The image of Jesus in the Qur’an could be summarized with the words of Nietzsche, words “human all-too human.” This, in contrast to the teaching and view of the Church. It is clear that this in principle does not embody a Qur’anic innovation but goes back to early disputes in nascent Christianity. Thus the Qur’an partially preserves traces of embryonic Christology(-ies), which were later modified or expanded upon by councils.
Taken as a whole, such Qur’anic ideas about Jesus are diffuse, and the statements taken over from the Gospels (above all from Matthew) are not noted as such in the Qur’an. In the Qu’an, Jesus is sent to the people of Israel as a prophet and a messenger of Allah, but they rejected him (6,49; 61,6); he encounters a denial decreed by Allah Himself (5,100); with the exception of a (rather) small group of Israelites (61,14).
Theologically essential is that although Jesus’ virgin birth is deemed to be true, he is never viewed in the Qur’an as a son or descendant of David (vis-à-vis other traditions, such as those from Qumran, e.g. 4Q174, a Midrashic text in which God calls the Davidic Messiah his son). No royal dignity is attributed to him, neither the cross nor the resurrection (as in early Christianity) have any salvational relevance: in the Qur’anic view, Christ’s death on the cross had no existential reality, nor did it constitute any part of his calling. Jesus either seems to die a natural death (19,33) or is taken up to heaven (3,55; 4,158; 5,117; cf. Enoch and Elijah) and is raised together with all the dead at the Last Judgment (19,33).
Through this desoteriologization of the life of Jesus, but especially of his Passion, his removal from the economy of salvation, a brazen psilanthropism (Jesus is a mere man: 4,171 “how could he (Allah) have a child?” yakūna lahū waladun) is discernible. Basically, the Qur’anic image of Jesus in the early Suras corresponds roughly to that of the Proto-Lucan gospel.
The image of Jesus in respect to the Christology found in the Qur’an is by no means uniform and is the result of theological debates in and during Syro-Mesopotamian Late Antiquity, and which Christology also underwent development, as can be clearly seen by comparing 19,1-33 (compatible with Christianity) with the later interpolation 19,33-40.
Jesus himself is mentioned by name in 14 suras. The name ‘Īsā is usually understood as a realisation of Jesus (Ἰησοῦς < יְהוֹשַׁע< יֵשׁוַּע “Joshua,” i.e., the “Saviour”); but this is not unproblematic. Elsewhere, we find other terms, such as, “servant of God » (ʿabdu llāhi 19,30; cf. the Gospels and Acts 3,13; 4,27, in which the deutero-Isiaian servant of God [ עבד יהוה ] is applied to Jesus); “the word of God” (kalimatu mina llāhi, 3,39,45; see the λόγος, Joh. 1,1ff.); al-masīḥu ʿīsă bnu maryama rasūlu llāhi wa-kalimatuhū ʾalqāhā ʾilā maryama wa-rūḥun minhu … wa-rūḥun minhu, “The Messiah, ‘Īsā, Mary’s son is only Allah’s messenger and His word, … and Spirit from him” (4,171); “The Word of truth” (19,34; cf. Jn 1,14).
Often the Qur’anic Jesus appears in connexion with Adam and in lists of previous prophets (e.g., 2,136=3,84; 4,163; 6,85; 33,7-8; 42,13; 57,26f.), but he is said to be more significant than those (2,253, “supported by the Holy Spirit” wa-ʾayyadnāhu bi-rūḥi l-qudusi, cf. 2,87; 5,100; 4,171f. etc.).
Our findings so far: according to the Qur’an Jesus is a human being – in contrast to the Nicaean Creed (natum, non factum, unius substantiae cum Patre – Apostle’s Creed: qui conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto, natus ex Maria Virgine): created and not begotten! A figure comparable to Adam – the Virgin Mary is indeed his mother, but he does not descend from the line of David, nor does he claim royal dignity; whereas he appears as the (provisional) apotheosis of the prophets – Muhammad is interpolated into the Qur’an (3,144; 33,40; 47,2; 48,29) only in later redactional stages, whereby in some of these passages it is questionable whether it is not actually Jesus who is meant as the Muhammad (i.e. the Blessed One). Allah-God is unique and indivisible (tawḥīd , e.g., 112,1 a syntax which is Aramaic and not Arabic: huwa llāhu ʾaḥadun-i; this is of course a partial imitation of the Shema Israel, “Hear, O Israel,” Deuteronomy 6, 4-9), and rules alone, i.e., a rejection of the Trinity, considered “association” (shirk).
Furthermore, the Torah and the Gospels are seen as the same revelation vis-a-vis the Qur’an, which though Jews (4:45) and Christians (e.g. 2:59; 7:162; 30:30) ‘corrupted’ (tabdīl).
This view of things is by no means new in the history of theology, and thus logically, this can not be seen as something unique, revealed to Mohammad, an illiterate merchant in distant Mecca. As explained at the beginning, the early pericopes of the Qur’an reflect long-lasting inner-Christian debates, often quite polemical in nature. We find similar theological views, for example, in the Pseudo-Clementines. This work, in a Greek (the so-called Homilies) and a Latin version (the so-called Recognitiones by Rufinus of Aquileia), represents the core of the “Teachings of Peter” (Κηρύγματα τοῦ Πέτρου), and both go back to a common source, called the Grundschirft, probably the Περίοδοι Πέτρου of the Church Fathers (Origen, Epiphanes), the work of a scholarly anti-Marcionist theologian of Syrian Christianity in the fourth century, which is also known in later Syrian, Arabic and Ethiopian traditions.
In this once very influential treatise we have a corpus that can be regarded in many ways as a starting point for Qur’anic ideas. Here the monarchic rule of God is rigorously adhered to (μοναρχία θεοῦ), a bi- or triarchy is unimaginable (ἑτέροις συνάρχειν). Jesus did not fulfill the law as the Son of God (ὁ υἱός του Θεού < בן-אלהים), but as the Son of Man (ὁ υἱὸς τοὺ ἀνθρώπου < בן-אדם ; i.e., ἄνθρωπος ἐξ ἀνθρώπων). He was not preexistent, but merely accepted by God as his Son and annoited (Christ) at baptism (Recog. I.48 “qui in aquis baptismi filius a deo appellatus est“), understood as a fulfillment of Ps 2:7 (no longer present in the Koran); before this event, he was merely a Messiah designate.
In the Homilies, Jesus is ὁμοούσιος τῷ πατρί, born ἐκ τῆς ουσίας, all quite Arian formulations (“deus ingenitus – filius genitus”). Jesus is seen as a prophet, similar to Moses, who even prophesied about him (Dt 18,15-22). In Hom. VIII.10, we find that the concept of the ‘true prophet’ (ἀληθῆς προφήτης) is elaborated, as the proclaimer of the ‘eternal law’ (νόμος αιώνιος. This corresponds to the idea of the “well kept tablet,” lauḥ maḥfūẓ in Sura 85,22; cf. 5,48-59) in the past, present and future – “The true prophet, from the beginning of the world age hastening through” (“verus propheta ab initio mundi per saeculum currens,” Recog. II.22 ), which is identical to the “Holy Spirit” (ἅγιον πνεῦμαHom. III.17, which ἔμφυτον ϗ ἀέννατος).
This human prophet is sinless (αναμάρτητος= צדיק , Hom. II.6; III.11), and is the only one who can “enlighten the souls of men” (Hom. I.19). Christ is not only the New Moses, but also the New Adam, since we find here the idea that the first man (Adam Qadmon) had breathed into him the breath (πνεῦμα) of God (cf. Qur’an 15,29; 38,72), and was also anointed with the oil of the Tree of Life (Recog. I.45). Thus an “anointed one,” i.e., Messiah or Christos (Hom. III.20), and could therefore prophesy. Thus Adam was sinless, and accordingly there could be no fall; otherwise, the Holy Spirit residing in him would have sinned as well.
Here we have an idea very similar to those found in the Qur’an (2:30-37; 20:115-122; 7:11-27). So, for example, no notion of original sin (e.g. Qur’an 7:23: “Our Lord, we have wronged ourselves”); in the Qur’an (e.g., 2,31), Adam does not give names to animals as in Genesis (2,19: “And the Lord God formed of earth all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the sky, and brought them to man to see what he would call them, and that every living creature should bear the name that man would give it”), but Allah taught Adam (and not the angels) their names, a prophetic activity (derived from the θεῖον πνεῦμα).
Explicitly, we find the equation of Adam and Jesus in the Qur’an (3:59: “Indeed, the likeness of ‘Īsā near Allah like that of Adam. He created him from dust. Then he to him ‘be’ and he was.” This is quite similar to what we find in the Gospel of John (1,3: πάντα δι’ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο, καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν ὃ γέγονεν), based in turn on Psalm 33,6.9 ( כִּ֤י ה֣וּא אָמַ֣ר וַיֶּ֑הִיהֽוּא־צִ֝וָּ֗ה וַֽיַּעֲמֹֽד ), quite opposite to Paul’s conception of the Second Adam.
Thus, the teachings of Peter, based on Jewish tradition, describe how the divine spirit (θεῖον πνεῦμα), i.e. the glory of God (Hebrew שכינה), was already effective in Adam (which is why he is considered a prophet in this work, as in the Qur’an). This glory thereafter wandered through the ages to manifest itself successively in prophets – a metamorphosis and not a hypostasis – in, cf. e.g. Hom. XVII.4 (=Recog. II.47), an allusion to Proverbs 9,1 (“Wisdom has built her house; she has set up its seven pillars”; cf. in the Talmud, Chagiga 12b: ז’ עמודים) —the list includes Adam-Christ Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and Jesus, the representatives of the “sevenfold mystery” (ἑβδομάδος μυστήριον, Hom. XVII.9), the ἑπτά στῦλοι υπάρχοντες κόσμῳ.
These bearers of revelation (ἡγεμόνες τὴς προφητείας, Hom. II.15 – “who are all born of women,” Recog. I.60) found their culmination in the “Jewish body of Jesus born among the Jews” (op. cit.), cf. in early rabbinical exegesis of Ecclesiastes 1:9 (“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again”): “Like the first the last saviour so shall the last saviour be.” Jesus, like Adam and Moses, were different from other prophets in that they possessed the ability to fortell (prognosis). Although the figures mentioned in the list of prophetic mediators of the ‘eternal law’ in the Pseudo-Clementines are subject to variation, Adam, Moses and Jesus are constant factors.
This has its counterpart in the Qur’an, which also often lists such figures, e.g. 2,136; 3,84; 4,163; 6,85; 33,7-8; 42,13, and thus apparently continues this tradition: prophets are the representatives of humanity with whom God makes his covenant, and the truth of each former messenger is included in the proclamation of the following one, so that Mohammed, in the Islamic understanding, brings together once and for all all all the truth conveyed by them (e.g. 33:7). Hom. VII.8 “Religion is to fear him [scil. God] alone and to believe only the Prophet of Truth” is to all intents and purposes equal to the Islamic Shahāda: “There is no God but God – Mohammed is the messenger of God.”
The reason for the successive repetition of revelation is the belief that not all parts of the Torah are equally authentic, some are even considered to be blatant forgeries. In Hom. I.18f./Recog. I,15 this is illustrated: the world is like a house filled with the smoke of ignorance, vice and aberrations, the true prophet must come to its door, open it and expel this smoke and let in the (true sun)light (cf. Jn 3:19ff.).
Moses in this tradition, like Muhammad in the Islam tradition, only passed on what had been revealed to him orally, as ‹ interpretations’ (ἐπιλύσεις, Hom. II.38; see, IIPetr. 1,20 … προφητεία… ἰδίας ἐπιλύσεως οὐ γίνεται). This, however, was quickly corrupted by Satan and thus the true παράδοσις Μωϋσέως became adulterated with false pericopes (ψευδειςπερικοπαί), by bad instruction, misrepresentation, etc. Here we find a certain influence of Isaiah 29:13 (Septuagint) and Mt 15:13 (see also Jer 8:8, Ez 20:25).
Hence, everyone was able to read into the Scriptures (Hom. III.9) what he wished. Ergo, the repeated call in the homilies: “Therefore, if some of the scriptures are true and some are false, our Master said for a good reason: ‘Be good money-changers,’ insofar as there are some true whilst some are false.”
Generally speaking, the ‘eternal law’ (Hom. VIII.10, see above) was inscribed by God’s hand into the world at creation as the first teaching to mankind (IX.10); it was known to Adam (III.48 ), and was revealed again to Moses, becoming though in the course of time increasingly obscured by errors, until it was finally elevated to eternal validity by Jesus, who had the “knowledge of the mysteries or laws” (γνῶσις τῶν απόρρητῶν, XVIII.15; secretior legis intellegentia, Recog. I.74) (cf., Qur’an 3, 48; 5, 46, 100; 57, 27).
So, Moses received a Torah that was different from the one we have today. Specifically, the group behind the Pseudo-Clementines rejected the sacrificial cult as pagan, and which had only been temporarily tolerated by Moses. Therefore necessarily Pauline soteriology, which regarded the death of Jesus as a bloody atonement, is rejected outright.
In their view, Christian liberation from the Jewish sacrificial cult was not initiated by the sacrifice of the Son of God, but by the water of baptism, through which Jesus extinguished the fires of the sacrificial altar once and for all.
This understanding of Scripture, i.e., the existence of false verses or passages that corrupt the unchanging eternal law of God, which can only be reinstated through a new revelation, corresponds to the role of Mohammad in the later Islamic understanding of the Qur’an (see above on tabdīl; in Islamic theology the terms taḥrīf and kitmān are also used to denote the falsification of the holy scriptures of Judaism and Christianity).
Another conspicuous feature that cannot be discussed in detail here is the political rejection of the monarchy (and the glorification, as with the Samaritans, of the age of Judges, Recog. I.38), which is seen as synonymous with war (Hom. III.62); the biblical kings were rather tyrants (tyranni magni quam reges), the building of the Temple, the place of sacrifice par excellence, was considered hubris – the whole institution, also the status of David, is said to have had no part in the “eternal law.”
Thus, as has already been mentioned, Jesus’ Davidic descent is not mentioned in the Qur’an, nor is he mentioned in the Qur’an as king (e.g., 21,78ff.). In Islam, as with Eastern Christianity (and Mesopotamian predecessors), we find the notion of “vicarious kingship” (e.g., Caliph means ‘vicar’; ʻAbd el- Malik was Caliph, the representative of God. Allah was King, Arab. Malīk – cf., Koran 20,114; 23,116; 59,23; 62,1; 114,2; also one of the ninety-nine most beautiful names of God in Islam – whose slave or servant this ruler viewed himself as). This was probably a reason for dispute of the early Umayyads with Heraclius after his Pyrrhic victory over the Sassanids – after his reorganisation of the empire, he took the title Βασιλεύς.
In the preceding, an attempt was made, admittedly with (very) coarse brushstrokes, to show that some decisive theologumena of the Qur’an already appear in the Pseudo-Clementines. As mentioned above, versions of this literature were handed down in Semitic languages during Late Antiquity and probably exerted, directly or indirectly, influence on various Qur’anic authors who shared these attitudes or convictions, at least partially: Jesus both as Adam novus (see above e.g., ad 3,59) and Moses novus, as the ultimate fulfillment of revelation.
As far as the equation with the latter is concerned, it is interesting to note that in the Qur’an, Mary is presented as the daughter of ʻImran (e.g., Qur’an 3,35; in Christian tradition Joachim); in the Bible though Amram is the father of Moses; in 19,28 Mary (biblically, Miriam, is listed as Hārūn’s, i.e. Aaron’s (who is aligned with John the Baptist) sister. Some commentators see in this a confusion – but this is unnecessary. If Moses is supposed to be a prefiguration of Jesus, Moses 2.0 (or Adam 3.0), then this similarity is more than understandable (also because Mary and Miriam are actually the same in Semitic, m-r-j-m).
Here we see again a hint of the sophisticated compositional technique of the Qur’an. Theologians were at work here, not an illiterate desert merchant! The Islamic understanding of Mohammed as the last prophet, as Jesus novus (resp. 2.0 – which partly explains the intertextuality of Jesus’ vita with that of Muhammad in the Sira) is but a continuation (Fortschreibung) of this theme.
The notion found in Hom. VIII.6f. that the teaching of both Moses and Jesus was the same(!) revelation, that love for Moses and Jesus was the true fulfillment of religion, and those who understand this (single!) revelation are blessed by God – is rooted historically in antimarcionite polemics. Yet the idea that the Torah and the Gospel are identical, as are Adam, Moses and Jesus show that this doctrine, in an expanded form, underlay the composition of the Qur’an.
ProfessorDr. Robert M. Kerr studied Classics and Semitics largely in Vancouver, Tübingen and Leyden. He is currently director of the Inârah Institute, for research on Early Islamic History and the Qur’an in Saarbrücken (Germany).
The image shows Muhammad leafing Abraham, Moses and Jesus in prayer, in heaven, in a 15th-century Persian miniature.
In the last several months, Conservatism lost two of its family members: Norman Stone, a historian, and Sir Roger Scruton, a philosopher. How important they were is testified by the fact that they and Jonathan C. D. Clark, the author of a very important work on English history, entitled, English Society, 1688-1832, became objects of the liberal historian Timothy Garton-Ash’s attack in 1990. Attacks are never pleasant to those who are their object, but sometimes they tell the reader whose views deserve attention.
What do these three men have in common? They were staunch defenders of hierarchy, privilege and the Past. The Past is sacred; it is our guide to the future, and, therefore, to use one of Sir Roger’s favorite words, it must be approached with “piety.” The Liberal sees nothing sacred in the Past. Like hierarchy and privilege, it is an instrument of the oppressive “power-structure,” which today’s Liberal finds it imperative to destroy.
The chaos and lawlessness on the streets in America has brought to light what the philosophy of Liberalism has become, but it also highlighted the importance of the role that the State plays in upholding social order.
The State and History are what Liberals waged an open war against. The destruction of monuments, Nancy Pelosi’s (the Speaker of the American House of Representatives) wholehearted support for the removal of statues and paintings from the Congressional buildings, the destruction of Columbus’ monuments all over the country, and those of the American presidents (Ulysses Grant and Theodore Roosevelt) are open admissions that American history is in the process of being abolished even by American politicians.
The Washington D.C. mayor’s refusal to lodge members of the National Guard, while the President, for reasons of security, was put in a bunker, is also a telling fact: the enemy is not the thugs, looters and vandals who took over the protests, but the State.
Paradoxically, this sentiment is shared by many high State officials whose salaries are paid for by the State. According to the mayor of Durham, in North Carolina, the function of police, which White folks need to understand, was to police Black people, and to protect White people and their property. The absurdity of such an utterance becomes obvious when we reflect on the fact that police are present in all African countries with no White population. The function of police in every civilized and advanced society is not to protect one race from another, but to protect decent citizens from harm by anyone.
To be sure, America has a race problem which cuts both ways, but the racial conflict is augmented by media and demagogues, and the mayor’s statement propagates a socially dangerous view, according to which, the American police is an oppressive arm of the White race. That may have been true to some extent a very long time ago, but it is hardly the case nowadays. Even the most hideous racially motivated killings are the work of individuals rather than the White “power-structure” or effects of “systemic racism;” and very few Whites in the U.S. can be called racist.
I doubt that Durham’s mayor propagates her views out of malice or even ignorance. Such an outlook on American history is the effect of about three decades of multicultural indoctrination by an intellectually semi-literate academic establishment.
Many of the American politicians and activists see the political realm as theatre, on whose stage we are watching an eternal racial conflict where the Whites play the role of the oppressors and the Blacks the role of the oppressed. If it is politically expedient, the actors are the oppressed American Indians, or the privileged class and those without privileges, the obscurantists who look to the Past and the Progressives who look to the Future.
The script changes, depending on who wants to enter the stage. Last year, during the weeks of Congressional testimony by Justice Kavanaugh, the actors embodied the two sexes: men and progressive women. Several years earlier, when the Supreme Court, after several-thousand years of human history, was deciding what marriage is, the participants were the heterosexual oppressors and the oppressed homosexuals.
Next came the “transgendered” party and those who feel comfortable in their original skin. There are already signs that the future conflict will erupt between the monogamist oppressors and the oppressed groups of polygamists who will demand further changes in the structure of family. This scheme is like a mathematical equation, with one unknown, which can always be substituted by whatever minority variable one wants.
Nothing in this theatrical scenario is very original. The script was written in the second half of the 19th-century by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the founders of Socialism, in The Communist Manifesto, and by John Stuart Mill, the founding father of Liberalism, on the very first page of his On Liberty and the last two pages of his Utilitarianism. Both Marx and Engels, on the one hand, and Mill, on the other, view social conflicts always as bi-polar. History’s purpose is to abolish hierarchy and replace privileges by rights. At the end of History, once equality reigns supreme, there will be no need for the use of force! The State—its coercive institutions—will wither away.
By calling on the police to be “defunded,” the current protesters want to accelerate this process. When the mayor of Minneapolis said that he would not do it, the angry crowd shouted: “Jacob, go home.” Jacob, unless he does what the mob says, is likely to be voted out, and we can be almost certain that the new mayor will be elected on the promise of defunding police, or seriously limiting the scope of its power. The movement is aiming at further “withering” of the already weak liberal State.
To anyone with a modicum of critical-mindedness, such ideas are at best utopian and at worst dangerous. The danger seems to suggest, however, that the Western world may have reached the point where its two socio-political options—Conservatism and Liberalism which originated at the beginning of 19th-century — are no longer two forces mutually controlling and enriching each other in their occasional clashes over social policies.
Liberalism, which for the last sixty years or so has been slowly corroding social hierarchies, degenerated into a destructive social force. It is no longer the philosophical doctrine which drew our attention to unnecessary cruelty, brutality, arbitrariness in administrating the system of justice, and the abuse of power.
In its nascent stage, Liberalism promoted serious policies—unemployment benefits, education for the poor, taxation, greater participation of women and lower classes in political decision-making—that would help the poor and weak. All these items were addressed and tackled with high degree of theoretical subtlety by J. S. Mill in his Considerations On Representative Government.
Today’s Liberalism is not a doctrine that encourages the underdogs to make an effort to ennoble themselves, but encourages them to feel resentful. This resentment, as Nietzsche saw it, encourages the destruction of the social fabric and institutions that protect all individuals from one another. As New York authorities announced, they will not prosecute the protesters for damages, which is another way of saying, that one can participate in the destruction and still pay no legal consequences.
Is what is happening on our streets a matter of badly designed social policies or discrimination? One can seriously doubt it. What I would like to suggest is that what is taking place is the consequence of the Liberal doctrine.
Liberals have always been hostile to the use of force or coercion in human relationships. This is clear from reading Mill. The meaning of the term “force” or “coercion” in the Liberal dictionary is extremely wide. It can signify burning human beings alive, torture, lynching, brutal beatings, but it can also mean light spanking, screaming at someone for rudeness, using so-called “offensive” language, or any form of what was once considered discipline.
Lack of discipline is responsible for the state of American education and lack of respect among children and young people, without which polite society is impossible. Everything that is not negotiated is considered coercive and evil. Therefore, to achieve their social and political goals, the Liberals prefer to use legislation in order to regulate human relationships rather than discipline.
They see no contradiction between mounting legislation which regulates every aspect of human relationships and the diminishing scope of individual freedom. This paradox was noticed already by Tocqueville, who understood that the reason why there is so little freedom in America is that the democratic man does not understand that the laws he enacts can be the source of his own enslavement.
The Liberal State that sees power as evil does not know how to act in situations of national emergency, for example, nation-wide riots, which threaten social order. Can one defend the destruction of property, physical violence, or the killing of police? A commonsensical person should agree that the State can, should, and must intervene to deter the destruction of property, and the harm or death of many persons. Accordingly, it would appear that in such situations the Liberal is pushed into a corner and forced to renounce his naïve idea that, either there are no circumstances under which we could use force, or that all problems can be negotiated. But the Liberal mind can defy logic.
During recent protests, the liberal news outlets spared no effort to augment the protesters’ grievances, which go back to 1619, when the first slaves were brought to the New World. Grievances either obfuscate or justify the destruction, as they did in 1789 in France and 1917 in Russia. And as grievances grow, the destruction of cities and the deaths of several policemen become irrelevant. Today’s victims are the currency with which the Present pays off its historical debt. This is how the Communists thought and what they did.
In the words of Gletkin in Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, “History is a priori immoral; it is not a brothel of emotions,” and, therefore, no point in shedding tears over the death of a few innocent men who died defending the Old order. Lack of coverage of those deaths in the liberal media proves that the old communists are today’s liberals.
The case in point is the behavior of Nancy Pelosi, after Congressional presentation by the sister of Patrick Underwood, the Black policeman who was killed by a looter. The Speaker of the House, who stood eight feet from her, did not even bother to express any condolences for his death. Why? Most likely because in defending order, the murdered policeman was on the wrong side of History, whereas his killer was part of the social movement whose origin can be traced back to 1619.
We should note, however, that American conservatives who believe that the imposition of curfew or martial law measures for a very brief period of time could have saved us from the destructive power of protests, do not have a firm conviction that one can find justification for the use of power.
This seems to have always been the case in American Conservatism, which from the beginning of the Republic was dominated by the Liberal idea of abstract rights. As Ronald Raegan said: “The state is not a solution; the state is a problem.”
To be sure, at that time in American history, conservative Raegan thought of the State as a huge bureaucratic machine, which needs to be reduced to make room for private initiative in the economic realm – but this leaves the problem of how much power the American conservatives would be willing to grant the State to prevent society from falling into chaos.The only legitimate realm where Americans feel the use of force is rather unproblematic is foreign lands—a matter of little interest to the uninformed majority of the American public.
The problem can be ultimately reduced to how Liberalism and Conservatism perceive the role of the State. While the former sees it as a means to shape and impose abstract social and political norms, always by legislative means, the latter sees the State as a product of a historical process, and considers its power as legitimate only when it is used in defense of the historical nature of the country: its institutions, religion, customs and traditions. The Liberals do not consider any of the above as particularly important. At best, they think of them as ingredients of what they term “multiculturalism.”
In a Conservative vision, on the other hand, there is no room for the State to use its coercive power to intervene in the family structure, educational programs (unless they are harmful to the development of children), forms of religious worship, marital relationships, let alone defining who is a man or a woman. These structures and institutions established themselves through a long historical process (and continue to evolve), and this is a sacred Conservative realm. They can never be changed according to an a priori blueprint or a legislative fiat of a democratically elected legislative body.
The decision of the Supreme Court concerning marriage is the most glaring demonstration of how divorced the Liberal mind is from History. Given the fact that there are no historical precedents, not in the entire human history of all peoples and races, to take marriage to be anything other than a union of man and woman, the decision of five American Justices of one of the youngest countries in the world tipped the historical scale.
The same disregard for History can be observed in the treatment of traditional educational curricula, Christian religion, or History of the United States. The books by minorities, despite the fact that they have had a marginal role in shaping the mind of the nation, are considered more important than the gigantic classics which shaped it; Protestant Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, despite the paramount importance of the role of Protestantism in creating American culture, are put on a par; and the three monotheistic religions are put on par with Eastern religions and different “New Age” doctrines.
What is ultimately responsible for this state of affairs is the idea of equality, which does not tolerate discrimination, despite the fact that only some religions, books, cultures, peoples, and ideas have forged nations and their institutions.
The Liberals, who traditionally boasted that they are the defenders of a “minimal” State, are today the greatest defenders of an all-powerful State, one which constitutes a threat to traditional structures, social mores, and individual freedoms. Why is that?
The liberal polis is an abstraction, the denial of previous forms of social organizations, and its ultimate goal is the unconditional equality of all people and all cultures. It is inhabited neither by the Germans in Germany, the Poles in Poland, the Italians in Italy, nor the Americans in the United States.
The citizens of this Liberalopolis are abstract human beings, stripped of their historical identity. They are neither American nor Kenyan nor Japanese; nor are they White or Black or Yellow. And last but not least, they are neither men or women, and their sexual “preferences” are neither Natural nor of Divine design. They, like culinary taste, are a matter of individual taste and subject to change. The criterion of choice is not rational; it is a subjective feeling, or whim.
The conservative State in their eyes is a threatening “power-structure,” which is the bedrock of social hierarchy and privileges rather than rights. Even the old traditional educational programs are the enemy because they inculcate reverence for the Past, and in doing so, they unconsciously perpetuate old forms of oppression. For this reason, they deserve to be quietly destroyed. A superficial glance at the state of American universities suffices to understand how successful Liberalism is in destroying education.
The Conservative mind, the liberal argument runs, is implicitly biased and discriminatory against other groups or cultures. An Englishman has no more reason to feel proud for being English than a Gypsy or an Eskimo. English “superiority” on account of England’s achievements is an illusion because both an Englishman, and a Gypsy or an Eskimo, are simply human beings.
The superior attitude of, say, a proud Englishman named, “Nigel” can even be threatening to a Gypsy or an Eskimo; and calling a Gypsy “Gypsy” rather than “Roma” is a sign of English-supremacy. The threat, of course, is not of a physical nature. It is psychological. To ensure that a Gypsy and Eskimo have an equally high self-esteem as “Nigel”, colleges make sure that English history is not taught there, or, at best, it is one of many history courses, including Gypsy and Eskimo histories.
In the eyes of the Liberal, the defense of the Past, including the defense of programs which teach English history, is a sign of English or White (cultural) supremacy, and this must be fought against—lest it occur to “Nigel” to recreate the British Empire.
This way of thinking, crazy as it sounds, forms the basis of democratic-liberal politics in America and Western democracies. For example, in the words of former Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, “There are no illegal immigrants, because there are no illegal human beings.” Gillibrand, you might think, is an extremist! Not at all. Consider what American children learn in schools daily: fixed “gender” is a social construct. And since it is a construct, it can be deconstructed and changed.
For instance, the State’s refusal to accept my claim that I am what I claim to be (a woman in the case of someone who was born with male genitals and who shaves everyday) is oppressive, and the judge, the college professor, or the co-worker who refuses to acknowledge how I feel is a manifestation of “structural oppression.” Ergo, we must fight the State, educational institutions, and the way others see and think of us.
A most recent item in the Liberal Catechism, which American children are taught, is that there is no genetic basis for race. Accordingly, there is no White, Yellow, or Black race—there is only the human race. From here, there is only one step to Senator Gillibrand’s proposal for open borders: there should be no borders, no states, since our true citizenship is defined in terms of a shared humanity which overrides the old national categories, which teach us to be prejudiced against others.
As part of her campaign to raise racial consciousness, Senator Gillibrand even made a few trips to meet with White small-town folks to explain to them that they are beneficiaries of “White privilege.” The trip did not go well, and because individual calls to end “oppression” fall on deaf ears, the solution is to institute sensitivity trainings, and give the State more power so no student or employee in America can escape it. This is a pure form of ideological brainwashing on a national scale – which had never taken place under communism in Soviet Russia and its satellite countries.
