Resist Wokism

Until recently, the word “woke” seemed to belong to vocabulary reserved for American campuses, and really only for the most radical among them. It referred to a particularly active fringe of American students believing themselves to be in a crusade for social justice and more particularly concerned with questions of “race” and “gender,” and who were determined, in a way, to carry out a definitive lawsuit against the Western world, and more particularly, against the white man who incarnated in himself all his abjectness. This movement was recognized for its extremism, and even, for its fanaticism, being convinced that it had, and still has, a monopoly on the true, the just and the good. Barack Obama, in 2019, had warned the students claiming this: he could see that the claim they had to be awake, in front of a sleeping mass, or enlightened, in front of a people deep in the darkness from the past, could only increase tensions in an already very polarized society. A man of the left, to be sure, Obama nevertheless sought to remind these young minds that human nature is murky, and that social conflict cannot be reduced to a fight between good and evil.

In some respects, we see in Wokism the new wave of the movement associated with political correctness, which from the 1980s wanted to decolonize the American university and its knowledge by getting rid of the figure of the Dead White Male. Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Shakespeare and so many others had all to be sent packing; their overwhelming presence had contributed to the marginalization of minority knowledge and perspectives, from which it would be possible to lead an epistemological and political revolution against Western civilization. A new relationship with the world had to be imposed. Back then, it was well and good to just laugh at all this, and to reassure oneself that this fad was destined to fade away. We even wanted to believe, in Paris, that this fad could never cross the Atlantic. That could never happen. Absolutely not. But political correctness is now institutionalized through the proliferation of departments and fields of university study essentially devoted to the repudiation of Western civilization. This fad now rules the American University. Wokism is the culmination of this movement of political correctness; and it is no longer allowed to believe that it is marginal.

Wokism deconfined from campuses quite some time ago and is spreading through public life like an ideological epidemic. Even more so, for it imposes itself upon the heart of public life on both sides of the Atlantic, and its concepts are normalized in media-vocabulary and in political and managerial discourse. These concepts colonize the collective imagination; or at least, its authorized expressions. Woke militants find themselves in positions of responsibility within municipal administration, which in turn makes these agencies accomplices and promoters of Wokism. It permeates the language of management and advertising. This religious left expands into collective life under the sign of fanaticism, and in front of a political class which does not quite know how to respond to it, let alone stand up to it, and is even tempted to make more concessions towards it, never understanding that it is not dealing with a reformist movement which is bringing reasonable demands in the public space, compatible with democratic logic.

All the power of Wokism lies in its Orwellian manipulation of language – its theorists and activists invent a diverse newspeak that functions like an ideological trap. The strategy of Wokism is transparent, and even demanded, in certain cases – it is a question of seizing a word that has universal disapproval and sticking a new definition to it, which is then said to be scientifically validated, because it is readily legitimized by militants disguised as experts who are now rampant in the departments of the social sciences. There are many examples, whether it is racism, white supremacy, discrimination, hate or hate speech. Too often, bona fide commentators or observers are fooled. Rightly horrified by the traditional meaning of these words, they fail to realize that these words no longer refer to the same reality.

Thus, from the woke perspective, racism today no longer designates an ideology calling for racial discrimination or the hierarchization of human groups according to a racial criterion. Rather, the refusal, precisely, to define people on the basis of the color of their skin, it designates as racist – it accuses those who do not want to consent to the racialization of social relations of racial color blindness. Racism thus culminates in universalism which then supposedly serves as a mask for the interests of the “white majority.” Apparently, it is no longer by going beyond or transcending “race” that we will fight racism, but by over-valuing racial consciousness as the primary form of collective identity. The claimed anti-racism therefore becomes uninhibited racialism.

White supremacy, on the other hand, no longer refers to movements like the Ku Klux Klan, or its descendants, but to the deep structure of Western societies. In France, for example, the racialist far left equates secularism with white supremacy. The concept of discrimination is also demonized. Discrimination, for the woke, consists in treating everyone as the same. Conversely, choosing someone according to the color of their skin, as long as they are considered “racialized,” is not discriminatory. Hate, finally, becomes one-sided, unidirectional – only the majority can be hateful by rejecting the definition that the self-proclaimed leaders of minorities often claim to give to those they claim to represent. We are thus faced with an ideological system that operates by reversing the meaning of the concepts it demands. Wokism makes us walk on our heads. In the name of intellectual hygiene, this exercise of analyzing Wokist vocabulary can be unending.

