I Got The Coronavirus – Enough With The Hysteria!

What follows is a personal account. It should not be read as a general description of symptoms that are true for all people. Much of what happens during any infection depends on the condition of individual immune systems and pre-existing medical conditions – and there is also the fact the coronavirus, Covid19, or the Wuhan virus has forty known mutations (thus far). So, it is difficult to say how each individual body will react when infected.

I contracted the coronavirus at a doctor’s office, of all places, where there was far too much coughing, sneezing and wheezing going on, without any regard for public hygiene, such as, covering the mouth at least. I chose to write this article anonymously, because suddenly we live in precarious times, and I have no idea what the fallout of my account might be. People have become so wild-eyed. There is a lot of misinformation, panic and finger-pointing, where to go out in the public now is not only controlled, if not forbidden, but an act of distrust. People look at you with anger if you are not wearing a face-mask. But it no longer really matters where I got the virus, and I should have worn a face-mask. So, I just want to deal with the facts. This is what happened next.

The Process Of The Infection

On the first day, I grew very weak and feverish. So, I thought I should go and get myself tested. This was an entirely useless effort, especially given what it involved. To get a test, they shove a swab of sorts all the way up your nose – really far up the nose, so it really hurts. And the man doing the procedure seemed especially inept (another reason why I want to remain anonymous). I say the test was useless because it is not as if getting tested will mean getting a treatment that will cure what you are being tested for.

I think these tests are simply an effort to get an idea of the number of infections. And I now think they only serve to feed the hysteria. Given the procedure, I would suggest that you avoid the test and just stay home. Once the test was done, it came back positive, and I was advised to lock myself away at home until I got better – and then to wait for another fourteen days, before trying to venture out into a public place. In effect, I was placed under house-arrest (just like everyone else).

The first three days of infection consisted of a very painful throat and fever. It was not really a sore-throat, as such, which we have all experienced, which makes the throat feel raw, as if it has been badly scratched. Rather, what I experienced was extreme pain when swallowing. If I did not swallow, I did not feel any pain. It was as if a hand clamped down hard around my throat, whenever I tried to swallow. I can imagine how this might prove very dangerous for some.

As well, trying to speak meant that my throat constricted and I could only get out a few words before lapsing into a bad coughing fit – again, dangerous for those with compromised lungs. And when I coughed, I got nosebleeds (which I have never gotten belief). But I believe that these nosebleeds were the result of the injury I had received when I got the test done; they were not an effect of the virus. But I could be wrong. This condition persisted for five days, during which I slept a lot.

Then, something very strange happened on the sixth day. The sclerae (the whites) of my eyes turned a dark red, and my eyes hurt. I say strange, because it seemed that I was now showing the ophidian origins of the virus (given the Chinese penchant for eating snake-meat in the winter months (because said meat is supposed to be very “warming”). But, of course, there are other theories about the origins of this virus. My eyes also started to water a lot, and I could not look at strong light without feeling a burning in my eyes.

On the seventh day, the stranglehold on my throat suddenly grew weaker, and I felt that my body was finally beginning to fight back with some success! My eyes grew less red. The fever became low-grade. The cough remained.

Over the next three days, my throat recovered to what I would call normal, where I could swallow with only a very slight pain, and my eyes cleared up completely, although they still watered. The cough persisted, but the fever disappeared.

As of writing this account, I feel that I have regained normalcy (homeostasis). The cough is infrequent and my eyes water occasionally. It is simply my body clearing things up, it seems. And, such is my rather uneventful journey through coronavirus land. In my experience, then, it was nothing more than a flu.

I should mention that I did not take any medication, nor did I take any supplements. I just am not a pill-popper. I did, however, take some home-made cough syrup, which helped a lot with the cough. I simply let my body’s immune system take over.

So, what does all this mean? There are two takeaways. First, there is the virus itself and its pathology. Second, there is the coronavirus-panic. In other words, there is the reality of the virus – and then there is the construction of what I call, “the Coronavirus Narrative,” which is all about whipping up fear and hysteria. The one has little to do with the other.

Regarding the question of pathology, the coronavirus is nothing new, of course, as it has been known and documented and studied for quite some time. The version that I got is simply another form of the flu.

Now that I have gone through the experience, I can honestly say that I have had far worse bouts of the flu in years past. So, if you are a normal, healthy person, you will not die from the coronavirus. This is not the Black Death revisited, as it is being currently advertised. Get that fear out of your head. If you are healthy, and your lungs are in good shape, and you catch the virus, you will be feverish. Yes, it will hurt (as my throat did); and, yes, you will cough a lot. But you will not die from it. Your immune system will fight back and flush it out of your body.

As with any flu, the only people at risk will be those who have very weak immune systems, or who have lung conditions, or who have other pre-existing medical conditions, which would be exacerbated by any kind of infection. In other words, the same people who also die each and every year of the regular flu. Thus, for example, last year in the United States, 80,000 people died of the flu. Probably the same number will die this year as well. The only difference being that this year the cause of death will be a flu by the name of Covid19 – and that number will only feed the panic.

The Grand Coronavirus Narrative

Something very strange happened with this flu virus – suddenly it became the Grim Reaper. This portrayal is held together by three types of stories that are continually being told in the media – those that delve into the origins of the virus (its etiology); those that dictate personal and communal behavior; and those that seek to posit some sort of catharsis, through purification or expiation, by extolling a solitary existence.

Right from the beginning, the question of how this virus came to infect human beings was misty. Some said that its origins were natural, having jumped species from bats, snakes, or ant-eaters to humans (given the Chinese penchant to eat such creatures, especially in the winter months, for their “warming” qualities of such meat, according to Chinese alchemy, i.e., medicine). But others said that it was a bio-weapon that had somehow “escaped” from a lab and into humans. Many were the videos shown online of poor victims collapsed on to the streets, bleeding, and even shaking and flopping about. They were all said to be victims of this virus.

Next came the massive governmental efforts by the Chinese to contain the virus by way of forced confinement of the people of Wuhan and other cities, and the videos of streets being sprayed with something or other (presumably a disinfectant).

Then, came the accusations. The Chinese said it was indeed a bio-weapon, let loose by the US military. And there were already reports of nefarious Chinese agents stealing material from labs in the States and Canada – and even the arrest of a Harvard scientist for being on the payroll of the Chinese. We are all familiar with these facts, and they hardly bear repeating.

Then came the reaction, which was an effort to win control over the spread of the virus. This meant doing what China did and shutting down everything and promoting (and even enforcing) self-quarantine. Stay home. Come out only if you need to buy essentials. Only through massive government effort that purification (catharsis) can be affected.

And then there was the media, which was, and is still, having a field-day promoting the hysteria, with 24/7 coverage. The ceaseless fearmongering works really well because it is always presented without context (like the daily infection- and death-count), so that for most people, the world is indeed facing a massive die-out event, much like the Black Death and the Spanish Flu of 1918. None of this is true, of course, but that matters little, since well-constructed narratives have no need of truth.

People are scared. No one wants to die. But people die of all kinds of things over the course of every year. However, when death is wrapped up in the form a contagion that floats about in the air, ready to infect anyone – the fear becomes justifiable. But there is also something very strange about the numbers being thrown about, which are used to promote the fear. Those that began this fear now seem be having second thoughts. Here is a good analysis.

The Technocrats

But this hysteria is also bringing back the fact of reality. One of the fundamental problems of modernity is that it is technocratic (in that it only relies on the opinions of experts, which then became all-powerful narrative that then guide us as to how we live and what we do). If experts agree, we have truth, and we must all kowtow to said truth (also known as scientific “consensus”). This has been the case with the promotion of environmentalism, genderism, politics, and now infectious disease. In effect, the purpose of science now is to continually affirm social narratives (which are happily manufactured by another set of experts – professors).

But the problem with experts is that they cannot be wrong, for they are purveyors of a new “gospel.” This means that all experts prefer to present extreme conclusions, rather than anything sensible. This is especially true of any sort of statistics that have to do with disease, where they are often as extreme as possible, because no one will blame them for being “cautious” – that less people died than they had predicted. If they low-ball their figures and the disease produces a higher body count, then they will be pilloried. So, these experts are always hedging their bets and safeguarding their reputations as well as their very lucrative careers.

And then there are the predictive models that they use to tell us how many will get infected and how many will die. As we all know – there are always problems with hypothetical mathematical models. Remember, the same sort of models that are giving us death-charts, have long been used to prop up the entire “Global Warming Narrative.”

Some Side-Effects

But suddenly, the Coronavirus Narrative has sidelined, even derailed, all other narratives that had kept so many busy for so very long. Does anyone still want to go and agitate for bathroom rights for transgenders? How about marching for feminism? Global warming anyone? What of the New Green Deal for a happier proletariat?

And all those mealy-mouthed moralists, who were busy squawking about “racism” and “xenophobia” – now have to be xenophobic in order to stay alive – they have to stay away from all people, because their own bodies will be invaded by an infection that actually does come from foreign parts and foreign people. They even have to wear masks and gloves, lest “foreign” infections invade their own pure bodies. Oh, the irony is rich indeed.

And all those one-world types, who hated borders – now have to stay inside the strictest of borders, their own homes.

As for the diversity and equality crowd – well, they have to keep at least six feet from everybody, because mixing with strangers can be deadly.

All these tired old narratives will now have to go the way of the dodo – because the Coronavirus Narrative has changed the world very quickly and very drastically; and no one is even noticing. In effect, there is now no “normal” to go back to.

The World Ahead

It is very startling and frightening that we have all so easily agreed to abandon all our freedoms. We want security at all cost.

Here is what has already been lost:

  • All communities have broken down, since no crowd, no matter how small, can assemble. There can only be individualized allegiances to virtual groups, where only the pretence of a gathering can be provided online.
  • The screen alone will mediate our transactions with the world outside our bodies.
  • All supply chains are now fragile, if not broken. If enough workers decide not to show up to work, for fear of being infected, there is no supply.
  • The service sector of the business model is in shambles. Places like barber-shops, restaurants, gyms, etc. are no longer “truth-worthy.” Suddenly, the very notion of the value of work is now gone
  • Anyone who does not work and earn in front of a screen at home is now unemployed.
  • Governments have quickly consolidated power. Suddenly, there are “Quarantine Laws” which are population containment directives. And a fearful citizenry has happily agreed to forego freedom and be put under siege by their own politicians.
  • The notion that we all laughed at – safe spaces – is now law. We now all have been put inside safe spaces, from which we cannot emerge without permission from the state and the technocrats.
  • Work is made useless, by being declared “inessential,” so that ordinary people no longer know how to pay rent, buy food and look after their families. We will have the rise of the “precariat,” people who will only barely find precarious work. And can it be that this mass unemployment will turn larger corporations to robotic work, making the situation far worse for ordinary people?