Many such ideologically driven rules are already in place and govern our speech (the mandatory use of preferred pronouns, the censure of “sexist” language) and conduct (reorientation of sexual mores; correction of racist, sexist, misogynist, homophobic, and Islamophobic attitudes). So far, no university or institution has dared to defy it.
Rather, they have been at the forefront of its cause, ensuring that the new generation of American children learns the new catechism of social insanity.
Many of us believe that we fight barbarism. This is not quite true. Fascism and Communism were barbaric in the sense that they twisted historical heritage so that it would conform to the official ideology of a country. What we are facing is insanity, which is in the process of annihilating Western cultural heritage and our own understanding of ourselves as men and women.
What else but insanity can one call the state of mind of someone who, standing in front of a mirror, has doubts about his sex? What does one call the legal system where the judge rules, as happened in the UK last year, that Biblical teaching from the Book of Genesis about two sexes is “inconsistent with human dignity”? What justice system is it that redefines what marriage is? (Couldn’t one stop by granting homosexual couples exactly the same rights without abrogating the entirety of human tradition?)
Does one really need to be a religious bigot to defend his refusal to bow to insanity because he refuses to call a man a woman? Common sense should be enough. But ever since the new gender studies dominated education, common sense, as Orwell’s Winston discovered, became the greatest heresy. In his ruling, the British judge acted like Orwell’s O’Brian who made Winston believe that 2 + 2 = 5. There is nothing “dignifying” in making people with psychological problems believe that they are OK, and at the same time force the insanity of a few onto others. It is totalitarian oppression in its purest form.
Instances of insanity that defy common sense are endless. It has become common practice in America to reward failure. The members of school sports teams, which happen to lose the game, receive trophies. “Trophies for what?” you may wonder. For losing! This way a child, as I was told by my daughter’s coach, whose team never won, will not lose self-esteem. Clearly, no one thought what long-term psychological consequences such methods can have. Imagine a child whose room is full of trophies for losing! Self-esteem grows out of success in the face of adversity, and no new “psychology for losers” will ever change that.
These trophies for losers reveal only what Liberalism aims at: abolishing hierarchy. Hierarchy exists only in societies which retain a sense of excellence. For example, the idea of a “grade” or a “mark” (received in our schools) used to show your placement vis-à-vis an objective standard of excellence, and would thus signify where you are relative to others. But as excellence disappeared from education, so did a serious grading system. Almost everybody today is an A-student!
Why is that? As equality made its inroads everywhere, so hierarchy and its sister, privilege (right based on merit) disappeared. Right is the new form of privilege to which everyone is entitled; but since in every game there are winners and losers, to uphold equality, it is only natural to reward losers with a trophy.
This egalitarian mentality became all-pervasive, and it seized the minds of almost everyone. There is virtually no way to argue today about, say, the superiority of Beethoven’s “Fűr Elise” over Jay-Z’s rapping about “White bitches;” or the superiority of musical pieces performed by Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra over the sounds produced by street rappers on Michigan Avenue. Vulgarity and the greatest achievements of human spirit have finally reconciled.
Our inability to discern between the High and the Low is the result of a blurred distinction between “Culture” (like in “High Culture”) and “culture” (in the old anthropological sense).
The same goes for dress code. I have seen many people giving each other “strange looks” when they saw young men wearing pants sagging down, exposing their buttocks to the public, but have never heard anyone explain to them that what they think is a fashion is, and would have been called decades ago, “public indecency,” lack of manners, bad taste, or vulgarity. Today, we call it culture! Expecting that someone keep his pants above the waist would be considered an expression of “oppression” and “supremacy,” an “imposition of ‘your’ values” onto others, or, simply, intolerance. Many among us still know what is proper, but we lack the courage to say it.
The Liberal Left is becoming more and more anti-capitalist, anti-free market; and the defense of capitalism should be one of the goals of conservatives. However, the defense of capitalism is likely to be unsuccessful, if it means a defense of corporate business, which the Republican politicians in America are in the habit of partaking in.
Values of Conservatism are not the same as those of a political party, and the values of corporations are not the same as the values of a nation. As Lord Acton noted in his letter to Mary Gladstone, corporations have neither a body to kick nor a soul to redeem. They are soulless creatures, looking only after themselves.
The old slogan, “What is good for business is good for America” covered this truth for decades. It was accepted because, so long as most of the powerful world corporations were American, the American public profited from them. The true nature of business was realized about twenty years ago when American businesses moved to Asian countries. Once they discovered that what is good for business is cheap labor, they left their tricolor national dress behind on American soil, leaving American workers jobless.
The corporate world, however, can sometimes be an instrument endangering national interest. Everyone remembers the famous incident in a Starbucks two years ago when two Black men were arrested.
Instead of applying appropriate measures with respect to the employees’ posture in the location where the incident took place, Starbucks turned the isolated problem into a national problem of racism. It immediately instituted a nation-wide shut-down of all its stores for several hours to conduct “bias” trainings for all employees. It was a spectacle, the purpose of which was to demonstrate Starbucks’ commitment to fighting undesirable attitudes. How good was Starbucks’ decision for the nation?
As I write these words, destruction and anarchy are sweeping through a number of cities in the U.S., millions of Americans are burning cities and many young White people are feeling ashamed of being White. Some of them denounce their parents for being “racist.” Norms of civility are being crushed. All of this is done in the name of the same ideology which seeks to render the world free of biases.
Yet, those young people know little to nothing about racism. They are too ignorant about history and are too young to remember what racism was. They attend the same schools that Black children attend, they have Black classmates, Black friends, and some have Black girlfriends and boyfriends. They did not watch Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, to fathom the obstacles of interracial marriage in the past. Yet the protesters act as if America was still a pre-Civil Rights country, and some think that as long as prisons exist, slavery still exists, too.
When we visit what we call “White trash” neighborhoods, we realize that the problems one finds there are the same that exist in Black: they are human problems, and most human problems come down to the disintegration of marriage, single-parenthood, familial troubles, lack of religious ties and moral code, and a weak sense of community. Those among the Blacks who talk to other Blacks about “acting White” do a profound disservice to Black Americans; just like the college teachers in poor community colleges who tell “White trash” students about “White privilege.” This is a language that can only anger people and further divide America.
Why have only few journalists and politicians dared to make a connection between the high level of incarceration among young Black men and the disintegration of the Black family, or the lower academic performance and the lack of appreciation for learning in Black communities? The answer is not shrouded in mystery: only certain, historically discovered and established methodologies, ways of thinking, cultures, and forms of behavior proved successful. All of them have roots in Western intellectual tradition, which far-East Asians do not reject because Dead White European Males invented or discovered them. They have adopted the White intellectual tradition because they know that that is the way to success. So do some of the Muslim-Arab and African countries.
But the Western intellectual tradition is under attack in America and Europe by the partisans of multiculturalism who promote the idea of equality of all cultures. If we are serious about “no child left behind,” we should educate every Black, Brown and White child in the Western tradition. There is nothing that can change the fact that the Frenchman Descartes invented analytical geometry, the German Leibniz, calculus, and the English Newton formulated the laws of Modern physics. If you want your child to be successful, you should make sure that they know it, rather than accuse them of acting White.
The hysterical nature of the protesters’ behavior, tearing down monuments of historical icons, is reminiscent of the “Two Minutes Hate” in 1984. Given their age, they should not act this way. If they do, it is because their behavior is the result of an artificially induced hatred of Present and Past America, of the West, and as long as there are any signs of it left, they will continue their destruction of the country and of Western civilization.
Today’s protests are not the end but, more likely, the beginning of a series of protests. Everything suggests that democracy, as Plato predicted it in Book VIII of his Republic, has entered the stage of disintegration of authority. Just like France in 1789, and Russia in 1917, the US shows the same symptoms of revolutionary fervor, including the attempt to erase the Past. After several years, in 1793, the experiment ended with the Reign of Terror that was followed by the seizure of power by Bonaparte. Revolutionary disorder ended with one man’s tyranny.
Only the blind in reason can claim that there is no connection between the mass indoctrination concerning race that young people are subject to in schools and colleges, and what is happening now in American cities. The same goes for gender indoctrination.
The crowds of hysterical women demonstrating against the appointment of Justice Kavanaugh on the steps of the Supreme Court looked like a religious chiliastic movement. Finally, the protesters’ disregard for recommended safety measures during COVID-19 showed that their desire for a perfect world overcame the natural fear of death. Such an attitude was not uncommon among the believers in eradicating evil from the world.
George Floyd’s death does not fit the category of American police brutality or “targeting” Blacks. His murder was an act of bestiality and sadism of one sick individual who happened to wear a police uniform. There was not a single American who did not condemn it. If anything, Floyd’s death made all Americans feel repulsed at the sight of unspeakable cruelty. Yet almost within hours, this moment of national unity was hijacked by different factions which gave it a label: racism.
After several days of anti-racial protests, the frenzy assumed anti-Confederate tones to underline the continuity of American history: 1619, the Civil War, and today. Several monuments of Robert E. Lee have been torn down. What followed was the destruction of the monuments of Christopher Columbus.
One could wonder, however: what does Columbus have in common with General Robert E. Lee, who lived almost four hundred years after Columbus discovered America? As American students learn now, Columbus was the father of “genocide.” Confederacy means “White,” “White” means “racial supremacy,” and since Columbus was White, he and Robert E. Lee belong to the same family: White European oppressors.
Accordingly, Columbus’ discovery of America in 1492 appears to have only been a preparation for 1619, when the first Black slaves were brought to America.
This script is known all too well. The general formula, as I said earlier, comes down to a bi-polar Marxian-Liberal view of history, in which the oppressed are dominated by the oppressors. Today’s protests carry the banner of anti-racism; tomorrow, they will carry the banner of anti-sexism, anti-misogyny, anti-homophobia, anti-xenophobia, and finally, the banner of anti-oppression of the transgendered by the “birth-naturalists,” and anti-monogamist.
Each protest will repeat the destruction of the part of historical heritage, removal of monuments, burning books, renaming buildings, all of which represent the ills that must be eradicated before we can enter the new egalitarian Utopia. Hierarchy and privilege—the foundations of “polite society”—will be two words erased from the American Webster’s Dictionary. This is a pattern that we know from the history of the French and Russian Revolutions, which aimed at equality, though somehow ended up with a Great Terror and purges.
America, the West, have reached a point where the only question left is: can anything be done? And if so, what can we do?
Ideas have consequences, and the current cultural climate is a direct result of what happened in the educational institutions since the beginning of the 1990s, or even earlier, as Allan Bloom suggested in his The Closing of the American Mind (1987). The philosophical doctrine of Relativism propagated by academics assumed the voice of a social message of multiculturalism—equality of all cultures. It purged from the curricula the greatest works of the human mind. Intellectual discipline, which the old classics would inculcate in the college graduates, was replaced by the idea that there is no Truth, only subjective feelings.
This idea went counter not only to Truth absolutists but also to the Classical Liberal notion that we find in John Stuart Mill: at no point in history, as Mill claims, is any single person in the possession of absolute Truth. We are progressive beings and as we travel through history, we discover more. Quest for Truth animates our lives. But relativism undermined both.
Individual sensitivity became a new cognitive criterion. Moreover, since every individual has his own threshold of sensitivity, different things appear true to different people, and different things offend different people. Today’s fight over the removal of names, monuments, and changing curricula is the direct result of relativism.
The Left today is offended by President Trump’s disregard for Truth and facts, but it was the Left of the 1990s which wholeheartedly promoted Relativism. It also invented the methodology of Culture Wars, which says that we can choose from among “competing interpretations.” Now the Left is crying “wolf” when Mr. Trump uses their own weapon to fight his adversaries. The Trumpian presidency is an unintended creation of the Liberal Left, which created the intellectual and moral conditions that made disregard for Truth and rational discourse possible.
The Classical Liberal idea of a rational society proposed by Mill, in which only people who are in possession of rational powers can be granted equal right to participate in a social conversation, has no place in the new America. The winner is not the one with the strongest argument, but someone who expresses the strongest emotion.
A prime example of how emotions can influence the political realm is the Swedish teenager’s walkout from school to protest climate change. Her protest was followed by the walkout of millions of children all over the world. Needless to say, the children do not know what to do about the changing climate, but climate change became the single most important socio-political issue, and as its importance grows, so the election of candidates who are concerned with the problem will be given high priority.
Election of a twenty-eight-year old Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez to the American House of Representatives is a telling fact. AOC is by far the most emotional and politically ignorant member of the House of Representatives, but her influence is growing. Like Greta, AOC is a climate activist, the author of the Green New Deal, and is a furious anti-capitalist.
New Green Deal anti-capitalism is the fastest growing ideology. Whether we like it or not, we need to take it seriously, just as we need to take seriously the fact that rational conversation with teenagers and political adolescents is not an option.
They do not understand that capitalism is the most efficient system of creating wealth, and that creating it has roots in the human desire to maximize profit, not to benefit anyone. “It is not because of the benevolence of the butcher, the baker or the brewer that you have your lunch, “Adam Smith writes in his The Wealth of Nations (1776), “but because of their self-interest.” The young people are not interested in maximizing profit, becoming entrepreneurs, or building anything. Their objective is the division of the wealth created by “selfish” individuals.
The mental universe of the New Green Deal anti-capitalists revolves around a few terms: sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and islamophobia. It is a world of intellectual and cultural poverty. Those words are like lenses which concentrate your vision on “evil.”
This new social theology says nothing about the world’s beauty, complexity, or the grandeur and tragedy of human existence, and since it is a world without God, there is no redeeming power. Collective, social activism is the only power which operates in it, and it claims it can save the world. Social activism has great appeal: it requires no knowledge, learning, or expertise. That is why it appeals to children, who, by definition, do not like school.
The election of Donald Trump, Brexit, and conservative parties holding power in a few European countries (such as Poland and Hungary), may signify a temporary win for conservatives. However, we should not assume that this situation shall continue.
As things stand, it is unlikely that conservatives will retake education and that we will return to the old forms of learning. One can suggest serious reform proposals, as did American philosophy professor Nicholas Capaldi, but the chances of their acceptance are slim. This means that the new anti-sexist, anti-racist, anti-homophobic, and anti-Islamophobic indoctrination, supplemented by social justice courses, will reign supreme and will continue to shape the minds of the new generation.
There is only one way, in my opinion, which in which Conservatism has a chance to succeed long term. Climate change is an almost exclusive political property of the Left, and insofar as it is something that all children deeply care about, unless conservatives present their own Green alternative, they are likely to lose the new generation for good.
We need to realize that conserving the environment can be presented as the most conservative of conservative causes. What, if not the beauty of Nature, is the most thrilling of human experiences? The English “landed” aristocracy and Thomas Jefferson’s attachment to land are expressions of it. Jefferson, who knew as much about agriculture as he knew about politics, understood that there is a direct relationship between Nature and aristocratic-republican virtues.
Unless Conservatives come up with a political program that makes the preservation of Nature a top priority, we will be in danger of losing the political power and social force which can defend all other conservative values and causes.
It is high time to stop airing programs that undermine the Left’s research about climate change. We need to understand that the people who are against racism, sexism, homophobia etc. are the same people who last year protested against the failure to restore climate.
Following the Roman rule of politics divide et impera (divide and rule), one could, and indeed should weaken and divide the Left by proposing a serious Conservative Green Deal. In this way, one could attract many reasonable Left-leaning Liberal individuals to a more conservative side. Without the “Conservative Green Deal,” the ignorant and psychologically unstable are likely to become the most powerful party in the world.
The experience of Communism taught us about the power of manipulating language. The books by the French intellectual historian, Alain Besançon, are an excellent guide to understanding how it worked, and they were appreciated even among the former denizens of socialist countries.
American English, as I have written elsewhere, displays all the signs of the communist Newspeak. In some cases, it twisted reality even greater than was done under Communism. Therefore, we should avoid using it and, with a little courage, we can return to Oldspeak to clear up our social reality.
Terms such as “sexist,” “misogynist,” “homophobic,” “islamophobic” and “racist” are not helpful in dealing with social problems. In fact, they obfuscate real problems which might otherwise be resolved. What is more, using them means that we have bought into the categories created by the adversary.
Here is an instructive example. Communists liked using the term “socialist economy,” and at each time of deep economic collapse, they would propose to “improve the socialist economy.” It was a futile attempt because a socialist economy meant the absence of private property, which is the basis of economy. Therefore, no reform could improve the economic situation of “the working class,” and people’s miserable condition existed for as long as they were imprisoned by language.
In the country of my birth, Poland, the 1980s were the years when socialist economy reached its peak: for several years the entire population lived off of food-stamps; buying basic goods, such as toilet paper, was hardly possible, and most of one’s time was spent waiting in lines for hours to buy whatever one could.
When the “socialist economy” was replaced by real, capitalist economy, the shelves were filled with all kinds of goods one could only dream of under the socialist dictatorship. What happened was not any miracle, but a change of language. No one believed that a “socialist economy” made sense, or that it is an alternative to the Western form of creating wealth.
A similar explanation can be applied to American Newspeak. Almost everybody uses the superfluous “he or she.” There is no reason to do it, and the old generic “he” (which meant “he” and “she”) is good enough. Yet since the beginning of the 1990s, people say it out of fear of being branded “sexist,” to keep from being accused of “excluding” women.
There is nothing “exclusive” about using the generic pronoun “he” instead of the cumbersome “he or she.” Gender is a grammatical, not a social, category, and everyone who studied other languages is familiar with it.
Nouns in English have no gender, with the exception of a few which follow the Latin gender (Church, in British English; ship, occasionally pieces of machinery, and some animals). In other languages, the gender of pronouns follows the gender of the noun (masculine, feminine, or neuter). In genderless English, ignorance of grammar evolved into a political problem: “exclusion,” “oppression,” and so on. It would take but a minor act of courage to return to the Oldspeak to create a different socio-political reality.
Self-Expression. Its Avoidance In Education
This term is used increasingly in education and politics. It even became synonymous with the word “speech,” like in “freedom of expression” instead of “freedom of speech.” That they are not the same can be shown by invoking Justice Holmes’ example of someone shouting “fire” in a crowded movie theatre. I can be held liable for causing harm to others only if there was no fire and someone got hurt because I shouted “fire.” I am liable because my speech did not correspond to the facts (there was no fire, and what I said was the direct cause of someone’s harm), or because what I said was untrue.
However, if the term “speech” was to be substituted by “expression,” I could defend myself by saying, that my shouting “fire” did not need to correspond to anything. I was expressing the state of my soul and my expression was genuine! The notion of “genuine” abolishes the idea of Truth.
Why did “self-expression” become so popular? Partly because it is a counterpoise to discipline, one thing that democratic man lacks, as Ortega y Gasset noted. Mastering skills and crafts was always a long and laborious process, and it was done under someone’s direction. Only when the apprenticeship was over could one claim intellectual or artistic independence. It was not a guarantee of being a genius but a good craftsman.
Today’s students, including art students, instead of being encouraged to master something well (like grammar, style etc.) are told to be “creative.” The result is that most of them write insignificant stories about themselves, how they feel about the text, instead of precisely answering a question assigned by the teacher. Their work is genuine but often without merit.
This was something that the great German poet, Goethe, in his conversations to his friend Eckermann, warned against. The world around us is richer than what we find inside ourselves, and to be a great writer or poet, we must study Nature, learn from others who discovered many things before us. By imitating the best of our past predecessors, we learn techniques and gain insights that we could never discover or create on our own.
Self-expression may give us a momentary sense of lightness, liberation from the shackles of the past, the discipline that the Past demands of us, and sometimes even a momentary success, but in the long run it will throw us back on ourselves and leave our souls empty.
In education, we need to go back to serious and difficult classical texts and teach the youngsters to read what great writers and philosophers said, rather than allow the student to “disagree” with great minds. Self-expression is not an educational method. It is a dangerous anti-educational tool. However, as Nietzsche observed, it fits the frame of mind of the democratic man, who claims to be equal to everyone.
Gender And The Professions
It is a commonly accepted claim that the low enrollment of women in, say, physics or civil engineering departments is a result “sexism.” And since no one wants to be branded “sexist,” we accept the idea, just as how under communism people talked about the “socialist economy.” Is it because of “sexism”? An alternative explanation could be that it is a result of innate differences between the sexes.
One could ask, for example: is the low percentage of men in the teaching profession at elementary schools (it changes as we go higher) a result of “sexism”? Women, generally speaking, are simply better at dealing with little children; no man would consider this assertion sexist. Would it benefit children if the profession was 50% women and 50% men? One can easily doubt it, but, once again, instead of opposing such policies, we accept the language of equality and discrimination, and frequently create policies which are hurtful.
Striving for equality is tantamount to creating a problem, and the problem in this case was created by extending the idea of equality beyond the legal realm (i.e. equality before the law). The demand that we have equal representation of the sexes, races, ethnicities, sexual minorities, and so on in any profession and politics, on any level, is utopian, unrealistic, and, above all, it runs counter to the idea of excellence.
There will never be a situation in which all minorities will have a sufficient number of qualified members to fill every profession at any given time. The only criterion that is truly just is to admit and hire people on the basis of what they know, and how good they are at what they do.
A critic might say: it is naive to think that the idea of excellence will always win, and that we will never be discriminated against. However true, this argument is rather weak. The push for more equality is tantamount to creating a situation in which nearly all standards of excellence have been abrogated, and an individual failure is never perceived as failure, but as the result of discrimination based on sex or race or religion.
The social, educational, and political costs of such policies are already proving to be too high. Secondly, we will never be able to make sure that someone’s decision is not influenced by his prejudices; and the only way to make sure that he is bias-free is by a system of repeated trainings (as commonly done in American already).
If a condition of employment consists in going through a series of training, we should make it clear that we do not live in a free country, but a totalitarian boot-camp. Furthermore, the State is not a moral institution. It has no right to intervene into anyone’s ways of thinking and perceiving the world. It can, however, intervene when traditional social norms are violated.
We need to decide whether we want to live in a totalitarian democracy, where all people are equal and, consequently, the same, or, in a society with many problems and imperfections in which we are free to act as different and free individuals.
Blind tests, examinations, and job applications would do the trick, but they would soon be attacked, as they are, for being culturally biased. This, of course, is nonsense, but very few people have the courage to oppose such sentiments.
Conservative Notion Of Law In A Liberal State
We are told that Justice Gorsuch’s recent ruling was a slap on the face of Conservatives. The prohibition against employment discrimination on the basis of sex extends, according to him, to “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” In other words, today’s notion of “gender” is what Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act considered “sex;” that is to say, biological differences between man and woman.
According to Nature there are only two sexes, but according to “Tumblr,” there are 112 of them (in 2020). One can ask, what happened between 1964 and now? Nature did not change. Culture did. Culture became subjectivist, and the old notion that there is a stable, unchangeable reality out there, has been abandoned.
In this new reality, a man who imagines himself to be a woman is therefore a woman; a White woman (e.g., the Black activist Rachel Dolezal) who imagines herself to be a Black woman is therefore a Black woman, and someone who claims to be an animal—trans-species-ism—is consequently an animal. One could simply end the conversation by saying that my being a woman is no more valid than my saying that I am 19 years old. There are things which we cannot change.
The Liberalism of today is committed to the unconditional defense of subjectivism and minorities, and even if some of the minorities are imaginary and self-created, Liberalism does not have the needed theoretical tools to reject individual self-identification. My being me is what I imagine myself to be, and because the Liberal State was created in response to the oppressiveness of History and Tradition, it is bound to defend social attitudes which are destructive to, and incompatible with, the preservation of national Culture and civilization. As a matter of fact, Liberalism is committed to the destruction of national heritage and civilization.
One does not have to believe that the idea of “human rights” is totally useless, but when confronted by recent rulings of the American Supreme Court Justices, one wants to join the English Jeremy Bentham in saying: It is nonsense upon stilts. Why did a conservative Justice Gorsuch rule the way he did? Either because he lacked courage to go against his liberal colleagues or because he does not believe in rights grounded in Natural Law.
Reforming The Police
Any foreign visitor to America, including her Mexican and Canadian neighbors, is surprised by the ubiquitous presence of police on American streets. Why is that? The immediate answer is: American attachment to guns, unheard of in most countries. American police deal with dangerous criminals who have weapons, and so must possess higher mental alertness than the police of other countries.
The other observation is that Americans are more aggressive and violent than other peoples. (Hollywood movies, TV programs about crime and criminals, shootings, etc.) The moment one crosses the American border, one gets the impression of entering a highly militarized zone. This feeling is additionally strengthened by the attitude of immigration officers, who do not make any effort to welcome you, as is almost universally the case in other countries.
The presence of guns, however, can only partly explain violence in America. Australia, for example, shares the same British roots: it was a colony, attachment to guns exists there too. Yet the level of violence there is much lower, and serious gun reforms had been undertaken without massive opposition.
But America has something that Australia does not. Australia was colonized by British criminals; America was colonized by Protestant Puritans. They were people who displayed an uncompromising theological spirit and who wanted to eradicate all evil. A cultural historian could say that such an attitude might foster a psychological state that causes violent responses.
Today, not much of this bellicose religious spirit is left. However, it is possible that the high-level of religious temperatures survived in a secular form, as national characteristic. The alcohol prohibition of the 1930s, and the anti-smoking campaign of twenty-years ago bear resemblance to the religious crusade against sinfulness. Now vegetarianism is becoming a new theological movement. (Meatless Mondays were introduced in California, in restaurants, and in all schools in New York City.). Now the fight against sexism, racism, homophobia, and xenophobia causes equally violent responses. The Protestant Spirit seems to be today’s “social justice warriorism.” Criticism of it meets with condemnation, ostracism, and public annihilation; and this has been described already by Tocqueville.
When Sinclair Lewis, an American author, was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1930, he was not only denounced, but met with threats by those whom he described. As he said in his Nobel Lecture, “Now and then I have, for my books or myself, been somewhat warmly denounced—there was one good pastor in California who upon reading my Elmer Gantry desired to lead a mob and lynch me, while another holy man in the state of Maine wondered if there was no respectable and righteous way of putting me in jail.”
The causes that the population of a country fights for may change over time, but the historically shaped character of people seems to persist. One cannot change the character of a people overnight. Violence will likely continue, and will have to be dealt with by finding imperfect solutions to preserve the social order. However, to be successful, we should attempt to minimize wrongs and vices, not eliminate them completely.
Any attempt to make the world sinless, or to turn a blind eye to the violence and hatred of social justice warriors, is to encourage intolerant behavior and allow disorder to grow in the name of alleged future social benefits. The Left’s proposal to defund the police in order to dismantle them is naïve and dangerous. Any reform must begin by taking into account the use of force, something that the Liberal Left does not wish to consider.
Here, another opportunity for conservatives presents itself. Reasonable, but very firm restrictions on the police’s use of lethal force, which would include a guarantee of the officer’s safety, is in place. However, we must keep in mind that making police gentler will not change the behavior of criminals. If the desired reforms will not increase public safety, even the liberal public may come to the conclusion that avoiding walking on the streets for fear of harm or death is not the realization of their program of social justice.
Civility, Toleration and Politeness. Common values.
The 1990s witnessed the publication of several books about toleration. In a climate of diverse views, created by relativism, toleration is a virtue. The meaning of the term that emerges from John Locke and Voltaire’s Treatise on Toleration means, “putting up” with views and behaviors that we loathe, disapprove of, dislike, and do not want our children to imitate.
The idea of toleration was invented to put an end to religious persecutions, and the killing of people who claimed to profess a different theology. Today, being tolerant means something else: accepting someone’s opinions and behavior as equal to our own. Any forms of disapproval, including mental acts, are considered to be acts of bigotry, and since all Cultures are cultures, all cultures are equal, and so are all forms of behavior.
In reality, only a few of us believe this, and most would prefer to live in a society in which all behave like us and have opinions similar to ours. This is not a utopian dream, but the psychological inclination of everyone who believes that it is better to share a common system of values and behavioral patterns than not. Violation of norms would traditionally meet with social and personal disapproval, which would also help the norm-breakers to act in a “civilized” way.
Such social norms no longer exist. They have been in decline since at least the late 1960s. Those who dare to uphold them are labeled “fascist.” Absence of common norms does not make life easier, but more difficult, and when conflict arises, we cannot appeal to the notion of “unacceptable behavior.” We must have recourse to law to arbitrate between parties.
Toleration, today, means that it is our duty to accept quietly any behavior from any individual, and if we do not, let alone if we openly oppose it, then we will be prosecuted by law on account of discrimination. Such a situation creates a social atmosphere in which a minority has the upper hand, and keeps the majority silent through fear that they may be labeled as “intolerant.”
This is true not only of all past cases of so-called “discrimination,” but of all future cases as well. Tocqueville and Mill feared that democracy will create a tyranny of the majority. What it turned into was rather a tyranny of the minority.
The tyranny of the minority exists not because the majority cannot stop or oppose it, but because the majority accepts the premise that all views are equal, and none can be suppressed. In the absence of recognized, rational, cognitive criteria, no argument can be persuasive. Our thought has no absolute or universal grounding; it is nothing other than “self-expression,” which is neither true nor false because it is always genuine.
This is one of Liberalism’s greatest weaknesses. Mill, as much as he was in favor of the Party of Progress, understood that what passes for the opinion of the majority is the opinion of the most vocal individuals in a society. Yet, despite the danger that he described in Chapter 3 of On Liberty, he never resolved the theoretical problem of the threatening power of the minority’s demagoguery. He believed that traditional rules of civility and politeness would guide us. Today, we know that this is not true, and that such rules must be inculcated; they stem from Tradition and a respect for authority, something that his Party of Progress waged the war against.
Thus, for example, we find ourselves in a situation where a single member of a minority can make demands that are destructive to the very tissue of culture and civilization. This mental attitude is most prevalent in academia, where a number of administrative emails to the faculty is about “name preference” (a male student can request that he be called by his chosen female name). Or, as it happened in Sweden, a group of Muslims who fled Syria demanded that a mosque be built for them in a small town. The quiet outrage of the local population was met with criticism, accusing the “Christian folks” of being intolerant.
Unlike Liberalism, Conservatism’s solution to resolve such conflicts is thorough appeal to the tradition and history of a nation. Thus, a Conservative could refuse, for example, to build a monument of the Prophet Mohammed next to Jefferson, Washington or Lincoln memorials on account of the tradition, religion, and history of the United States.
No matter how large the Muslim population of the US is today, Islam had no historical role in shaping the soul of the American people. The same goes for educational curricula and Protestant religion; they should not reflect the diversity of the population, but the ideas which created the United States of America. Similarly, no Catholic or Jew should feel “offended” by the Protestant religion and history, nor by History of Britain being prioritized in American history books.