At the heart of Wokism, we must understand, is the white male who embodies absolute evil. It radicalizes political correctness, moving from criticism of the Dead White Male to the living white male, who should, in order to undertake his rehabilitation, engage in a process of permanent self-criticism, which takes the form of an atonement without redemption, because the pathologies constitutive of its identity are so inscribed in the processes of socialization defining it that it can never tear itself away completely. But by denouncing himself, by criticizing his privileges, by doing everything to become an ally of “minorities,” he will at least send the expected penitential signal. This is the only way, in the long run, that he will regain his humanity, or at least, that he can strive for it. He will also be able to thank people from minorities for allowing him to make his way towards his “un-whiting.”

The woke wave seems to carry everything in its path. It is, however, necessary to resist it strongly. We will only succeed when we learn to decipher its strategy of vocabulary manipulation, which forces us switch to a parallel world, a world filled with alternative definitions, which cuts off the relationship to reality, and forces us to evolve under the authority of accusatory ideologues who deem that those who resist them deserve social banishment – one does not speak without reason of cancel culture. But it also means not being satisfied with opposing Wokism by a sole reference to common sense. Faced with a violent ideological surge, which exerts a form of bewitchment on the new generations, often knowing no other language than its own, and who are fully socialized through social networks, where Wokism is dominant – it is necessary to rediscover the fundamental principles on which is based the civilization that Wokism wants to destroy.


Mathieu Bock-Côté is a Quebec sociologist, writer, essayist and journalist. His writing appears in various newspapers and journals, including la Presse, le Devoir, le Journal de Montréal and le Figaro. This article is made possible by the generosity of La Nef.


The featured image shows, “Promis’d Horrors of the French Invasion, or Forcible reasons for negotiating a regicide peace,” a print by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey in 1796.

Between Chaos And Decline: Rebirth

Towards Political Optimism

It is common, when one is a young man entering a career, especially in literary or artistic studies, to be charmed by despair and to have a taste for ruins. The image of the poètes maudits is cultivated. We let ourselves be seduced by the disillusioned dandyism. We succumb to the temptation of the black flag inclined on the skull of pessimism. The beauty of ruins attracts. The vestiges are a curious dizziness. We go for the last of the Mohicans; We live as Dance Prince Salina in The Leopard. We cherish chaos, and we love despair. “Siamo tutti sull’olorlo della disperazione,” says the writer Jep Gambardella in la Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty) by Paolo Sorrentino. The darkness becomes a luxury and cynicism a refinement on a terrace in Rome.

The attraction to such giddiness is the residue of a tired and insipid romanticism. The ruins of Heidelberg Castle astonish with their melancholy; The gloom of stones nips at the most sensitive rope of the heart. The pianist Waltraut Laurence plays Chopin nocturnes. It is a postcard décor for the student of Sumerian, who is also a fencer, dressed in Canali, making love in the moonlight. The beauty of decadence has sumptuousness, it is true. Despair is made for poetry and not for politics. Léo Ferré and his ridiculous, surrealist verses please the babes at the Sorbonne; Baudelaire, alive in the heart of a high school student, mixes death with grace, darkness with sad and cold beauty supreme. A desperate guy who does not commit suicide is, on the other hand, an impostor. Cesare Pavese, he went to the very end, and those who did not join him, while they sing hymns with Subutex and odes with Prozac, can only be small versions of depression. But then again, none of this ever makes it into politics.

Too often, the nationalists, taken in the broad sense, from conservatives to monarchists, from sovereigntists to traditional Catholics, have integrated defeat and decadence into their software. Through sheer compliancy, they value failure. They affect to lose in order to say that they were right; prefer to give up in order to say they are victims and being persecuted, feeding controversy rather than taking responsibility. The logic of annuity and cynicism of some is buttressed by the pessimistic romanticism of others. Those who denounce the decadence of postmodernity, often have nothing to propose and are engaged in the terrible parody of a fight. We play the reactionaries. Cioran had already understood everything: “The doctrine of the Fall makes a powerful appeal to reactionaries of whatever stripe; the most hardened and the most lucid among them know, moreover, what recourse it offers for the glamour of revolutionary optimism. Is it not the invariability of human nature to devote oneself without remedy for collapse and corruption?”