The world we knew has been lost – because we have lost the most important component of the world – trust.

More Hysteria

The Coronavirus Narrative is also an expression of our hyper-feminized culture, where manliness has lost all meaning and value. It is certainly pertinent that the word, “hysteria” comes from the Greek term for “womb, vagina.” What we have now is not a manly response to hardship, where we all say that we will persevere, we will continue to work, we will continue with life, even though life is always tough and at times deadly (for death is part of life).

Instead, we now encounter the world only in terms of nurturing. The only way possible to deal with hardship is to seek safety, as offered by the warmth of the womb, because the world is much too fearful a place.

Where is the moral courage? Where is the determination? Where is the call for us to be strong, no matter what the adversity? Where are the calls that say exposure to the virus will build immunity, though it may kill some? People who live in bubbles do so because they will die in the open air. Are we really demanding zero deaths each and every year?

No, no, let us just hunker down in our safe spaces, shut the world down; best to accept mass house-arrest, until the maternal-state figures out how to save us from the Grim Reaper, ravaging the world beyond our windows, our screens. We are safe inside. Nesting is the only answer to adversity we have left as a culture.

Where shall we go from here? There were other viruses before (like SARS, H1N1, avian) – and there will continue to be flu viruses from China each and every year, which will continue to kill thousands. (Perhaps the WHO, in its wisdom, might want to invest in a program to encourage the Chinese to change their eating habits and not kill so many of us each year?).

Will we have annual lockdowns every flu season? Will the Coronavirus Narrative, or some version thereof, become the only narrative that truly matters each and every year? Will we now redesign the very purpose of daily life to meet the expectations of this all-encompassing, mega-narrative of perpetual protection offered to us by the state?

Covid19 is not the return of the Black Death. But it is the return of the Great Fear, through which we are allowing petty tyrants (politicians) to usher us into the Dystopia of lost freedoms, oppressive governing structures, and rejigged economies that will always favor the privileged classes. A brave new post-Covid19 world, indeed.

The image shows a plague doctor by Paul Fürst, 1656.

The Coronavirus And Providence

The theme of my conversation is, the new scenarios in Italy and in Europe during and after the Coronavirus crisis. I will not speak about this theme from a medical or scientific point of view, as I do not have this competence. I will instead consider the argument from three other points of view: The point of view of a scholar of the political and social sciences; the point of view of a historian; and the point of view of a philosopher of history.

As A Scholar Of The Social Sciences

Political and social sciences study human behavior in its social, political and geopolitical context. From this point of view, I am not inquiring into the origins of the Coronavirus and its nature, but rather the social consequences that are happening and will happen.

An epidemic is the diffusion on the national or world scale (in this case it is called a pandemic) of an infective illness that afflicts a large number of individuals of a determined population in a very brief span of time. The Coronavirus, which has been renamed Covid-19, is an infective illness that began to spread through the world from China. Italy is the Western nation that is now apparently the most afflicted by it.

Why is Italy under quarantine today? Because, as the most attentive observers have understood from the very beginning, the problem of the Coronavirus is not its fatality rate but the rapidity with which the contagion spreads among the population. Everyone agrees that the illness in itself is not terribly lethal. A sick person who contracts the Coronavirus and is assisted by specialized health care personnel in well-equipped health care facilities can heal.

But if, because of the rapid spread of the contagion, which can potentially strike millions of people simultaneously, the number of sick people rapidly increases, there will not be enough health care facilities and personnel – the sick will die because they are deprived of the necessary care. In order to cure grave cases, it is necessary to have the support of intensive care in order to ventilate the lungs. If this support is lacking, the patients die. If the number of those who are sick increases, health care structures are not capable of offering intensive care to everyone and an ever greater number of patients will succumb to the disease.

Epidemiological projections are inexorable and they justify the precautions being taken. “If uncontrolled, the Coronavirus could strike the entire Italian population, but let’s say that in the end only 30% become infected, that would be about 20 million people. Let’s say that out of these – reducing the rate – 10% go into crisis, meaning that without intensive care they will succumb to the disease. This would mean that 2 million people die directly, plus all of those who will die indirectly as a result of the collapse of the health care system and the social and economic order.”

The collapse of the health care system, in turn, would have other consequences. The first is the collapse of the nation’s production system.
Economic crises usually arise from the lack of either supply or demand. But if consumers must remain at home and stores are closed, and those selling goods cannot get their products to market because of logistical breakdown, then the supply chain collapses.

The central banks would not be capable of saving such a situation: “The crisis after the Coronavirus does not have a monetary solution” writes Maurizio Ricci in La Repubblica on February 28. Stefano Feltri in turn observes: “The typical Keynesian recipes – creating jobs and artificial demand with public money – are not practical when the workers do not leave their homes, trucks do not circulate, stadiums are closed and people do not schedule vacations or work trips because they are sick at home or afraid of the contagion. Aside from avoiding liquidity crises for businesses by suspending tax payments and interest payments to banks, the political system is powerless. A government decree is not enough to reorganize the supply chain.”

The expression “perfect storm” was coined several years ago by the economist Nouriel Roubini to indicate a mix of financial conditions that are such that it leads to a collapse of the market. “There will be a global recession due to Coronavirus”, Roubini declares, adding: “This crisis will spill over and result in a disaster.”

Roubini’s forecasts have been confirmed by the drop in the price of oil after the failure of OPEC to agree with Saudi Arabia, which has decided to increase its production and cut prices in defiance of Russia; and Roubini will likely be further vindicated as events unfold.

The weak point of globalization is interconnection, the talisman word of our time, from the economy to religion. Pope Francis’ Querida Amazonia is a hymn to interconnection. But today the global system is fragile precisely because it is so interconnected. And the system of distribution of products is one of the chains of this economic interconnection. It is not a problem of the markets but of real economy. Not only finance but also industry, commerce, and agriculture, that is to say, the pillars of the economy of a nation, can all collapse, if the system of production and distribution enters into a crisis.

But there is another point that becomes evident – there is not only the collapse of the health system; there is not only a possible crack in the economy; but there can also be a collapse of the state and public authority – in a word, social anarchy. The riots in Italian prisons indicate a trend in this direction.

Epidemics have psychological consequences because of the panic that they can provoke. Between the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, social psychology was born as a science. One of its first exponents was Gustave Le Bon, the author of a famous book, entitled, Psychologie des foules (Psychology of Crowds, 1895).

Analyzing collective behavior, Le Bon explains how in a crowd the individual undergoes a psychological change by which feelings and passions are transmitted from one individual to another, “by contagion,” like that which happens with infectious diseases.

The modern theory of contagion, which was inspired by Le Bon, explains how, protected by the anonymity of a crowd, the calmest individual can become aggressive, acting at the suggestion of others or in imitation of them. Panic is one of those feelings that is spread by social contagion, as happened during the French Revolution in the period that was called the “Great Fear.”

If a health crisis is compounded by an economic crisis, an uncontrolled wave of panic can trigger the violent impulses of the crowd. The state is then replaced by tribes and gangs, especially in the outskirts of large urban centers. Social war has been theorized by the São Paulo Forum, a conference of Latin American ultra-leftist organizations, and is practiced in Latin America, from Bolivia to Chile, from Venezuela to Ecuador, and may soon expand to Europe.

Someone might observe that this process corresponds to the project of the globalist lobbies, the “masters of chaos,” as Professor Renato Cristin defines them in his excellent book. But if this is true, it is also true that what emerges defeated from this crisis is the utopia of globalization, presented as the great road, destined to lead to the unification of the human race.

Globalization actually destroys space and pulverizes distances: today the key to escaping the epidemic is social distance, the isolation of the individual. The quarantine is diametrically opposed to the “open society” hoped for by George Soros. The conception of man as a relationship, typical of a certain school of philosophical personalism, dissipates.

Pope Francis, after the failure of Querida Amazonia, focused heavily on the conference dedicated to the “global compact,” scheduled at the Vatican for this coming May 14. This conference however has been rescheduled and has become more distant, not only in time but in its ideological presuppositions.

The Coronavirus brings us back to reality. It is not the end of borders that was announced after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Instead, it is the end of the world without borders, the end of the “global village.” It is not the triumph of the new world order: it is the triumph of the new world disorder. The political and social scenario is that of a society that is disintegrating and decomposing. Is it all organized? It’s possible. But history is not a deterministic succession of events.

The master of history is God, not the masters of chaos. The killer of globalization is a global virus called the Coronavirus.

As An Historian

At this point, the historian will step in to replace the political observer, seeking to see things from the perspective of a greater chronological distance. Epidemics have accompanied the history of humanity from the very beginning, and all the way to the twentieth century. And they are always intertwined with two other scourges: Wars and economic crises.

The last great epidemic, the Spanish Flu of 1918, was closely connected to the First World War and the Great Depression that began in 1929, also known as “the Great Crash,” an economic and financial crisis that convulsed the economic world at the end of the Twenties, with grave repercussions which extended well into the 1930s. These events were followed by the Second World War.

Laura Spinnay is an English scientific journalist who has written a book called Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World. Her book informs us that between 1918 and 1920 the virus which infected approximately 500 million people, including even inhabitants of remote islands of the Pacific Ocean and of the glacial Arctic Sea, causing the deaths of 50-100 million individuals, ten times more than the First World War.

World War I contributed to the flu’s virulence, helping the virus spread throughout the globe. Spinnay writes: “It is difficult to imagine a mechanism of contagion more effective than the mobilization of enormous quantities of troops in the height of the autumn wave, who then reached the four corners of the planet where they were greeted by festive crowds.

In essence, what the Spanish flu taught us is that another influenza pandemic is inevitable, but whether it will cause ten million or one hundred million victims depends only on what the world will be like in which it spreads.”

In the interconnected world of globalization, the ease with which contagion can spread is certainly greater than it was a century ago. Who can deny it?

But the historian’s perspective goes even further back in time. The twentieth century was the most terrible century of history. But there was another terrible century, “The Calamitous Fourteenth Century,” as Barbara Tuchman calls it in her book A Distant Mirror.