Since Liberals are committed to a vision of the world in which a people and a nation do not exist, they are indifferent to a nation’s cultural heritage. Pulling down historical monuments is not an act of Al-Qaeda-like barbarism, but an act of liberation.
Church, Religion, Faith.
One could say that only people of faith or churchgoers should pronounce themselves on matters of religion and how the Church should act. This is certainly true, but one could also claim that insofar as religion and the Church is an important cultural and moral institution, what She does should not be a matter of indifference to those who may not be as engaged in Her life as others may be, or even atheists.
One could draw a parallel with status of monarchy. There are many of them in Europe: Spain, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and, of course, Britain. British monarchy is the most visible and, relative to other countries, occupies a special place among them.
The British monarch’s power is mostly symbolic, but symbols matter. They point to the Past. They speak the language with which History talks to us about ourselves. Monarchy is the last visible symbol of the old hierarchical order. “You, too, can become president” is a very well-known American phrase. “You can’t become a queen or a king” would be its British counterpart. (As a matter of fact, this is what the arch-Liberal J.S. Mill said).
It is a language of gentle submission that teaches us that our political ambitions must have limits. Such limits also exist for the monarch, and they do not come from legal limitations. The royals, nobility, are limited by aristocratic code. One can be almost sure that monarchy in Britain, and elsewhere, will last so long as the Royals behave like royals, not like celebrities. Once they do, monarchy will be gone.
The Church and its officials are not in the same situation. They, unlike the Royals, represent an eternal, not a worldly order, and, one could say, will never become spiritual celebrities. Someone might say that this is not necessarily true. It is enough to have a closer look at the state of Protestant churches in America, many of which turned into mega-churches, while their pastors behave like actors, peddling the “gospel of wealth,” rather than the attitude of humility, love, and forgiveness.
Protestantism was always more egalitarian and democratic (sola scriptura, as Luther said) than the Catholic Church, and Protestant Christianity’s slow demise, which we observe in America, is unlikely to be the lot of the Church of Rome. It is a hierarchical institution, with the Pope, cardinals, archbishops, bishops, and priests, and therefore much resistant to changes. Any attempt to introduce democracy into it must fail.
This is true, but what matters the most is the message. It’s been decades since I heard a sermon when the word “sin,” “corruption of human nature” were used. Confession is frequently called dialogue/confession. But dialogue presupposes that the two interlocutors are equal. This is not the case of confession, where the sinner is not equal to the priest.
Some twenty or thirty years ago, the most popular language of the sermon was that of psychology (self-understanding, self-esteem); today, the language is that of social justice. In both cases, then and now, the language of theology (and this concerns also Judaism in America; particularly the reformed synagogues, which are becoming increasingly progressive) is the same that is heard on the street, on television, or in a coffee shop.
One could say, cultural trends are almost impossible to stop, and, unless religion adopts the language that the people respond to, it is likely to lose. This is not true. The changes in the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council are proof. One of the “tricks” was to introduce popular music (guitars) into the Church. Reason? To attract more young people. But it did not work well, and much of the Catholic music was, luckily, preserved in High Anglican rituals, and those who wanted to listen to guitar music found better places.
The same goes for the religious message: “social justice” is likely to be better propagated by social justice warriors than by priests and pastors. There is also a danger: the Christian or Biblical message is not the same as that of the secular world, and by trying to squeeze the two together, we may confuse what is good for one’s soul with a secular ideology of intolerance and violence.
Many of today’s protesters who commit acts of violence call themselves social justice warriors. If they are the same people who attend Sunday mass and do not see a contradiction between religious values and what they are doing, the Church has then lost its battle for the souls. The more appropriate message is the old theological language of sin and corruption. It tells us that evil is in us, not in the institutions representing “power structure.”
Jesus’s teaching may have been the most culturally transformative experience of the Western world, and without Him, our world would be what all ancient civilizations were – cruel. Jesus was not a forerunner of today’s social justice movement. “My kingdom is not of this world” were His words. They point to us, our souls which must become pure. Nothing in His message is about changing “power structure.” “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” – another of His important sayings – means that we owe obedience to the State; or, that the world cannot be fundamentally reformed.
If the Church is to play any social role it must remain the guardian of 2000 years of Western Tradition and historical memory. Any changes in it – music, rituals, rapid changes in theology — can only break Her historical ties to the Past. This is particularly important now as the secular Past is being destroyed.
The protests, the protesters’ demands, the government’s reluctance to use force to restore order: all of these problems lead us to ask, What’s next? Americans are scared and many are even thinking of leaving the country, suspecting that the situation can only deteriorate. And they are likely to be right.
Walmart has already announced: “Inside the company, our work to recruit, develop and support African Americans and other people of color will be even more of a priority.” Other companies will, undoubtedly, follow suit. This is nothing but a policy of appeasement, which, however well-intended, is not very likely to eliminate the inflammatory social situation. The opposite policy could be most desirable.
Instead of enticing African-Americans and other minorities to violence and destruction of their country, one should encourage them to be more American, show them that the Anglo-Protestant Western heritage belongs to them as much as it belongs to the Whites. There is nothing in the biological and genetic make-up of the Whites that make them “Westerners.” Culture—a people’s way of acting and thinking—is inculcated through education and patterns of the acquired behavior, not genetics.
It is truly instructive in this case to recall a classic movie, To Sir with Love, with the Black American actor, Sidney Poitier. It is a story of a Black man from the former British colony, British Guiana, who came to London to look for work. Unable to find a job as an engineer, he becomes a teacher in the working-class of East London. What are the English teenagers like? To put it simply, they are unruly, destructive barbarians, whom the Black man, the man whose people the British colonized, teaches the principles of civilization, civilized behavior and appreciation of civilized behavior.
What can bring Americans together is the collective effort to rid America of the destructive myth of multiculturalism. On a cultural level it means little, and in practice it promotes the mediocre works of other cultures, instead of those great works that elevate the spirit of those who need to be elevated. We should promote humanity’s greatest achievements which everyone, regardless of color, can recognize. The beauty of Leonardo’s “Lady with the Ermine,” Botticelli’s “Primavera,” or Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” are beautiful to everyone, regardless of color.
Multiculturalism, despite its pronouncements to the contrary, is a form of racist ideology. It insists that we look at ourselves as members of a single race or sex, leaving little room to perceive ourselves as people who may actually have something in common. In doing so, it fosters suspicions and hatred, the very things it claims to fight.
The question of the end of America is by no means rhetorical, and even very wise men, like Victor Hansen of the Hoover Institution, openly draw parallels between what we see on American streets and the French Revolution. As we know, the enthusiastic beginning brought the Reign of Terror and ended with Napoleon’s rule. Napoleon’s seizure of power fits Plato’s description of the tyrant who emerges to restore order after a democracy, by extension of equality, slides into anarchy.
Plato did not think this cycle applicable merely to the experience of Athens, but that it inheres in the logic of democracy. The expansion of equality is bound to dissolve all authority and social structures. The protesters’ demands to dismantle the “power structure” (defunding police, abolishing history by tearing down monuments, abolishing all intellectual and moral criteria that differentiate us, and, above all, making politicians responsive to protesters’ whims) fit Plato’s description perfectly.
If Plato was right, and everything indicates that he was, we are witnessing the end of democracy and of America, the American system of government. American historians of the past century would talk about the United States in self-congratulatory language, as if the American founding principles were solid, immune to criticism, and no structural problems could be found in this new political edifice.
A closer look seems to point to a fundamental crack in the foundation – equality. “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal…” But equality is what Plato identified as the problem of government. Equality causes the collapse of political structures, including democracy itself. It is an acid which dissolves authority, without which political order is impossible. Thus, the long-celebrated and idealized founding principle of the American Republic was flawed from the very beginning. Equality is a form of political steroid which worked for a while (about 200 some years), but now the runner is about to collapse without ever fulfilling his promise to leave no one behind.
Matthew Arnold predicted it in his essay, “Democracy,” arguing that the Anglican-hierarchical order is the glue which keeps England’s political system stable. But, as he warned, if the English adopt an American system of government by expanding equality, “the fate of America will be ours.” The protests in Britain, the behavior of a part of the British population, who demand that the statues of Winston Churchill be torn down, the adoption of American slogans, etc., only confirm that Britain is becoming another America, and the growing social disorder in America will show up there, too.
Today we see the secular consequences of the old war. In 1776, Americans fought the old hierarchical oppressive order. Today, they are fighting the oppression that was established in 1776. However, unlike in 1776, there are no new founding fathers who can offer an alternative to the old-new oppression, and the reason is simple: founding principles of political life presuppose a degree of hierarchy to ensure social cohesion, which a people must be willing to accept. It appears that the American understanding of freedom is what Plato termed “license.” It was what buried Athenian democracy.
Can anything be done? Yes, the return to the three concepts of Conservative thought that I mentioned at the beginning: reverence for the Past as the guide to the Future, privilege based on merit, and social hierarchy. If equality is the sole principle that animates social and political life, we are in danger of even further destroying the Past.
Zbigniew Janowski (ZJ): When I interviewed you twenty-six years ago, I titled our conversation “Civil Society, Toleration, and All That.” Both topics were very timely. “Civil Society” was of utmost concern to the people in Eastern Europe, who only several years earlier had freed themselves from Soviet rule. Their primary goal was to rebuild “civil society,” create social structures, free from ideological dominion. “Toleration,” on the other hand, was more of a concern in Western countries, probably because of the rising pressure of what was termed “multiculturalism.” The question of how to respond to contradictory opinions, different cultural assumptions, relativism of values, etc., naturally resulted in invoking the old idea of toleration. When I reread our conversation recently, I was struck by the obsolescence of these topics.
The last thing one can say about America is that it is multicultural. It may be multi-racial or -ethnic, but not multicultural. Ignorance of other cultures and nations, civilizations, knowledge of foreign languages, is dismal. If there is any content to the term “multiculturalism” in America, it means that there is a great number of ethnic restaurants, which Americans occasionally go to. It is not an exaggeration to say that today’s America is totally monolithic.
The idea of multiculturalism and toleration runs counter to the official Politically Correct orthodoxy, which is based on the premise that only one set of views is right, and therefore we can dispense with tolerating opposing views. In fact, the attitude of the Left, or ultra-Liberals, is that tolerating opposing views is wrong because the opponents are morally wrong. Thus, we no longer need to tolerate others’ views; we should actively fight them. Disinviting speakers to American colleges, shouting them down, canceling their lectures, firing people from their jobs for saying “one word too much,” ostracizing public figures for saying something that is not Politically Correct, is totally normal in American life.
Do you have an explanation as to what happened between the time we talked over two decades ago and now?
Jonathan Clark (JC): I have been trying to think of explanations, with little success. However, I have attempted a brief outline, in a thousand words, which is due to appear in the September issue of the UK magazine Standpoint.
I suggest – to reply directly to your question – that multiculturalism is a new ideology. It claims to respect all cultures; in reality, it hands power to the elites that administer the practical arrangements for which the ideology serves as a smokescreen. Civil society, across much of western Europe and parts of the USA, was partly rebuilt by mass migrations; toleration was demanded in order to defend the new plural societies that mass migration (and other developments) were bringing into being; democracy was reshaped in order to defend in power the elites that administered the system. Hence one of the key phenomena of our time, most clearly visible in the universities but evident everywhere: the rise of the administrators in numbers, power, and wealth.
In the United States and Russia, the vast distances, and the difficulty of learning about other cultures, homogenize the population to a marked degree: this makes the control of these populations by the techniques still labeled ‘democracy’ much more effective than it still is, say, in the UK. There, the referendum of 23 June 2016 that led to a vote to leave the European Union was, among other things, a powerful reaction against such trends.
According to Fukuyama, the world exhausted its’ ideological alternatives: Liberalism and free market economy appeared to be the future of mankind, the fulfillment of human aspirations. Almost everyone—except you, and I shall return to this point in a moment—subscribed to his idea. Today, thirty years later, Fukuyama’s thesis, to use Marx’s expression, belongs to the Dustbin of History. Looking through the lenses of contemporary events, it appears almost laughable, but it was not then; no one ridiculed it, and, frankly, it sounded very convincing.
As a historian, how do you explain what is happening in the Western world? Are we witnessing a rebellion against Liberalism? Or, to put it in historical terms, is the rise of nationalism a response to the Enlightenment idea of universal human nature, the abstract nature divorced from tradition, history, religion, and man’s need to belong to a community?
JC: I suggest that ‘nationalism’ is the proper name for a new ideology, coined in continental Europe in response to the French Revolution. Other ways of picturing the commonalities of the populations of differing polities had long been available, and still are. There is not, then, one thing called ‘nationalism’ that currently reasserts itself. Rather, populations reassert their identities against groups within (liberal elites) and organizations without (multinational bodies, like the EU) that assert the rival values of what they call cosmopolitanism.
“Liberalism” is a doctrine that has evolved many meanings since it was coined in the early nineteenth century; today it includes, quite prominently, the rejection of religion either as metaphysics or as identity, and the rejection of the claims to allegiance of the nation state. The quite narrow identification of liberalism with free trade seemed in 1991 to be very forward-looking; now, it seems more of a throwback to 1891. Liberalism has moved on in ways hardly anticipated in 1991.
ZJ: A few years ago, Ryszard Legutko published a book titled The Demon in Democracy. Its subtitle reads: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies. Legutko points out how similar today’s liberal democracies are to former Communist—totalitarian—societies. Anyone who was born under socialism, as were Legutko and I, has the same reaction: “We have seen it before. How is it possible?
History is repeating itself; before it was called socialism, today it is socialism’s former rival—liberal democracy, which threatens us. It eliminates, through public ostracism and legislation, everyone who dares to be different, who dares to think differently. Under Communism, it was the “class-enemy,” “enemy of the state”; under liberalism the enemy is called a “sexist, racist, homophobe, xenophobe, misogynist, ageist”—that is, the enemy of equality!
Once again, how, as a historian, do you explain the “convergence” of the two systems, which for a hundred and fifty years appeared to be inimical? Has Liberal-democracy become totalitarian, and if so why?
JC: I suggest that the divergence in the meaning of liberalism, between freeing the individual from the community and identifying those unacceptable beliefs and actions that justified the intervention of the community, was there already in the work of John Stuart Mill. The same contradiction was present in socialism. But with the ebbing tide of socialism since 1989, the long-standing problem within liberalism emerges into clear view. What is new, I suggest, is the enormous expansion of the language of universal human rights since the 1970s, and the scope this gives to the new administrative elites to exercise their power in the name of the coercive component of liberalism.
ZJ: Let me go back to our old conversation and remind you of what you said: “I think it is extremely unfortunate if Eastern Europeans or Russians imagine that the only alternative to the Communist state is a Liberal state. They will immediately go from one unhappy state form to another equally unhappy state form.” You are a historian, not a prophet, but what you said in 1993 now sounds almost like a prophesy. Legutko’s book, in which he draws parallels between Communism and Liberalism, is a perfect illustration of your claim about one “unhappy state form” traded for another “unhappy state form.”
How is it that you knew what the Future holds for us, whereas everyone else had to wait another twenty-five years for history to unfold itself to fulfill your prophesy? Do you have a particular gift for prophesy? Did your study of history tell you Liberalism is bound to produce “an unhappy state” of affairs just like socialism did? If so, why?
JC: I claim no gift of foresight; academic history confers no such faculty. I had merely been taught to be a sceptic, to appreciate that everything changes, that there are no permanent secular truths, and that every secular ideology experiences a trajectory from inception through flourishing to decline. I also appreciated that although names (like ‘liberalism’ or ‘democracy’) remain the same, their content can change radically. These predispositions made me regard both communism and liberalism from the outside.
ZJ: Liberalism’s unhealthy state was recently acknowledged even by the editors of The Economist. On September 15th, 2018, The Economist published “A Manifesto,” their aim being to “rekindle the spirit of radicalism.”
In it, we read: “Liberalism made the modern world, but the modern world is turning against it. Europe and America are in the throes of a popular rebellion against liberal elites, who are seen as self-serving and unable, or unwilling to solve the problems of ordinary people.”
For The Economist this is profoundly worrying. We were created 175 years ago to campaign for liberalism—not the leftish ‘progressivism’ of American university campuses or the rightish “ultraliberalism” conjured up by the French commentariat, but a universal commitment to individual dignity, open markets, limited government and a faith in human progress brought about by debate and reform.
There is one minor point in the language of The Economist, which, I believe, is of historical significance: “radicalism.” If I remember correctly, at your seminar in Chicago 26 years ago, you said something to the effect that the premise of “Radicalism” is the doctrine of the natural equality of all men. Can you comment on that?
JC: I forget what, exactly, I taught about ‘radicalism’ in Chicago in the early 1990s. But I adopted the position at about that time that radicalism was the proper name for a new doctrine, coined in England around 1820, combining programmatic atheism, Ricardian economics and universal suffrage. This term, too, has been used to cover a range of evolving positions, and is now too vague to be meaningful in the way in which The Economist wanted to use it.
ZJ: This leads me to my next question. It is hardly possible to have a conversation today without sooner or later using the terms “liberal,” “liberalism,” “democracy,” or “liberal-democracy.” This was not so in the 18th century. If I am not mistaken, the term “liberal” in the 18th century did not have a political connotation. Also, neither democracy nor liberalism can be found in Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary, published in 1764. One is impelled to ask, how could the people of the Enlightenment go without using such words?
JC: Easily. They were preoccupied with other things, meaningful to them but largely neglected by us (we no longer share Paine’s prioritization of kings and aristocrats, or his lifelong antipathy to Trinitarian Christianity). We need also to understand the term ‘the Enlightenment’ historically, as a term of historical art unknown in the eighteenth century and propagated chiefly since the 1960s.
ZJ: In your Revolution and Rebellion, you write: “To attempt to write the history of liberalism before 1820’s is thus, in point of method, akin to attempting to write the history of the 18th century motor car. There were, of course, forms of transport which performed many of the functions which the motor car later performed, the sedan chair among them. Yet to explain the sedan chair as if it were an early version of the motor car, and by implication to condemn it for failing so lamentably to evolve into the motor car, is to turn a modern error of scholarly method into a failure of men in a past society.” The origin of the term is obscure, but you trace the origins of Liberalism not to politics, but theology, and point to the teaching of theology at Oxford.
JC: This was an early expression of my rejection of the methodological error of anachronism. I later learned much more about what ‘liberalism’ was, when first formulated in c. 1820.
ZJ: Let me go back to The Economist. However well-intentioned The Economist’s statement is, to me—someone who spent the first twenty-five years of his life under Socialism—it sounds like the statements made by the Communists. Each time, after a popular rebellion and crisis—be it the invasion of Hungry in 1956, or Czechoslovakia in 1968, events in Poland in 1971, the Solidarity movement in the early 1980s, and so on—the Communists would look for a scapegoat to blame. It was either the Party apparatchiks, the former Politburo members, the executive committees on high, middle and low level—but never the idea of Socialism. We were assured by the Communist Party that there was nothing wrong with the idea of socialism; the execution was imperfect.
When I read The Economist’s “Manifesto,” I recalled that Communist slogan: “Socialism Yes; Distortions No!” which can be reformulated: “Liberalism—Yes, Politically Correct distortions—No.” “There is nothing wrong with the idea of Liberalism”; the problem, as the editors claim, is “the self-serving liberal elites” who let “ordinary people” down, just like the Central Committee of the Communist Party let “the toiling masses” down, or academic radicals.
What is happening now looks like a mirror image of what we have seen under Socialism. Even the language sounds the same.
Do you agree that there are very close parallels between the two ideologies? Would you also agree that if there is an explanation as to why they exist, it is because both Socialism and Liberalism are the twin children of the same parent—the idea of equality? They may have looked dissimilar for some time, in their childhood and adolescent stages, but when they reached maturity, they seem to act alike.
JC: I do agree that there are structural and procedural similarities. To discern their substantive commonalities one would need to explore the young Marx’s work on religion, and here I defer to others. To understand liberalism, it would help to discern J. S. Mill’s rejection of the Anglican orthodoxy of his day. I don’t see ‘equality’ as an autonomous variable.
As to periodicals, I find the general stance of The Economist remarkably similar to that of the columnists of the Financial Times – this paper has evidently been captured by politicized liberals who regularly condescend to those who voted for Brexit in the 2016 referendum.
ZJ: Let me turn to the problem of academia, which, as it is constituted now, presents itself as a very serious problem, and the ideology disseminated therein permeates the society at large. Let me quote a fragment from an article by John Gray, the author of many books on liberalism.
In his TLS (March, 27, 2018) article titled “The Problem of Hyper-Liberalism,” Gray wrote: “For liberals the recent transformation of universities into institutions devoted to the eradication of thought crime must seem paradoxical. In the past higher education was avowedly shaped by an ideal of unfettered inquiry. Varieties of social democrats and conservatives, liberals and Marxists taught and researched alongside scholars with no strong political views. Academic disciplines cherished their orthodoxies, and dissenters could face difficulties in being heard. But visiting lecturers were rarely disinvited because their views were deemed unspeakable, course readings were not routinely screened in case they contained material that students might find discomforting, and faculty members who departed from the prevailing consensus did not face attempts to silence them or terminate their careers… Judged by old-fashioned standards, this is the opposite of what liberals have stood for. But what has happened in higher education is not that liberalism has been supplanted by some other ruling philosophy. Instead, a hyper-liberal ideology has developed that aims to purge society of any trace of other views of the world. If a regime of censorship prevails in universities, it is because they have become vehicles for this project.” And: “When students from China study in Western countries one of the lessons they learn is that the enforcement of intellectual orthodoxy does not require an authoritarian government. In institutions that proclaim their commitment to critical inquiry, censorship is most effective when it is self-imposed. A defining feature of tyranny, the policing of opinion is now established practice in societies that believe themselves to be freer than they have ever been.”
The way Gray formulates the problem it is reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984. However, for Orwellian Communist orthodoxy to work, one needed Ministry of Truth, Thought-Police, an army of informants, brainwashing, and so on. In America, we need none of this! We police ourselves, we destroy history, remove monuments, decry as enemies everyone who is against equality, who is for hierarchy and standards of excellence, and we voluntarily confess “crimes.”
There isn’t a day that passes by without a public figure apologizing for a racist, sexist, or homophobic remark. Confessions are a daily routine in America. You are accused of a crime, you make a public confession only to disappear, just like in Orwell. Orwell did not invent the idea of confession; he got it from the Stalinist trials of the 1930s (described by Arthur Koestler in his Darkness at Noon). Another parallel between Communism and liberal-democracy! Except that under Communism, people were threatened with bayonets, torture, and death. Yet many of them—the dissidents and the majority of society—opposed it. Here we have no opposition, people confess freely. The majority is docile. Can you explain how we came to be where we are now?
JC: John Gray and I experienced the Oxford of the 1980s and 1990s, and drew similar conclusions from it; he has continued to observe the university world in the UK, as I have done in the USA. Part of my response is contained in my article soon to appear in Standpoint. I would add to your account of the USA the lasting legacy of New England Puritanism, the consequent ‘paranoid style’ that has been held to characterize US politics, and the Puritanical zeal to enforce confessions and persecute heretical opponents. The past is always with us, and people in the present do not escape their determinative heritage by claiming to be secular.
ZJ:Heather MacDonald, a conservative American commentator of the Manhattan Institute, made a claim that the problem of today’s America is that the infantile academic mentality has spilled over to the public realm. The language, behavior, and ways of thinking that were characteristic of academia 20, or even 30 years ago, is now the dominant mentality of adult Americans, who behave like children. I believe her analysis is correct. What appeared to be a childish mentality—culture wars, fights over Great Books programs (or classics), as we call it in the US, and similar “academic” issues, to which not too many people paid serious attention in the past—is now a prominent way of thinking in the US. Academia was never as important as it is now!
JC: American conservatives are condemned to grapple unsuccessfully with a major problem: what, exactly, would American conservatives conserve? By implication, their civic religion, which is essentially a tradition of world revolution. It comes in a variety of forms, more or less extreme. But it is true of this revolution, as of all, that it takes time to work out its full implications. A parochial and campus contest over ‘Great Books’ was an expression of this, but not the cause. I find it difficult to think that but for certain tactical mistakes on US campuses 20 or 30 years ago, all would have been well. But I fully agree that such issues are often most clearly seen within the university world, now a very large one, as they were formerly most clearly seen in the coal mines and the shipyards.
ZJ: Besides Allan Bloom and E.D. Hirsch, when the attack on Great Books started 30 years ago with the blessing from Jessie Jackson, who famously announced that “Western Culture’s got to go”—who else would think that it matters whether you read your Plato, Aristotle, St. Thomas, Pascal, Marlowe, or Milton, Burke, Montesquieu, and Tocqueville? And yet, it does! It makes a difference whether you study serious thinkers or ephemeral authors, whose claim to fame is whether they are “supportive” of the “minority causes.”
JC: It should make a great difference to students to discover that these thinkers, or thousands of others like them, did not anticipate the American civic religion; indeed that their values were often antithetical to it. Quite right, then, that today’s cultural warriors work to block recollection of the past, and shepherd even History students into more and more modern time frames. But remember that ‘western culture’ or ‘western civilization’ are very much inventions of the twentieth-century United States, little known elsewhere; this says something of major importance about the long-term nature of the host culture.
ZJ: Today’s academia, as you know, is the Mecca of un-thought. Gender studies, Women’s Studies, all kinds of -studies replaced Departments of … Do you think that we didn’t pay enough attention to what was going to happen? Or, did we not realize how important academic disciplines are for the intellectual health of a nation? Were we simply too cowardly to stand up and stop the academic radicals from taking over universities?
JC: Many academic disciplines were undermined in the 1960s and 1970s by the Marxist and marxisant Left; but this is old news, and is largely forgotten by today’s commentators. Future histories of the long term development of academe will need to explain what happened subsequently. Clearly, Marx himself hardly anticipated the developments you refer to. Nor did his followers into the 1960s, however subtle and intelligent; consider, as just one instance, the absence of such themes from E. P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class (1964).
Did the Pyrrhic victory of anti-Marxist positivist scholarship so weaken it that scholarship in many areas could evolve into interest-group advocacy? Or did many of those positivist scholars themselves seek to promote their society’s myth of origins, so that their own traditions of advocacy could be taken over and used against them? There is, of course, nothing wrong with studying gender, or the position of women in society, and the rest; indeed it is perfectly proper to do so. What has been marked has been the ideological freight that these movements have been made to carry.
ZJ: Your books abound in criticism and scholarly “attacks” on former historians. I take it to be a sign of a healthy intellectual atmosphere when scholars do it.
Let me invoke a few names: Hobsbawm, E.P. Thompson, Raymond Williams, Christopher Hill, Sidney Hook or Irving Howe in America, and many others. They all were on the Left, or they were the Old Left, and one can hardly imagine the history of intellectual life without them. Whatever scholarly disagreements you may have with them, methodological problems you find in their works, you cannot, I dare say, claim that they were scholarly incompetent. Can one say the same thing about the proponents of the new -studies? Leaving aside the problem of comprehensibility of what they write, do the new studies advance our knowledge of anything, the same way that the Old Left inspired you to attack?
JC: You are right to think that I had considerable respect for the figures you mention: it was possible to engage with their work, whether one agreed or disagreed. The contrast is considerable with a number or present-day schools, and scholars, for whom a private language defends their enforcement of values in ways not open to debate. The prevalence of such assumptions explains how easy it is for dissentient arguments and individuals to be excluded from universities today. I am concerned that such abuses will only provoke an equally extreme reaction in the opposite direction. But at present the natural stance of people of my persuasion is often indifference to that which cannot enter into debate.
ZJ: As far as I know, you had your intellectual heroes, so to say, or at least people who influenced you, whom you admire. Let me mention three names of people whom you knew personally, and for whom, as far as I know, you have intellectual respect: Peter Laslett, a Cambridge historian, author of the classic, The World We Have Lost; Edward Shils, America’s greatest sociologist, whom, if I am correct, you met as a student at Cambridge, where you studied; Leszek Kolakowski, who was your colleague and friend at All Souls College in Oxford, and François Furet, an eminent French historian of the French Revolution, who invited you as a Visiting Professor in the prestigious Committee on Social Thought, at the University of Chicago. Can you say a few words about the way in which they impacted you, and how influential you think their works are?
JC: The task of historians is to commune with the dead, and I do just that with these great men. When teaching courses on historical methodology to graduate students in the USA, I would distribute photographs and obituaries of these and other such greats (Butterfield, Elton) in the hope that my students would reflect on their work, and come (however distantly) to stand in the apostolic succession. Their effect on me was that of intellectual liberation; they did not ask me to follow their doctrine, but implicitly showed me how to escape the orthodoxies that were all around me when I was an undergraduate.
ZJ: You gained the reputation not only of being “an eminent English historian of English history,” but, if you don’t mind, “enfant terrible” of English history, which I take to be a high praise, and, given your contribution to the history of England, well deserved. Your English Society is a book that no scholar of English history can bypass.
JC: Historians are seldom good at reconstructing their own intellectual development, and I am sure that I would be well below average if I tried systematically to do so. As to the ‘enfant terrible’ phase, I can say that I came on the scene in the 1980s when modernism was breaking up, and its senior exponents found it convenient to blame others for this; it was easier, and safer, for them to revile their juniors than to understand what was happening. On reflection, there may have been other historians of my generation who were as infantile, or as terrible, but it would be ungenerous to name them. We all have our faults. At least I try not to criticize those who are junior to me in years, if I can possibly avoid it.
Your Revolution and Rebellion was released in 1985, your opus magnum, English Society, in 1986, when—I want to emphasize—you were only in your mid-thirties. Was it just you (your historical ingenuity, so to speak), or your Cambridge education that made you into the historian you are now? What is your background, experiences, schools, and, most importantly, what motivated you to rewrite the history of English society in the 17th and 18th centuries? I am not a historian, but have heard from others that, controversial as your thesis is, no student of 17th- or 18th-centuries can by-pass it? You “derailed” English historiography, didn’t you?
JC: Others must judge. But I may have been in the right place at the right time when it came to the intellectual developments that you refer to. Especially, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century English society played a key role in the twentieth-century account of modernism. At least I criticized my seniors, who were all too able to defend themselves by the means normally employed in academe.
ZJ: Your name, like that of Roger Scruton, is associated with the term “Conservative”—conservative in the British or continental sense. I remember, however, that in a short piece you wrote for a Bulgarian journal named Panorama more than two decades ago, you said something to the effect that the labels of Conservative, Liberal, Radical, only complicate our understanding of history, and that you hope that we can get beyond them. But one could say that, in so far as they persevere in existence, they point to our cultural and political legacy, whose origins can be traced to the French Revolution of 1789.