The romantic sighs, modern man sneers. The first loves what falls, the other that which brings about the fall. The one loves Vezelay, the other sees a spectacle in the fire of the Notre-Dame. The sneer, in postmodernity, is the devil that laughs, that no one condemns. We worship those who complain, sulk, and grumble. But we are harmless – our side likes a less festive, less brilliant decadence – that’s all. We go, like vanities, in the pursuit of deconstruction. We are the scrubs on duty. We play refractory Gauls, right-wing Mélenchonians. But how many really want a victory? The question deserves to be asked from the Menhir to certain cadres of major political parties. “You, jihadis, we will win because we are the most dead,” said Philippe Muray. The West is now producing magnificent losers wearing Bermuda shorts.

It is a vague idea of decadence peculiar to Spengler that a philosopher like Michel Onfray has spread outside his borders. He deserves credit for having supported the yellow vests and denounced Maastrichtian Europe. But this habit of never making the horrific qualitative leap; this almost complacent way of justifying decadence and decline as a fatal fact is unbearable. Is the horizon on fire? After me the flood! Are the suburbs on fire? Let’s stay stylish! Notre-Dame lies in ruin? Let’s drink good wine! This too easy posture is of the petty bourgeoisie. When we are looking at the storm on the mainland, it is fine to prophecy with detachment. But when you are in the eye of the storm, living in, what Christophe Guilluy calls, “peripheral France,” when you are masked and employed, and when you suffer the consequences of a happy globalization, supported by bad, liberal and Europeanist policies, social dumping and the appalling conditions of an alienating wage-earner as well as the consequences of uncontrolled demography, massive immigration and the problem of assimilation – the great disestablishment and the great replacement – in short, accepting to be scattered like a puzzle in the pleasure of bon vivant epicureanism – is total nonsense.

At the historical and anthropological level, let us not be fooled either. Civilizations are born, grow and disappear. In his sermon on the fall of Rome, Saint Augustine explains very well, in the aftermath of the sack of the Eternal City in 410, that the world is made up of this kind of movement – appearance and disappearance. The Phoenicians have disappeared. Sparta the great is a field of pebbles. The Venice of the Doges no longer exists. Even though it is a given of history, admitting the end, crossing your arms, taking a nap in the time of battle, letting go, is a sign of defeat. Because she imagined herself decadent in a kind of enlightened catastrophism, Rome guarded against decadence; the moment she felt herself falter, she straightened up – and that at many points in her history.

The decadence of the elites was a factor in the French Revolution. As Chateaubriand aptly put it, the nobility, by the yardstick of 1789, had reached the “age of vanities.” The aristocracy of the second half of the eighteenth century ended up largely autistic, admittedly refined, but it only played its role in a subdued manner. The Castaners and the Schiappas were already there, just in more powder, in frock coats and taffeta dresses. The urban bourgeoisie, organized, born out of entrepreneurship, investing power with the urgent idea of borrowing and reforming, had triumphed. The revolution was the replacement of a dominant class by another dominant class, formed, united, structured. Necker’s heir was Giscard. One was finance minister, the other a financier who became king of France. We are still there.

The Fall fascinates. Falling certainly pleases, but getting up less so. We must fight. To stave off decline, we need to come up with a Renaissance vision of our nation: putting life, spirit and muscle back where it’s needed. Atheists will speak of rebirth, the brothers in the faith of resurrection, one in the other, whether we believe in Heaven or we do not believe in it, the idea remains the same: to get out of this long winter.

Christians speak of the virtue of hope; Antonio Gramsci is “pessimistic in intelligence, optimist in will.” And Charles Maurras added, “All despair in politics is absolute nonsense. In war, the partisans of defeat are shot. To be pessimistic is to give up. The first idea of organizational empiricism, as Maurras thought, is a positive dynamic “to take advantage of the joys of the past with a view to the future that every well-born mind wishes for its country.” Whether you are a Catholic or an atheist, from Action Française or close to Alain de Benoist, you have to survive the nihilism that plagues both the left and the right. The question for Christians is simple: Christ resurrected; He put death to death. If, in fact, in Augustine, the decline of a civilization is part of a divine plan, Christianity should not be denied the light that emerges from darkness, the truth of lies. The Church, the one that did not reform, has kept a sense of tradition.