I would like to focus on this historical period that marked the end of the Medieval era and the beginning of the Modern era. I do so by basing myself on historical works that are not Catholic but serious and objective in their research.

The Rogations are processions convoked by the Church in order to implore the help of Heaven against calamities. The Rogations contain the prayer “A fame, peste et bello libera nos, Domine:” – from famine, plague, and war, deliver us, O Lord.

As the historian Roberto Lopez writes, the liturgical invocation present in the Rogation ceremonies “unfolded with all of its drama over the course of the fourteenth century… Between the tenth and twelfth centuries,” Lopez continues, “none of the great scourges that mow down humanity seem to have raged in any great measure; neither pestilence, of which there is no mention during this period, nor famine, nor war, which had a greatly reduced number of victims. Moreover, the expanse of agriculture was widened by a slow softening of the climate. We have proof of this in the retreat of the glaciers in the mountains and of the icebergs in the northern seas, in the extension of wine growing into regions like England where today it is no longer practical, and in the abundance of water in regions of the Sahara that were later reconquered by the desert.”

The picture of the fourteenth century was much, much different, as natural catastrophes combined with serious religious and political upheavals.

The fourteenth century was a century of deep religious crisis – it opened in 1303 with the famous “slap” of Anagni against Boniface VIII, one of the greatest humiliations of the papacy in history. Then, it saw the transference of the papacy for seventy years to the city of Avignon in France (1308-1378). And it ended with forty years of the Western Schism from 1378 to 1417, in which Catholic Europe was divided between two and then three popes. A century later, in 1517, the Protestant Revolution lacerated the unity of the Christian faith.

If the thirteenth century was a period of peace in Europe, the fourteenth century was an era of permanent war. We need only think of the “Hundred Years’ War” between France and England (1339-1452) and of the assault of the Turks against the Byzantine Empire with the conquest of Adrianople (1362).

In this century Europe experienced an economic crisis due to climatic changes caused, not by man, but by glaciation. The climate of the Middle Ages had been mild and gentle, like that era’s customs. But the fourteenth century experienced an abrupt harshening of climatic conditions.

The rains and floods of the spring of 1315 led to a general famine that assailed all of Europe, above all the northern regions, causing the death of millions of people. The famine spread everywhere. The elderly voluntarily refused food, in the hope of enabling the young to survive, and historians of the time write of many cases of cannibalism.

One of the principal consequences of the famines was agricultural de-structuring. In this period there were great movement of agricultural depopulation, characterized by flight from the land and the abandonment of villages; the forest invaded fields and vineyards. As a result of the abandonment of the fields, there was a strong reduction of soil productivity and a depletion of livestock.

If bad weather causes famine, the subsequent weakening of the body of entire populations causes disease. The historians Ruggiero Romano and Alberto Tenenti show how in the fourteenth century the recurring cycle of famines and epidemics intensified. The last great plague had erupted between 747 and 750; almost six hundred years later it reappeared, striking four times in the space of a decade.

The plague came from the Orient and arrived in Constantinople in the autumn of 1347. Over the next three years it infected all of Europe, all the way to Scandinavia and Poland. It was the Black Plague, of which Boccaccio speaks in the Decameron. Italy lost about half of its inhabitants. Agnolo di Tura, the chronicler of Siena, lamented that no one could be found to bury the dead, and that he had to bury his five sons with his own hands. Giovanni Villani, the chronicler of Florence, was struck by the plague in such a sudden way that his chronicle ends abruptly in the middle of a sentence.

The European population that had surpassed 70 million inhabitants at the beginning of the 1300s was reduced by a century of wars, epidemics, and famines to 40 million; it shrank by more than one third. The famines, plague, and wars of the fourteenth century were interpreted by the Christian people as signs of God’s chastisement.

Saint Bernardine of Siena (1380-1444) admonished: Tria sunt flagella quibus dominus castigat. There are three scourges with which God chastises: War, plague, and famine. Saint Bernardine belongs to a number of saints, like Catherine of Siena, Bridget of Sweden, Vincent Ferrer, Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, who warned how throughout history natural disasters have always accompanied the infidelities and apostasy of nations.

It happened at the end of the Christian Middle Ages, and it seems to be happening today. Saints like Bernardine of Siena did not attribute these events to the work of evil agents but to the sins of men, which are even more grave if they are collective sins and still more grave if tolerated or promoted by the rulers of the peoples and by those who govern the Church.

As A Philosopher Of History

These considerations introduce us to the third point in which I will consider the events not as a sociologist or historian but as a philosopher of history.

Theology and the philosophy of history are fields of intellectual speculation that apply the principles of theology and philosophy to historical events.

The theologian of history is like an eagle that judges human affairs from the heights. Some of the great theologians of history were Saint Augustine (354-430), Jacques Bénigne Bossuet (1627-1704), who was called the eagle of Meaux, from the name of the diocese where he was bishop, Count Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821), the marquis Juan Donoso Cortés (1809-1853), the abbot of Solesmes Dom Guéranger (1805-1875), professor Plinio Correa de Oliveira (1908-1995), and may others. There is a Biblical expression that says: Judicia Dei abyssus multa (Ps 35:7): the judgments of God are a great abyss. The theologian of history submits himself to these judgments and seeks to understand the reason for them.

Saint Gregory the Great, as he invites us to investigate the reasons for divine action, affirms: “Whoever does not discover the reason for which God does things in the very works themselves, will find in his own meanness and baseness sufficient cause to explain why his investigations are in vain.”

Philosophy and modern theology, under the influence above all of Hegel, have replaced the judgments of God with the judgments of history. The principle, according to which the Church judges history, is reversed. It is not the Church that judges history, but history that judges the Church, because the Church, according to the Nouvelle théologie, does not transcend history but is immanent, internal to itself.

When Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini said in his final interview that “The Church is 200 years behind” with respect to history, he assumed history as the criterion of judgment for the Church. When Pope Francis, in his Christmas greetings to the Roman Curia on December 21, 2019, made these words of Cardinal Martini his own, he is judging the Church in the name of history, overturning what should be the criterion of Catholic judgment.

History in reality is a creature of God, like nature, like all that exists, because nothing of what exists can exist apart from God. All that happens in history is foreseen, regulated and ordered by God for all eternity.

Thus, for the philosopher of history every discussion can only begin with God and finish with God. God does not only exist; God is concerned for His creatures, and He rewards or chastises rational creatures according to the merits or faults of each. The Catechism of Saint Pius X teaches: “God rewards the good and chastises the wicked because He is infinite justice….”

Justice, theologians explain, is one of the infinite perfections of God. The infinite mercy of God presupposed his infinite justice.

Among Catholics, the concept of justice, like the concept of divine justice, is often removed. And yet the doctrine of the Church teaches the existence of a particular judgment that follows the death of every person, with the immediate reward or punishment of the soul, and of a universal judgment in which all angels and all human beings will be judged for their thoughts, words, actions, and omissions.

The theology of history tells us that God rewards and punishes not only men but also collectivities and social groups: Families, nations, civilizations. But while men have their reward or chastisement, sometimes on earth but always in heaven, nations, which do not have an eternal life, are punished or rewarded only on earth.

God is righteous and rewarding and gives to each what is his due: He not only chastises individual persons, but He also sends tribulations to families, cities, and nations for the sins which they commit. Earthquakes, famines, epidemics, wars, and revolutions have always been considered divine chastisements. As Father Pedro de Ribadaneira (1527-1611) writes: “wars and plagues, droughts and famines, fires and all other disastrous calamities are chastisement for the sins of entire populations.”

On March 5, the bishop of an important diocese, whom I will not name, declared: “One thing is certain: this virus was not sent by God to punish sinful humanity. It is an effect of nature, treating us as a stepmother. But God faces this phenomenon with us and probably will make us understand, in the end, that humanity is one single village.”

The Italian bishop does not renounce the myth of the “single village,” nor the religion of nature, of the Pachamama and Greta Thunberg, even if for him the “Great Mother” can become “stepmother.” But the bishop above all forcefully rejects the idea that the Coronavirus epidemic or any other collective disaster can be a punishment for humanity. The virus, the bishop believes, is only the effect of nature.

But who is it that has created, ordered, and guided nature? God is the author of nature with its forces and its laws, and He has the power to arrange the mechanism of the forces and laws of nature in such a way as to produce a phenomenon according to the needs of His justice or His mercy. God, who is the first cause above all of all that exists, always makes use of secondary causes in order to affect His plans. Whoever has a supernatural spirit does not stop at the superficial level of things, but seeks to understand the hidden design of God that is at work beneath the apparently blind force of nature.

The great sin of our time is the loss of faith by the men of the Church: Not of this or that man of the Church but of the men of the Church in their collective whole, with few exceptions, thanks to whom the Church does not lose her invisibility. This sin produces blindness of the mind and hardening of the heart: Indifference to the violation of the divine order of the universe.

It is an indifference that hides hatred towards God. How is it manifested? Not directly. These men of the Church are too cowardly to directly challenge God; they prefer to express their hatred towards those who dare to speak of God. Whoever dares to speak of the chastisement of God gets stoned: A torrent of hatred flows against him.

These men of the Church, while verbally professing to believe in God, actually live immersed in practical atheism. They despoil God of all His attributes, reducing Him to pure “being” – that is, to nothing. Everything that happens is, for them, the fruit of nature, emancipated from its author, and only science, not the Church, is capable of deciphering nature’s laws.

Yet not only sound theology but the sensus fidei itself teaches that all physical and material evils that do not come from the will of man depend on the will of God. Saint Alphonsus Liguori writes: “Everything that happens here against our will, know that it does not occur except by the will of God, as Saint Augustine says.”

On July 19 the Church’s liturgy recalls Saint Lupus (or Saint Loup), bishop of Troyes (383-478). He was the brother of Saint Vincent of Lerins and the brother-in-law of Saint Hilary of Arles, belonging to a family of ancient senatorial nobility, but above all of great sanctity.

During his lengthy episcopate (52 years), Gaul was invaded by the Huns. Attila, at the head of an army of 400.000 men, crossed the Rhine, devastating everything he found in his path. When he arrived before the city of Troyes, Bishop Lupus, in his pontifical vestments and following his clergy in procession, came to meet Attila and asked him, “Who are you that you threaten this city?” And the response came: “Don’t you know who I am? I am Attila, king of the Huns, called the scourge of God.” To which Lupus replied: “Well, then, be the welcome scourge of God, because we merit divine scourges because of our sins. But if it is possible, let your blows fall only on my person and not on the entire city.”