The old labels—Liberal and Conservative—assumed, however, new names: Politically Correct and non-Politically Correct. In today’s language, the first one means the enemy of sexism, racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, ageism, and chauvinism. As an ideological weapon, they are much more effective than the old labels, and serve to morally discredit the opponent. In the past, you could be a conservative or a liberal, without being accused of moral wrongness. Today, if you are not Politically Correct, you are not against the “phobias” and “isms,” which means, you are in the “moral wrong.” Would you agree that they are much more potent than the old labels?
JC: My project was always to understand these old labels historically, rather than to defend or adopt any one of them for myself. Certainly, to understand them historically is a profoundly subversive enterprise. Perhaps the recent discrediting of the claims to timeless applicability of the political language new in c. 1815-48 is one reason why a variety of present-day reformist or revolutionary initiatives meet with such ineffectual opposition from political parties calling themselves Conservative.
ZJ: Could we say that those labels literally mean blindness to all differences? Do you think that, in so far as those terms aim at erasing differences, they are the children of the idea of equality, and to be against equality is to be in the “moral wrong”?
JC: Such labels are intended to claim that those whom they identify are possessed of a coherent ideology. But were they, and are they? I am skeptical about that; everything changes. I am also cautious about accepting ideologies on their own terms: for me, equality is a theological position, to be debated as such.
ZJ: Could we say that, to the degree that the terms I used are operational, the legacy of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution is still very much alive, and that we’re seeing the unfolding—perhaps for the last time—of the consequences of the 1789 events?
JC: One might say that as we better understand the history of the American and French Revolutions, and of eighteenth-century thought (not ‘the Enlightenment’), we are emancipated from the mythologies that grew up to sanitize these things. Perhaps that merely frees us to make different sorts of mistake.
ZJ: If I am correct, one of your major historical claims, which also explains the American Revolution, is that the doctrine of equality of all men (all Men are created equal) comes from those thinkers who were most eager to attack the Anglican doctrine? Secondly, the American Revolution has little to do with democracy. As you point out, the idea of universal suffrage arises much later. Can you elaborate on these points?
JC: For my thoughts on these difficult matters, please see my book Thomas Paine. There I accept that equality is an idea the origin of which needs to be explained; it does not itself explain the American Revolution. The same is true of the idea of universal suffrage. But to make these points in simple terms is insufficient; the point is to substantiate them. I look forward to a debate.
ZJ: Another topic or term which occupies today’s social and political conversations is nationalism. If I am not mistaken, your claim is that nationalism, as we understand it today, is a product of 19th century cultural and political vicissitudes, and that the 18th century form of nationalism is not applicable to our understanding. Is it correct to say that the basis of nationalism, under the “ancien régime,” is law and religion?
JC: Law and religion, as systems of ideas shaping shared historical experience. I suggest that ‘blood and soil’ nationalisms were continental European innovations of the early nineteenth century; I do not subscribe to them.
ZJ: When did we start using the term “nationalism” and why? Given that under the Ancien Régime the sense of nationality was different, what are the consequences of it?
JC: Later than we think. The consequences? If patriotism led to war, nationalism additionally led to genocide.
ZJ: Let me ask you about the American Revolution. Was it a revolution? As far as I know, you have very unique interpretation of what it was and why it happened. Can you explain your position?
JC: It began as a revolution in a much older sense (as the term was applied, for example, to the change of government in England in 1688). But it ended as an unanticipated social upheaval, the extent and implications of which were not fully appreciated until events in France after 1789 could be reflected on. The term ‘revolution’ remained; its content developed fundamentally.
ZJ: Other terms, very closely related, which I would like to talk about are hierarchy and privilege. Today, they sound like an echo from a foreign land. Both terms, however, belong to the history of the world and our Western tradition, and were alive and well not long ago (roughly two hundred years). Can you explain what happened? How did they fade away?
JC: I used to explain to my American students that the difference between US and UK society was that UK society seemed very formal and hierarchical from the outside, but that once you were inside you appreciated that it was remarkably informal and egalitarian. Whereas US society made a great profession of informality and casualness, but was in reality rigid, authoritarian and stratified. Paine’s critique of hierarchy and privilege allowed elites to disown the terms, but retain the things.
All societies are built around hierarchy and privilege. The difference is who enjoys these things and what their premises are. Today, the highest paid employees of US universities are the sports coaches.
ZJ: Let me take you back to the mid-1990s. You may not remember, but I want to remind you of a small incident. I visited you at All Souls College in Oxford, where you gave me a tour through the College. All Souls is not open to visitors, and if you want to see the beautiful courtyard, you can peek through the cast-iron gate. I said to you, “Jonathan, I heard that as a fellow you have a right to walk on the lawn.” To which, you responded, very sincerely, and in a somewhat agitated voice, “I have a privilege.”
Every time I hear the word “right,” I recall this little incident. What you said struck me as something so rudimentary, and yet I, and ostensibly many others, have never thought about it. We stood on the grass while the porter was taking a picture. There were a bunch of tourists looking at us through the openings in the gate.
What I understood is that a privilege is a right based on merit, limited to a small group of elect people; whereas a right is a privilege extended to everyone, regardless of merit. If all people had the right to walk on the lawn in All Souls, the lawn would be destroyed within a week, and thus the idea of a right to walk on the lawn would be flawed.
To use an analogy, would you say that one of the gravest problems of the world today is the idea of rights? Everybody has a right to everything regardless of merit, which must lead to the destruction of institutions, just like the lawn.
Recently, a few schools in the US abolished distinctions, and the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test, which is the basis for admissions in many schools) is under attack. One can be pretty sure that it will be done away with, and then we will have no criteria to distinguish between students of greater or lesser intelligence, and low-level students will have the same right to attend prestigious schools as the high-level ones.
All this leads me to my question: can a civilization go on living if we do not return to the idea of privilege, merit, and thus hierarchy, which it would naturally recreate?
Implicitly, I am recommending a return of the meaning of rights to older ideas of privilege. The language of universal human rights, I suggest, is less and less effective in delivering good things to suffering humanity.
ZJ: Would you agree that the biggest fear of modern Western societies is inequality? It appears that all social and political structures aim at bolstering equality, and that any allusion to hierarchy or merit is met with dread?
JC: Inequality is everywhere in present-day advanced societies. The question is how it can be made acceptable to a wider public opinion. Today, it is hidden by the liberal rich from the traditional poor chiefly by geographical distance. This defence cannot be relied on.
ZJ: Let me take you back to the beginning of Western history: Plato’s Athens.
In his Republic, Bk VIII, Plato says: “I suppose that when a democratic city, once it’s thirsted for freedom, gets bad winebearers as its leaders and gets more drunk than it should on this unmixed draught, then, unless the rulers are very gentle and provide a great deal of freedom, it punishes them, charging them with being polluted and oligarchs.” “Yes,” he said, “that’s what they do.” “And it spatters with mud those who are obedient, alleging that they are willing slaves of the rulers and nothings,” I said, “while it praises and honors—both in private and in public—the rulers who are like the ruled and the ruled who are like the rulers. Isn’t it necessary in such a city that freedom spread to everything?” “How could it be otherwise?” “And, my friend,” I said, “for it to filter down to the private houses and end up by anarchy’s being planted in the very beasts?” “How do we mean that?” he said. “That a father,” I said, “habituates himself to be like his child and fear his sons, and a son habituates himself to be like his father and to have no shame before or fear of his parents—that’s so he may be free; and metic is on an equal level with townsman and townsman with metic, and similarly with the foreigner.” “Yes,” he said, “that’s what happens.”
As Plato explains next, anarchy follows, which ends by the appearance of a tyrant who reintroduces order. The lesson we learn from the Athenian philosopher is that equality works like an acid, which dissolves hierarchy or authority, and produces anarchy. Tyranny is the natural outcome of democratic equality.
Looking at the West, and America in particular, everywhere we see signs of greater and greater lawlessness and dissolution of authority. Plato, probably, would not have a problem recognizing what the Future holds for us. Since your historical expertise made you somewhat of a prophet when we talked twenty-six years ago, what is your prophesy for the future?
JC: That anarchy and stability are not an either/or choice; it is a question of degree. Statistics of gun-related homicides, and of citizens shot dead by the police, are useful indicies of the degree to which anarchy is already with us. The authority of parents over children is hard to measure, but contemporary observers remarked on the transformation in this respect brought about in the Thirteen Colonies by the Revolution. I suspect that the future tends to be like the present, only more so.
ZJ: You are English. An overwhelming majority of the population in the UK is fond of monarchy. Partly, I presume, the reason is the deep-rooted English attachment to tradition; partly, because of the personality of the Queen, who fulfilled her role with incredible dignity for over half a century. However, my question to you is of a historical nature. Given the mess in which your country has found itself with Brexit, shouldn’t we have doubts about the efficacy, or even the validity of a parliamentary system (the same can be said of the US Congress, which can hardly pass any piece of legislation, and is always stuck in a gridlock)?
JC: The UK constitution is flexible, and continually changing. I would not be surprised if it changed in significant ways to adjust to exit from the EU. Members of the UK Parliament have fallen into considerable disesteem for their handling of this matter; the monarchy will survive, but many of them may lose their seats. Whereas the US Constitution is relatively inflexible, and members of Congress very hard to remove; this does not bode well.
ZJ: One cannot imagine a similar situation if we lived under constitution or limited monarchy. There are quite a few countries in Europe which have monarchs: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands. I doubt many people would take my suggestion seriously, but don’t you think it’s time to reconsider our intellectual assumptions about political systems?
One could cherish, as did John Stuart Mill in the 19th-century, and the American Founding Fathers (particularly Jefferson, who was extremely hostile to monarchy), the idea that democracy is the hope for the future, and will eliminate monarchy’s problems. However, when you look around, it appears that we have too much of it, and Plato would agree with us, saying that we are heading toward anarchy.
JC: I would suggest that the US system, combining the roles of head of state and head of the executive, has created a post that almost no-one has the talent to fill (cf. the position of Roman Emperor).
ZJ: Thank you Dr. Clark.
The image shows, “A Private View at the Royal Academy,” by William Powell Frith, painted in 1883.
The Polish version of this interview appeared in the January issue of Arcana.
The Military, Man Of Letters, Leader Of Free France
Since the start of the pandemic, essayists, journalists and politicians have kept repeating that “a new page in history has now been opened;” “that nothing will be the same as before;” and that “we must prepare the world for ‘after’.”
Minions and sycophants let the media believe that the crisis was most skillfully handled by the authorities, while heedless of the deluge of harsh criticism. Shortsightedness, irresponsibility, belated and erratic management of the health crisis have all been constantly pointed out. Many observers have announced the end of happy globalization and the dictatorship of the markets, the death of Maastricht, neoliberal Europe and globalization, the death knell of financial capitalism, the ecological collapse—worse, the signal of the “convergence of disasters.” Pessimists, such as the philosopher Marcel Gauchet or the writer Michel Houellebecq, predict that “nothing will change;” on the contrary, “we will not wake up, after confinement, in a new world, [but] it will be the same, even a little worse.”
“Official” personalities, hitherto reputedly well-meaning and among the most unexpected, seized the ideas of their adversaries whom earlier they crushed under the weight of contempt. Doing a hundred-and-eighty-degree turn, they proclaimed the urgent need to reconsolidate the nations, to relocate production, to recover the autonomy and independence of the strategic State in order to meet the needs of a world become multipolar.
Others, more irreducible, the convinced “globalizers,” the self-proclaimed “progressives” (in fact neoconservatives, neoliberals and neo-social democrats lost in past reveries), wanted to see in the crisis only the demonstration of the imperious need to relaunch as quickly as possible an updated, reformed version of global “governance” and the EU “big market.” Listening to them, the maintenance of the freedom of movement of capital and people, the defense of the euro, the regularization of the “undocumented” (illegal immigrants), and above all, the precept “do not close the borders,” key dogma of liberal-libertarian ideology, remain inescapable, irrefutable requirements.
In short, everyone went about their analyses and their predictions according to their ideological reading grid. With or without a “war on the epidemic.” the metapolitical and cultural struggle knew no truce. “When the crisis is over,” some imagine, “the upper portions of the state will be held accountable!” One can always dream about intentions. Was it not said in 1940, the day after the rout, and in 1945, after the Liberation, that those responsible were to be tried? And, finally, what did we see? Nothing, or almost nothing, except politicians and soldiers who invariably passed the buck—eighty years of debate and research on the causes and responsibilities of defeat, without a semblance of consensus among historians.
It is by chance that 2020, the year of disruption and the health debacle—which will come to shed more light on the extent of the general crisis (political, economic, cultural and moral)—coincides with the triple commemoration of General Charles de Gaulle: His birth on November 22, 1890; the Appeal on June 18, 1940, and his death on November 9, 1970. De Gaulle who is, with Napoleon, in France and outside France, the most famous of the French, even more so than Saint Louis, Louis XIV, Joan of Arc,Clémenceau, Molière, Racine, Pasteur and many others.
De Gaulle who, in public opinion in France, is a giant among the dwarfs, despite his often controversial choices and his sometimes Machiavellian methods. De Gaulle, whose qualities as a statesman cannot be disputed with regard to history, despite the age-old, litany and angry recriminations of the Gaullophobes, who are ever ready to rant against “ambition, presumption, vanity, arrogance, contempt, arrogance, self-centeredness, bitterness, resentment, ingratitude, meanness, the spirit of division, despotism, etc.” And against the “Grand Constable,” “the Idiot on High,” “the Two Meters Tall,” “the Big Asparagus.” And let us not forget of course the extravagant invectives against “the follower of totalitarianism,” the “anti-nationalist fanatic American,” the “Henchman of Communism,” the “Ally of the FLN,” the “Apprentice Dictator,” the “Fascist General,” and so on and so forth.
De Gaulle, who contrasts with the mediocrity of his successors by his actions, his charisma, his energy, his voluntarism, his rectitude, his honesty and his morals without reproach. De Gaulle the statesman with integrity, incorruptibility, who distrusted luxury and money, abhorred prejudices, privileges, the influence peddlers, and made it a point of honor to pay out of his pocket the electricity bills for his private apartments at the Élysée. The General wished to observe a strict separation between his private life and his function as president. As soon as he arrived at the Élysée Palace, he had a tiny chapel installed so that he could attend mass regularly. He had asked his aide-de-camp to find him all the objects necessary for religious service and had paid for them himself. We know that his wife had even bought an ordinary table service for private meals, and that De Gaulle scrupulously paid for guests during the few family meals.
De Gaulle, finally, the great unknown, the little known, the apostle of the Third Way between liberalism and socialism, whose political thought was shamefully distorted, basely betrayed, emptied of its ideological content, reduced to a conventional attitude (the so-called “love of France” and the “refusal of the inevitable” that only serve to camouflage abandonment and renunciation in everyday life). De Gaulle, reduced to a vulgar pragmatism or even opportunism, a mixture of neoliberalism (Balladur, Sarkozy) and neo-social-democratism (Chirac, Juppé), and as such has been praised, mythologized and instrumentalized by the whole of the political class.
Let us remember these few words from the General’s War Memoirs: “Since everything always starts over, all that I have done will, sooner or later, be a source of new ardor after I have disappeared.” On the occasion of the triple Gaullian commemoration, it may be useful to mention the main facts and dates that marked the life and action of Charles de Gaulle, and to recall the great contours of his political thought. Obviously, we must avoid the double pitfall of apology and rant, hagiography and denigration, even if that is not an easy task. So, let’s try to be, if not perfectly objective, at least rigorous, honest and sincere.
From 1962 to 1969, when I was a young ordinary citizen, I saw, heard and faithfully followed the first president of the Fifth French Republic. Almost all the students of my generation—at least activists and the most politicized—hated him. For my part, I was one of his devotees, in 1968. Since then, I have of course stepped back with age. I know the successes of Gaulle. I hold him to be “the last great figure in the history of France.” But I also recognize, without reservations, his dithering and his errors. One can be an admirer of the Great Charles, and/or a supporter of historical or philosophical Gaullism, and consider that De Gaulle was right and that he was visionary (to use the suggestive title of Gérard Bardy’s book), without being “Gaullite.”
Charles de Gaulle was born in Lille, on November 22, 1890, into a family of petty nobles, or even the old French bourgeoisie, Catholic, monarchist-legitimist, which had recently joined the Republic. He was the son of Jeanne Maillot and Henri de Gaulle, a civil servant, a lawyer at the Paris Court of Appeal, a teacher of literature, history and mathematics at Stanislas High School. Charles, the third of the couple’s five children, went to primary and secondary school in Paris, at private Catholic institutions. In 1909, he was enrolled 119th at Saint Cyr Military Academy, from which he graduated 13th in his class, in 1912. The young second lieutenant was then assigned to the 33rd Infantry Regiment, commanded by Colonel Philippe Pétain. For almost twenty years, the future Marshal, who made note of him favorably and even saw him as “the best hopes for the future,” became a role model for de Gaulle.
On August 15, 1914, less than a month after the declaration of war, the young lieutenant de Gaulle was wounded in Dinant. Decorated with the Croix de Guerre in January, he was again wounded in the hand, in the Somme, in March, and promoted to the rank of captain on September 3. On March 2, 1916, he was again injured, this time in the thigh, and taken prisoner in Douaumont. Despite five escape attempts, he remained detained in Germany until the end of the war on November 11, 1918.
In July 1920, de Gaulle was assigned to the staff of General Weygand, and participated in Polish army operations on the Vistula. The purpose was to contain the Red Army which had invaded Poland. Back in France, in February of 1921, he was responsible for giving history lessons at Saint-Cyr. On April 6 of the same year, he married Yvonne Vendroux, daughter of an industrialist from Calais, with whom he had three children (Philippe, Élizabeth and little Anne, who unfortunately remained mentally handicapped all her life and died of bronchopneumonia at the age of twenty).
At the École de Guerre, which he entered in 1921, his independence of mind soon attracted the enmity of a few professors, who wrote notes criticizing him severely when he left in 1924. Marshal Pétain, also known for similar independence, trait, was Marshal Pétain took umbrage at this and made it known. His intervention probably led to the correction of these critical notes.
1924 was the year when de Gaulle, an excellent connoisseur of the German language, published his first book, The Enemy’s House Divided. He explained the last months of the war and the causes of the enemy’s defeat. Among Pétain’s staff, Colonel Laure read the young captain’s writings. He knew that good writing was hardly a common trait in the army and therefore recommended de Gaulle’s name to the Marshal, who was vice president of the Supreme War Council. Invited to work on his staff, on July 1, 1925, de Gaulle was responsible for drafting articles and speeches and even writing a book on “the Soldier” that Pétain had been pondering for some time. Satisfied with the first drafts, the Marshal only asked for a few changes. Twelve years later, the project of this book would become the reason for a rupture between the two men.
During the summer of 1926, Marshal Pétain took de Gaulle on a tour to plot fortified sites in the East. “I will,” he wrote, “go over to front with the most intelligent officer in the French army, to find out what he would have done if, before me, he had been the Kronprinz.” In April 1927, at the request of Pétain, de Gaulle gave three lectures in the large amphitheater of the École Supérieure de Guerre. In the fall, he began again his lectures at the Sorbonne, at the invitation of the Cercle Fustel de Coulanges, a satellite organization of the Action Française. Promoted to the rank of Commandant in September, he then left to take command of the 19th Chasseurs Battalion, in Trier.
From 1929 to 1931, de Gaulle was assigned to Beirut in the intelligence service (2nd and 3rd Bureaus) of the army of the Levant. From his experience, he co-wrote with Commander Yvon, Histoire des troupes du Levant (A History of the Troops in the Levant), published in 1931.
Back in France, he was appointed to the 3rd Bureau of the Secretariat of the Superior Council of National Defense. In July 1932, de Gaulle published, The Edge of the Sword, in which he compiled and completed the lectures given at the École de Guerre. In his dedication, erased in 1945, he expressed his gratitude to Pétain: “This attempt, Monsieur le Maréchal, can only be dedicated to you, because nothing shows better than your glory what the virtues of action can draw from the light of thought.” On copy number one, he added in his own hand, “a tribute to a very respectful and very deep devotion.”
In 1934, a book appeared that became famous, Vers l’armée de métier (Towards the Professional Army, but strangely translated into English as The Army of the Future), in which de Gaulle defended the creation of a professionally powerful motorized and mechanical army. At the same time, he met the former vice-president of the Council of Ministers, Paul Reynaud, member of the Democratic Alliance, a moderate right-wing party, and gradually became his adviser on defense and strategy. Lecturer at the Center for Advanced Military Studies, from 1935 to 1936, de Gaulle was subsequently assigned to the command of the 507th tank destroyer regiment of Metz and promoted to colonel in December 1937.
In September 1938, de Gaulle published La France et son armée (France and Her Army), a work in which he traced the war episodes of France. We will return to the difficult and ambiguous circumstances of this publication. On September 2, 1939, the day before England and France declared war on the Third Reich (September 3), Colonel de Gaulle was appointed acting commander of the tanks of the Fifth Army in the Lorraine-Alsace region.
On May 10, 1940, after eight months of the Phoney War (the Sitzkrieg), the real war began. In less than five days, the 19th Army Corps, Panzer Group Guderian, crossed the Meuse out of the Ardennes (May 12) and broke through the French defenses in the Sedan sector (May 14). On May 19, faced with the magnitude of the disaster, Reynaud (chairman of the board since March 22) dismissed General-in-Chief Gamelin and appointed Generalissimo Maxime Weygand (73 years of age) in his place. Simultaneously, on May 18, he recalled, from his embassy in Madrid, the old Marshal Pétain (84 years old) and brought him into the government as vice-president of the council of ministers.
On May 17, 1939, de Gaulle launched the Montcornet counteroffensive near Laon, at the head of the 4th Armored Division, the best French armored unit. Facing the rear of the 2nd Panzer, it had to fall back with heavy losses, the enemy having decimated two thirds of its tanks. On May 25, Reynaud and General Weygand appointed de Gaulle brigadier general and acting commander of the Fourth Armored Reserve Division.
On May 28, de Gaulle launched a new offensive against the Abbeville communications node. But after an appreciable advance of its tanks, the Germans regrouped. In 10 days, the Fourth Armored Division lost 40% of its force and came to know the limits of exhaustion. In Dunkirk, British and Canadian troops were evacuated between May 24 and June 4. On June 6, Reynaud entrusted de Gaulle with the portfolio of Under-Secretary of State for War. Then, Reynaud de Gaulle went to London on June 9 to meet Churchill and obtain air reinforcements.
On June 10, 1939, stabbed in the back, Italy declared war on France. In the evening of the 13th, the Council of Ministers was told about a possible transfer of the government to North Africa, but the project was rejected, as had been the idea of a withdrawal to Brittany earlier, which was deemed unrealistic at the time, and where the French army was defeated. Pétain, vice-president of the council, categorically refused any government-in-exile project. For him, to abandon French territory, to go into exile was to desert.
On June 14, de Gaulle was again charged with the difficult mission of obtaining essential reinforcements from England, but his attempts in London remained unsuccessful. When he returned to Bordeaux, where the government of Paul Reynaud had withdrawn, he was the bearer of a surprising offer from Winston Churchill, an offer that seems to have originated with Jean Monnet, the future American agent. This was the political union of Great Britain and France. Arousing suspicion in the Council of Ministers, due to France’s catastrophic situation and its imbalance vis-à-vis Great Britain, the proposal to merge the two nations into a Franco-British nation was quickly dismissed.
At the front, the debacle was in full swing. Nine million civilians were scattered on the roads. Two million prisoners had already been captured. On June 14, 1940, the Germans entered Paris, an open city. On the 15th, Paul Reynaud expressed the possibility of putting an end to hostilities. He even mentioned for the first time in the Council of Ministers the word “armistice.”
The radical socialist, César Campinchi, Minister of the Navy (who was given this position by Léon Blum and Camille Chautemps), also expressed the opinion that it was advisable to start talks quickly with the Germans, and asked if a man, who had not been involved in the pre-war political struggles, would not be more likely to make this terrible solution accepted in the country. On that day, the idea of an armistice was put forward by two parliamentarians (one from the left, Campinchi, and one from the right, who would later reverse, Reynaud). The two designated the man who could do it best, the old Marshal Pétain, now eighty-four years old!
At the exit door, Reynaud went straight to Weygand: “General, as we agreed earlier, you are going to ask for the capitulation of the army.” Weygand, in agreement with Pétain, shouted, it was out of the question: Capitulation is a military act of surrender, while the armistice is a political act which puts an end to hostilities without definitively ending the state of war. Capitulation would allow the army to be defeated; it would be infamy, for it would place the country at the mercy of the winner. The armistice, on the other hand, a political ceasefire agreement resulting from negotiations, could help to protect the interests of the defeated.
Head Of Free France
On June 16, 1940, Paul Reynaud (now in favor of the continuation of the war in North Africa but now a minority view), tendered his resignation, after having advised the President of the Republic, Albert Lebrun, to get Marshal Pétain to constitute a government. According to Lebrun, it was with the agreement of the presidents of the chambers, Édouard Herriot (Chamber of Deputies) and Jules Jeanneney (Senate), that he appeal to the Marshal, who would agree to constitute a government of national unity ranging from conservatives to socialists.
The next day, through the Spanish ambassador to Paris, José Félix de Lequerica, Pétain ordered an armistice with Germany. At dawn on June 17, the French request for an armistice reached German headquarters. The same day, at nine in the morning, de Gaulle left Bordeaux for London, in the airplane of General Spears, personal representative of Churchill in France.
Also on June 17, 1940, Marshal Pétain addressed the French on the radio: “I give France the gift of my person.” The next day, June 18, the BBC opened its studios to de Gaulle who launched a first appeal to French soldiers, which has remained famous in history, even though few French have heard it: “Whatever happens, the flame of resistance must not go out and will not go out.”
On June 23, the appointment of Charles de Gaulle to the rank of general on a temporary basis was canceled for having left France without authorization and for having carried out a political act on London radio. Demoted to the rank of colonel, de Gaulle, was automatically retired by a decree signed by the President of the Republic, Albert Lebrun. But on June 28, 1940, Churchill’s British government recognized de Gaulle as “leader of the Free French.”
For de Gaulle, the armistice was dishonorable and unacceptable. Once the army was demobilized, the fleet, the planes, the tanks, all the weapons had to be delivered intact to the Nazi adversary, who would be able to use them against the allies of France. The homeland and its government would be reduced to servitude. This was cowardice. This was forfeiture. This was a crime. Creating the French National Committee, a government body in exile, Charles de Gaulle did not hesitate to challenge the legality and legitimacy of the government of Pétain, formed at the request of the President of the Republic and confirmed on July 10 by the vote of the two chambers (the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate) gathered in Vichy.
De Gaulle, who had enjoyed an estimable military career until then, was to prove himself, as head of Free France an outstanding politician, to be the most gifted of all French politicians of the 20th century. “In times of revolutions,” writes Talleyrand, “one finds skill only in boldness, and greatness only in exaggeration.” His path was to be strewn with pitfalls and obstacles, for there are always more thistles and thorns than flowers.
But de Gaulle did win most of the political battles he waged. On July 3, 1940, without informing him, the British navy captured, in quick succession, the French fleet at harbor in Alexandria; then the marines of his Gracious Majesty seized French ships which had taken refuge in the English ports; and the English fleet, at the orders of Admiral James Somerville, sank unarmed French ships harbored at Mers el-Kébir (1300 French sailors were killed).
A year later, in June 1941, when the Anglo-Gaullist forces entered Syria and Lebanon, they encountered the army of the Vichy government. An armistice was concluded, but only between the English and Vichy, which led to a serious crisis between Churchill and de Gaulle, the leader of Free France, when the latter was confronted with a fait accompli.
In July 1940, in the early days of Free France, the supporters of de Gaulle were only a handful of men. The 50,000 French people present in England were mostly repatriated. Only 1,200, mostly young nationalists or patriots on the far right, chose to stay with him. Ever careful, the General sadly admitted years later: “Out of 39 million inhabitants, this was very little.”
But three years later, in the summer of 1943, there were between 50,000 and 70,000 (including 32,000 AOF colonials, who were not French citizens). After the American landing in North Africa in November 1942, and the subsequent joining of the Vichy African Army (generals Jean De Lattre, Alphonse Juin, Henri Giraud), the headcount increased to more than 300,000 men.
De Gaulle’s authority was finally admitted, but not without numerous open conflicts and severe friction. In London, the first form of antigaullist opposition came, on the one hand, from intellectuals and journalists from the review, France-Libre, founded by André Labarthe and Raymond Aron; and, on the other hand, from certain hosts of Radio-London (Robert Mengin). These Free French, who had the ear of the American State Department, did not stop criticizing the “Bonapartism” of the General, even “the fascist tendencies” of “the apprentice dictator,” “the child of the Action Française,” and “la Cagoule.”
For their part, the Vichyssois of North Africa, who found also themselves in the fight against Germany, after putting up a limp resistance to the American landing (November 8, 1942), and blundering with the help of the German invasion of the Free Zone (November 11, 1942), were not very convinced either. Algiers was once a veritable nest of vipers. General Maxime Weygand, a supporter of the “National Revolution” and loyal to the Marshal, embodied an attempt at “Pétainist resistance.” He tried to strengthen the French Armistice Army, more particularly that of Africa, but arrested by the Gestapo, he was placed with Daladier, Reynaud and Gamelin under house arrest in the Austrian Tyrol (Itter Castle). Admiral François Darlan, ex-successor to Pétain, went to Algiers and joined the Americans in November 1942, after much hesitation and about-turns.
After the invasion of the Free Zone, the scuttling of the French fleet in the harbor of Toulon was ordered, on November 27, 1942, by the admiralty of Vichy in agreement with the instructions of 1940 (which had been ordered by Darlan himself, justified as a foreign power trying to seize French assets). A month later, Darlan was arrested and murdered in Algiers, on the orders of the royalist resistance fighter, fiercely anti-Vichyist, Henri d’Astier de la Vigerie.
General Giraud, who had escaped from Germany with the help of members of the 2nd Vichy office, came to embody the resistance of the traditional right. One time seen by the Americans and the English as a counter to de Gaulle, Giraud was definitively excluded from the French Committee of National Liberation (CFLN) in April 1944.
Two other generals, both ex-Vichysts, Juin and De Lattre, may serve as examples, one at the head of the French expeditionary force in Italy; the other, during the landing in Provence and during the Rhine and Danube campaigns. In fact, one of the few officers rallying from the very beginning to de Gaulle was Captain Philippe Leclerc, a former sympathizer of Action Française who became general in August 1944. His division (2nd Armored Division), landed in Normandy on August 1, 1944, a month after the Allies, and participated actively, with the Americans, in the liberation of Paris and Strasbourg.
De Gaulle’s authority over Free France had been debated among the Allies for a long time as well. The double game of the English and the Americans was almost permanent throughout the war. Roosevelt never stopped riling Marshal Pétain, not ruling out the idea of relying on him to rebuild France when liberation came. He won some time, hoping to find a more docile French representative, less irreducible than de Gaulle. There were the Vichysts, who rallied after 1942 to the Allies, such as, Generals Weygand and De Lattre, then Admiral Darlan, then General Giraud.