No doubt, on the other side, we saw Nietzsche as a nihilist. Julien Rochedy has explained the opposite, in his current book, Nietzsche l’actuel (Nietzsche Today). Who announces the death of God? A fool, looking for a man in a square, with his lantern, at noon. With the death of God comes the fall of values and disaster; man must come to the death of God and build a new system of values. Nietzsche saw it all: money replacing God; Cohn Bendit and his clique, constituting their own morality, hideous to ordinary people; the freeloaders in Lacoste; generalized barbarism and the vegan cotton swabs, their green hair puffed up with resentment. Civilization produced men who were held back only by themselves; the barbarism was of men who let off steam. Nowadays, civilization has become poisonous, vaccinated, masked, confined, in this time of Covid.

One would say of the nationalist that he is nostalgic; that he sees, soured and bitter, France in the rear-view mirror of centuries. He is backward-looking. Make no mistake: it is in the perpetuation of a heritage that he establishes his hope. To defend is to think that the thing being defended is fixed, soon to be mortal. Defense pushes towards sanctuarization; it enacts, by the very word itself, the proper end of what it thinks it is defending. A patriot, whether he is a believer or not, is not on the ramparts; he takes possession of his kingdom. Our role is not to hold onto Minas Tirith, while waiting to take catapult fire; but, on the contrary, to mount horses like the Rohirim against Sauron’s armies.

To exemplify requires vitality and horizon. When we exemplify, we perpetuate, we incarnate, we fully dress the traditions. These traditions are no more because they are already inhabited, dressed. There is no point in stirring the remains of the ashes; it is necessary to perpetuate the sacred fire. An exemplary Catholic, participates in masses, in services, does his Lent. It is up to the French to exemplify their history, to serve their language, to sing their own songs and to live. Mohammedans are in Ramadan; God bless them! Let’s do our penances. Those who criticize a possible invasion, deplore a country which is no longer Christian and which is no longer theirs, are the first to pig out on Good Friday, to make absolutely no effort, not even to want to get out of the baptism in which they were once plunged. They behave like being violently anti-clerical for no reason, and subscribe to all progressivism. They are the first to say that the Church is rich, too rich, but never criticize a financier who has just taken office at the Elysee Palace. In the first case, it is unacceptable to have finely embroidered silk chasubles from Gammarelli; on the other, the personal enrichment of a powdered petty investor does not bother anyone. However, let us remember this sentence from André Suarès: “Whether he likes it or not, the Frenchman has the Gospel in his blood. It is only through involvement that tradition, and therefore the Church, can remain. Open the churches, sing the Te Deum, read Raban’s Veni Creator Spiritus, put manly abbots in office. They will come back!

Optimism in politics also stems from faith in youth. It is often judged torn between crass consumerism, the accelerated cretinization of social networks, its exalted leftism, or its way of conceiving nations as hotels. Yet Attali’s speech has aged terribly because reality has proved him wrong. Leftism, which has become an exacting orthodoxy, irritates even those who like to barbecue to block off college because vegans have put their twigs in there.

At the back, outside the parties, there are many of us. The youth are more and more won over to our ideas. Whether on the side of YouTubers, intellectuals and journalists, nationalists work a lot, produce a lot, innovate, militate, debate in the public square. Let’s pay tribute to the forces at the back. A whole young generation is doing the popularization work necessary to understand sovereignist and nationalist ideas, and seeks to give the love of France to young people: Simon Bavastro in Nice; Valek in Montpellier; Papacito in Toulouse; Greg Toussaint, Baptiste Marchais also in the center of France. We also have our media. We cannot go through all the Web TVs, magazines, newspapers which, (and La Nef is one of them), promote our ideas. Let us just mention TV Libertés, Sud Radio, Elements, France soir, Présents, Eurolibertés, Boulevard Voltaire, Radio Courtoisie, RT France and many others. A multitude of intellectuals occupy the area of sovereignist or conservative ideas. Let us just mention economists like Jacques Sapir, Olivier Delamarche, Pierre Jovanovic; historians like Professor Bernard Lugan or Thierry Lentz and Emmanuel de Waresquiel; jurists and legal professionals, such as, Pierre Yves Rougeyron, Damien Viguier, Regis de Castelnau or Gregor Puppinck; but also philosophers and sociologists, such, as Olivier Rey, Alain Bessonnet, Pierre Magnard and Matthieu Bock-Côté. Together, they are the prized who have never stopped laboring away; some of them use social media to disseminate their ideas. We must also mention Charles Gave of the l’Institut des libertés, Cercle Richelieu, Cercle Prudhon, Cercle Aristote, Action Française, the Apollon Institute of Jean Messiha, for example. At the back, we have the intelligence, the youth, the information and the means to oppose deconstruction, and to build on solid foundations a thought, an identity, a national work. When such real people protest about a burnt church, the dissolution of Génération identitaire, they do not disguise themselves; they do not fool around; they do not put on a spectacle, unlike what the leftists do. We see solid men and elegant women. But all that is missing among the political establishment.