The Huns entered the city of Troyes, but by divine will they were blinded and crossed it without being aware of it and without doing evil to anyone.

The bishops today not only are not speaking about divine scourges, but they are not even inviting the faithful to pray that God will liberate them from the epidemic. There is a coherence in this. Whoever prays, in fact, asks God to intervene in his life, and thus in the things of the world, in order to be protected from evil and to obtain spiritual and material goods. But why should God listen to our prayers, if He is disinterested in the universe created by Him?

If, on the contrary, God can, by means of miracles, change the laws of nature, avoiding the sufferings and death of an individual man, or great loss of life throughout an entire city, He can also decree the punishment of a city or a people, because their collective sins call down collective chastisements.

Saint Charles Borromeo said, “Because of our sins, God permitted the fire of the plague to attack every part of Milan.” And Saint Thomas Aquinas explains: “When it is all the people who sin, vengeance must be made on all the people, just as the Egyptians who persecuted the children of Israel were submerged in the Red Sea, and as the inhabitants of Sodom were struck down en masse, or a significant number of people must be struck, such as happened in the chastisement inflicted for the adoration of the golden calf.”

On the eve of the second session of the First Vatican Council, on January 6, 1870, Saint John Bosco had a vision in which it was revealed to him that “war, plague, and famine are the scourges with which the pride and malice of men will be struck down.” This is how the Lord expressed himself: “You, O priests, why do you not run to weep between the vestibule and the altar, begging for the end of the scourges? Why do you not take up the shield of faith and go over the roofs, in the houses, in the streets, in the piazzas, in every inaccessible place, to carry the seed of my word. Do you not know that this is the terrible two-edged sword that strikes down my enemies and that breaks the wrath of God and men?”

The priests are silent, the bishops are silent, the Pope is silent.

We are approaching Holy Week and Easter. And yet for the first time in many centuries in Italy, the churches are closed, Masses are suspended, and even Saint Peter’s Basilica is closed. The Holy Week and Easter liturgies urbe et orbi will not be drawing pilgrims from all over the world.

God, also punishes by “subtraction,” as Saint Bernardine of Siena says; and today it seems like He has removed the churches, the Mother of all churches from the supreme Pastor, while the Catholic people are groping confused in the dark, deprived of the light of truth that should illuminate the world from Saint Peter’s Basilica. How can we not see in what the Coronavirus is producing a symbolic consequence of the self-destruction of the Church?

Judicia Dei abyssus multa. We ought to be certain that what is happening does not prefigure the success of the sons of darkness, but rather their defeat, because, as Father Carlo Ambrogio Cattaneo, S.J., (1645-1705) explains, the number of sins, whether of a man or of a people, is numbered. Venit dies iniquitate praefinita, says the prophet Ezekiel (21:2), God is merciful but there is a final sin that God does not tolerate and that provokes His chastisement.

Furthermore, according to a principle of the theology of Christian history, the center of history is not the enemies of the Church but the saints. Omnia sustineo propter electos (2 Tim 2:10) says Saint Paul. History revolves around the elect of God. And history depends on the impenetrable designs of Divine Providence.

Throughout history there are those who oppose the law of God, whether men, groups, or organized societies, both public and secret, who work to destroy all that has been ordained by God. They are able to obtain apparent successes, but they will always ultimately be defeated.

The scenario we have before us is apocalyptic, but Pius XII recalls that in the Book of Revelation (6:2) Saint John says, “did not behold only the ruins caused by sin, war, famine, and death; he also saw in the first place the victory of Christ. And, indeed, the path of the Church throughout the centuries is a via crucis, but it is also always a march of triumph. The Church of Christ, the man of faith and Christian love, are always those who bring light, redemption and peace to a humanity without hope. Iesus Christus heri et hodie, ipse et in saecula (Hebrews 13:8). Christ is your guide, from victory to victory. Follow him.”

At Fatima, the Blessed Mother has revealed to us the scenario of our time, and she assured us of her triumph. With the humility of those who are aware that they can do nothing by their own strength, but also with the confidence of those who know that everything is possible with the help of God, we do not retreat, and we entrust ourselves to Mary, at the tragic hour of the events foretold by the message of Fatima.

This article is a transcription of a video made by Professor de Mattei.

The image shows “The Plague of the Philistines at Ashdod,” by Pieter van Halen, painted in 1661.

Solidarity Forever! Solidarity Never! Labor History Through Song

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

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

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

Timeliness

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

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

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

To Sing

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

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

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

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

Limitations and Failures

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

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

An Overview

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

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

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

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

General Ludd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wobblies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joe Hill and Religious Tunes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gospel of Christ Meets the Gospel of Labor

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

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

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

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

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

Liturgical Music

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

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

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

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

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

Renewing Plato. Part One: The Flaws of Aristotelian Hylomorphism

Plato was manifestly an oracle (similar to Pythagoras), whose thesis of the subdivision of reality into a virtual realm (inaccessible to the senses) and a concrete realm of the senses ultimately came to elucidate his privileged experience of the superiority of supra-sensible reality; Aristotle, on the other hand, resembled much more what can only be described as being sensory. In what follows, I would like to defend a renovated version of the Platonic perspective, against the Aristotelian negation of the existence of virtual entities that Plato called “Ideas,” but which the master of Aristotle rightly identified as the model of concrete entities.

Therefore, I will argue as follows:

1) Any concrete entity partakes of an ideational model (which may be termed, “archetype,” but which, contrary to the traditional understanding of archetypes, must be deemed as the singular model of a given entity, and the model of the unique and shared traits of a given singular entity)—which configures, or determines, the layout and the composition of the aforesaid entity, and that the “matter” constituting concrete beings takes charge of its own information, except in the case of those concrete beings that are artificial.

2) Here, the ideal, or virtual realm is hierarchized: it is constituted by elementary archetypes, as well as archetypes implied by the elementary ones. Plus, the starting rules of the cosmos (as such, the laws present at the time of the Big-Bang) and the implications of such rules, the latter being incessantly iterated and complexified over the course of cosmic history.

Besides the ideal field is imbued with a possibly conscious impulse, whose object is the incarnation of the ideal realm into matter. This impulse engenders the temporal start of the material field, and therefore of the universe. Yet the ideal realm materializes itself, all the while remaining beyond matter.

3) Time occasions a process of communication between matter at the instant (T) and the actualizable properties of matter at the instant (T-1), which yields so many implications that it is possible to extract from elementary archetypes and from starting rules. Matter, within the framework of this extraction of the implications in collaboration with time, repeats in a fractal mode the starting rules of the cosmos. These consist of a handful of pairs of opposites (namely: attraction and repulsion, integration and differentiation, fission and fusion) branching (via the iteration which causes the extraction of their implications) into the laws of the cosmos.

4) The primordial unity from which the cosmos proceeds consists in the impulse on the part of the ideational field to selectively accomplish its own content into innovative matter, and the bliss for man (especially the Faustian man) lies in the knowledge of the material unfolding of the Spirit (by which I mean the ideational field taken from the angle of its unified multiplicity), and in the extension of the creative gesture of the cosmos—via science, technique, and art.

5) The atemporal movement consisting for the Spirit of actualizing (while sorting) the implications that it carries within it projects—on the walls of the metaphorical cavern of the material and temporal field—a shadow which consists in the begetting (at the level of matter and on the part of matter) of increasing levels of order and complexity. A generation nonetheless not assigned to a predetermined final state of cosmic evolution—and not kept away from randomness and from error.

The course and the laws of the cosmos that are the incarnation of the Spirit mobilize clairvoyance (i.e., the intuition of the supra-sensible field), just as well as conjecture (and induction) from the sensible datum.

Hylomorphism And The Emergence Process

As for Aristotle’s substitution of the archetypes, from which proceed the concrete entities, with the notion that a concrete entity owes its determination to the “form” which is inherent to it, I will naturally begin by questioning the Aristotelian perspective for the benefit of the rehabilitation of archetypes.

The Aristotelian hylomorphic theory claims that any entity is a compound of two distinct realities—namely, form, which is to be taken in the precise sense of an active reality conferring onto matter a certain arrangement, and as such, determining the concerned entity. And matter, which is to be taken in the precise sense of a passive and indeterminate reality composing the entity, and giving it a concrete and tangible character, and carrying within it the potentiality of a given change at the level of form—a change which is spontaneously actualized in the case of natural beings. Such theory does not fail to pose a certain number of problems.

To begin with, it is hardly plausible that the arrangement of a certain (concrete) entity and its composition are only associated realities within the entity, instead of the information (in other words, the arrangement, the organization) of the entity being a property of that which composes the entity. In that second scenario, which is much more likely, “form” must no longer be taken in the sense of an active reality. Rather, it must be seen as a passive emanation of the tenor of “matter,” the matter composing the concrete entities and—at least in the case of those of concrete beings which are properly natural and which are therefore opposed to those artificial—taking charge of its own shaping.

Besides, it is manifestly false that the determination (of the identity) of a concrete entity relates exclusively to the arrangement of the entity, rather than to the combination of its arrangement and of its composition. The identity of a tree—apart from its foliage and the composition of its leaves—resides jointly in the (essential or contingent) qualities of the wood which composes it and in the (constitutive or accidental) features of the arrangement of its trunk and of its branches. The archetype which Pythagoras and Plato deal with (and which we cannot do without) must be reassessed accordingly.

Our way of envisioning the relationship of form to matter, and the nature of those two realities (and thus, the adequate definition of the concepts which cover them), owes its greatest plausibility most notably to the compatibility of our approach with the emergence process. The latter can be defined as the fact for a qualitatively new concrete entity—the novelty in question relating to the composition of the entity or its arrangement—to arise from one or more pre-existing entities (to which the new entity cannot however be reduced). Yet the only changes compatible with the Aristotelian approach to form as an active and informative element, which coexists with matter envisaged as passive and informed (but which is not a driving element of formal change), are those which do not consist in introducing a component or an arrangement of a new type on the world stage.

Hence the emergence exceeds the Aristotelian hylomorphic framework. The only intelligible changes in the hylomorphic framework are those which do not contravene the Aristotelian conception of the world as eternal and equal to itself, whether the object of changes is place, quality, quantity, or generation. For its part, the conception of the matter of concrete beings as active and self-informed also takes into account this kind of change that is emergence. Here it is elucidated as a process in which self-organized matter sets up an organization of a new type, and in which the emerging organization possibly merges with a component of a new type.