The Americans planned to administer France liberated by the armies, and they did not give up on this idea. In this regard, de Gaulle confided to his son: “Roosevelt only cares about occupying France as he will occupy Nazi Germany. He wants to transform our country into a condominium [a territory over which several sovereign states would exercise joint sovereignty, NDLA], and Churchill is not far from advocating the same thing.” In fact, Churchill seemed to agree with him when he said: “Whenever we have to choose between Europe and the open sea, we will always choose the open sea.”
During the landing in North Africa on November 1942, de Gaulle was kept away by the Americans. In May 1943, Roosevelt and Churchill demanded de Gaulle cooperate with General Giraud. In June, Vice-Admiral Émile Muselier, a free Frenchman from the outset, joined General Giraud’s camp.
The White House secretly conspired, until the very end, against de Gaulle. His only true ally, the only important American friend, seems to have been General Dwight Eisenhower. Ever the realist, de Gaulle noted: “Until the last day of the war, we should have fought on that front too. But it must be said that in a war of alliance, each ally is actually waging his own war and not that of others.” He added, without mincing words: “The English who died while liberating France, gave their lives for Great Britain and the king. The Americans who died in liberating France, died for the United States of America and for no one else. Just as all the French who died on the battlefield, including for the independence of the United States of America, died for France and the king who personified it.”
On June 6, 1944, on the eve of the Normandy landings, de Gaulle was still kept away by the Allies. On February 4, 1945, at the Yalta conference, France was absent. It was so also at the Potsdam conference in August 1945. But on May 8, 1945, in Berlin, during the German capitulation, de Gaulle, the French representative was a signatory and not just a witness, as in May 7 in Reims. De Lattre signed, along with the three Allied generals—A.W. Tedder for the British, G. Zhukov for the Soviets, and Carl Spaatz for the Americans. De Gaulle, who had always been aware of France’s weaknesses and the size of the armed forces mobilized during the Second World War, said to Georges Pompidou in 1950: “We just bluffed.” Be that as it may, in 1945, after eight months of tough negotiations, he managed to bring France’s voice into the United Nations. Thanks to him, France became one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.
Until 1943, the resistance fighters inside France were more or less unanimous far from unanimous supporters of General de Gaulle. In 1941, resistance, especially fueled by young patriotic and nationalist idealists, was relatively marginal. Then, after the German invasion of the USSR on June 22, 1941, a first group of Communists joined the fight. Up till then, the French Communists fraternized with the occupier, in the name of the “struggle against the capitalist bourgeoisie.”
The PCF political bureau even wrote a letter to the German Kommandantur in Paris, on June 25, 1940, asking for authorization to publish the newspaper L’Humanité, in the name of the German-Soviet Pact (August 23, 1939). This did not prevent the PCF from presenting itself at the Liberation as the first resistant party in France, tirelessly promoting the myth of the 75,000 Communists shot by the Germans; while, in actuality, historians count less than 4,000.
Communist propaganda also claimed that the Secretary General of the PCF, Maurice Thorez, was the “first of the communist resisters,” when he had actually deserted on October 3, 1939 and had spent the entire duration of the war in the USSR (Pardoned by de Gaulle, in the name of realpolitik, he became minister of State with three other PCF ministers in the second provisional government of the head of Free France, from November 1945 to January 1946, then, vice-president of the council in 1947).
In reality, it was only after the invasion of the Free Zone in November 1942, and especially after the great German defeats on the Eastern Front, in 1943, that we can really speak of an anti-German and anti-Pétainist resistance. Many historians agree on this point: Pétain’s capital fault was not leaving France in November 1942. “If he had left,” said de Gaulle, “he would have returned on his white horse, winning as in 1918.” Until the end of 1942, you could be both Petainist and belong to the Resistance.
The Pétain doctrine was above all a wait-and-see attitude, which ulcerated, as happened with the Gaullists of London and the internal Resistance, and as happened with the authentic fascists, anti-Vichyssois and ultras of the collaborationists of Paris. As a stubborn old man, Pétain imagined that he would be able to allow France to rebuild its forces apart from its neutrality. He waited until the deals were made among the various belligerents, hoping to be able to reappear one day. A striking example of a Pétainist passing on Resistance, while also being anti-Gaullist was the future Minister of the Fourth Republic, and President of the Fifth Republic, François Mitterrand. In the spring of 1943, sponsored by two members of Marshal Pétain’s cabinet, Mitterrand was decorated with the Order of the Francisque, the highest distinction of the Vichy regime. But in November, he approached the ORA (Organization of Resistance of the Army which was Giraudist) and went into hiding.
At the beginning of 1943, the various Resistance organizations brought together 40,000 people, a number which soon rose to 100,000 and then to 300,000 at the time of the Liberation. Of course, as de Gaulle would say, of these 300,000 resistance fighters, “many resisted without having carried arms.” In addition, half fled the STO (Compulsory Labor Service), while 700,000 men went to work in German factories, either forced or voluntarily (like the future Secretary General of the PCF, Georges Marchais).
Against all odds, de Gaulle resisted. His tenacity, his perseverance, was ultimately crowned with success. In the difficult process of unification of the Resistance, two stages were essential: The creation of the National Council of the Resistance, on May 27, 1943, by Jean Moulin, the delegate of De Gaulle, and the creation of the French Forces of the Interior (FFI), on February 1, 1944, by his other delegate, Jacques Bingen. In Algiers, de Gaulle won over all of his competitors. On October 3, 1943, he became the only undisputed president of the French Committee for National Liberation (CFLN). A year later, on June 14, 1944, in Bayeux, he had the immense pleasure of delivering a first speech on the soil of liberated France. On August 26, de Gaulle triumphantly walked the Champs-Elysées.
On November 13, 1945, he was unanimously elected President of the provisional government by members of the Constituent Assembly. The General presided over two governments, from June 1944 to January 1946. Being a supporter of a regime with a strong executive, he soon ran up against socialists, communists and Christian Democrats who wanted nothing from the world. The old ruling caste of the Third Republic, once believed to be definitively discredited by defeat and occupation, resurfaced and once again took over the great levers of power of the state. De Gaulle, who denounced the exclusive party regime, was forced to resign on January 20, 1946.
Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.
When we look at the the later Islamic narratives of everyday life in Mecca in the days when a certain prophetic figure named Muhammad allegedly lived, for which there is no historical evidence, we would at first sight seem to be well-informed, there is a rich documentation. A closer look at these references, however, shows that they date some 150 to two centuries after the events they purport to narrate, and what they relate is often quite fantastic, in light of what we know about the ancient Arabs and the ancient Semitic world in general. An interesting case in point is the deity who is said to have been chiefly worshipped at the Meccan Kaaba in the sixth-century, namely, Hubal.
Here, as is often the case with Islamic traditions, there are many, often contradictory narrations. Al-Kalbī’s contemporary, the Baghdad judge Muḥammad b.ʿUmar b.Wāqid al-Wāqidī thought that the graven image stood in front of the entrance to the Kaaba, next to the door. The latter furthermore relates that in front of his statue seven arrows were placed for the purpose of belomancy, performed by a ṣāḥib al-qidāh (“Arrow Lord”) – possibly a biblical motif, cf. e.g. I Sam 20; Ezek 21,26 and Hab 3,11: two are said to have been employed to establish the legitimacy of a child’s descent in case of doubt, one for necromancy, one for questions concerning marriage, and three whose function could no longer be inferred by the author.
In the well-known hagiography (Sīra) of Muhammad, attributed to Ibn Hišām, it is noted that Muhammad’s grandfather ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib almost sacrificed his son ʿAbdallāh in a narrative reminiscent of the sacrifice of Isaac in Gen 22, after an oath had been taken (cf. Jephthah in Judges 11) — according to Islamic exegesis (Sura 37,106f. refers hereto), we also find an explanation as to why Muhammad was referred to as Ibn adh-dhabīḥaini, “the son of the twice sacrificed,” i.e., his father and his alleged ancestor Ishmael.
Muhammad on the other hand, who was already fatherless at birth, was brought to the Kaaba by his grandfather for a paternity test by means of arrows, according to the Riwaya of Yūnus ibn Bukayr of the 9th-century; according to aṭ-Ṭabarī in the 10th century, the infant was brought to the idol Hubal in the Kaaba (fa-adkha-ahu ʿala Hubal fi jawfi l-Kaʿba), while the idol is not mentioned by Ibn Hišhām (fa-dakhala bihi l-Kaʿba). Either the latter interpolated his source (Ibn Isḥaq’s), or Hubal was introduced into the tradition secondarily.
By all accounts, the latter possibility would seem to be more likely, especially since later Islamic traditions tend to provide more, albeit quite peculiar and downright odd information.
In yet other traditions, we learn that Hubal cohabited with (the idols of) 360 other deities, apparently one for every day of the then current solar year (the current Islamic lunar calendar was only introduced later). This is somewhat surprising, since usually only one deity, a duad or, on occasion, a triad inhabited one and the same shrine. Allegedly then the Kaaba collapsed when Muhammed recited Q17,82.
Other accounts make even less sense: e.g. the ‘blue-eyed’ historian of the city of Mecca, Abū l-Walīd Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Azraqī, who purportedly lived during the 7th century, claims that the standard sacrifice for Hubal was a hecatomb of camels. How this should have been done in a small building like the Kaaba or on a smallish stone (fixed in a wall) remains, as is customary in such accounts, unmentioned.
Furthermore, as is often the case with pre-Islamic Arabian deities in Islamic traditions, Hubal, is not seen as an indigenous god. So in The Book of Idols (ed. Klinke-Rosenberger, pp. 33-37 Arabic), the arrival of various idols, among these Hubal, is associated with the journey ʿAmr Ibn Luḥayys to Syria (note the similarity of this description with that of Naaman and Elisha in 2Kings 5).
According to al-Azraqī, Hubal is said to come from Hīt in Mesopotamia; Ibn Hišām on the other hand claims that he came from Moab, in the country of Balqā’. To what extent these statements can be seen as containing historical information remains uncertain, also because Islamic tradition attributes the building of the Kaaba to Abraham and must see to preserve a certain memory of his “true monotheism” from primeval times, which was then corrupted by external influences, as is the wont of foreigners.
It is striking that outside of these Islamic sources, Hubal seems to be unknown in the Hejaz. He is not even found as a theophoric element in Arabian personal names. Wellhausen (Reste arabischen Heidentums, 1897, attempted to explain this conspicuous omission by asserting that Hubal was originally seen as the given name of God, i.e. Allah – just as Yahweh is the name of the Jewish God (‘ɛlōhīm). This is not a convincing argument, merely a desperate guess conditioned by the lack of data.
However, for the time being, for the sake of argument, let us view the Islamic material as historically credible – if Hubal is to be viewed as a newly arrived divine resident foreigner, this could, to some extent, explain why he seems to have been largely unknown; also because, according to Islamic tradition, written history began only with the Koran after Mohammad’s death.
If this were actually the case, however, one would expect that this god be attested elsewhere, in his alleged homeland(s), for example, namely, Mesopotamia, Palestine or Syria. In the onomasticon attested especially in ancient North-Arabic and later Aramaic inscriptions, we find a name HBL (variants WHBL, ‘HBL), which superficially at least would seem to be concordant with the Islamic findings related in the preceding.
However, this is not a theophoric element, but rather a verb which modifies such, i.e. whb + ‘l “God’s gift” (cf. e.g. Deodatus, Nathaniel, etc.). In secondary literature, a Nabataean inscription from the Ḥegra (Madāʾin Ṣāliḥ), in contemporary northern Saudi Arabia, is often brought to bear (Corpus Inscriptionum SemiticarumII, Paris, 1889), No. 198).
Certainly corroboratory mention of this deity in a text written to the Arabic Nabataeans (who, however, customarily used an Aramaic dialect as their written language) would certainly lend Islamic tradition considerable substantiation. This inscription is a funerary text for two women, scil. Kmkm and her daughter Kljbt, dated roughly to the year 0 AD. As often the case with such inscriptions, curses are pronounced against those who may come later to desecrate the grave (lines 3-8):
“And may Dušara … his ??? … and Allat of ʿAmnad, and Manūthu, and Qaiša curse he who would sell this grave, or he who buys it, or he who taxes it or he who would give it away, or removes bodies or body parts, or buries herein another besides Kmkm or her daughter or their progeny. Whosoever acts contrary to that which is stated here, shall be cursed fivefold by Dušara, and HBLW, and Manūthu…”
As was noted, this inscription is often cited as proof for the cult of a deity known as Hubal (cf. e.g. CIS a.l. “ex antiquis Arabum diis“). Two points mitigate this proposition:
1) As remarked by Euting in CIS, the dative preposition l- is missing (“Euting dubitat an hic verus sit sensus, præpositione lante nomen deficiente; suspicatur ergo epitheton aliquod dei Dušara, sed vix probabile“). The editor’s doubts about Euting’s postulate are actually untenable nowadays, since no further unquestionable evidence for this deity has been found during the last century, during which our knowledge of the language as well as the number of known published inscriptions has grown considerably.
It is much more likely to interpret the word HBLW as a toponym, i.e. Dušara of hblw (cf. “Our Lady in/of/on/with …”) – cf. the place name hbltt in a Safaitic inscription (A. Jamme, Miscellanées d’ancient arabe VII,, 28, Fig. 6).
2) The content of this inscription can by no means be described as unique, since a large part of the corpus of the Nabataean epigraphy consists of such texts; and moreover, there are several approximately contemporaneous texts from the same place (with comparable inscriptions). SeeCIS II No. 197, 199, 205, 209, 212) that mention Dušara and/or Manûthu among others, but never Hubal. The old rule applies here: Unus testis, nullus testis.
In the preceding, we clearly see a methodological problem of Islamology. Orientalists of earlier times, the decipherers and first editors of such inscriptions, often depended on Islamic traditions to interpret these newly discovered texts. These results in turn found their way into Islamic studies – a classical circular reasoning. If this were just any any other (obscure) word, instead of hblw, nobody would think of lexicalising it as a deity.
How then is this deity Hubal, supposedly imported to Mecca, who seems to have been unknown even in his purported homeland, to be analysed? Perhaps an etymologisation of his name can help us further? Let us note briefly that among the older Semitic languages this root is only attested in Bible Hebrew, and in some later Aramaic dialects influenced (in part) by it, such as Syriac (heḇlā “Dust, Vanity”), Targumic Aramaic (“Breath, Vanity”) and the Jewish-Babylonian Aramaic of the Talmud (“Breath, Steam, Haze”) (> Arabic habalt “Fume, steam,” perhaps why in some Islamic traditions Hubal was interpreted as a rain god).
The Hebrew root HBL (cf. the dictionaries) is usually seen as an onomatopoeic term for “breath, breath” as well as “wind”, which then in Gen. 4 uses the name for Adam and Eve’s second son, the shepherd Abel (Hebrew Heḇel), as well as for “nothingness” (“Man is like a breath [la-heḇel], his days are like a shadow scurrying by! -Psalm 144:4); or “vanity” (“O vanity of vanities! [hăḇēl hăḇālīm] says the preacher; O vanity of vanities! [hăḇēl hăḇālīm] Everything is vanity! [hāḇel] -Ecclesiastes 1:2).
Often, however, especially in the Deuteronomistic polemic against (supposed) idolatry, this lexeme takes on a technical theological meaning in the sense of “idol”, “idolatry,” because now only the orthodox view of the worship of Yahweh was acceptable in their eyes, everything else was considered vain vanity. We see this use of Heḇel or plural Hăḇālīm, e.g., in Deut 32:21; 1Kings 16:13,26; 2Kings 17:15; Jeremiah 2:5 (“What did your fathers find wrong with me, that they departed from me and followed vainglory and became vain? [ha-heḇel waj-jehǝbbālū]); 8:19; 10:3,8; 14:22; Jonah 2:9(8); Psalm 31:7(6) (in the last two examples in parallelism with šāw’ “emptiness, futility”).
We also find this understanding in some renditions of the Septuagint, e.g., Deut 32:21; Jeremiah 14:22; 16:19, where the Hebrew term is translated with with “idol” (i.e. εἴδωλον, in classical Greek, originally a “phantom; figure, idea;” only in the later biblical tradition did it take on the meaning “idol”) or μάταιος (actually “futile, vain,” > “idol,” under the influence of Hebrew), e.g., in Jeremiah 2:5 (cf. also Esther 4:17p [prayer of Esther], 3Maccabees 6:11; as well as this use in the NT, especially Acts 14:15).
Here we see how a word that actually means ‘nothing at all’ comes to mean something that is not and can not be. For the sake of clarity, in this specific biblical usage, the Hebrew term Heḇel (plural Hăḇālīm) does not indicate a deity (real or imagined), but it is rather a pejorative term to declare all divine beings except Yahweh, and all representations of gods (including Yahweh) to be ‘null and void’.
From the point of view of Semitic etymology then, Hubal is not a god, but rather instead Heḇel, divine non-existence. Apparently we have landed in nothingness, having shown that Hubal is nihility (which might bemuse some Islamicists), he has literally evaporated in a biblical thunderstorm. Is it possible to bring this god back?
Theologians, in order to preserve their faith in the divine (in this case anyway) can be quite inventive. If on the one hand hebraica Veritas can be helpful in understanding Islamic tradition, then one can also use Arabic (once called the Ancilla Fidei, “servant of the faith” because she was considered to be useful in the study of the Hebrew vocabulary of the Old Testament) to interpret the Bible.
For example, the Canadian Old Testament scholar William Ewart Staples attempted to use the Hebrew term Heḇel as a theological term to denote a “cult mystery” in Canaanite nature religion. Later, his Scandinavian colleague, Hans M. Barstad went even further and claimed that the Hebrew word actually implied a Canaanite rain god (cf. e.g. Zechariah 10:1-2 “Ask the Lord for rain in the springtime; it is the Lord who sends the thunderstorms. He gives showers of rain to all people, and plants of the field to everyone. The idols speak deceitfully, diviners see visions that lie; they tell dreams (Heḇel) that are false, they give comfort in vain. Therefore the people wander like sheep oppressed for lack of a shepherd” – he rules of Hebrew grammar are willingly disregarded to inject an Islamic rain deity (see above) into this biblical verse (see Bob Becking). And thus yet another link is added to the previously mentioned circular argument.
In order though to make something out of nothing, to save what is salvageable, others have attempted to relate Hubal (the vocalisation is secondary and need not be viewed as original) to a supposed apotheosis of Abel (see, Hibil-Ziwa in the Mandaic tradition) – cf., e.g., T. Fahd, Le panthéon de l’arabie centrale à la veille de l’hégire. But this remains problematic and unconvincing (cf. Fawzi Zayadine, Journal Asiatique 257, 1969, 172) — this also applies to the proposal already suggested by Edward Pockocke in the 17th century, which is still occasionally used today, namely that Hubal is derived from Hebrew hab-baʿal, “the Baal”.
In conclusion, despite the combined efforts made hitherto by Islamologists, Old Testament scholars and Orientalists, their efforts may best be summed up by a quotation from Ecclesiastes: “But when I looked around for all my works that my hands had done, and for the trouble I had taken to do them, behold, all was vanity and a haste for wind and nothing lasting under the sun!”
This god, as his name implies, could not have existed. On the other hand, it can probably not be a coincidence that a specific Deuteronomistic term of anti-polytheistic polemics is used by a later tradition (indirectly) dependent for a similar purpose.
The fact that much of what is biblical in later Islamic tradition (note the so-called Isrāʾīlīyāt) was also adopted from Jews and Judaism is certainly not a new insight. Likewise, the Islamic polemic of Arab idolatry in the Hejaz during the so-called ǧāhilīya (“period of ignorance”) is largely ignorant itself, i.e., largely based on imaginary foundations, as the many anachronisms make clear.
One cannot escape the impression that when the Islamic historians and theologians wanted to report about the bad old days of idolatry, realising that they had no first-hand information at all (also because the formation of Islam in Mecca and Medina is historically not viable), they were dependent on those who, as is well known, possessed knowledge of times distant, namely the Jews.
Apparently, Islamic historiographers borrowed a word to indicate the vanity of idols to denote the chief idol of their holy city in an imagined past – Hubal never was. Trying to find him is like chasing after the wind!
ProfessorDr. Robert M. Kerr studied Classics and Semitics largely in Vancouver, Tübingen and Leyden. He is currently director of the Inârah Institute, for research on Early Islamic History and the Qur’an in Saarbrücken (Germany).
The image shows a pre-Islamic anthropomorphic stele.
Grégoire Canlorbe (GC): You have never hesitated to challenge the usual discourse, which liberals (libertarians, classical-liberals, anarcho-capitalists, free-marketists) have never shunned, even the most conservative among them, by claiming France to be an artificial construction, from its establishment to becoming a unifying state – it is a political work, whose foundation is no more geography than ethnicity or blood. Far from having formed differently from other European nations, France has, according to you, been built around an ethnic and territorial reality, and globally follows the same trajectory in its history. Could you elaborate on that subject?
Philippe Fabry (PF): Yes, it is indeed a common place in the commentary on the history of France to say that it was the state which made the nation; while among our neighbors it would be the nation which made the state. I cannot say if historians believe it, because it is just not the kind of questions that they ask themselves these days. But it is the kind of ready-made thinking that is prized by journalists and politicians who pride themselves on diagnosing the “French trouble.” But, in truth, that dichotomy opposing France to the rest of Europe, if not the world, is fallacious, in two respects. First, all nation-states are constituted according to a standard model (in reality two models, with France using the most frequent one; I will come back to this), where the state does not have a more determinant role than territorial and ethnic factors.
There are two models for the emergence of nation-states. The most common model, the most immediate, primary one, is that of the long-term gathering – around six centuries – of territories and people under one single state authority. The other model is the one that I would call, “secondary,” with the nation-states born by secession, during an independence revolution: That is the case of Rome vis-à-vis the Etruscans; the separated United Provinces, formerly Spanish possessions; and the United States of America. These are formed when a population, geographically and culturally too distant from the state base of a “primary” nation-state, is yet under its control for various reasons.
France belongs, like all major European states, to the first category. The model is as follows. In a populated territorial area, more or less ethnically and linguistically homogeneous, but where there is no state, either because none has ever emerged (for example, Germania of the early Middle Ages), or because it is a former imperial state that has withdrawn (such as, Gaul during Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages, or Britain after the ebb of the Danes in the 10th-century). The primitive regime is feudalism and therefore extreme political fragmentation.
In the absence of a large-scale exogenous event, generally the invasion by an imperial power, a feudal lord more powerful than the others appears over time, who is logically the one who controls the economic dynamics of the territorial area. This economic dynamic, say, a fertile agricultural region, is very easily identified by looking at a relief map: It is a large plain, the largest in the territorial area.
For example, the Paris Basin in France, the North German Plain for Germany, the Guadalquivir Plain for Spain, the London Basin for Britain. The seigniorial power which relies on this economic dynamic has a decisive advantage in resources and can extend over all the space that is naturally peripheral to it; that is to say, both culturally close, and belonging to a geographically well-defined territorial area: The whole of Gaul for the Paris Basin, including the Breton peninsula; the Massif Central and the smaller plains of Aquitaine and Languedoc; the entire island of Britain for the London Basin, winning over Cornwall, and hilly Wales and Scotland; all of southern Germany for the northern plain, including mountainous Bavaria.
Of course, these centers of power do not stop at sharp boundaries, which for centuries have engendered conflicts over the exact boundaries of the areas of influence. Such conflict zones are generally distinguished by a hybrid character, allowing them to be associated with several groups. Thus, from an ethnic point of view, Britain may be linked to France by way of England, language linked Alsace to Germany, while the largest geographic area of the Paris Basin made it lean towards France, and so on. It is rare that a border so clearly separates two territorial areas that it is never challenged; but we can say that this was the case of the Pyrenees between France and Spain – thus, Roussillon, close to Catalan culture, did not become French until the 18th-century.
In effect, dominant seigniorial power then builds the state, first by going beyond the feudal system and creating an assembly, representative of the orders: Urban bourgeoisie, nobility, clergy, to which the peasantry is added in the Nordic countries. Such assembly allows the dominant seigniorial power to give itself a higher stature than that of the rest of the nobility and to embody the first national representation.
This new paradigm leads to the construction of an administration, which exercises regalian functions, more and more uniformly throughout the controlled territory. The population gathered under said authority gradually becomes a political community, becomes culturally uniform, and develops a national feeling. And it is when this national feeling is sufficiently present, and when some event occurs – say, a lost war which discredits the regime, that is, the “administrative monarchy” – then, what I call a movement of national revolution comes about, which is the final stage in the constitution of a nation-state, thus making the nation the true holder of sovereignty, and therefore of the power of the state, through a parliamentary regime. That revolutionary movement lasts about forty years and goes through various systematic stages: Collapse of the regime, radicalization of the revolutionary phenomenon, military dictatorship, partial restoration of the old regime, and final parliamentary change.
So it is always the state which makes the nation; but at the same time the nation which arouses the state. The geographic expansion of the state is constrained by cultural, demographic, linguistic and obviously purely geographic factors, but its emergence and consolidation are themselves the product of an ethno-geographic reality. It is a kind of feedback loop, and it is rare that a state absolutely corresponds to its natural ethnico-geographical zone: The competition of large states creates disputed zones, which are often resolved, either through an arbitrary delimitation, or through fragmentation and the appearance of multi-ethnic, multicultural, plurilingual buffer states like Belgium or Switzerland – which may end up developing their own identity, certainly, but one more accidental.
This determinism is not absolute and leaves the possibility of several combinations; but it is clear that it is the most “obvious” one which generally triumphs. Thus, in France, two nations could have been born, because there are two basins: The Parisian and the Aquitanian. For a long time, Bordeaux was the capital of that Aquitaine Basin, and Aquitaine dominated the country of Oc; while the country of Oïl depended more naturally on Paris.
The distinction between the two countries could have endured, since each had a certain linguistic and cultural unity: The language of Oc against the language of Oïl, a country of written law against a country of customary law. But first the Parisian Basin is much larger than the Bordeaux Basin, and second the “natural” territorial area was rather on the scale of the whole of the former territory of Gaul, whose settlement base had largely remained the same as during antiquity (the Great Migrations did not constitute a real demographic break). The Paris Basin therefore succeeded in its calling to dominate the whole, which has created France.
Another example. Germany saw the development of two centers capable of unifying the German nation: Austria and Prussia. Prussia controlled the plain of North Germany, and Austria dominated the plain of Pannonia (Hungary). That resulted in a division of the Germanic space between the two centers until the Great War, and ultimately the impossibility of keeping them lastingly unified after the failure of the Third Reich – even though the Germany of the seven electors, appointed by the Golden Bull of 1356, covered all of those German-speaking territories.
I think political debate would gain a lot, if these invariants of the state and national construction are better known, because they say a lot about what can or cannot be a nation-state, and about the deleterious effects that, for example, a constituted mass immigration can have on a nation-state.
And as for liberals (libertarians, from classical-liberals to anarcho-capitalists), there is a remark that I like to make to them, and that they generally take badly, and it is this – that if the nation-state is built in such a systematic way, it is because it is the most efficient product on the public security market, so that if we were to recreate an anarchic society, in the long term, it would be towards the re-emergence of nation-states that the political and social order would tend.
GC: While Greco-Roman paganism (on that point, in phase with Judaism) breaks away from the veneration of Mother Nature (the pre-Indo-European gynecocratic spirit), the biblical conception of time as linear (and of cosmic and human history as endowed with a beginning, an end, and a progression) contrasts with the pagan motif of the eternal return of the same. You assert both your Catholic heritage and your cyclical conception of history. How is that duality reconciled within your intellectual life?
PF: It always seemed natural to me, faced with that kind of conceptual opposition, to think that the truth was more likely to be a mixture of the two. Cyclicity and linearity are not necessarily contradictory, if we consider that there are several scales to consider, several temporalities. And it seems obvious to me that the story is both cyclical and linear, which is not only proper to human history, but also to natural history.
Take the evolution of species: It is linear; there is no turning back. But it is based on a cyclical phenomenon, which is the life of living individuals: Their conception, their birth, their maturation, their reproduction, their death. It is through that recurrence that nature, through mutations, which are then selected naturally, makes species evolve.
The same goes for humanity: It is subject to certain recurrences; but those recurrences end up drawing a linear pattern and a general progression – in the demographic mass of the species, the size of its political communities, its scientific and technical power, its artistic sophistication. Its destiny is linear; but its embodiment is recursive – which led me to suggest, and my work always leads me further in that direction, that human history can be modeled in the mathematical form of a cellular automaton, which is also a tool for modeling the appearance and development of life.
And I must also note that this double cyclical and linear conception places me in a situation which is a sort of mise en abîme: I thus notice, within the framework of the parallel that I draw between the history of modern Europe and that of ancient Greece, that the study of history itself goes through three great stages, more and more intellectually sophisticated.
First, there are the chroniclers, who are interested in events and great characters and who produce fairly simple narratives. That is the case of the Greeks before Herodotus, with the poems of Homer, in particular, and medieval chroniclers like Einhard or Gregory of Tours.
Second, there are the historians more curious about fundamental movements, like Thucydides or Voltaire, who analyze the economic and social foundations of history.
And, third, there are those who seek in history the recurrences, the laws, like Polybius (with his theory of anacyclosis), or Plutarch (with his Parallel Lives) in antiquity; and in modern times, Marx, Spengler, Braudel, Toynbee. It is in that last vein that my work falls; and I find it amusing, working on historical cyclicity, to note that those works themselves obey that cyclicity, that I am the logical product of my time. Feeling oneself to be the product of a certain determinism, when one studies precisely the role of determinism, is both very stimulating and the cause of a certain perplexity.
And it also makes you humble, which is precisely one of the fundamental values of the Christian faith. And since the cyclicity of life is not incompatible with that faith, the Church having besides recognized that evolution is “more than a theory;” there is no reason to think that it must be different for the evolution of human societies. On the contrary, it reinforces the idea of the cosmic order, which, assuredly, is a concept as much prized by the ancient Greeks in their cyclical vision as by Christians in their linear vision.
GC: Applying the historionomic approach to the dynamism of political ideas, you present the Right and the Left, not as categories of an alternative, which dates back to the French Revolution, but as a pair of opposites, which crosses all societies and all ages. In that context, you make your own that distinction by historian Fabrice Bouthillon between two forms of centrism: Centrism through the addition of extremes on the chessboard of opinion, versus centrism through the exclusion of those extremes. What does historionomy, armed with such a framework, teach us?
PF: My work on this divide, which I am, in fact, taking up and systematizing into a book, allows me to deepen certain questions dealt with in The Structure of History, which was mainly devoted to the research of the underlying laws of history, likely to explain in particular the models of the nation-state’s construction of which I spoke earlier.