So, what is to be done? Что делать? Hot question! First of all, be who we are – shamelessly. Then do as the Captain of the Hussars Lugan: go where the cannon-ball strikes. Then, exemplify our traditions, reinvest in our history, pass on and seek to inherit. Let us regain our respect and our self-esteem. They have gouged out the eyes and tore off the hands of real people. Now they mask real people, confine them, jab them. In both cases, they never cease to insult, with appalling class contempt; these “eaters of fries,” these people who “smoke cigarettes and run on diesel.” They adulate the people, as long as they don’t see their dirty faces, as Jules Renard used to say.

We will have to return to the collective. We are far too divided to be able to rule. All that will come after we stop fighting among ourselves, putting up obstacles for each other, and tearing each other apart. The great evil of nationalists is to consider that the other is not simply that but that he is a traitor. The anti-racists peck at each other; they will devour each other; the revolution eats its children. We will see the Seine carrying the corpses of enemies. Let the Corbaques feast. And then let us feast on their downfall!

If we don’t want to be a piece of the puzzle of a big parody, we have to build something now – on every level. We will not engage in any real politics if we do not first win back our sovereignty by defiance, and take back our independence from Brussels, Germany, and technocracy. We must also break with technocracy, and with the worn-out urgency of having to make liberal reforms, as if the key to politics were only through reform, reducing spending, paying a parasitic debt. Historical stuttering, at least its threat, is the last bulwark, the last mental bunker, which remains for those in power. United, allied, determined, we will be able to achieve the rebirth of our country. At the very end, will come this dilemma: revolution or election? Political vanguard or faith in democracy? But then, again, before we get to this point, let’s get up, sing together, rebuild, and then go for it. Then, the laurel will bloom again!


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


The featured image shows, “Château Gaillard, Les Andelys, France,” by Herbert Edwin Pelham Hughes-Stanton; painted in 1907.

Fascism: History And Chimeric Reality

Everything about fascism and its opposite has been said for almost a century. Innumerable are the authors of studies, articles, books and documentaries, more or less serious or fanciful, devoted to the history of the fascist phenomenon and its historical significance. Singularly fewer, on the other hand, are interested in the controversies over the meaning of the word, “fascism” and its opposite, “anti-fascism,” and over the proper use of it. The immense merit of American political scientist Paul Gottfried is that he is one of the very few, if not the only one, to deal with all of these aspects. In this lies the interest and the importance of the vast and fascinating synthesis which he has published in Fascisme, histoire d’un concept (2021), a French translation of Fascism, The Career of a Concept (2017) , a study which the author has recently brought to completion with Antifascism. The Course of a Crusade (2021)]. In his Introduction to the French version, American historian Stanley Payne, a great scholar on the subject, aptly writes: “No other book in the recent scholarly literature treats these problems so comprehensively.” To take the measure of this glowing review, a brief perspective is here useful.

To hear what many politicians, writers and journalists have been telling us for decades, fascism should be a perpetually present, lurking danger, a monster, a hydra which can constantly rise from its ashes, despite all efforts to remove it. In the politico-media vocabulary, the term “fascist” is used constantly to denounce, abuse, denigrate, stigmatize the adversary, whose ideas or person we are supposed to hate. “Fascist” is synonymous with violent, fanatic, intolerant, perverse, macho, homophobic, reactionary, colonialist and racist. Fascism is always assimilated or amalgamated with Nazism; it therefore embodies absolute evil, the figure of the devil, the demon of the Bible in a sort of modernist or updated version. The word fascist has become an “empty signifier,” a truncated, trivialized portmanteau word; but nevertheless, because of its pejorative connotation and negative charge, there is not a single disparaging adjective that can compete with it. No leading or secondary political figure can escape the charge of fascism. Over the years, the most diverse regimes, social categories, cultural and religious communities, political parties and trade unions have all or almost all been denounced as fascists. The most contradictory philosophies and ideas have all, or nearly all, been similarly pilloried.