Hylomorphism And The Distinction Between Natural Beings And Artificial Beings

Further, my approach allows for a greater likelihood (and greater clarity) of examining the dichotomy between those of concrete beings which are “natural” and those which are “artificial”: distinction confusedly treated in Aristotelian hylomorphism (which affirms the spontaneous character of the occurrence of the various kinds of change in the case of natural beings, but claims, otherwise, that any change is due to an exterior motor), here clarified in these terms.

Namely that natural beings are those of concrete beings whose information is spontaneously set up by the tenor of what composes them, while artificial beings are those which owe their information to the exercise of an exterior action on the tenor of what composes them, regardless of whether the other kinds of change to affect them are spontaneous or not.

While water presents itself as a natural entity, whose information is spontaneously taken over (by the molecules composing it, which assemble two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom), and whose self-organization (in other words, self-information) is confused with the emergence of a certain sort of “matter” (which will enter in the composition, for example, of a floe), a snowman is an artificial being whose information is the result of the action of a human being having fun with snow.

The self-information constitutive of those of (concrete) beings which are natural will take specific modalities according to the types of the natural beings: from the particulate self-organization (of the quarks which enter in the composition) of hadrons to that of the cells which compose advanced (therefore multicellular) eukaryotes, and to that of the individual members of animal or human societies, these are genuinely incremental levels of emergence that hatch (as concerns the types of self-information, and in upstream, the types of natural being). The nutritive, generative, sensitive, motor, or cogitative functions which living beings endorse and which Aristotle classifies being only modalities of the self-information of living beings.

Just as the existence of the realm of concrete entities is corroborated by sensible experience; likewise, the existence of the realm of virtual entities—the mathematical laws which govern the concrete order, as well as the archetypes which Plato calls “Ideas” and that notably include numbers—is corroborated by the supra-sensible experience.

The Idea that Plato deals with (and whose definition which I will retain as adequate is that of the Idea as the supra-sensible model of concrete entities) has this particularity, compared to the form (in the Aristotelian sense), allegedly present in concrete entities, that it can utterly be conceived of as jointly determining the arrangement and the composition of a given concrete entity. The Idea is certainly virtual (rather than concrete); it nevertheless remains likely to contain just as much the essential or accidental, necessary or contingent properties at the level of organization (“form” taken in the vague sense of the arrangement of a given concrete entity) as those at the level of the composition (“matter” taken in the vague sense of what a given concrete entity is made of). In this regard it would be worthwhile to distinguish between “matter” (understood as what enters in the composition of a given entity) and “materiality” (understood as a certain mode of existence which consists for a given entity in being concrete, tangible, firm).

Assuredly such an approach to Idea is not that of Plato. The latter does not only consider Ideas as the models only of general qualities (for example, the general qualities of blond, blue-eyed people… rather than the sum of the singular and common qualities of the blond, blue-eyed Donald Trump), which amounts to restricting the qualities configured in the Idea of a certain singular entity to the field of the general (in other words, shared, common) qualities of the entity, general qualities which are also necessary qualities (but which do not summarize the whole of necessary qualities). Besides he represents to himself Idea as the supra-sensible model of the sole organization of concrete entities (and not that jointly of their arrangement and of their composition). Yet the identity of a given concrete entity including both the qualities relating to its composition and those relating to its arrangement, the supra-sensible model of the identity must manifestly determine both what is characteristic of the arrangement and what belongs to the composition.

As archetypes deal as much with arrangement as with composition, the (singular) archetype of a given concrete entity will determine whether its arrangement is spontaneously set up by what enters in the composition of the entity—in other words, whether the entity in question is natural rather than artificial. In the case where the entity is effectively natural, the organization is jointly determined by the archetype and implemented by what enters in its composition… so that a distinction must be made between organization as predetermined in the archetype and organization as materialized. In other words, the materialized “form,” that set up by matter (understood as what composes a concrete being), must be distinguished from its supra-sensible and virtual model: the form which is determined in the archetype of a given concrete entity, but which does not summarize the archetype. Given the latter includes as much the properties relating to the composition of the concerned concrete entity as those relating to its arrangement.

A New Approach To “Form” And “Matter”

Ultimately we can redefine in these terms the form and the matter which were the subject of Aristotle’s meditations. In the weak sense, matter is what composes a given entity (whether the entity is virtual or concrete, tangible, firm), while in the strong sense, matter is what composes a properly concretized (in other words, firm) entity, which we commonly call a “material” entity—a qualifier that we will make ours.

As for form, it is the arrangement (in other words, the organization) of a given entity… arrangement that (in the case of material entities) matter (taken in the strong sense) either gives itself actively or passively receives: that distinction at the level of the arrangement founding the dichotomy between those of material entities which are natural and those which are artificial.

When we will use the term “matter” without specifying the sense in which we understand it, we will take it in the strong sense mentioned above: matter understood as what composes a properly concrete entity… with a spontaneous arrangement of matter in the case of natural entities. While we reject the Aristotelian definition of matter (as a passive and concrete reality that composes any entity), we believe that the Aristotelian approach to form remains valid as concerns the arrangement of archetypes.

Aristotelian hylomorphism not only conceives of any entity as a compound of “form” and “matter,” but defines the second as that which passively composes and concretizes a given entity, and the first as that which actively informs the composition of the entity. It is obviously intended to be an alternative to the theory of Ideas. Nevertheless the assertion that any properly material entity is a compound of form in the Aristotelian sense and of matter in the sense of what passively composes a material entity is hardly incompatible with the Platonic notion that any material (that is to say, materialized, tangible) entity aligns with a virtual archetype.

Better the virtual archetypes which Plato deals with are certainly deprived of a material existence, matter in the sense of what passively composes a given entity does not fail them: they are, so to speak, cut in the wood of virtual. While the arrangement of the archetypes (which merges with the content of the Ideas) actively informs the virtual reality of which the archetypes are made. As such, the form taken in the Aristotelian sense of an active reality which coexists with the passive composition of a given entity (and which arranges the entity) corresponds no less well to the virtual entities that are the archetypes… for want of applying to concrete entities the secrets of which Aristotelian hylomorphism yet believed to unlock.

Form as understood by Aristotle all the better lends itself to describing the arrangement of an archetype (rather than that of a material entity) as, while denying the existence of virtual entities, the Stagirite does not conceive of form as a material reality (but as a reality coexisting with matter within a given material entity). If form as defined by Aristotle does not have a properly material existence, it is difficult to see how it could not be an arrangement whose mode of existence is virtual… therefore an arrangement which relates to a virtual entity.

Towards a New Version Of Platonism

By the way Idea can even be conceived of in Aristotelian terms of efficient cause and final cause, the efficient cause being Idea itself (which is sufficient in itself to exist, and that exists outside of time and world) and the final cause being the material entity that Idea is intended to determine (at the level of its composition and of its arrangement).

As archetype jointly includes the qualities associated with composition and those associated with arrangement, the emergence of matter from nothingness (which supposedly preceded the beginning of the cosmos) loses its mysterious character. The engendering of matter—of which vacuum, baryons, leptons, photons, dark matter, water, or bronze are all specific varieties—is the work of the Spirit, by which I hear the virtual bundle of archetypes (including numbers and figures), as well as of the laws of the cosmos.

More precisely, the renovated Platonic perspective to which I subscribe is that a swarm of atemporal and virtual axioms (namely, attraction and repulsion, integration and differentiation, fission and fusion), as well as of elementary archetypes (including the archetype of the quark or that of the void), presides over the creation of the universe. And that matter—in partnership with time which, at the instant (T), allows it to make a selection among those of properties at the level of the arrangement or of the composition of matter which, at the instant (T-1), are actualizable—accomplishes (while sorting them out) the virtual implications which flow from the axioms (by which I designate, so, the starting rules of the cosmos) and from the archetypes.

Matter certainly takes charge of its own information (in other words, it gives itself its own arrangement, its own formal determination, which is a function of the tenor of matter); nevertheless it acts under the impulse of a virtual swarm of archetypes and of axioms which—over the course of time and through time and matter—sees its own implications extracted (and selected) in the cosmos. The information of a given matter leading up from time to time to an incremental mode of matter—like the mode of matter that is methane gas and which emerges from the arrangement (within its molecules) of a carbon atom and of four hydrogen atoms.

In that framework, the supra-sensible knowledge, the intuition of the virtual entities that are axioms (that matter declines at each level of emergence succeeding the original emergence of the universe) and the (elementary or implied) archetypes, is utterly conceivable. It is worthwhile to distinguish between the arrangement relating to archetypes (which merges with their content) and the arrangement which resides in the archetypes… the one which they express and which they determine. We will speak of “archetypal form” to designate the latter, and of the “arrangement of archetypes” to designate the former.

What ideology is to men who work to organize society on the model of an ideology, the archetypal form (by which I mean, so, the form that the archetype determines, and that it carries within it) is to matter which informs itself on the formal model of the archetype. Just as matter (at least in the case of natural entities) gives itself its own form, and just as the tenor of form will depend on the tenor of matter, the members of a certain human biocultural group—when they spontaneously organize their society—will give themselves an organization which will be a function of the tenor of their biology.

Besides the momentum of the archetypes of giving themselves a material translation—a translation jointly at the level of the tenor of matter and at the level of the organization of matter—communicates itself to matter which will strive to achieve the archetypal forms… just as the impulse of ideologies (in other words, memes) to organize matter communicates itself to humans who will endeavor to conform the organization of their societies to the formal models of ideologies.

Ultimately the process which consists for the archetype in realizing itself jointly into the tenor of matter and into the organization of matter finds itself to be incidentally mimicked by the process which consists for the meme—the equivalent of the duplicator of biological information in the field of acquired cultural behavior—in realizing itself into the organization of matter. It is not impossible that this similarity can also be observed in the relationship that the genetic program sustains with the arrangement of the individual organism.

Grégoire Canlorbe is an independent scholar based in Paris. He has conducted many academic interviews with social scientists, physicists, and cultural figures. He has also authored a number of metapolitical and philosophical articles. He ha also worked on a forthcoming conversation book with the philosopher, Howard Bloom. See his website is gregoirecanlorbe.com.

The image shows, “I Lock the Door Upon Myself,” by Fernand Khnopff, painted in 1891.

Educational U-Turn

According to recent economic data, the gap between the rich and the low-income people is bigger than ever before, and the level of inequality between Blacks and Whites is highest since 1989: “Whites have $13 for $1 held by African Americans” (The Washington Post on Dec. 3rd, 2014). The tone of the pronouncements is alarming, and, the claim goes, unless something is done, the wealth divide may become the cause of social unrest.