One of the most interesting observations about those models is that not only is the same pattern observable in all major countries, but it takes place over an almost identical duration and at a similar rate – that is to say that within that overall duration, the major phases also always have a similar duration. So, it has something to do with the passing of generations and the circulation of ideas. However, it is precisely this aspect that the study of the issue of the divide provides some clarification: The ideas slide from Left to Right because these two camps bring together the population respectively favorable to change or conservation of an established order.
Since the established order slowly evolves, after a generation the one that the conservatives of the previous generation defended has largely disappeared, while the progressives of the previous generation have become for the most part conservative because the order now established is the one they wanted. The former conservatives are now becoming reactionary, that is to say supporters of the old order, and we are seeing new, more extreme ideas of change appear on the far Left, in the revolutionary fringe.
But reactionaries and revolutionaries have this in common – they are anti-conformists, that is to say, they consider the established order as illegitimate, while the conservatives and the progressives, that is to say the Right and the moderate Left, are conformists, and consider the established order as legitimate.
Most of the time, it is the Right-Left divide which governs political life: Conservatives join forces with reactionaries, and progressives with revolutionaries, to obtain majorities and govern. But in times of crises, there is often a conformist/anti-conformist tension, where those most moderate among the two sides join forces to defend the system in place, while those extreme among both sides find themselves together in the opposition to that order.
There are multiple examples of this: The banking crisis of the 1880s, but also the French referendum on the European Constitution in 2005, or the crisis of the Yellow Vests, for whom the power in place very quickly spoke of “red-browns.” One can also cite the Lega and Five Stars Movementcoalition in Italy, which temporarily succeeded in seizing power from moderates, without ever really being able to get along in the exercise of power, since the two groups had opposite views on numerous topics.
Usually, centrism through the addition of extremes only succeeds in taking power, if a charismatic or skillful figure embodies it and is able to arbitrate between the two sides. That is the case with many great dictators in recent history: Napoleon, Stalin, Hitler. Often, moreover, the analysis of their policy reveals numerous about-faces and a certain ideological flexibility, without which they would not be able to maintain themselves.
Such an analytical grid allows, in particular, to better understand the way things happen during revolutionary periods, which quickly see the two divides alternate – but also to apprehend political developments over time, to understand by example that royalty in France was “on the Left” roughly until Henry IV, and was conservative during the last two centuries of its existence. It makes it possible to understand that there is in reality a great historical continuity, that the French Revolution did not at all make a Right-Left divide suddenly “appear,” which would not have existed before. And it also makes it possible to better model, as I said, the construction of the nation-state, since it is through such circulation of ideas, the effects on society, of the reforms it initiates that the political integration of the nation is brought about.
Indeed, the national construction largely consists of the progressive extension of the political body to the whole of the population. First, the political body of feudal society is composed only of the barons. Then it integrates the bourgeoisie of cities, then the peasantry, then the religious minorities (Protestants, Jews), then the workers, then the women – and today the immigrants. And, at all times, the main objective of the Left bloc is to integrate into the political body the class which is the most powerful among those who are still excluded from it. It is often said, too quickly, that the Left is the camp of equality.
This is both true and false. It is true because, indeed, the heart of the discourse on the Left is always to want to grant equality to a category of population which is excluded from the game. But it is also false, because at the moment, only the ambition of one category counts and the others only serve as foils – yesterday, women only served as foils for the workers’ movement; today sexual minorities, transgenders, and so on, alone serve as foils for the only truly powerful minority, that of non-European immigrants. And that is why the far Left never says a word about the persecution of sexual minorities by those very populations.
As long as the “priority” category is not integrated into the political body, the claims of other minorities are heard only if they are compatible with its own. And once that category is effectively integrated, it in turn becomes conservative and opposes extending rights to the next. To use a famous phrase, “the last to enter closes the door.” And the next must force it open, in turn.
But in nation-states which categorically refuse immigration, for example, that phenomenon cannot continue, since there is no new class of population to integrate. That is the case, I think, with Japan, which is a country very hostile to any immigration and that, in fact, has practically had no far Left for fifty years, because there is no longer anyone to integrate into the political body.
In Europe, on the contrary, we have been for fifty years bringing to light a new class of the excluded – by importing it: This is the non-European, African and/or Muslim immigration. As such, it will become, and is already in the process of doing so, the class whose claims will be hegemonic on the Left. In the next twenty years, we will probably have an Indigenist/Islamist party which will win 20% of the vote. And the order in place should progressively integrate a certain number of values and realize a certain number of demands of those populations, as one did for working-class populations throughout the 20th-century, by establishing not exactly what they demanded at the beginning of the century, communism, but a compromise with the old order, which is our current order: Social democracy.
GC: Presenting Rome and America as twin civilizations, separated by an ocean of centuries, you foresee for the latter a trajectory similar to the fate of the first. Could you elaborate what justifies the establishment of such a comparison – instead of a parallel, for example, between multi-ethnic America and the fragmented Hellenistic empire of Alexander the Great? As concerns the equivalent of Carthage among the enemies of America, do you rather think of Russia, Turkey, or China to play that role?
PF: The comparison between America and Ptolemaic Egypt is actually made by David Cosandey, in his remarkable book,Le Secret de l’Occident (The Secret of the West), where he develops fundamental concepts that I am currently taking up in ongoing works, as they provide practically turnkey explanations that I only groped at before reading this book.
These are the concepts of articulated thalassography, that is to say, the relationship between a geographical area and the length of its coasts – the lower it is, the more the coasts are important compared to the geographical surface, the more that area will be favorable to the development of an intense maritime trade. And, on the other hand, the concept of mereuporia, which designates the stable and lasting political division, which is indirectly linked to the thalassography articulated in the sense that an area with very long coasts often goes hand-in-hand with a multitude of peninsulas and a quite jagged coastline, which form many natural borders and thus favor the emergence of national isolates.
Cosandey thus explains, by geography, the parallel that I have detailed elsewhere between ancient Greece and modern Europe. In the context of the contemporary world, one notices that it is the place with the most articulated thalassography, which has favored, more than elsewhere, both the emergence of nation-states (among the Greeks, city-states) thanks to borders relatively stable over time (as per the model that I outlined above), and on the other hand, a strong development of trade between those bordered communities. And that all of Asia, while devastated for long periods by Mongol invasions that considerably hampered the political development of this region, also had less access to maritime trade and its decisive advantages in terms of transport costs.
As well, one notes that the Mongol invasions of Europe, then the Turkish ones, stopped precisely at the border of Europe with a jagged geography, that is to say, between Vienna and the Carpathians – beyond, are the great plains, open to the four winds, the steppes, where it is very difficult to establish sustainable borders.
Yet Cosandey, who already mentioned the parallel between ancient Greece and modern Europe, noted that after the domination of both, power had passed to larger entities, and on that occasion compares the Seleucid Empire, Eastern and Continental, with Russia, and the Egypt of the Ptolemies with the United States of America. But if the parallel holds for the change of scale, the analogy does not hold in my opinion.
Indeed, what brings the United States of America and Rome together, besides the role of a maritime power dominating the known world, is the internal political order and its history. These are two nations born of an independence revolution: In Rome, it was the Latins who hunted Etruscan kings (even Greco-Etruscans, since one of the ancestors of the kings of Rome was Demaratus, a nobleman from Corinth who immigrated to Italy), while the United States broke away from the British crown due to distance, and the length of time since the first waves of immigration, as well as the mix with populations of Dutch origin, who did not feel much attachment to English kings.
The nations which are the product of an independentist revolution always have a legal-political system that emphasizes the political community and the rights of the citizen; and this is particularly marked in Rome, as in the United States which, once independent, quickly set up a political system whose main concern was the control of power, the rejection of the monarchy, and the guarantee of the rights of the people. In both cases this produced a constitutional system that tended to be more rough-hewn than a highly intellectualized system, but one that was extremely solid and durable.
And it was this political system which allowed progressive growth over a large area, through federation – the Roman domination over Italy was of such a nature – and the development of an imperial republican culture, which is of something other than the search for power of a dynasty. Rome, like the United States, was a liberal [libertarian] superpower, which could go to war when it encountered resistance, but after victory sought a lasting and profitable organization – for example, during the liberation of Greece from the Macedonian occupation. And above all, Rome also exported a model of society, which was precisely that of its law, of municipal organization, all things likely to seduce the elites, even the middle classes of the allied or defeated countries – and which one also finds in the American mode of domination.
All these things, the product of the internal political evolution in Rome, as in the United States, did not exist in the Hellenistic kingdoms, which resembled rather the autocracy of the Tsars of Russia until the beginning of the 20th-century. And besides, in fact, the good ancient parallel for Russia is Macedonia, that state on the borders of Greece, not really Greek but not really barbaric either, which established its domination over a large number of Greek cities after they had bled themselves in internal conflicts, in particular the Peloponnesian War, and whose government was despotic, unlike the Greek cities in which the oligarcho-democratic model had spread widely.
The multiethnic aspect, in Rome as in the United States, is a late phenomenon, the consequence of the constitution of a world empire which then drains a population coming from the four corners of the world, and which brings about a cosmopolitan evolution of the imperial core. That has little to do, conversely, with the Hellenistic kingdoms which, in fact, were actually Greek colonies, where the elites descended from the Greek and Macedonian invaders, and spoke Greek, but where the background of the population was indigenous: Persian, Egyptian, and so on.
As for Carthage, everything depends exactly on the role attributed to it. There is not necessarily an exact parallel. One might be tempted to see Russia there, in its Soviet and then current form. But, as I said, Russia corresponds much more literally to Macedonia. Certainly, Macedonia was Carthage’s ally against Rome during the Second Punic War, and Rome definitively got rid of those two enemies in two simultaneous wars in 146 BC, but Russia never exactly had the same role as Carthage, which was rather the western enemy of Rome, the one which it faced far away from the ancient world, the world that counted, the Hellenistic world – the one which it seized control of, before turning to the most important half of that world, so to speak.
On that level, it is rather at the American wars in the Pacific that we must look, and in particular those against Japan, and against which the war was intense but brief. Since then, the enemy has been China, which is the only real threat to the American domination of the Pacific, and has been so since the defeat of Japan: China and America have clashed directly in Korea. So, for the geopolitical role of Carthage, perhaps, one should rather speak of Japan and China. But perhaps one should add above all that the Spanish-American War of 1898, which allowed the United States to get hold of Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines, and which constitutes an important stage insofar as this is the first time that the United States undertook imperialist behavior, annexing territories overseas.
As for Turkey, no parallel is possible with Carthage. But, depending on how it might develop in the coming years, it could find a role similar to that of the Parthian Empire, that power in the inland, in the heart of the Eurasian island world, which was an enduring source of skirmishes for the Imperial Republic. In particular, I think that this could be the case following a collapse of Russia, which would allow Turkey to extend its hegemony over the whole of the Turkish world, up to Xinjiang, by way of all the former Soviet republics with names ending in “-stan.”
It is also a classic scheme: Prussia achieved the unity of Germany only after the diminishing of France, which had, since Richelieu, worked for the fragmentation of the Holy Empire and for French hegemony in those regions. Russia brought about the unity of the Slavic world only after the collapse of the German and Austrian empires. Thus, Turkey will not be able to bring about the unity of the Turkish world as long as the essential part of the latter is under Russian influence. A sort of pan-Turkish empire would make for a precise repetition of the Parthian Empire. And that is probably what will happen, if there is a military confrontation with Russia, because Turkey would be on the side of the victors, alongside NATO, and in the same position as Stalin in 1945.
GC: A common apprehension is that the Trump era is only a parenthesis in the sinking of contemporary America; and that with the return of Democrats, deemed inevitable in the decade to come, the march towards socialism and the geopolitical abdication will only resume in an amplified manner. You are rather confident as regards the fate of America in the 21st-century, projecting the evolution of its regime towards an authoritarian Right – and the instrumentalization of the United Nations for the purpose of establishing an American world state. Could you tell us more?
PF: In reality, my opinion is rather that America is indeed moving towards socialism, but that the latter will not be accompanied by a geopolitical abdication, quite the contrary. The first thing I see looming internally is a new American Civil War. Over the course of the year, I had been invited to the monthly luncheon of a major Parisian review, on the occasion of the release of my book, Rome, From Libertarianism to Socialism. At one point the director of the review had gone around the table asking each guest (there were about thirty of us, economists, journalists, a European deputy) to talk a bit about what seemed to him most interesting in the news. Most of my counterparts mentioned Ukraine, since we were at the start of tensions with Russia after the Maidan affair.
I was the only one to tackle a story that seemed, I think, anecdotal to most of my guests since, we quickly passed over it, without comment. This was the case of the Bundy ranch, in the United States. It was an armed rebellion around the legal dispute opposing a local farmer, Cliven Bundy, to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) over land on which he was forbidden to graze his cattle, while he claimed he had been grazing his herds there for generations. The BLM had then tried to capture the cattle while they were grazing on the disputed ground, and, faced with the opposition of local militias rallied by Bundy, who were over-armed, as can only happen in American campaigns, they brought in federal troops, equally equipped, to fight Bundy and the militias.
My opinion at the time was that this matter was significant of what would eventually happen to the whole of Middle America when the gap between it and coastal, urban America only widened further. When I observed the hysterical reactions to the election of Donald Trump, and today when I see armed militias enter the Capitol of Michigan to protest against the confinement due to the coronavirus, I think my intuition has not deceived me.
The fact is that the United States is made up of one part that is the rural, continental America and which represents three-quarters of the mand-mass, and another part that is coastal (the Eastern and Western coastal strips). The first generally votes Republican; the second generally votes Democrat. The first has slow population growth and is generally poorer, and remains essentially white, little penetrated by immigration. The coastal states are more dynamic, and where immigration is also massing.
The gap between the two Americas has been widening for fifty years, while it hardly existed during the middle of the 20th-century. It seems less and less possible to reconcile those two mentalities politically. And this gap risks ending up causing a rupture of the American constitution. Let us remember that the election of the President of the United States, through the system of the greater voters, is a territorial as much as a demographic election: The vote by state balances the result in favor of the sparsely populated states, which mainly constitute white, rural and continental America.
In the election of Donald Trump, the “popular” vote, that is to say in number of votes, was won fairly widely by Hillary Clinton, with an advance of some three million votes. It is an argument that has been repeated many times by those who said – and still say – of Trump as, “Not my President.” Those in favor of Trump, or even simply objective, nuance that position by recalling that the voting system induces a different campaign strategy, and that if the election had been through a direct suffrage, Donald Trump would undoubtedly have led a different campaign, in which case he might have won the popular vote. So that we cannot “invalidate,” even in theory, the election of Trump, according to a democratic principle.
However, that discussion still says a lot about the growing fragility of the system, because it is in the political demagogic logic to focus on the simple mass, and the rapid demographic growth of coastal states, in particular through foreign immigration, mainly from Latin America, will increasingly benefit the Democrat camp in the number of votes.
But if Trump is re-elected and still does not win the popular vote, and in ten years, let us say after a Democratic alternation, a new elected Republican wins the presidency by lacking five, or ten million votes in the country, will that advance be concentrated in three or four very densely populated democratic states? One might think, of course, that there will be a risk of secession from those states.
But I do not think it would be the most likely scenario. Because the reality is that all the high places of power in the United States are in states that vote mainly Democrat. Rather than secession, the debate will therefore focus on the abrogation of the electoral college and the election of the President of the United States by direct universal suffrage, which also goes in the direction of the growing integration of the USA, by the magnification of the federal state, in the sense of a unitary state – which is a classic mode of development of a federation.
Of course, the political system will never result in a situation in which only the Democrats win and the Republicans never win an election again. Such a situation cannot exist for more than a few elections, for the ever-losing side adapts and adopts a line which brings the chances of success back to 50/50. It is the functioning of the political market. But this will also mean that the Republican Party should strongly converge on Democrat positions, and abandon a large part of the population of rural whites who love arms and the freedom to ignore the federal state.
I think that is where the political tipping point in the United States will be, perhaps with a hundred, a thousand insurrections like Bundy’s, and probably more violent, which will serve to justify the ban on weapons. The direct election of the President of the United States will make the presidential election a plebiscite election, which will go in the direction of an imperial mutation. And that will probably go hand in hand with socialist development, the appearance of universal income in one form or another, and so on.
As for the international situation, my idea is indeed that the United States has been working, since the beginning of the 20th-century to build a world state, something that the British Empire, for example, had never done, for the latter always perceived itself as a nation among others, elevated in strategic rivalry within the European game, and saw its world empire as a necessary strategic depth, while confining itself in Europe to maintaining a balance.
But the United States has a vision of itself very close to that of Rome: It sees itself as the free nation, which should not depend on anyone. They first tried to do that by being isolated – which was the meaning of the Monroe doctrine – and after a century, having noticed that they could not just cut themselves off from the world, they realized that the only way to be free was to be the world’s master, the universal suzerain. The United States, like Rome, does not accept equals. European countries have been accustomed, by a thousand years of history, to negotiate peer to peer, to make peace, to accept compromises. Americans at war are only looking for total victory – this was also the case with Rome.
This is part of the psychological paraphernalia of such nations. And in order to install their suzerainty, they end up developing institutions at the center of which are they, and which allow them to regulate the actions of other nations, including in peacetime. And the main institution they have set up for all this is the United Nations, which in fact has the role that representative assemblies have had in the building of nation-states – they serve, everywhere, to give superior legitimacy to the most powerful of feudal lords, and to go beyond that feudal order.
The UN, de facto, transforms the nation-states into subjects, and the United States, which has its seat, into the “Prince of the Nations.” The Security Council resembles all of those councils of the Greats who continued to assemble around the monarch in the early days of the monarchy, before absolutism. The great feudal lords can make their voices heard, but deep down, the institution serves the prestige of the prince.
As for the assembly, it serves to bring to the power of the prince an additional legitimacy for certain actions, mainly actions of authority against powerful recalcitrant lords. When we speak of the reaction of the “international community,” it is exactly that – it is about explaining that the action of the prince is in the common interest and for the ends of justice, and that it is not simply a coup de force of the strongest.
But we must be careful, here. I am not saying that the United States behaves like a bully. If the monarchy was chosen in preference to the feudal system everywhere, it is because most people found an advantage in it – pacification of relations, end of private wars (that is, interstate wars. This provided increased security and general enrichment, at first. But, in a second step, it also means centralization, uniformization. The multicultural model, the idea of a village-world, is both the cause and the effect of the progressive construction of a world state, which is only the repetition, on another scale, of the same process as the national scale. And the United States behaves vis-à-vis the United Nations as kings did vis-à-vis the Estates General – if the assembly supports the king, it is very good and that strengthens it; but if it opposes him, he reserves the right to override it, since it is he who holds true sovereignty.
But for the time being, there remain large powerful lords still capable of defying the king, such as the Montmorency or the Guise in France at the end of the 16th-century. Such are China and Russia. Their weakening is logically the last step before the imperial transformation of the American government – which is already underway, when one sees the increase in the use of American laws extraterritorially to exert pressures on foreign companies and governments. That makes you irrepressibly think of how kings used their power of justice as the first instrument to impose their power on all of their provinces. Sometimes, the judiciary power was even enough to bring down great rivals of the King of France – such was the case of Charles III of Bourbon.
GC: A contemporary line of research consists in exploring the genetic foundations of the cycle of ascension and decline of civilizations, envisioned as biocultural systems (within which genes and the acquired culture permanently interact). Here, the ascent allegedly coincides with the exercise of selection pressures (from the social or natural environment) which increase “general intelligence” or lengthen “life history.” The decline looms as the dysgenic trends linked to the attenuation of the aforesaid selection pressures erodes the “biological capital.” Does such an approach shed clear and satisfactory light on the structure of the necessary events (as opposed to the contingent and random aspect of history)?
PF: That is a question that I have only known about for a few years, and I admit that I did not have time to study that subject in detail. Until about five years ago, I was ignorant of all the literature and research on that question of genetics, intelligence, modification of average intelligence, etc. Those are things that are very much ignored in France, almost clandestine. If I have learned a lot about those subjects in recent years, it is because I have had the chance to meet a friend who is well trained in this field, who knows the bibliography and the state of knowledge well. It quite quickly became evident to me, indeed, that those factors must have a very important role in the cyclical nature of history, and the mechanisms already described previously for the constitution of nation-states – that to certain stages of economic, social and political development also probably correspond the fluctuations of average intelligence.
For example, it is quite striking to note that the scientific peak in a country always occurs at the same time as its movement of national revolution. With England, it is in the second half of the 17th-century, at the time of Newton. With France, it is at the end of the 18th-century, with Lavoisier, Sadi Carnot, Condorcet. With Germany, at the start of the 20th-century, with Planck, Einstein, Haber. Of course, this does not exclude, in each of those countries, that there are also some big names before and after – but at that time they are clearly above the rest; they are the heart of the great scientific revolutions of their time.
At first glance, I therefore think that biocultural evolution, the feedback loop between social and economic construction and the genetic selection of individuals, must indeed have a considerable place in the deterministic part of history. But before I can better measure whether it is preponderant and that I may better explain what are its driving forces, I will have to take the time to really study the literature on that subject, which I have not yet been able to do.
GC: Among the great tales that have structured European (and, by extension, Western) thought, there is the Hebrew perspective, according to which humanity is walking towards an era of peace and love, in which the people of Israel, not content with having put an end to their dispersion by gathering together on the soil of the Holy Land, will see their law and their god to be recognized among all the nations of the world.
We also should mention New Testament thought, where the final day of cosmic and human history will be that of the Last Judgment, during which Jesus, back in the earthly world, will judge all the deceased, resurrected on that occasion, and also the traditionalist thought that humanity has known since ancient times, of a “caste regression, ” of sacred leaders losing power to the warrior nobility; the nobility to merchants and serfs – which then ushers in its spiritual and moral degeneration, a degeneration whose final act is our egalitarian and utilitarian world (pending the start of the next cycle of degeneration).
With the hindsight that provides an overview of universal history, what do you think of those three narratives?
PF: Indeed, the traditionalist vision is seen, precisely, as a cyclical component, since, in fact, it is a movement that has already been accomplished several times: The ancients knew it; then the castes made their great return in the Middle Ages, and the regression of the castes started again, eventually resulting in social democracy. It is probable that after the fall of the American Empire, we will again enter a kind of Middle Ages, starting with the first stage.
As for the Jewish and Christian monotheistic narratives, it is difficult to adjudicate, since they have a linear vision in the very long term and are irrefutable: As long as there are human beings and thus history continues, one can always understand that there will be a coming/return of the Messiah. It is therefore a thought which is by nature outside of science.
On the other hand, what I can say as a historian is that monotheisms have a tendency to wear out, to get tired, in about a millennium and a half. They are very conquering in their first centuries, and bring about a kind of universal empire, which gradually falls apart. Then there is a millennialist revival, and finally religion falters and shrivels up.
One saw it with Judaism, with the kingdom of David and Solomon, its division, the dispersion of the Jews, the great impulse of conversion in the Roman Empire and of fanaticism going as far as terrorism (the Zealots), the messianist uprisings, and finally the advent of rabbinic Judaism, turned in on the community, and no longer proselytic.
Likewise, with Christianity from Constantine on – the Christian Empire, its disintegration, the advent of the Reformation, and associated with a lot of fanatical outbursts, like Savonarola, the Hussites, the Anabaptists of Munster, and then a slow numbness in Europe.
The same thing is happening to Islam, which is currently in its millennialist phase: Salafism is Muslim Protestantism. One wrongly speaks of “Islamoconservatism;” even while Salafism extols the step backwards, it is in the same mode as Luther and Calvin in the 16th-century. It is not conservatism, on the contrary. And so, I think that within a century or two, Islam will have become as harmless as Judaism and Christianity. But suddenly, there will be a void to fill and one will probably see something else appear.
GC: Insisting both on the internationalist doctrine of Islamic terrorist organizations and on the anti-capitalist nature of their discourse, you see contemporary militant Islam as the equivalent – within the Arab-Islamic world – of the Marxist-Leninist ideology. Should the nationalist and revolutionary Iran of the mullahs be envisaged as the equivalent of Stalinist Russia, which vilified “cosmopolitanism?” Regarding Xi Jinping’s China, engaged in a standoff with Uighur and Kazakh Muslims, does its opening to a semi-planned capitalist model lie within the same structural pattern as the “new economic policy” of Lenin?
PF: Yes, Iran can be seen like that, but I do not believe in its ability to be effectively for the Muslim world what Stalin’s USSR was for the communist world, because the fact that Iran is Shiite is a real hindrance to the penetration of Iranian power into the Arab world, which is Sunni. The Iranians tried to overcome that obstacle by making hatred of Israel the heart of their international propaganda, but it did not work very well.
I see Erdogan’s Turkey much more capable of assuming the role of the Islamist USSR. Erdogan enormously plays the card of pan-Islamism, even more so than that of pan-Turkism, and with a fluency all the greater than Ottoman history, which seems to give a form of legitimacy to Turkish ambitions. It has, in addition, very superior means: Turkish GDP is 50% higher than that of Iran; Turkey is better integrated in international trade; and the Turkish armed forces are much better equipped. Iran has likely reached the limits of its influence by somehow bringing together all of the Shiites under its control in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen. It collides with a glass ceiling and is maintained only by way of Russian and Chinese support. And Iran’s regime is starting to age, more than forty years after its establishment, while Erdogan’s Islamism is, I think, more dynamic.
Regarding China, it has only a few Muslims in its Eastern markets, and the problem for it is thus less acute. One can effectively compare the ideological concessions made from Deng Xiaoping to the NEP of Lenin, but I must say that, in general and except for fanatic exceptions like the Khmer Rouge, I am very reluctant when it comes to the determining aspect of ideology in the history of communism. I think that Marxism-Leninism had only very briefly a decisive role, and that the rest of the time it was mainly a rationalization for much deeper political evolutions. For example, I think that there was a real communist will in Russia, precisely and only before the NEP. I think that the mass collectivization resumed under the leadership of Stalin in the late 1920s because he needed to accumulate capital to create an industry, but above all an army, in order to conquer Europe.
That was the underlying determinism that guided his action, since Stalin was a revolutionary nationalist leader like Napoleon and Hitler. He was not overwhelmingly driven by communism, rather by the Russian expansionist drive, like French Jacobinism and German National Socialism. In China, Mao’s communism is the form taken by the Chinese equivalent of the Meiji imperial restoration in Japan – a very strong collective reaction to Western penetration, a nationalist will to rebuild and regain lost status. Structurally, is the Chinese Communist Party regime very far from the imperial regime and the administration of the Mandarins? I do not think so. In the end, the real change between the imperial regime before 1911 and that established under Mao, is that the earlier Mandarins were mainly Manchu, while the Chinese are mainly Hans, and that today the Chinese elites are mainly Han.
That is one of my main concerns throughout my works. I think that, for a century, we have given a causal role, which is also highly decisive, to ideologies, whereas they often only and ultimately embody much more primitive impulses. I should clarify. I do not believe, like Marxists, that the displayed motives are always untrue or hypocritical and that history is materialistic, and that the real causes of historical movements are economic. No, there are real fundamental reasons which are purely psychological, and nationalism is one of them; it is a real collective impulse. But when we see that Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin did pretty much the same things and pursued the same goals, even though their overt ideologies were very different, we must methodically deduce that those ideologies had no determining role and only served as window-dressing to the real underlying motive, which is similar in all cases.
GC: Let us allow ourselves a bit of alternative history after historionomy. It is well known that 8th-century Europe almost fell under the yoke of the Umayyad Caliphate, and that Christianity then owed its triumph over the Islamic invader by way of various military victories, including the battle of Poitiers which stayed famous for Christian Europe.
A more overlooked fact is that the Hellenized Judaism of the time of Jesus had constituted itself as a universal religion, which was turned towards a peaceful and philosophical proselytism, notwithstanding the Zealot revolts, intended to precipitate the universal reign of peace and of the mosaic law by liberating Judea. And that Christianity and Judaism during the first centuries of the common era would be veritably in competition for the conquest of Pagan minds, most of the inhabitants of the empire (in default to actually converting) were “judaizing,” in that they were assimilating Jewish practices such as Shabbat. From the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem to the abolition of the Jewish Patriarchate of Palestine, through the conversion of Constantine, Judaism would obviously be marginalized and discredited for the benefit of its own offspring.
Had it not been for the victory of Christianity under the Roman Empire. or the backflow of Islam in the 8th-century, would the fate of Europe have been significantly different today?
PF: Very precisely historionomy allows for the sorting of the possible and impossible alternative history scenarios; and I can therefore tell you the following things. First, Judaism could not compete with Christianity, for reasons that I have already mentioned on the fatigue of monotheisms. In the middle of the Second Century, Judaism had greatly exceeded the populations of the Roman Empire, by the excesses of its Zealots who nourished the same dreams as today the partisans of the Islamic State dream; and its rabbinical reform was not made to make it a religion very easy to disseminate – whereas, to the contrary, Christianity, from the Council of Jerusalem, had evacuated a whole lot of Mosaic prohibitions, in particular on circumcision and food, which made the Christian faith much easier to diffuse.
Concerning the Islamic threat, I am not convinced that Europe was really threatened with conquest – past the Pyrenees, the Umayyads were immediately stopped in Toulouse in 721; and the expeditions which led the Muslims to Tours were not conquest operations, but rather raids. Furthermore, if Islam relatively easily progressed to the Pyrenees, it is because Spain and part of the Maghreb were of Arian faith, much more compatible with the idea of a further revelation of Muhammad than was the Orthodox Christianity which prevailed in the land under Frankish domination. Let us recall that it was under the impetus of Charlemagne that the Filioque would be integrated into the creed. And, as well, this was already a century after the first impulse of Muslim conquest; and it is rare that serial conquests spread without petering out over more than a century.
The Mongol conquests extended between 1206 and 1279, the date when they reached their most distant Western point with penetration into the plains of Hungary. The essential part of the Ottoman conquests was made between 1430 and 1530. Even the entire empire of Rome outside Italy was conquered in one century and a half. So, even if the Umayyads had taken Toulouse or even Tours, it is unlikely that they would have managed to go further; and not long after their arrival they would have first needed to confront Frankish reconquest efforts, since the heart of Frankish power was in Austrasia, between Metz, Tournai and Cologne.
It is hard to believe that those who built Charlemagne’s empire in our understanding would not have been able to shake up Arab-Berbers enemies of Christ. And even if that had not been the case, it is the Vikings whom those Muslim invaders would have had to suffer under. In summary, progress beyond Aquitaine would have been very difficult, and installation in Aquitaine itself would have been complicated. So, I can accept a range of possibilities that went as far as taking Aquitaine, but not beyond that. Even less so since, when the Muslims were arrested in Aquitaine, the Reconquista had already started in Asturias.
