations) are not cognitive skills bound to emerge in all literate civilizations. They are highly specific skills that a significant proportion of the population, even in modern Western cultures, fails to acquire. The abilities required in formal operational thinking are better described as biologically secondary abilities.

While the current Chinese population, after the arrival of Western modernization, has clearly reached the formal operational stage of reasoning, this was not the case in ancient China. In contrast, formal operational reasoning was clearly visible among the educated elite in ancient Greece. We learn in Reviel Netz’s, The Shaping of Deduction in Greek Mathematics: A Study in Cognitive History, that Greek mathematics produced knowledge of general validity; not only about the particular right triangle ABC of the diagram, for example, but about all right triangles. This formal operational trait—this ability to think about numbers and geometric relationships in a purely abstract way—is what makes Greek mathematics historically novel in comparison to all preceding concrete operational mathematics. This formal operational mind is amply visible in Aristotle’s magisterial works of logic, in the rise of theoretical geometry in ancient Greece, in the invention of trigonometry by Hipparchus, in Archimedes’ work on hydro-statics and the mechanics of pulleys and levers, in Eratosthenes and his calculations to determine the circumference of the earth. It is visible as well in the hypothetical-deductive form of Euclid’s Elements, in which circles, right angles, parallel lines are explicitly defined in terms of a few fundamental abstract entities, such as points, lines, and planes, on the basis of which many other propositions (theorems) are deduced. And in Ptolemy’s Almagest, which postulates epicycles, eccentric circles, and equant points, with the latter being imaginary points in space from which uniform circular motion is measured.

Joseph Needham, a great admirer of Chinese intellectual history, recognizes that “strong” as Chinese algebra was, it was “utilitarian” and “concrete,” “devoted to the [practical] problems ruling officials had to solve.” Unlike “the predilection of Greek science and mathematics for the abstract, the deductive and the pure over the concrete,” Chinese mathematics lacked “the idea of rigorous proof” but inhabited “a mental outlook which avoided the development of formal logic…and which allowed associative or organic thinking to dominate” (p. 62-3). So, in light of these intellectual realities, here’s a short list of the many paradoxes conceived by Europeans:

      Zeno’s Racetrack Paradox
      Paradox of the Heap
      Newcomb’s Trolley Paradox
      Prisoner’s Dilemma
      Paradox of the Ravens
      Russell’s Paradox
      Leonard Euler’s Paradox
      The Liar
      Achilles and the Tortoise
      The Arrow
      Sorites Paradox
      Forrester’s Paradox
      Class Paradoxes

Ricardo Duchesne has also written on the creation of the university. He the author of The Uniqueness of Western CivilizationFaustian Man in a Multicultural AgeCanada in Decay: Mass Immigration, Diversity, and the Ethnocide of Euro-Canadians.

Featured image: “Day and night,” by Maurits Cornelis Escher, 1938.