What goes unnoticed in the context of endless discussions concerning the growing income inequality is the galloping educational inequality where the blame cannot be assigned to the rich for the educational ills of the poor. In the economic realm one can tax the rich to transfer wealth to the poor, but one cannot transfer knowledge, that is, linguistic comprehension and social and scientific competence, of those who are highly literate to improve the comprehension of low-income children.

The last two hundred “democratic” years, which witnessed the spread of public libraries and learning institutions created for the use of ordinary citizens, abounds in examples of children from poor and modest backgrounds getting to the top of Western societies.

Twentieth-century — both in the democratic West and in the former Communist countries — demonstrates that one can elevate the uneducated masses to a historically unprecedented level of literacy and scientific competence. The key to success was teaching proper language – the language of educated classes (or elites – the word purged from American English) so that the masses of ordinary people could participate in High Culture and civic and scientific life of the country.

What we observe in Twenty-First-century America is an educational U-turn. We graduate masses of elementary, high-school and college students who are below the level of reading daily newspapers. Their comprehension is getting worse and worse each year, and the average present-day public-school student does not have enough vocabulary to read the same books that his counterpart did a decade let alone two decades ago.

We produce citizens who have no linguistic and thus conceptual skills to grasp the complex political, social, and economic problems that every nation faces in its history. The question is why? And if you think it is lack of resources or bad teachers, you are likely to be wrong.

Despite the recurrent media “witch-hunt” after bad teachers, teachers bear much less responsibility than one would like to assign to them. They are victims of cultural and institutional politics that pushed out the traditional methods of teaching and learning and replaced them by pedagogy, children’s psychology and, in the last decade, electronic insanity which makes children scroll through a text rather than read.

The last thing one sees is young people reading and what they read, if they read books at all, are books that bear semblance to literature, but they are not. They lack literary imagination characteristic of the Classics, the characters are psychologically flat, rarely animated by any virtues, and speak the language of the people from the street. Instead of making our children’s English better, more elegant, we perpetuate bad habits and cater to their existing vocabulary level, leaving them behind their richer counterparts.

If one wonders why foreign students, Asian, and many from former British colonies in Africa, are so successful in America, the answer is: they came from societies where educational habits did not change much for decades. Their parents brought with them traditional study skills and discipline – the two things which are absent here. Memorization and endless drills “till you get it right” are essential tools for getting high grades.

To some extent the same attitude still prevails in good private and most Catholic schools in the U.S. There vocabulary is still taught from serious vocabulary books in the old-fashioned way by memorization, drills, endless and relentless repetition and exercises. In some of those schools, students take Latin, French, sometimes German, which for an English speaker is the only way to learn grammar (since grammar is never taught).

As a nation, we need to realize that the wealth divide between “haves” and “have-nots” corresponds to “comprehends” and “comprehend-nots.” One cannot teach, for example, eighth grade science or history to students who operate on the fifth or sixth grade vocabulary level. If one’s comprehension is not up to the level of being accepted by a good college, one’s chances for social and financial advancement disappears from before one’s child’s eyes.

The educational abyss overlaps to a large extent with the financial abyss making America look like a “tale of two cities”: fewer and fewer well-educated rich and growing masses of semi-literate and helpless low-income people.

Unlike the acquisition of wealth which requires personal and rare qualities (industriousness, self-determination, etc.), all it takes to know one’s language well is reading good literature. Reading is what disappeared from American households and schools.

Few children from the poor backgrounds have heard of Charles Dickens, Jules Verne, Alexandre Dumas, Mark Twain, Hans Christian Anderson, the Brothers Grimm, Homer, Aesop, let alone Plutarch’s lives of great Greeks and Romans — the authors who formed the imagination and language of generations of readers in the Western world. Using a dictionary and reading Classics appears to belong to the remote past and is restricted to a relatively small group of richer children which makes them look like educational aristocracy.

Why do our youngsters not read the Classics? There are two answers to this question: Parents and younger teachers themselves did not read them, and the teachers succumbed to the ridiculous idea propagated by so-called “experts” in pedagogy that children understand literature best when they “can relate to” characters whose problems and language are theirs.

If so, how on earth can one explain how millions of girls of several generations ago could relate to Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Princess and the Pea” without sleeping on a pile of pillows, or Snow White? The answer is, we relate through imagination which is a vehicle to a more beautiful world and a way of getting out from the ugliness of our own environment and poverty.

No literary character is real. Literary characters are merely plausible, and literature is a promise that we can imagine being elsewhere in life. To illustrate my point, let me invoke an example of a poor Hispanic Brooklyn girl who became America’s Supreme Court Justice – Sonya Sotomayor. This is what she said in the January 13, 2014, NPR Fresh Air interview:

“One day talking to my first-year roommate … I was telling her about how out of place I felt at Princeton, how I didn’t connect with many of the experiences that some of my classmates were describing, and she said to me, “You’re like Alice in Wonderland.”

I said, “Who is Alice?”

And she said, “You don’t know about Alice?”
I said, “No, I don’t.”

And she said, “It’s one of the greatest book classics in English literature. You should read it.”

“I recognized at that moment that there were likely to be many other children’s classics that I had not read. … Before I went home that summer, I asked her to give me a list of some of the books she thought were children’s classics and she gave me a long list and I spent the summer reading them. That was perhaps the starkest moment of my understanding that there was a world I had missed, of things that I didn’t know anything about.”

Justice Sotomayor’s words should be a cautionary tale for all present-day educators who by experimenting with new methods are in fact closing the door to the future before our children’s eyes.

How did we reach such low level of literacy? There are several reasons, of which the first one is the idea of multiculturalism propagated in the 1980s and 90s. According to it, a multicultural society should, or even must, represent minorities in educational curriculum.

This argument is similar in nature to the one I presented above: it is based on the false intellectual and moral premise that the work of art does not have an intrinsic value; its value lies in the fact that it was created by a member of a given minority, and the minority reader (or viewer of a painting or sculpture) is more likely to appreciate it if he is of the same sex, race, ethnicity.

But to make such a claim is tantamount to saying that there are no objective criteria of judgement. The criteria are subjective and determined by race or sex or ethnicity.

Secondly, multiculturalism is inimical to the idea of a nation. Americans may not be a nation in the same sense in which other nations are, and whose literature captures peculiar moments of a historical development, mentality and the features of its people.

It is unimaginable to be a German without knowing Goethe, Schiller, or Heine; French without knowing Racine, Corneille, or Moliere, Pascal and Descartes; Russian without knowing Pushkin, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Lermontov, or Gogol and Pasternak. They are not just great writers; they are national monuments, of which Germans, French, and Russians are proud.

To be sure, America does not have national literature in the same sense. Knowing Thoreau or Emerson, Steinbeck or Faulkner, or C.S. Lewis does not make an American American. What does is the tacit intellectual commitment – inculcated in the educational process — to principles on which this country was founded, and which for a century or so was transmitted through what Americans used to call “Great Books.”

There are no American writers in it. What the American “Library of Alexandria” contains are the greatest treasures of European intellectual tradition which goes back to the Greeks, Romans, great Christian writers, such as, St. Augustine, St. Thomas, Calvin, Luther, and others. But first of all, much of what one finds in this library is British or English, including the greatest works in the English language: the language of America and the language of its legal and political tradition.

As things stand, America appears to be in the final stage of repudiating its threefold past: British, Protestant and Western. Multiculturalism is not merely a failed promise of a providing a better education; it is a moral and intellectual disease, and that is how we should treat it. We need to repudiate it loudly by returning to our old “Library of Alexandria.”

Pouring more money into education will not solve the problem and will more likely make things worse. The money will be spent on organizing conferences on new methods of teaching, relating to students, buying new computers – all that is taking students away from reading. It is time to recognize the simple truth that there are no new methods in education but one: old-fashioned painstaking acquisition of vocabulary, learning grammar and reading good books.

It may not always be true that every rich person is educated but the majority of children from richer families or families where reading is a daily bread are the same who will graduate from top universities. They will acquire wealth while the semi-literate will remain financially poor because they will not be able to master subjects necessary to get jobs to get out of poverty and advance their social status.

There is also a place for the billionaires and richer members of our society to help the poor, not by squandering money on educational foundations, but by directly engaging in doing something: sponsoring children Classics book-clubs, giving incentives to children who read a lot, organizing serious foreign language classes where they could learn language and grammar.

Perhaps McDonalds and other food chains, which live off the low-income people, could promote Classics by putting books, like Starbucks does selling CDs with music, at the counter offering “voracious readers” awards, or giving a free meal to children who read X number of books. Education does not have to cost a lot, provided one knows what it is, but social costs of having millions of poorly educated citizens can and we should do something about it.

If we are serious about improving education, we need to go back to basics: a pencil, a sheet of paper, a dictionary, basic Latin and Greek, and classic literature with a teacher who should not be bothered by a continuous nonsense of improving methods of teaching. No method is a substitute for literary competence and imagination.

Zbigniew Janowski is the author of Cartesian Theodicy: Descartes’ Quest for Certitude, Index Augustino-Cartesian, Agamemnon’s Tomb: Polish Oresteia (with Catherine O’Neil), How To Read Descartes’ Meditations. He also is the editor of Leszek Kolakowski’s My Correct Views on Everything, The Two Eyes of Spinoza and Other Essays on Philosophers, John Stuart Mill: On Democracy, Freedom and Government & Other Selected Writings. He is currently working on a collection of articles: Homo Americanus: Rise of Democratic Totalitarianism in America.

The image shows, “Woman Reading. Portrait of Sofia Kramskaya,” by Ivan Kramskoi, and painted sometime after 1866.

Are Pandemics Evil?

Recent conversations have brought up questions about good and evil, particularly in the natural world. When the world is locked down in response to a virus, it is easy to wonder about the nature of things. Can a virus be called “evil?” Is that the right word for it? In truth, we use words in a very loose manner in our common speech.

We say “evil” about many things, without thinking carefully (or meaning to) about what we’re actually saying. This changes, however, when we attempt to do theology. For theology is always something that involves words, and often turns on the right use of the right word for the right thing. Classically, some of the largest controversies turned on a single iota.

We do not speak with precision in our daily life, and it is silly to expect that we should. But, it is also good to pause, now and again, to think carefully about our speech and what we mean. This article is a small attempt to speak carefully about the nature of good and evil and how Orthodox theology, at its most careful, speaks of them. I’ll also try to define my terms with some care. Here goes.