But for the exercise, let us assume that by a remarkable accident the Muslims arrived in Saxony, seized all of Italy and converted all of Western Europe to Islam, all the way to Scotland. What would have happened?
Some events of relative magnitude would not have taken place – the Crusades against the Muslim world, in particular. But the crusades against the pagan world in the East would no doubt have taken place, and with even more vigor, under the banner of Islam.
The fact remains that Europe would have always benefited from its geographic advantages – the articulated thalassography, a geography favoring the emergence of states with stable borders. When the Muslim Empire disintegrated into a multitude of political entities during the 9th-century, this would also have been the case in Europe, as it was the case with the disintegration of the Carolingian Empire. No caliph would have succeeded in imposing his authority on Europe, given the distance of the Abbasids; and especially when one bears in mind the stormy relations between the Papacy and the Empire. It is even likely that Europe would have given itself a competing caliph.
The construction of European nation-states would therefore have been primed, as in our own time, with simply a practice of Islam – and still probably it would have been an altered practice, because it is difficult to conceive the prohibition of pork in countries where that meat has been part of the staple food since earliest antiquity. So, no, the fate of Europe would likely not have been very different. The Muslim world, if extended to Europe, would still have known a divide between the world to the north of the Pyrenees dominated by the German mentality since the Great Invasions, and the Mediterranean world – for we must not be mistaken, if Islam did not succeed in going North of the Pyrenees it is also because it was then entering another geographical, cultural, mental area, and those differences would not have been erased by religious conversion.
GC: Thank you for your time. Would you like to add a thing or two?
PF: We did not have time to talk about it, but Phoenicia was an aborted Greece, precisely because it did not benefit from a well-articulated thalassography and solid natural borders and was easily absorbed by Assyria. It is enough to look at a map of the colonization of the ancient Mediterranean to see that there was exactly the same movement of migration (Greek or Phoenician) on both sides. It is worth remembering that Phoenician culture was not less complex than Greek culture. But the Greeks benefited from being a very mountainous peninsula difficult to reach by the Persians for centuries, and therefore they were not absorbed.
The image shows the wheel of fortune (rota fortunae), from a leaf of Josephus’s Judaean War, Book VII, ca. 13th-century.
One cannot reduce Spain’s contribution in the 18th-century to just fiction or the literature of ideas. The real intellectual ferment that characterized this era across the Pyrenees affected all areas in which the human spirit is illustrated, from poetry to fine arts, through music, science and architecture. Multiplying examples and names in all these disciplines would not, however, be of great help in understanding the general orientations of the Spanish Enlightenment, as well as the challenges of the period. This is why we will content ourselves with succinctly developing some fundamental aspects of this century.
The historiography of this Iberian nation generally divides the members of the Ilustración into four successive generations:
The critical generation, notably represented by Father Benito Jerónimo Feijoo (1676—1764), who analyzed the causes of the “decadence” of the country and proposed solutions to reform it, especially in educational matters;
The erudite generation, which sought to inventory the Spanish cultural heritage and laid the foundations for its conservation and study, while renewing the national historiography, as with the works of Gregorio Mayans (1699-1781) and Father Enrique Flórez (1702—1773);
The neo-classical generation, which tried to incorporate French influence even more into Spanish thought and arts, but also noted its failure, with the French Revolution and the Napoleonic invasion of Spain (1808-1814), like Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos (1744-1811).
New Structures Of Thought
Ilustrada literature could not be conceived outside of places of sociability that nourished debate and creativity of artists. These places could be purely intellectual, like articles in the press, or very concrete, such as, academies, tertulias (places of meeting and discussion), saraos (dinners followed by animated conversations), parties, balls, invitations or even courtesy visits.
The eventual development of the publishing world, still very much oriented towards religious subjects, could not hide the growing circles of debate, such as, the Academy of Good Taste, created in 1749 in Madrid; the Auberge of Saint-Sebastian, in the capital; the Basque Economic Society, founded in 1764 in Vergara; the Royal Society of Madrid, opened in 1775; the Academy of Human Letters, established in 1793 in Seville; plus various associations in more or less important cities like Cadiz, Ciudad Rodrigo, Osuna, Vera de Bidasoa, Valladolid, Zaragoza, Chinchón, Valencia, Tarragona, etc. These clubs, inspired by salons that could be seen flourishing in France, England or in German areas, and especially attracting local and national elites (nobility, clergy, big bourgeoisie).
The eighteenth century was, in Spain, the century of academies, sponsored by the monarchy; in the forefront of which was the Royal Academy of Language (1713). It was followed by the creation of the Royal Academy of History (1738), the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Saint-Ferdinand (1744), and the Royal Academy of Jurisprudence and Legislation (1763). Such organizations carried out the important task of rationally recording knowledge in dictionaries, such as, the Diccionario de autoridades of 1739, the Tratado de ortografía of 1742, the Gramática of 1771, the Diccionario manual of 1780, the Diccionario histórico-crítico universal de España in 1736, or the Diccionario de los literatos in 1751.
Some educational institutions, which existed on the fringes of the official university, seemed very open to new trends from the rest of Europe. This was particularly the case for pilot schools, the first chambers of commerce (Juntas de Comercio) and several private colleges. All these establishments were seconded in their efforts, not by a bourgeoisie which was still struggling to emerge in Spain, but by ecclesiastics, military officers, progressive aristocrats, or even officials of the monarchy.
Benito Jerónimo Feijoo, Spiritual Father Of The Spanish Enlightenment
He prefigured—by his simple and direct style, his spiritual preoccupations, his polemical tone, his will to educate, and his passion for science and ideas from the rest of Europe—polemists like Juan Pablo Forner (1756-1797), or fabulists like Félix María Samaniego (1745-1801) and Tomás de Iriarte (1750-1791).
Deeply anti-Aristotelian and opposed to scholasticism, Benito Jerónimo Feijoo became known in September 1726, when he began to sell copies of the first volume of his Teatro crítico universal. It was a collection of speeches aimed at combating the scientific, religious and ideological errors of the time. Between 1742 and 1760, he freed himself definitively from Baroque forms, whose survival was still attested at the beginning of the century, and published the Cartas eruditas y curiosas. In this work, he drew upon a wide range of European philosophers and scientists (Francis Bacon, Pierre Gassendi, Isaac Newton, etc.) and advocated the use of the analytical method, as opposed to syllogistics still in vogue at universities.
Defender of reason, but also of spontaneity in writing, rhetoric and artistic criticism (he introduced concepts like “je ne sais quoi” and “taste” in Spain), he also demonstrated his great scholarship. He graced his speeches with quotations and references to other thinkers on the continent, such as Pierre Bayle.
The Controversy Of The Theater, Testimony To The Tensions Of The Ilustración
A great theater nation since the end of the Middle Ages, Spain had a tradition in this area very different from that of classical French dramaturgy and which one could compare to Shakespearean theater. It is to Lope de Vega (1562—1635) that we owe the establishment of special rules in his Arte nuevo de hacer comedias en este tiempo. Characterized by the absence of unity of place, time and intrigue, the theater of the Lopesca school (whose disciples were Guillén de Castro,Juan Ruiz de Alarcón, and Luis Vélez de Guevara) was founded on the mixture of comedy and tragedy, and advocated a great freedom specific to the Baroque aesthetic. It was these precepts that dominated until the end of the Golden Age, especially among giants like Tirso de Molina (1579—1648) and Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600—1681).
With the change of dynasty and the new influences from France, the Spanish authorities sought to impose a radical metamorphosis of dramaturgy, in particular by promoting neoclassicism. This “official art”, which was difficult to promote because of public tastes and political and religious censorship, led to a controversy over the “xenomania” of national leaders and their rejection of tradition.
The passion of the Spanish (and in particular of the people of Madrid) for the theater and live performance led to numerous disputes among authors, actors, genres and poetics. In this context, the neoclassical comedy of Leandro Fernández de Moratín is the only one that posterity has truly retained, notably with The Maidens’ Consent (1806). The general public, for its part, preferred popular forms: magical comedies (which take place in a magical universe full of special effects), musical theater (especially with the emerging zarzuelas and tonadillas) and the theater of pathos (sentimental melodrama) whose intrigue often revolves around a marriage blocked and thwarted.
The success of sainetes (little one-act plays, often taken down, whose name is at the origin of the Frenchsaynète play) and entremeses (comic one-act theatrical plays, generally performed during the intermission) testified to the extent of the controversy among supporters of French aesthetics and advocates of the nation’s genius. Both sainetes and entremeses were indeed genres that grew out of the Golden Age which allowed playwrights, like Ramón de la Cruz (1731—1794), to satirize the neoclassical deemed pedantic.
We therefore see the emergence, behind these apparently literary discussions, of ideological oppositions, whose content was fully revealed at the time of the French Revolution.
Explorers and Scientists: Pioneers Of Progress In Spain And America
This controversy about science was indicative of Spain’s inferiority complex, whose work in the technological field is still little known abroad. In fact, Iberian science was not outdone by its comparable European counterparts. Such was the case during the Golden Age, with a figure like Jerónimo de Ayanz (1553—1613), to whom we owe the first steam engine in history.
In the 18th-century, Spain participated in the race for science in Europe, for example, providing discoverers like Juan José and Fausto Delhuyar (who isolated tungsten), and Andrés Manuel del Río (who discovered vanadium). In the wake of the many learned societies formed all over Spain, scientists from across the Pyrenees sought to advance human knowledge.
The country was right at the forefront in this regard because of its colonial possessions in America and Asia-Pacific. This is why Iberian researchers were explorers and navigators, who theorized their empirical discoveries. Such was the case, for example, of one Jorge Juan (1713—1773), the reformer of the Spanish naval system, whose main contribution was to have measured the length of the terrestrial meridian and to have proved that the Earth was slightly flattened at the poles. He thus continued the long Spanish tradition of understanding the fundamental terrestrial mechanisms and mapping that can be observed from the end of the Middle Ages.
In the long list of explorer-scientists of the time, we can mention the case of Félix de Azara (1742—1821), soldier, engineer, cartographer, anthropologist and naturalist. He was intellectually responsible for very fruitful expeditions to the interior regions of Latin America, which were still poorly understood at the time. Cooperation with other countries, notably France, was regular in this context.
Such expeditions were a great way to study the flora and fauna of the New World, especially under royal patronage. In 1777, Charles III entrusted a five-year mission to Hipólito Ruiz (1754-1816), who identified and described with precision three thousand plants, and produced around a thousand drawings of these plants. Most of this unpublished work is now kept at the Museum of Natural Sciences and the Royal Botanical Garden in Madrid.
The figure of Ruiz is however somewhat overshadowed by that of one of his contemporaries, José Celestino Mutis (1732—1808). The celebrity of the latter is such beyond the Pyrenees that an engraving depicting him adorned the two thousand pesetas banknote, in final issue of Spanish currency before the adoption of the euro, in 1992. It was at the request of Archbishop Antonio Caballero y Góngora, the viceroy of New Granada (which brought together the current countries of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and Guyana), that Mutis surrounded himself with scholars from the Iberian Peninsula or America (Antonio Zea, Sinforoso Mutis, Francisco de Caldas, Jorge Tadeo Lozano, Salvador Rizo). This was the fruit of their labor: 7,000 color drawings and 4,000 descriptive plates of the Latin American flora preserved by the Royal Botanical Garden of Madrid.
At that time, however, it was the Royal Philanthropic Vaccine Expedition (1803-1806), led by Francisco Javier Balmis (1753-1819), that had the greatest impact. Following the work of the Englishman Edward Jenner, inventor of the smallpox vaccine, the Spanish monarchy promoted what is often considered the greatest humanitarian mission of all time. Most of Hispanic America is now immune to this endemic disease, thanks to the action and advice of Balmis and his second, José Salvany.
By Way Of Conclusion – A Rich Civilization Essential To Understanding The World
The murderous words of Nicolas Masson de Morvilliers, which we reproduced at the beginning of this investigation, take on a completely different meaning at the end of our study—which cannot be exhaustive. We can see how these words were the fruit of ignorance, prejudice and bad faith of an era, but also of a form of Hispanophobia which spread throughout the Western world, from the Renaissance down to our own times.
Spain has been an integral part of the progress of the human mind since its existence as a nation. Even in times of extreme difficulty and isolation on the international scene, as during the Franco dictatorship (1939—1975), this Iberian nation has never ceased to contribute to the improvement of knowledge of humanity and to the promotion of the arts and literature.
The rapid overview of the Ilustración (this Spanish variation of the Enlightenment) that I have just presented will show, I hope, that our Spanish friends were at the origin of a double civilization (both in Europe and in America), rich and essential to understanding the universe around us.
At the turn of the nineteenth-century, political thought underwent a revolution of its own. The purpose of this being not only to make sense of the obscenities that had so recently occurred in France and the colonies, but also to plan accordingly for the new order of the day.
The guise of the new order may result from intentional, consciously construed machinations, otherwise, it manifests spontaneously and by default. Imperial rule was probably most fit for antique societies one-tenth, or even one-twentieth the population size of contemporary Europe, who had a firm establishment of hierarchy and values, the basis of which was mainly religious.
But from the death of Christ to 1820, population estimates suggest a leap from 34 to 224 million in Europe’s population, while between 1820 and today that number has more than tripled; “hierarchy” and consequently “privileged society” are today met with disgust, and any position which seeks to reintroduce them is perceived as a regression to the archaic.
Following the revolutions of the late eighteenth-century, we needed to contextualize the extreme disorder present in western society, and in so doing, our best thinkers were required promptly to answer what type of order is fit and necessary for our day—given that monarchy and empire were increasingly held to be outdated orders of “yesterday.”
Said revolution in thought, though accompanied by others of differing concerns, began with François Guizot. Being, as John Stuart Mill states, the first to develop a philosophy of history, and that so soon before he would do the same, Guizot is ultimately the prime mover of this intellectual movement, to whom we must accredit all attempts to relate general histories, and this in order to approach the problem of their progression.
By the time of Guizot’s days of industry, specific histories had been written ad nauseam since as early as Herodotus, each focusing on some particular innovation or calamity, sequences of wars or natural crises. Never did we receive a synopsis of an age, a detailed iteration and interpretation of a phase in humanity’s development that was not confined to a mere decade or century.
The following essay will detail specifically the interpretations of Europe’s general history arrived at by both Guizot and Mill. Their methods of historical analysis are quite different: Guizot presented his ideas through spoken presentation, Mill in essay format; Guizot took greater care to enumerate a plethora of specific historical facts, while Mill took the liberty of using a select few historical facts to substantiate his thorough, thoughtful critiques, typically of western principles.
The two converge on the need for human progress, not its necessity. We will see, on the one hand, that progress is conditional, and can only occur when a super-natural corrective and clear system of values are present in a culture; on the other, we see that the human tendency to progress is perfectly natural and innate, that insofar as healthy society is contingent upon definite values, these values are a product of nature and therefore undergo their own evolution. Like Emperor Constantine, Guizot thought Christianity the prime vehicle for Europe’s civilization, only he was well aware of its vulnerability against an Enlightened age. Departure from the revealed religion seemed to Mill an accomplishment, and he considered any deterioration of culture as a result of this to be temporary, a bridge to a new height of civilization.
The discordancy between the two thinkers seems to illustrate perfectly an intellectual debate seen more and more frequently: naturalistic determinism versus the super-natural free-will, the idea of necessity versus that of right and wrong, the ingenuity of living cells versus the mercy of God. This debate, of course, is not the focus of either Mill or Guizot, but is rather revealed to the reader today who explores their conceptions of civilization.
In other words, it was not in the agenda of Guizot to assert the need for Christianity so that human progress may occur, nor was it Mill’s mission to assert that civilization is a purely biological process: however, Guizot’s partiality toward divine law, and Mill’s toward the laws of nature must be considered if we are to understand their ideas of human progress, for they suggest the personalities from which these ideas emerged, and are thus precursors to the ideas themselves.
Guizot’s Portrayal Of Post-Rome European History
The first and most indispensable similarity between Guizot and Mill, their philosophies of history, is the use of the word civilization. To them, it is verb, not noun—it is a coming together of once disparate and opposed phenomena: civilization, to them, is an active principle of social unification, and of man’s increasing faculties.
Mill’s criterion for civilization leans much more strongly toward unity, whether he call it “combination” or “cooperation,” at the expense of the high-mindedness of humanity, though he relinquishes culture not without due depression. Guizot, though he, too, emphasizes the essentiality of mass cohesion in the idea of civilization, rather gives the Providential unfolding of man’s “godlike qualities” a central position in his thought. In this regard, but not only in this regard, Guizot is more aristocratic than Mill, who never tires of denouncing the coteries.
In his General History of Civilization in Modern Europe, Guizot takes on the overtly complicated task of detailing the history of roughly 1,300 years over the course of fourteen lectures. In so doing, more or less insuperably, he ventures to illustrate his general thesis about civilization that is provided at the outset: “It seems to me that the first idea comprised in the word civilization… is the notion of progress, of development. It calls up within us the notion of a people advancing, of a people in a course of improvement and amelioration.”
With this, Guizot may chronicle the sequence of Modern Europe, painting, as it were, precisely this image for the listener. Modern Europe of course means Post-Ancient-Greece and Post-Roman-Empire, after Athens had flown with Icarus too near the sun, and Rome in its unguarded perplexity had been conquered by Germanic barbarians. The individualism of the Goths was for a time contra humanitas, rude and uncreative, egoistic and dimly subject to rules. How sorrowful this condition, in contrast to the melodic combination evidenced in the Greeks’ Apollonian-Dionysian aesthetics, followed by their incisive dialecticians and evocative orators.
Paying mind to this, we wonder how it is that personality climbed so high in the Grecian climate centuries before Rome’s decline, and yet stooped so low to propel the Medieval epoch? Does not this transition (i.e. decadence) prove civilization to be at least partially a process of regression? Guizot, however, makes the claim that this barbarity was the kernel, the hideous and uncertain precursor to Modern Europe, to which we are indebted for the characteristic that makes it worthwhile and great.
It was the stubbornness of the Germans, their unwillingness to succumb to any one ruling system, that brought variety to Western Civilization. The Roman nobility and the Christian Church nurtured the virtue of submissiveness in the citizenry prior to this stage, and while remnants of Romish rule remained, it is here alongside an altogether new virtue in its infancy, namely independence:
“Still, notwithstanding this alloy of brutal and stupid selfishness, there is, if we look more profoundly into the matter, something of a noble and moral character, in this taste for independence… It is the pleasure of feeling oneself a man; the sentiment of personality; of human spontaneity in its unrestricted development: “It was the rude barbarians of Germany who introduced this sentiment of personal independence, this love of individual liberty, into European civilization; it was unknown among the Romans, it was unknown in the Christian Church, it was unknown in nearly all the civilizations of antiquity.”
By this, Guizot means strictly “political,” or relational liberty. One was no longer bound to any absolute dominion, and thus Europe broke off from theocratic and municipal monism into a political pluralism, free of any singular ruling power. All was broken up, divided, though the people were not altogether unconscious; the verbal civilization process could, and in fact did prevail in this state of confused barbarism. United in spirituality, guided by their one and only God, the barbarians coalesced, the once opposed men were reconciled and christened by a common order.
The libertine and the autocratic, the gentle and the severe, seem to have shared the common need for religious communion. The assimilation and development of European Civilization, therefore, is to be regarded as the accomplishment of the Christian Church after the fall of Rome, if only she required time to gain her own independence without the Empire. This blending of religious conformity and temperamental diversity, the one affording stability and the other novelty, has, as Guizot would have it, given us a Europe that Providentially reaches for “eternal truth… [which] moves in the way God has prescribed.”
So it was, that as the various temporal powers attained to sovereignty—the boorish stagnancy of feudalism, the depraved misapplication of Christianity in worldly totalitarianism, the various monarchies throughout the Medieval period—Christian feeling meanwhile eventuated the development of western man’s consciousness, growing more refined across time, compensating for the tragic descent into unconsciousness which finalized Ancient Europe.
To understand Guizot’s use of the term civilization, one must be familiar with Providence, as he uses these words more or less interchangeably. Rather than impose a violent Grecian fate onto civilization, rendering Europe a victim of its own ἁμαρτία(hamartia), blinded by its own hand for ignoring the oracle, Guizot, being a Christian, infuses fate with compassion and intent, with the freedom to alter the future for better or worse; accordingly, God in his mercy gives fullness of life to man if he will but use his gift of freedom for faith and baptism, all while delimiting those ungodly uses of freedom indicated in the Bible. In other words, our unfolding is not set in stone, there is no predestined ruin of man: so long as a people has a sincere love for God in its heart, the Almighty will draw the minds and spirits of His children closer to Heaven.
With this deistic precedent, Guizot has about as firm a conception of the civilizational process as can be posited: As an integral component of Western Civilization, Christianity brings mankind, over the course of time, to ever higher states of culture, “nearer to God,” so to speak. The atonement achievable by aid of Christianity alone can ameliorate our eschatology (i.e. to what end civilization is directed, hellish or heavenly).
Mill’s Civilization Of Reason And Necessity
The God and the freedom of civilization are rather nonexistent in Mill’s adaption. The process seems to Mill much more fated, automatic, inevitable, deterministic. Nonetheless, Mill is a progressivist; he sees the improvement and progression of mankind as self-evident, even as necessary (and this is a crucial point on which he and Guizot are radically opposed). Guizot would probably say that civilization never had to develop towards unity and perfection, but that either man in his freedom could have diverted from the will of God, or aligned with it as has generally been done, which is evidenced by civilization’s continuation and upward progression.
Mill, on the other hand, abides by a naturalistic interpretation of human development: human nature generated Christianity to the effect of self-moralization, and once moralized, humanity began to transcend the Christian doctrine, owing to its increase in “intelligence” and “information.”
Over the years, more materials became available to man from which knowledge and wisdom could be extracted, all while “discussion” gained a prominence that former stages of civilization either forbade or were otherwise unequipped for.
In this view, a revealed religion is ultimately a testament to the ingenuity of Nature, which will cause mankind to delude itself if delusion is requisite for the first stages of progress; as for the following stages, it becomes a sign of regression, and therefore anti-natural to cling to the ideals of generations past, who were not as knowledgable or civilized as we.
Mill himself, as can be safely expected of the Père du Libéralisme, is at bottom irreligious, and in brief moments expressly anti-Christian. His presumption consists in the general supremacy of the Good over the Evil in man—in secular terms, the better over the worse—and this he attributes to the ratio de homo sapiens.
Not as spirit does man ascend to new heights of culture, but as a strange and somehow wise animal, predisposed to greater communication and conduct because Nature’s intelligence recognizes a sort of necessity in so doing.
Adhering to the voice of Nature, Mill makes it his mission to raise man’s intelligence, that all may supersede the desires and impulses through conscious self-regulation: “There is not one of the passions which by a well-regulated education may not be converted into an auxiliary of the moral principle; there is not one of the passions which may not be as fully and much more permanently gratified, by a course of virtuous conduct than by vice.”
If Mill were forced to regard anything as super-natural, a corrective to the coercive forces of nature, it would be education. Without it, he recognizes man’s innate, animalistic and immoral tendency toward disorder; but that ratio has a presence at all, is enough for him to conclude that, through the ages, man is prone to overcome his destructive dynamism in favor of common civility, to become more reasonable through education because nature gave us reason enough to progress, and to refuse education would be unreasonable.
It should be noted that Mill does not consider the most intelligent to be, for that reason, the most moral; only that those who are morally educated, no matter their intellectual fortitude, are better suited for Benthamitic actions of the “greatest good for the greatest number.”
Though Mill was confident in man’s capacity for reason, there are to be found in his essays numerous slights against upperclassmen for their cowardice, intellectual laziness, and unreason in the use of authority. To Mill, reason equalizes men, but it can also cause the lower-class to usurp the upper-class: this is what he refers to as the “transition stage” of civilization.
The “natural stage,” rather, is when those generally fittest to rule do so, while in the transition stage, the ruled by and large feel themselves better equipped to rule than those who do. A confusion in the morality and hierarchical order of a people occurs until a nouveau normal is established, whereby the unfit are divorced from ruling power and the new fittest are given that power.
That Mill devised these stages of history points to the necessity embedded in his idea of civilization, something we do not find in Guizot.
A Point of Agreement: The Dawn Of Public Opinion
Guizot never enters thoroughly into the subject of education throughout his lecture series. He may mention it in passing, but his focus is shifted primarily toward Europe’s growing diversity, the coexistence of diverse perspectives without the bloodshed that primitives would treat alien sentiments with. One issue, however, where Mill and Guizot plainly converge, is the arrival of mass society in Modernity, and the consequent sovereignty of a new despot, invisible and all-encompassing: public opinion, or opinion publique.
“It must have been observed by all that there exists a power which no law can comprise or suppress, and which, in times of need, goes even further than institutions. Call it the spirit of the age, public intelligence, opinion, or what you will, you cannot doubt its existence. In France, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, this public opinion was more powerful than at any other epoch; and, though it was deprived of the legal means of acting upon the government, yet it acted indirectly, by the force of ideas common to the governing and the governed, by the absolute necessity under which the governing found themselves of attending to the opinions of the governed.”
Here is Mill’s description: “The triumph of democracy, or, in other words, of the government of public opinion, does not depend upon the opinion of any individual or set of individuals that it ought to triumph, but upon the natural laws of the progress of wealth, upon the diffusion of reading, and the increase of the facilities of human intercourse… He must be a poor politician who does not know, that whatever is the growing power in society will force its way into the government, by means fair or foul… Nor, if the institutions which impede the progress of democracy could be by any miracle preserved, could even they do more than render that progress a little slower. Were the Constitution of Great Britain to remain henceforth unaltered, we are not less under the dominion, becoming every day more irresistible, of public opinion.”
Note that the excerpt from Mill has by no means been cherrypicked. Indeed, he uses the phrase “public opinion” exhaustively and always under the same connotation of irresistibility (a characterization used by both Guizot and Tocqueville). This should be borne in mind as we continue to analyze the likeness of the two authors’ notions of civilization.
Mill, of course, sees the dawn of public opinion, the rule of the demos, as in accordance with the “natural laws of progress,” and so, rather than fight an unbeatable beast, treats it with the care of a passing illness—taming, as it were, the immature, uncanny and unruly democracy of his day. Though he thought it grotesque, we find no indication that he believed popular rule to be temporary; he knew it to be an unprecedented reality, and should it be a lasting one as well, he wished it to be minimally ignorant. T
o ennoble democracy, he sought to awaken the age to its transitional existence (i.e. to its turbulent, temporary condition that must eventually make way for a new order and normalcy). Always, J.S. Mill is after the general education of the people, not unlike the education given him by James Mill, in order that the demos might better combine and desist from tyranny. Opinion publique et sa force irresistible seemed only to be gaining prominence; contrary to Tocqueville, for Mill, we can only infer that public opinion marks the hideous beginning of a new order, a seed that will not flourish without the sun and water of education.
Guizot, on the other hand, sees in the demos a perversity that men from former ages would look upon with disgust—for this, we shall see, he considered a religious solution the only able remedy. He says this shortly after the French Revolution, during lecture fourteen. Nevertheless, he sees superciliousness in popular authority, a disrespect for laws and institutions that individuals or tribes could never sustain, for which smaller social uproars would soon be extinguished, but that sizable populaces can, by their sheer number, act upon with greater ease and success.
An increasing population, brought by the correspondence between developing free cities and human reproduction, gave peoples from approximately the seventeenth-century onward a sensation of collective power, culminating in 1789, when the French citizenry could not be dissuaded from its conquest of the Absolutes.
Bridging the Perspectives: From Guizot’s History to the Age of Public Opinion
To synthesize what has been said hitherto, let us contrast the beginning and endpoints of this Modern process of civilization. In the beginning, the Germanic individualism was invoked to show not merely its crudity, but what Guizot rightly claimed to be the origin of what may be Modern Europe’s greatest virtue: the promotion of individuality.
This was the state of Europe, and particularly Rome after the fall of the Empire in 476. Following the decline of imperial and monarchical rule, various systems were implemented, each district severally trying its own governmental configuration: one district might be municipal, another democratic, others theocratic, and so on.
No one system had yet proved itself ultimus, peoples were dispersed into their own distinct sectors, comprising a collection of independent nations rather than a grand, unitary Europe. This came at the close of the Medieval epoch with the rise of free cities, industry, and commerce. Here we see the blending and unification of the people, densely packed as one collective body, no longer fragmented such as they were in the pre-Modern period.
This amalgamation of the people, as thinking men ponder timorously, marks a revolution in human existence itself: the Germanic individualism is annihilated, the voices of the few become inaudible over that of the crowd. Individuality had crossed its summit, the godlike artfulness of, say, the Renaissance painters, impressive as it was, gave way to excessive conformity, group activity and mass production.
The craftsman now appears senseless and wasteful, for, through combination and cooperation with people and technology, more products can be generated at a far faster rate. The industry of the individual is now only secondarily in question (if it is even in question). It is his participation in group industry that dictates his worth.
Whether masses can excel, as individuals sometimes do, remains to be seen. Following the birth of mass society, infantile barbarism of the populace might appear in nationalism, though really it could unite under anything at all that has seized common feeling. Always it subdues the one and the few, in a tremendous way shaping the character even of personal thought, and certainly of interpersonal communication. Both authors notice the uprise of public opinion, and anybody today who seeks to understand the “spirit of the age” cannot dispense with their insight.
Collective identity, the widespread combination of individuals, and the popular rule contingent upon these are the latest developments in the process of civilization. Nobody knows whether a people can anymore achieve the grandeur of the gods, as the Athenians had done so long ago; there, men had the will and climate to create against the highest creations; nowadays, there is little creation worthy of mention and the voice of the western individual has been muzzled.
Guizot says nothing of the growing insignificance of the individual, whereas Mill details this only too acutely. For example: “The most remarkable of those consequences of advancing civilization, which the state of the world is now forcing upon the attention of thinking minds, is this: that power passes more and more from individuals, and small knots of individuals, to masses: that the importance of the masses becomes constantly greater, that of individuals less.”
Nor does he attempt to prognosticate the ensuing ebbs and flows of civilization. Where Guizot ends is precisely where Mill begins; Guizot gives to us a retrospective image of a societal metamorphosis, leaving off at the French Revolution. Making known the heroism of a misunderstood King Louis XIV, who was an international success and a template for how to fortify a nation, he speaks about the paradoxical, perplexing spirit of the Revolution: the victory in its yearning for the free intellect, the tragic ἁμαρτία (hamartia) of its “boldness.” He had neither the time nor the gall to foretell any coming developments. Mill, on the other hand, had all of the leisure and temerity necessary to generate a comprehensive philosophy of history, supportable with reference to the past and easily imposable onto the future.
More On Mass Society And The Authors’ Perspectives
Mill’s essay entitled, “Civilization” (1836) shows us the amalgamating elements in this blossoming fructus; as opposed to his uncivilized predecessors, modern man combines and cooperates with his fellows. The Germanic selfishness which so readily values itself over others transforms into a symbiotic altruism: “I help you, you help me,” replaces, “you do your thing, I’ll do mine.”
Mill posits that as men came into closer proximity with one another, they discovered that far more can be accomplished, to everyone’s benefit, if we band together and delegate specific tasks to specific people. A house can be cleaned much more quickly if one person is assigned to each floor simultaneously, than if one man alone were responsible for every floor. (But is speed conducive to art)?
Modernity, then, is marked by the relinquishment of the potentially crude, potentially artistic individual will, allowing for the development of handy, albeit less meticulous group-wills. The visions of the sculptor and the musings of the poet are ever less likely to occur; indeed, are squashed by the indomitable collective will which continues to strengthen.
The Franco-English wars, of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and the nationalism that it cultivated in France, exemplify the growing ensemble of man; the Crusades above all reveal the newly arrived societal collaboration, here assembled in the name of a common heavenly reward. Combination and cooperation, it would seem, were first provoked by war: when civilization reached this stage—where, rather than demonize his neighbor, man would consider him, as neighbor, also an ally—this connection intensified the moment that each had a common enemy in view. War has always brought patriotism, which is a wholly codependent phenomenon; it cannot exist without a national identity, the principles that constitute it, or outsiders and enemies.
This congealment of the individual and collective-will is integral to Mill’s theory; in Guizot’s General History, group correspondence is everywhere invoked, but we find nothing of the horror-show whereby the individual man becomes an instrument of the collective, which Mill unambiguously provides.
If we should analogize their fundamental messages, our best comparison is this: on the one hand, Guizot posits that civilization is the sequence containing “the progress of society” and “the progress of individuals,” while Mill affects a similar image: his civilization points to increasing “combination” and “cooperation,” along with increasing “knowledge” and “discussion.” On both counts, we are led to the same understanding: civilization is the innovation of what is internal and external to the existing man. If Mill consciously built off of Guizot’s idea of progress, we ought to applaud him for his subtle, almost undetectable alteration of terminology.
There is, however, a fundamental disagreement between them on the conditions of man’s inner and outer development. Guizot deems individual and societal progress basically combined and inseparable: the external conditions of man could never improve without a reciprocal change of the inner man and vice versa.
Mill, however, has no problem with the idea that progress could occur within a people without men severally and positively becoming greater persons. To show this, he has littered many an essay with bitter remarks about the uneducated—the needlessly uneducated—and has devoted entire essays to this subject. We cannot fail to share a certain distaste for the lazy-minded, would-be and could-be intellects, and especially those untrained in common sense. Mill protested against speed-readers and careless-writers. Like Thoreau, he detested mainstream media, and therefore anyone who had no sentiment to speak of other than those offered by “Harper & Brothers” and “Redding & Co.”
In passing, let us attest to the fact that Mill picked up on the internal-external distinction inherent in civilization during his reading of Guizot; but what is more important is the clash between the authors’ principles, made apparent by the loving hostility of Mill’s pen. (NB: Mill revered Guizot for his contribution of general history; he despised him for his later affiliation with the July Monarchy).
That clash is this: between Combination and Christianity; or rather, between the postulate that the two have a synergy which renders their attachment superior to their detachment, and the conflicting postulate that Combination need not the crutch of Christianity in order to occur, however true it may be that the latter served an important anthropological function for archaic man, and thus for his posterity as well. Guizot sides with the first position—that “an intellectual union is the only true society”—and Mill with the second, perhaps out of an especial fondness for the Germanic individualism.
Does Civilization Need God?
Despite Guizot’s appetite for variety in character, there is a certain issue regarding which he sees a need for homogeneity. Mill, conversely, loves diversity unconditionally, conceding no ground to any antiquae fidei as an incontrovertible, healthy conviction fitted for all men. Simply put, Guizot sees Christianity as the foundation, the meeting ground by virtue of which all classes and temperaments of men may not only cooperate, but also connect with one another: civilization only occurs when a population can agree on this, as the barbarians slowly but surely did.
Mill, in his ardent will to truth, refuses to accept this notion, considering the traditional dogma to be simply an accessory to civilization, even a valuable one, but by no means a condition of it; it should not be considered absolutely true, and even less should the individual be compelled to lay his soul into the arms of religious ideology against his will.
Insofar as Guizot was idolized by Mill for being the first to attempt a general history of Europe, we also find Mill tense and regretful on his behalf. As aforesaid, Guizot’s alliance with Louis Philippe found no support from Mill, but rather outspoken hostility; the basis of his frustration is of course to be explained by their politics. This does not explain Mill’s regret, however. For all of Guizot’s industry, his innovation of philosophy and exacting historical research, Mill could not deceive himself concerning what he considered to be definite cognitive errors in Guizot, whose roots are to be found in his faulty convictions.
The following quotation is Guizot’s, though it has been included by Mill in his essay, “Guizot’s Lectures on European Civilization.” The quote below the following is Mill’s response to Guizot, who says: “[Guizot]: ‘Community of sentiment, community of belief—whatsoever the sentiment or belief may be—constitute the basis of a social state. It is only upon the truth, or what men conceive to be the truth, that they can ground a society. It has been truly said that there is no society but between minds, in other words, that an intellectual union is the only true society, and the basis of all others; or, what is the same thing, men cannot act together unless they have a clearly understood end in view; and they cannot live together unless they all partake of one and the same feeling, arising from one or more facts, so that the single fact, or if there be many, each of them, may be agreed upon as truth by all. As there is but one universal truth, so a society which has that truth for its basis must be one. There cannot be two spiritual societies. This is the abstract notion of the Church Unity. But how can men’s minds be united in the truth, unless they themselves recognize it as truth? This was sadly overlooked by Christians at all times.’”
The person before and after conversion are not the same; the after-person, it is commonly reported, achieves feelings of clarity and wholeness: before, one was a stranger in an arbitrary, chance universe, knowing not what this life is about, where it comes from or where it leads, and so life itself was a senseless burden.
Following conversion, however, order and love are restored, there are now definite right and wrong ways of thinking and acting, there is a definite goal (i.e. Heaven) and one has all his life to work toward it. Suffering is no longer unnecessary, but explainable by God’s will, full trust and devotion to which make holy.
For all of the arguments against religion being too dogmatic and anti-intellectual, Guizot knew, like James, that the religious faith carries vast implications for the lived experience of individuals, which consequently affects their culture as well: according to Guizot, when the people of a nation share devotion to “one universal truth,” then character, camaraderie, and love are afforded that nation.
Here is Mill’s response to Guizot from the same essay: “Were it not for a few of the concluding lines, the passage just quoted might be supposed to be from the pen of the most mystical and puzzle-headed divine on this side of the Channel. What could M. Guizot mean by the assertion that ‘an intellectual union is the only true society’; that ‘men cannot live together unless they all partake of one and the same feeling, arising from one or more facts, so that the single fact, or if there be many, each of them may be agreed upon as truth by all?’ Of what facts does he assert all this? Are they physical, political, or historical facts? Does he maintain the notion of the Church of Rome, and indeed of the Protestant churches which still cherish an essential part of its spirit—the notion that Christianity, as an historic belief, is the basis of true society? Does he forget the testimony of universal history to the fact that the social nature of man will avail itself of the merest trifles to form and maintain associations for power and defense?…. He complains that ‘in almost all Protestant countries there is something wanting—something imperfect in the organization of the intellectual society, so that the regular action of the established and ancient opinions is impeded. The rights of tradition have not been reconciled with those of liberty.’ What, in the name of wonder, are the Rights of Tradition? How is the regular action of established and ancient opinions to be encouraged by any organization, without encouraging the mischievous activity of established errors? Such indeed are the contradictory wishes of men who see the truth, but cannot make it part and parcel of their souls. This is what some men call moderation—namely, the assertion of a principle, combined with practical views and conduct in direct opposition to it… M. Guizot’s inconsistencies, admiring his works as we do, raise more of regret than anger in our heart.”
The issues of Christianity’s incontrovertibility, as well as its indispensability in the western Ethos, have proved enigmatic in the age of skepticism. Guizot, as we have established, holds Christianity to be integral to western culture and civilization, and thus not to be abrogated. Mill asserts, with a liberty of conscience even Guizot might deny, that truth prevails independently of Christianity; Truth does not need to be rooted in a theological fairytale, and society may prosper without an absolute, common truth, in an existence void of traditional mythology, doctrine, and custom. In lieu of the truthfulness hailed by religious believers, Mill offers greater optimism with regard to personal honesty, the free development of the individual with as little intervention as circumstance allows.
To understand Mill’s frustration with the Christian influence, we must consider what ordinarily characterizes the believer: a certain parlance is used, attire maybe more formal, particular habits and abstentions, a manner of checking thought from its excesses, a shared set of values with fellow Christians, and so on. The homogenizing function of Christianity causes in Mill, as it does in many a Liberal under his wing, a frustration which proceeds from the observation of what appears to be mental enslavement.
The specific values, appearances, norms; the sort of common-personality, shared aesthetic and mode of conduct that issue from an esteemed tradition anger the Liberal immensely, who recognizes in and of himself a sort of innocence which doctrinal institutions—the case in point being Christianity—can only serve to corrupt. Thus where Mill sees mental enslavement of the individual and popular mind, Guizot sees Love, Freedom, and Truth Itself.
Again, the philosophers are fighting an extant battle: the a priori Christian Truth versus the a posteriori, empirical approach of science. Guizot’s Truth is concentrated before phenomena, while Mill’s places greater trust in what is bound by space and time.
The divide between the Christian and the scientific mindset has serious implications for the trajectory of civilization: how do these opposing postures toward Truth affect Combination and Cooperation? Does a people combine and cooperate more readily with or without the commonly assumed truthfulness of the Gospels? Is the spirit of man shackled and stunted by the antiquae fidei, or is it rather indebted to this for the heights it has attained, and for those it has yet to reach?
Guizot’s Christian-Combination possesses a logic which Mill’s more plain-Combination lacks; to keep from forming a tradition, Mill refrains from establishing what it is that a people combines under, for he cannot be sure himself. He does not promulgate civilization “in the name of”—only civilization.
In contradistinction, Guizot is unafraid to say that it is in the service of God that people join together and help one another to live fully, that the Father who gave us life calls for our return to Him, which means keeping the Good in heart and abolishing the Evil wherever it stands, working with men rather than against them, sacrificing what is base and overly selfish in oneself to serve a greater truth than is accessible to the unchecked individual.
A case could be made that religion is the only factor that separates Mill’s and Guizot’s theses about civilization. Most everything is in agreement—the internal-external progress of the existing man is kept in both of their formulations. The capacity of the Church and Christianity for civilization at the outset (immediately following the fall of Rome) is presented by both philosophers, but at a certain “stage of development,” Mill thinks it well to rid of the training wheels. After de omnibus dubitandum had been declared, when Socratic questioning and scientism had arrested the Zeitgeist, the tendency to remain skeptical about religious faiths became ever commoner, hence Mill’s antipathy toward pre-rational assertions and assumptions.
If Guizot encountered skeptics in his day, their doubtfulness being very destructive to myth and religion, he certainly was not fazed: he was a trusting Christian man, and his understanding was that a nation of trusting Christian men, or men who trust whatever their national religion happens to be, bodes much better than a people who have fallen from their God, or who have no God at all in their culture. Thus Guizot’s viewpoint says that once religion is removed from a people, so is the upwardness of civilization, and so, as nothing that lives is motionless, society begins to regress. That is, civilization cannot occur without God.
Mill, however, does not touch on God, Providence, or any seasoned vocabulary, but rather remains maintains his realism. We as humans consider some things good, others bad, and Mill’s civilization progresses toward the good because the bad is dangerous, terrible, and confusing. The living man cannot withstand the “bad,” that which worsens the human experience, because he is self-conscious, and so he naturally does all within his power to deviate from the bad, for to be conscious of one’s own pain is an awful thing.
The “Illness” Of The Ancient Doctrines And Our Recovery: A Struggle For New Prejudices
One need only look at the table of contents in Guizot’s book to see that “the progress of the human mind [is] purely theological.” Mill sees the decline of religiosity, as visible in the nineteenth century as it is today, as something to be celebrated, a height of civilization hitherto unmatched.
However, he is not strictly Cartesian down to the atom, aware that too penetrating a doubtfulness can atomize a people and lead to catastrophe: “Now, it is self-evident that no fixed opinions have yet generally established themselves in the place of those which we have abandoned; that no new doctrines, philosophical or social, as yet command, or appear likely soon to command, an assent at all comparable in unanimity to that which the ancient doctrines could boast of while they continued in vogue. So long as this intellectual anarchy shall endure, we may be warranted in believing that we are in a fair way to become wiser than our forefathers; but it would be premature to affirm that we are already wiser. We have not yet advanced beyond the unsettled state, in which the mind is, when it has recently found itself out in a grievous error, and has not yet satisfied itself of the truth. The men of the present day rather incline to an opinion than embrace it; few, except the very penetrating, or the very presumptuous, have full confidence in their own convictions. This is not a state of health, but, at the best, of convalescence. It is a necessary stage in the progress of civilization, but it is attended with numerous evils; as one part of a road may be rougher or more dangerous than another, although every step brings the traveler nearer to his desired end.”
In light of Mill’s theory of progress, whatever regressions issue from the dissolution of the “ancient doctrines” are akin to the flu-like symptoms that often follow inoculation. The unsettled, uncertain attitude that grips the populus is transitory, and the multitude will strengthen through the struggle for shape. The Old Ways were illness: today we endure the convalescence, the recovery from that illness, the rougher part of the road, suffering the austere cravings that arise within us.
Anybody with an ear for prophesy cannot fail to contemplate the bottommost three lines of the above passage: Mill knows the “desired end,” he knows what helps and what hinders its attainment. All that Guizot cherishes, the hierarchical order, the religio et ecclesia, monarchy as the image of divine authority rightly applied to the State: all of it comprises Mill’s vision of decadence. Those decadent expressions of authority were flattened, producing a democratic, atheistic (or else New-Age spiritual), egalitarian-type society which has a difficult time of forming new prejudices and norms.
Mill is prejudicial and pro-prejudice; as he put it: “A person may be without a single prejudice, and yet utterly unfit for every purpose in nature. To have erroneous convictions is one evil; but to have no strong or deep-rooted convictions at all, is an enormous one.”
The prejudices of old, then, he merely considered incorrect, not because they were prejudicial, but because they were mysteriously generated and imposed by the upper echelons of Europe’s society, otherwise by parents and educators. Revelation occurred to the spirit of someone other than he to whom it is prescribed; Mill’s philosophy advocates the personal selection of values and prejudices, as opposed to the top-down imposition of them. The individual may abide by his own unique spiritual doctrine insofar as it does not interrupt the survival or satisfaction of other living beings.
Can we expect each individual to contrive his own moral code? Supposing that they do, how can we be sure that what satisfies the doctrine of one individual will not breach or rupture the doctrine of another? Can there be any standards for behavior without a common religion?
Though the ancient doctrines have suffered a loss in votaries, new ones emerge from the collective in their place, whether or not they be rooted in scripture. It is left to the observer to parse out the newest commandments: What are the new prejudices of the Modern demos? Has it a heart or conscience? Will it not “shun us like impure beings?”
The prophetic Mill has confidence in the capacity of the demos to progress, but the thought of the opposite is never really treated: Christianity professes the notorious Day of Judgement, and this is enough for us to consider whether it is not possible for us, as peoples and as individuals, to commit some irreparable wrong that might earn hellfire for the heavens and earth which are now (2 Peter 3:7).
Conclusion: Civilization Refuted Or Redeemed?
We hear of mandatory ideological trainings being instituted in the universities; even more, we hear that the western political climate is polarized. Given the current strides toward multiculturalism and inclusion, it is safe to say that Europe and her daughter America have, to a considerable extent, abandoned Guizot’s principle of national devotion to one universal truth; each country and state is its own religious stew, sheltering people of various cultures from all over the globe.
Christianity remains central to the lives of a great many people, but relatively few consider it integral to western civilization: a growing many, and especially the young, set it aside every other religion, admitting no greater devotion to it than to this or the other religious heritage.
This seems to have followed from the conclusion that there is no one universal truth for everybody: “Each culture has its own truth, which is universal only to everyone in the culture, and so let the cultures worship their truths in their own ways within the limits of their own societies.” Thus the public opinion of today seems to speak.
We have explored the general history of Europe offered by Guizot, and the essence of that history given by Mill. The Roman Empire fell; an individualism, none too refined, soon prevailed; the ecclesia elevated the minds of the barbarians, spiritual and temporal existence were given their own rights and regulations; men, becoming more sophisticated in thought, tried to bring order to the social world, extolling whichever authorities they thought fittest for governance; initially, none of these authorities prevailed over the others, none availed themselves of national governance, until monarchies began to reign supreme in the Medieval epoch; the French monarchy was torn asunder by the collective dream of a democracy, the achievement of which would render, in theory, each citizen equally elevated and powerful in his reason; Guizot abandons his task here, at the latest, greatest historical shift before his lecture series in 1800 (the French Revolution); Mill agrees with Guizot’s account of the history, but denies the essentiality of the ancient doctrines and of civilization’s Providential unfolding; Mill projects into the future his predictions and suggestions, the best of his knowledge for how to maximize civilization’s development.
Thus we conclude: Guizot says that history alone reveals a progressive character; Mill says that history and futurity, as two categories of a single, continuous process, share in a progressive character. What was said above of their opposing standpoints regarding truth, derived a priori on the one hand and a posteriori on the other, is therefore reversed when we discuss progression of civilization as a process.
In the former case, we only learned that Mill is opposed to the doctrine of faith, while Guizot is an advocate. Here, we see that Mill holds civilization to be integral to man’s progressive nature—not so for Guizot: to him, civilization is Providential, a consequence of God’s mercy, which is to be given to man insofar as he exercises his free-will in servitude to the Creator. Again, we observe the naturalism in Mill’s thought, such that it is not man’s choice to progress or regress: these occur of themselves, they are in his nature, but progress generally wins over decadence, and will do so as long as his nature is not corrupted.
For Guizot, these things are not determined: it is left to the free-willing being, the child of God to decide whether the future shall present growth or decay; the free-will is connected with, if not identical to the soul, one of the most renowned super-natural concepts known to man. Civilization is choice for Guizot, and necessity for Mill.
Guizot makes the a posteriori assertion that history has proved progressive in the past because we can resort to documents, to phenomena, to confirm this. Mill’s a priori philosophy of history states that, while indeed we may infer history’s progression from the historical documentation available to us, that progression was present before the documentation ever arose, and so it will continue to bring historical developments before we can document them; that regardless of any setbacks along the way, history is fundamentally progressive, and as such will continue upward to whatever extent humanity can reach, while all setbacks are inoculative and transitory.
You would think that with all the looting, the statistics showing blacks are 39 times more likely to commit a violent crime against a white than vice versa, the billions of dollars white taxpayers have paid to create the best possible schools for blacks, the decades of affirmative action, the endless celebration of black culture in the media, the presence of blacks in almost every advertisement, the rap music on Sunday mornings in CBC radio — you would think that universities might reflect critically, for once, about black and white relations in the West in light of the destructive George Floyd riots.
But instead universities are already announcing they will intensify their celebrations of the black race and their condemnation of “institutional white racism.” Just like Porn Hub and every major corporation from Bank of America to Nickelodeon, university presidents across Canada are announcing they will increase their commitment “for the recruitment, retention and support of Black students, staff, and faculty”, including the allocation of “Excellence Chairs to Black Studies.”
Let’s examine one case from which these cited words are taken: The University of British Columbia, the third biggest university in Canada. It started with a rather odd tweet sent on May 31 by president Santa Ono to the UBC community of himself playing a “song” in his cello dedicated “to George Floyd & everyone who is suffering today from racial injustice.”
The next day he released an open Letter to the UBC Community, “Together against Racism and Injustice” announcing that his office plans “to diversify our community at every level through defined programs.” What could Santa Ono mean by the words “at every level” considering that white students are currently a minority at UBC, every member in the Faculty of Arts is a leftist, there are numerous institutes and programs dedicated to diversity, and there is a massive “Equity and Inclusion Office” with an army of 23 professional race-hustlers working every day to “assessing, planning, developing, and monitoring” efforts to make UBC “diverse and inclusive”?
We are not joking, whites are already a minority at UBC. In 2015, the Vancouver Sun reported that only 35% of the student population was white, with white males accounting “for only about one in six students.” The proportion of Chinese students alone was 39 percent. We can safely assume there are less white students in 2020. Will a lower percentage of white student applicants be admitted to make space for foreign students who pay significantly higher tuition fees? It is well known that university administrator lust after the much higher fees of international students to finance their hyper-inflated salaries and bloated diversity offices. For the record: international students at UBC numbered 16,322(!) for the 2017/18 calendar year, of which the majority were Chinese.
Ono says he wants to “ensure adequate resources to implement the goals and actions of the Inclusion Action Plan.” This plan was implemented by UBC’s Executive in December 2019. Its basic goal is to attract and retain “the best and brightest students, staff, and faculty from around the world.” Never mind the immorality of a program dedicated to enticing the “best and brightest” from the Third World, we know that this program is inherently anti-white. Contrariwise, why does Ono write in his Letter to the UBC Community that he wants to meet with “Black Caucus and the Asian Canadian Community Engagement Group”, as well as the Indigenous community, without a word about meeting an European ethnic group?
Massive Diversity Infrastructure At UBC
“We will be organizing a series of public engagements focused on anti-racism”, says Ono. What could this possibly entail if not an all out war against white students? The Equity and Inclusion Office, as I said, is already engaged every day in “institution-wide efforts to create a supportive environment for working, learning and living where respect, diversity, opportunity and inclusion are valued.”
And this office is the tip of a massive iceberg. Here is a list of some of the academic programs and institutes dedicated to “principles of equity and social justice,” “ethnicity and immigration”, “equitable outcomes”, “transformative knowledge”, etc:
This is not all. “UBC has academic programs and concentrations specifically addressing Aboriginal topics and many courses with significant Aboriginal or Indigenous content.” All the courses in the Department of Sociology are dedicated to cultural Marxism with a long list of courses on “Culture and Power; Race, Ethnicity and Immigration.”
The Department of History has a few courses on European history, which consist mostly in condemnations of white imperialism, whereas the descriptions of courses on Asia and non-whites generally are positively about their achievements, backed by multiple courses on “Ethnicity, Race and Nationalism; Gender, Sexuality, and the Body; Migration, Borderlands, and Transnational History; Culture/Power/History; First Nations, Aboriginal, and Indigenous History.”
Most of the student clubs at UBC are non-political in orientation, but the political ones are into radical leftist politics and diversity, and quite a few are dedicated to the promotion of the race of Asians, Blacks, Indigenous peoples, and other ethnic groups. A few clubs are about the culture of ethnic Europeans but these are apolitical, folksy like, very subdued.
The incredible bias that exists at UBC against white male students was well documented by the prolific student activist in Canada, Franz Kurtzke, as we reported at CEC a few months ago. Kurtzke, a philosophy student at UBC, has filed 11 anti-male and anti-white discrimination claims against UBC.
Ono and Yip
There is no point going over the rest of Ono’s points, which consist in nothing more than robotic statements we read all day from dull academic administrators about “diversity and inclusion.” It is really irresponsible for someone whose expertise revolves around the rather trivial subject of “eye inflammation” without any background in the Social Sciences and the history of Canada to talk about the “deeply rooted racism in Canada.” How can this charlatan insist that “UBC itself is not immune to racism and injustice” given the overwhelmingly obsessive dedication of UBC to diversity? One cannot but conclude that Santa Ono is seeking to wipe out every remaining feature of UBC’s Euro-Canadian character.
When he put together this contrived tribute “to George Floyd” did he even do some research about this case? Had he done so he would have found out that Floyd was a meth addict, cocaine addict, beat and robbed a pregnant woman, a porn star, served 5 years in prison, tested positive for Covid-19, and resisted arrest. This is not to justify his death. I just find it beyond comprehension that UBC is planning to intensify the ethnocide of whites in honor of this character. Does he not know that a university is an institution created by whites for the purpose of advancing to the next generation highest achievements of humans?
Scenes of statues toppling and pictures of defaced public spaces can be disturbing. Sometimes, they can be exhilarating. I recall watching statues of Lenin and Stalin fall during the collapse of the various Communist states. It felt like freedom. I also recall my dismay during my first trip to Greece where nearly every public wall and monument (Church and otherwise) is covered in graffiti.
There is an instinct at work surrounding images (both their making and their destruction) – one that is profoundly religious in nature. As such, it has the capacity to save us or to destroy us. But make no mistake – it is filled with power.
Not all Christians care for icons. Some positively despise them. But none of them can deny the power of the image (icon) itself. “Image” is the word used to describe the very act of human creation. We are created according to the “image and likeness” of God. No other statement enshrines the dignity and true worth of human beings in such an inarguable manner. It puts a stamp of ultimacy on our very existence. Not only are we described as having been created in the image of God, but our salvation itself is portrayed as a return to the fullness of that image as we behold the face of Christ.
But we are also “smashers” (iconoclasts). When Rome defeated Carthage in 146 BC, it leveled the city. Some say that they even plowed the ground and sowed it with salt, consigning the space to oblivion. In 70 A.D. Rome destroyed Jerusalem, along with its temple. Today, in order to reach the streets of Jerusalem upon which Jesus walked, you have to dig deep underground – what stands on top represents much later construction.
Such actions seem to have a role of “catharsis” or “cleansing,” in which an enemy is not only defeated but erased. Who hasn’t wanted to do such a thing to the memory of a hurt that haunts? We hear it echoed in St. Paul’s prayer that “God will speedily crush down Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:20). We not only want Satan to be defeated – we want him erased.
We have to recognize both impulses within us (the love of icons and their smashing) to come to grips with the whole of who we are meant to be. At its deepest level, we do not understand icons until we understand beauty and its crucial role in our existence.
The love of beauty and our desire for it are the most fundamental parts of our being. This is particularly true if we use the word “beauty” in the fullest sense of its meaning. Beauty encompasses being and truth as well. It is God’s word for His creation (usually translated as “good,” the word in Scriptures also means “beautiful”). That which is beautiful and good is reflective (iconic) of the God who created it. All of creation longs for union with this Beauty and groans for it to be made manifest.
In the life of the Church, the making of icons begins early, possibly in its very beginning. Israel already made a careful use of images (some are prescribed for use in the Temple itself). St. Paul, and others following him, elevated a “theology of the image” into a central place in Christology and the doctrine of salvation. There were already hints of this theology in some of the writings of the Second Temple period. The fulfillment of the image of God in Christ allowed the veil to be torn away from that mystery and its clear form to be discerned.
Nevertheless, the drive towards iconoclasm has remained rooted in our hearts. Every sin against another human being is a form of iconoclasm. Violence is probably its most dangerous form, although every sin against another carries an element of violence within it (Matt. 5:21-22). We are experiencing an unprecedented display of public anger and iconoclasm in our cities and news cycles. Of course, the quiet iconoclasm of injustice has far deeper and long-lasting effects. The one does not justify the other. Injustice added to injustice only adds up to injustice. That we might understand it does not change its nature.
The Church’s witness to icons and their veneration is, ultimately, a witness to beauty. It is also a witness to the only path of salvation, both for individuals and the world as a whole. St. Augustine described the work of salvation as the “City of God.” And though we idealize the natural setting of a home in the wilderness, it is the image of a city that the Scriptures use to describe salvation. St. Paul writes: “But our citizenship [“politeuma” πολίτευμα] is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:20–21).
The word “politeuma,” translated as “citizenship,” is formed from the word, “polis,” or “city.” Citizenship is the “place where we have our “city-ness”). It is the New Jerusalem that we await (Rev. 22:2), a “city whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10). Cities require human relationships and exist well when the beauty and health of those relationships is foremost in its planning and execution. Cities whose inner being exists only for economic profit serve as images of a god, Mammon, and its people begin to resemble slaves.
The building of cities, in this highest sense of the word, is a construction of “city-ness,” an icon of the city that is to come. This is not a call for utopianism, but a recognition that there are holy patterns given to us that make for a greater wholeness in our lives. This is hard work. Iconoclasm and destruction are the work of a moment, driven by passion and the darkest places in our hearts. Anybody can smash. To make something beautiful takes care, love, and attention to detail. It is a work of holy living.
In the great wash of news stories of the past weeks, an image of beauty came across my desk that was encouraging. In Atlanta, scene of many racial tensions through the years, also the site of an egregious racial killing in recent days, there was a march on Juneteenth (a date marking the end of slavery). It was sponsored by One Race, an organization founded by black and white pastors in the Atlanta area back in 2017. They have been doing a slow work of common prayer, common discussions, and common understanding towards the healing of racial sins and the union of the faithful. They profess that only in Christ can such sins be overcome.
On that day, some 15,000 faithful gathered for a peaceful march to lift up Christ and to profess their common faith and love for one another. It was encouraging because it was not simply a passion of the moment, but the fruit of three years of patient work, something that will likely continue for some time to come. When the news cycle easily leads toward despair, it is good to see so many knees that bow to Christ walking together and professing faith in the city whose builder and maker is God.
The opposite of iconoclasm is “iconodulia” (the honoring of icons). At its heart, iconodulia is the love of true beauty. This love is quite the opposite of the drive towards iconoclasm. Iconoclasm need love nothing: the will to destruction is entirely sufficient to provide motivation and energy. In the end, it might yield nothing more than nothing-at-all, an emptiness of fruitless effort that collapses back on itself. It is not life-giving.
Iconodulia requires inward attention as well as outward responsibility. It is slow and requires patience. Some efforts of beauty can be so great that they survive for millennia and more. The beauty of Hagia Sophia (for example) continues not only in that single, striking building, but in the thousands of echoes that have shaped so many Orthodox temples since. It’s power lies in the fact that its beauty reaches beyond itself towards a greater Beauty that only God can build. As such, it is echoed in every element of beauty that we find in nature as well.
Such beauty requires people who live beautiful lives. They need neither wealth nor power, only the living icon of the Logos to be manifest in their being. It is the secret to Christian “civilization” – not an empire maintained by force of arms or economic power. Rather Christian civilization is the politeuma of the heavenly city that is continually reborn in the heart of every Baptism. That city is built in the heart. It is there that we repent and there that we forgive. It is there that we find within us the image of the city that God has already prepared for us.
The image shows the crucifixion, with Christ being offered a drink of vinegar on a sponge; in the foreground, the iconoclasts, John Grammaticus and Bishop Anthony of Pamphylia, efface the image of Christ with a sponge. The Chludov Psalter, Byzantine, 9th-century.