The Fathers, particularly the Cappadocians through Dionysius and St. Maximus the Confessor, belonged to a school of speech that took great care to hammer away at certain terms, reaching consensus on use and meaning. The seven Great Councils all belong to a single vocabulary project that, over time, developed a working consensus on terms and their application. Some of those words are key:

Being
Nature
Essence
Substance

Person
Hypostasis

Existence
Subsistence

Will
Energy

Movement
Change

This list could be expanded even further, but I’ll stop with this. There are some fundamental ideas in all of this. First, and foremost, is the understanding of “being.”

Being, like goodness, and beauty, is foundational. Everything that exists, apart from God, is created out of nothing. And everything(!) that is created is good. God is not the author of evil. Thus, nothing can be said to be “evil” in its actual being. And here we have to think carefully about our language.

When reading classical theology, “essence” or “ousia” or “substance” all refer to the actual being of something – the simple reality that it is. Further, the word “nature,” or “physis,” is used to describe the “what-ness” of something. Thus, a tree has the nature of a tree; a rock has the nature of a rock; an angel has the nature of an angel, etc. If we ask what the “nature” of a tree is, we would answer “to be what a tree is.” A tree is not a rock nor an angel. Again, these are words that describe “being” or “what something is.”

The terms “person” and “hypostatic” are a bit more problematic. For nothing simply “is.” Everything that exists, exists in a particular manner. The tree outside my window is a unique tree and not just the essence of treeness. This expresses something of the uniqueness of what exists. It not only has being (essence), but a particular being (hypostasis).

When speaking of human beings, “hypostasis” or “person” have a quality that is more than mere particularity. There is a relational aspect of our unique existence. I am not fully “who” I am except as I am also in communion with others (more or less).

Related to this, with regard to all things, are the words “existence” and “subsistence.” Something not only has “being,” but the actual being it has is expressed in some manner that is describable. My “existence” encompasses everything that I am doing and every way that I function. Thus, if something is “existential,” it is a matter of the basic expression of my being in a way that can be described and experienced.

Two additional words are quite interesting: “will” and “energy.” Interestingly, the “will” in its most proper meaning, is a faculty and property of the nature (our essence or being). It is a nature’s drive to naturally be what it is created to be. Trees never want to be anything else. A virus wants what a virus wants (by nature). It does not do something else. You can count on it.

Human beings, however, have a different experience of the will, a consequence of our brokenness and lack of communion with God. We have a natural will (the will of our nature), that always tends towards our proper end, that is, what we were created to do and be. But there is what St. Maximus termed the “gnomic” will – a sort of experience of choosing.

That will is not governed by our nature but has a kind of unguided freedom. Generally, when we speak of the “will,” we mean this “gnomic” will. The very fact that we have one is not natural. It is unnatural and is a cause of great suffering in our lives. Christian ascesis, to a large extent, concerns itself with the healing of this disruption in our makeup.

Indeed, according to the authoritative teaching of St. Maximus, Christ Himself did not have a “gnomic” will – a separated, fallen, choosing sort of confusion about His actions. He acted with complete integrity and union as a human being (united with His Divine nature). This can quickly become a very complicated discussion, so I will leave it at that. I will say that we often speak about the human will and human freedom in a manner that ignores this distinction and leads to some very false assumptions about what it means to be human.

For what it’s worth, we see a somewhat similar kind of integrity in the actions and life of the Theotokos. But that’s for another day.

“Energy” is a very interesting word. For years I imagined it in terms of physics, thinking it described some sort of force emanating from a being. However, it’s far more simple. “Energies” are our actions, our “doings.” With God, His actions and His being are one. God is what He is and He is what He does. We’re a bit more problematic.

Our doings are often in contradiction to our being. For example, anything we do that is a movement or action against true existence (our being) is a contradiction of who and what we are. Murder is an action that is inherently evil. Note, it’s not the “being” that is evil, but the misuse of the being in its evil actions.

The Fathers (particularly the Cappadocians, Dionysius, Maximus, etc.) view the creation as inherently good, which is also the same thing as saying that it exists and has being. But they do not see the creation as having the fullness of the Good.

Everything that exists is created to move towards union and full participation in the Good (God Himself). Creation is dynamic and moves and changes. Sin and evil are a deviation from this dynamic. The path the Fathers describe is: being, well-being, eternal being. Being is a given. Our present life should be an increasing acquisition of well-being. Our final goal is full participation in eternal being, the very life of God.

I have found it very helpful to keep all of this in mind when thinking about sin and evil. Orthodoxy makes a strong link between sin and death. Sin is a movement, a misdirection, a drive and direction towards non-being. It displays as murder, lies, deceit, etc., everything that moves us away from the path to God. It is, however, a false path, and not the thing itself.

We may say that a man is evil, but, if we are precise, we must say that his actions (energies) are evil. It was certain errors in the West that led some to speak of human beings as totally depraved and actually evil – or, in Luther’s phrase, “a mass of damnation.” That imprecise language did much harm.

What about the things in the world that are called “natural evil?” This would include events (earthquakes, floods, plagues, etc.). What is “evil” about such things? There is nothing inherently “evil” in the shifting of planetary plates (earthquakes). It’s what planets like ours do. It creates continents, mountains, etc. It is normal. We use the word “evil” in describing these things because of the suffering and death that comes in their wake. But earthquakes are not death and suffering itself, nor is a virus.

Sometimes people speak of the world as “fallen,” and go on to describe the world as therefore bad or evil in some manner. “Fallen” is not a term found in the Scriptures, and can sometimes be a bit problematic. St. Paul speaks far more carefully about creation’s problematic state. He says that it was made “subject to futility.”

What he meant by that was that creation (like human beings) was made subject to death, decay, and destruction. It does not mean that creation itself is death, decay, and destruction. Those things are a sort of anti-creation, part of that drive towards non-existence. But they are not part of the natural order itself. They are its destruction.

The problem is death, not creation. Christ’s relationship with creation is interesting. He is asleep in a boat during a storm, unperturbed. The disciples are afraid (they fear death). They wake Him up. He speaks to the winds and the sea and says, “Peace. Be still.”

I suppose He went back to sleep after that. There was nothing “evil” about the winds and the sea, though they could well have sunk the boat and drowned the disciples. Christ “rebukes” fevers. He tells demons what to do. He withers a fig tree.

In Christ, we see a foretaste, or a small glimpse of humanity and creation in its right order. St. Paul describes creation as “groaning like a woman in child-birth” longing for the restoration of this relationship in its fullness. He calls it the “glorious liberty of the sons of God.”

St. Dionysius the Areopagite’s The Divine Names, has a very dense passage on all of this, in chapter 4. He uses a very interesting verb in describing evil, borrowing from an earlier usage of St. Gregory of Nyssa. The word is paryphistimi (παρυφιστημι – a sort of “standing beside”) which essentially equates with the noun, παρυποστασις. It is an attempt to describe the “parasitic” character of evil. It doesn’t exist in and of itself, but is spun out of the will of sentient creatures.

In dealing with the so-called “problem of evil,” it is important to place it squarely in the realm of God’s providential care for all creation. The death and decay to which we are subject certainly have the capacity to draw us towards non-being. Conversely, they also draw us toward repentance, turning towards God and the path of life.

We are not dualists. The battle between good and evil is not a level playing field. The whole of the field is the arena of our salvation and the working out of the whole of creation’s union with God. Even death has a strange place in all of this.

In Christ’s Pascha we hear echoes of this place. Christ tramples down death by death. The very thing that is our enemy is the same thing used to destroy our enemy. It is the ultimate statement of God’s good will triumphing in all things.

Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered. Let those who hate Him flee before His face!

Father Stephen Freeman is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, serving as Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.

The image shows Christ healing the Leper; a mosaic in the church of Monreale.

How Not To Fix The World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Right-Left Divide: Does It Still Matter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ricardo Duchesne: The Necessity Of A Common Ground

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Is Political Realism?

Well sourced and documented, but at the same time stripped of all concessions, and freed from all conventionalism, this book boldly departs from the beaten track of the history of political ideas. Its author, Dalmacio Negro Pavón, a renowned political scientist in the Hispanic world, is among those who best embodies the European academic tradition – that of an era when political correctness had not yet taken its toll, and when the majority of academics adhered with conviction – and not by opportunism as happens so often today – to the scientific values of rigor, probity and integrity.

What does this tell us? Let us demonstrate by drawing, largely, upon his analyses, his words, and his formulations.

Historically, the world has had no other form of government than that of the few (the ruling minority); and any government needs public support. There is no political community without hierarchy; no hierarchy without organization, no social organization which cannot materialize without the leadership of a small number. This is called the “iron law of oligarchy.”

Behind all known forms of government (monarchy, aristocracy, democracy – according to the classic classification; democracy and dictatorship – according to modern classification), there is only one minority which dominates the immense majority. The multiple possible variants of government depend on the type of makeover of this minority, and the limits and controls to which this minority submits in the exercise of power.

Oligarchic positions are never disputed by the masses; rather, it is the different factions of the political class which dispute them. The governed do not intervene in this permanent dispute, except as a breeding ground for new contenders for power, as a breeding ground for new elites. The governed are spectators; sometimes animators; rarely referees.

When an oligarchy is discredited, it is invariably replaced by another in search of prestige, that is to say, of exercising legitimacy, ready, if necessary, to use demagoguery. Popular sovereignty is a myth which allows the oligarchs all the abuses and all the scams imaginable. The Utopian who dreams that it is possible to eliminate selfishness in politics and to base a political system on morality alone does not hit the target, any more than the realist who believes that altruism is an illusion and that all political action is based on selfishness.

Apart from the eternally naïve, political consensus (a collective expression of the loyalty of the political class towards itself) only deceives those who want to deceive themselves, for personal convenience, or to obtain some favors. Political problems cannot be resolved definitively. In politics there is only room for compromise.

What about democracy in Europe? It is less a religion than a superstition, a substitute, a substitute or an appearance of faith, which was born from the religions of politics. It is “an organized hypocrisy,” said Schumpeter; it is reduced to the opportunity that the partitocratic oligarchies offer the governed to periodically decide on an option, generally limited, after having carried out a large operation of information or marketing to win public opinion.

That said, and despite everything, it seems that a large part of the people is more and more aware of the existence of the iron law of the oligarchy. On the other hand, and more and more fearful, the oligarchy tightens to the maximum the screws which subject the demos to the singular supermarket that is the State of the political parties. We know the reactions of hostility, contempt and fear that populist movements and popular rebellions like the “Yellow Vests” (in France) arouse in almost the entire European establishment.

A revolution needs leaders, but statism has infantilized the conscience of Europeans. It has undergone such a contagion that the emergence of real leaders has become almost impossible, and that when it occurs, mistrust prevents people from following them. It is therefore better, once you reach this stage, to trust chance, boredom or humor, all major historical forces, to which we do not pay enough attention because they are hidden behind the screen of progressive enthusiasm.

The analyses, questions and harsh remarks, often even very corrosive, of Negro Pavón are unlikely to make him friends among the small number of those in power, or among their often- servile supporters of the political, economic and media-cultural world. But he does not care. Former professor of the history of political ideas at the Complutense University of Madrid, currently professor emeritus of political science at the University San Pablo de Madrid, member of the Royal Academy of Moral Sciences and Politics, the author of over twenty books and several hundred articles, he has nothing left to prove.

A fine connoisseur of classical and modern European political thought, an excellent polyglot, an inveterate reader of all the great European and American authors, Pavón invites us on a remarkable journey through the history of Western politics while at the same time giving us a lucid and penetrating diagnosis of the reality of Europe and the West today.

Pavón is openly attached to the School of Political Realism. It is therefore not useless, before ceding to him the pen, to recall in broad outline why this School of thought is so often the object of misunderstandings, procrastination and caricatures. What do we mean by political realism, or by the tradition in politics of Machiavellianism, which yet does not become Machiavellian?

Before answering, we must mention the usual depreciative arguments of his opponents. Realism would be, according to them, the cult of the epoch, a Manichean, pragmatic, opportunistic, fatalistic and desperate ideology, an ideology of dominants, cantors of conformism, which makes the moment an end in itself, which considers the present to be unsurpassable, which refuses to think about change and the future.

But this indictment, now so widespread, is after all just one more illustration of the misdeeds of ideological fog. It is reminiscent of the enlightened (or benighted) Anti-Machiavelli despot, Frederick II, who wrote in order to seduce and abuse the Europe of philosophers. As the ad to the fiction films of my youth said: “any resemblance to real situations existing or having existed is only a coincidence.” As we will see, political realism is, on the contrary, a method of analysis and of complete, intense and radical criticism of all constituted power.

Strictly speaking, political realism is neither a homogeneous school nor a unitary intellectual family. It is only a habitus, a disposition of mind, a point of view of study or research which seeks to clarify the rules that policy follows. It is not the defense of the status quo, the defense of the established order, or the doctrine which justifies the position of men in power, as its adversaries claim falsely.

Political realism starts from the facts, but it does not go before them. It is not disinterested in the final ends and is distinguished in this from the cynical type of pseudo-realism which reduces politics to the will to power, to the reign and to the worship of force in its purest form. The authentic political realist is a man with principles, morals, and a deep awareness of the duties and responsibilities of political action. Prudence, wisdom, balance, a sense of responsibility and firmness of character are the keys to his thinking.

The precursors of this realistic school of thought are, for example: Thucydides, Aristotle, Ibn Khaldoun, Machiavelli, Gabriel Naudé, Hobbes, Tocqueville, and many others.

Among the contemporaries and the moderns we may cite: Moisey Ostrogorski, Vilfredo Pareto, Robert Michels, Gaetano Mosca, Carl Schmitt, Max Weber, Simone Weil, Raymond Aron, Gaston Bouthoul, James Burnham, Benedetto Croce, Maurice Duverger, Gonzalo Fernández de la Mora, Julien Freund, Bertrand de Jouvenel, Halford Mackinder, Harold Laski, Gianfranco Miglio, Jules Monnerot, Michael Oakeshott, Giovanni Sartori, Eric Voegelin, Jerónimo Molina Cano, Alessandro Campi, and many others, with often very different convictions (conservatives, liberals, socialists, etc.).

The authentic realist affirms that the finality proper to politics is the common good. But he recognizes the vital necessity of non-political ends (happiness and justice). According to him, politics is at the service of man.

The mission of politics is not to change man or make him better (which is the path of totalitarianism), but to organize the conditions of human coexistence, to shape the community, to ensure internal harmony and external security. That is why, in his view, conflicts must be channeled, regulated, institutionalized and, as far as possible, resolved without violence.

Dalmacio Negro Pavón rigorously addresses each of the ideas of political realism. The two main ones are found in the titles of the first two essays of his book, The Iron Law of the Oligarchy, namely, “Law Immanent in Politics,” and “Demystifying Democracy.”

He then completes these two essays with a shorter essay, “On the Dominant Political Theology,” which deals with the theological-political question; or, if one prefers – on the existential and spiritual causes of the current situation, especially on the importance of the influence of theological heresies on modern political thought and attitudes.

Thus, we may classify all of the ideas in his book in the following order:

First idea: The inevitability of oligarchy, and the governing–governed division. This is the famous law of bronze, the bronze or iron of oligarchy, formulated by Robert Michels. Depending on the regimes and the societies, as we have said, the circulation of elites may be more or less large, but in the last resort, it is always the small number, the minority that rules.

Second idea: Ideal democracy is unattainable and democratic symbols are fictions. The complexity of the problems, and above all the size of societies, constitute as many obstacles to self-government. In general, politicians know this, but everyone also knows the importance of speech-magic.

On the other hand, real democracies always tend to become oligarchies. The more democracy gets organized, the more it tends to decline. The more it is organized, the more the possibilities of coaction and manipulation of the masses increase. “Democracy, government of the people, by the people and for the people,” according to Lincoln’s famous phrase, is Utopian or religious. Democracy is a method. It cannot be an end, an absolute ideal, a moral imperative. Democratic ideology, democratic faith, is rhetoric. It only serves to evade responsibility and crush opposition in the name of the people.

Third idea: Politics cannot avoid a vision of man. The political realist may think that man is historic, or that there is a human nature. But in both cases, he considers that human impulses largely explain the unstable nature of political institutions and the conflictual nature of politics.

Fourth idea: Recognition of the inherently conflicting nature of politics. Life will always be the theater of conflicts and differences. Politics, in the traditional sense, is the great “neutralizer” of conflicts. This is why systematic and blind resistance to any form of power (the belief that “power is evil”) is an excellent method to accelerate the corruption of power and lead to its substitution by other forms of power, which are often much more problematic and more despotic.

Just because a people lose the strength or the will to survive or to assert themselves in the political sphere – does not mean that politics will disappear from the world. History is not tender – Woe to the strong who become weak!

Fifth idea: Skepticism about forms of government. It is impossible to scientifically make a categorical judgment on the suitability of any of the regimes in place. There is no optimal or perfect regime. Each political regime is a contingent and unique solution, a transitory response to the eternal problem of politics. All regimes are also subject to wear and tear and corruption.

Sixth idea: The rejection of all mono-causal interpretation of politics as biased and arbitrary. Mono-causal explanations “in the last instance” by economics, by politics, by culture, by morals, etc. are reductionist and make no sense.

The study of political parties and unions, carried out by Robert Michels at the beginning of the 20th-century, reveals particularly well the fundamental characteristic of societies: The tendency to oligarchy. A political party is no more and no less than a group of people who unite to conquer and retain power. Everything else (even the ideology) is secondary.

The parties are born as elitist groups and become organizations of notables; then, with universal suffrage, they are most often transformed into mass parties. But when they organize themselves strongly, they always obey the iron law of the oligarchy. The analysis of “mass parties” has laid bare some general principles which can be stated as follows.

  • The bulk of the population is struck with a kind of political incapacity. When they lose their leaders, they withdraw and abandon the political field.
  • Oligarchy is a social necessity. The principle of organization is an absolutely essential condition for political struggle.
  • It is the minorities and not the masses who vie for power. The leaders of all the camps present themselves as the spokespersons of the people – but, in reality, it is always the struggle between the old minority, which defends its hegemony, and the new ambitious minority which intends to conquer power.
  • Leadership is tendentially autocratic. Leaders do not just want to last, they always want more power. The alienation of the masses, the professionalization, the intellectual and cultural level of the leaders, the tendency to seek renewal by cooption, even nepotism, are powerful elements which contribute to the isolation of the leaders. Base rebellions have very little chance of success.
  • The party is an instrument of domination. Contrary to what they claim, the parties are organizations that want elected officials to dominate voters and are agents of dominating constituents.
  • The oligarchic tendency is consubstantial with the parties. Only a minority participate in party decisions, and often this minority is ridiculously small.

Conclusion: Real democracy is an oligarchy elected by the people. It excludes the use of physical violence but not moral violence (unfair, fraudulent or restricted competition). Two conditions may allow the reform in depth of current political democracy for the benefit of the people.

First, the represented should be able to regain the freedom to directly control the representatives or elected officials which ability has been improperly taken away from them. This would require the establishment of a majority electoral system with an imperative mandate. Representatives would thus be obliged to respect the imperative mandate of their respective voters.

Finally, for the people to be able, if not to direct and govern, then at least to integrate and participate durably in political life, the principle of direct democracy should be widely accepted, via the Popular Initiative Referendum (PIR), or the Citizen Initiated Referendum(CIR).

However, one can be a skeptic or a lucid pessimist but refuse to despair. We cannot eliminate oligarchies. So be it! But, as Dalmacio Negro Pavón tells us, there are political regimes that are more or less capable of mitigating and controlling their effects.

The crux of the matter is to prevent those in power from being mere conveyors of the interests, desires and feelings of the political, social, economic and cultural oligarchy. Men always fear the power to which they are subjected. But the power which makes them submit also fears the community over which it reigns. And there is an essential condition for political democracy to be possible and for its corruption to become much more difficult, if not impossible, as Dalmacio Negro Pavón further emphasizes.

Attitudes towards government must always be wary, even when it comes to friends or people for whom we voted. Bertrand de Jouvenel rightly said in this connection: “the government of friends is the barbaric way of governing.”

This extract constitutes the “Introduction” by Arnaud Imatz to La loi de fer de l’oligarchie. Pourquoi le gouvernement du peuple, par le peuple, pour le peuple est un leurre (The Iron Law of Oligarchy. Why Government of the People, by the People, for the People is a Decoy), by Dalmacio Negro Pavón (2019).

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

Translated from the French by N. Dass.

The image shows, “The Continence of Scipio,” by Nicolas Poussin, painted in 1840.