Fascists are therefore, or would have been, according to modern master-censors, jealous guardians of political correctness: Plato, Aristotle, Alexander the Great, Caesar, Charlemagne, Dante, Isabella the Catholic, Philip II, Hegel, Nietzsche, Roosevelt, Churchill, Franco, Gandhi, Mao, Trotsky, Stalin, Tito, Solzhenitsyn, Erdogan, Netanyahu, Putin, Obama, Trump, Biden, Merkel, Orban, Kim-Jong-un, Xi Jinping. Or, to stick to France alone, Louis XIV, Napoleon, Pétain, de Gaulle, Mitterrand, Chirac, Sarkozy, Macron, Mélenchon, Le Pen, Zemmour, Onfray, Houellebecq and many others. Fascist would be, or would have been, Germany and Italy of course, but also Spain, Portugal, Cuba, the USSR, China, the United States, the former Yugoslavia, France, Chile, South Africa, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, etc. Fascists would also be businessmen, bourgeois, bobos, workers, Catholics, priests, Jews, anti-Semites, Zionists, Islamophobes, Islamophiles, Islamo-leftists, sovereignists, populists, nationalists, globalists, feminists, chauvinists, homosexuals, pederasts, puritans, “pornocrats,” police officers. And I’ll pass over the rest and the best. Ultimately, we should all be, to varying degrees, hopelessly fascists! Tutti fascisti! Fascists All! That was the caustic title of the short political essay published long ago by Italian film critic, Claudio Quarantotto. Fascism has never been so topical. The great vanquished of the political-military history of the twentieth century, fascism seems to have become the absolute and omnipotent winner of Western political-cultural life at the turn of the twenty-first century.

More seriously or more rigorously, since the “march on Rome” of the Mussolini fascists in 1922 (at least, if one accepts to put aside the recent ideological drifts of American and European universities), academic circles have never ceased to try to formulate explanatory theories of the phenomenon. To this day, and despite the incongruous assertions of Roger Griffin and his followers, the debate remains open because there is no consensus. On the contrary, a whole series of interpretations, for the most part initially advanced in the 1920s and 1930s, occupy the field. Some combine and overlap; others, for the most part, contradict and exclude each other.

According to the tastes and convictions of exegetes, fascism is sometimes perceived as the violent and dictatorial instrument of bourgeois capitalism, the “armed wing of capital,” as the Comintern affirmed, in the year 1923. Sometimes, fascism is seen as the effect of irrational, extremist and violent nihilism, a consequence of the moral crisis and the corruption of morals. Sometimes, fascism is regarded as the deleterious result of capitalism and sexual repression, the outgrowth of an authoritarian and repressive society, with its inevitable neurotic and pathological impulses, as the ideologists of the Frankfurt School claimed in the 1930s.

The list of analyses, interpretations and explanations of the phenomenon does not stop there. About twenty specialists, internationally recognized as such, whose tedious enumeration I will spare the reader, identify other factors or characteristics which they deem more essential. The fascist phenomenon is, according to them, the product of the advent of the masses on the political scene; or, the expression of the exclusive radicalism of the middle classes; or, the response to a situation of distress in the face of a movement of social destruction, producing aversion to chaos among the most homogeneous social actors; or, the contemporary form of Bonapartism, independent of a specific class domination; or, the outlet for homosexuality; or, the product of late and atypical development processes; or, resistance to modernization; or, the prototype of the “developmentalist” and modernizing revolution; or, a form of populist and revolutionary ultra-nationalism; or, again, a “political religion,” the typical manifestation of 20th century totalitarianism, a collectivist and police-system specific to modernity, embodying the triumph of violence and terror, with the archetypal models of the Soviet-Communist and Nazi tyrannies, which have more in common with each other than with any other authoritarian form of government.

Let me stress, for the sake of being more complete, but without being exhaustive, that specialists also oppose the right, left or “right and left” nature of the phenomenon – some see fascism as the product of a revisionism of the left, socialist, statist, secularist, anti-traditional and anti-Christian. Others see it as a right-wing revolution, neither reactionary nor opportunist, based on the myth of renewal and regeneration. Still others see it as a revolutionary movement “neither on the right nor on the left;” or simultaneously on the right and the left, born from the synthesis of “revisionist” socialism, revolutionary syndicalism and a new community nationalism, organic and social.

However, fascism as a sociopolitical model of a general and transnational character (or if one prefers the categorization of “generic fascism”) raises more questions than it answers. How can one define fascism without sinking into interpretation-schematization or the reductionist cliché? Historians respond that defining “fascism” is above all about writing history, with the national characteristics linked to political, economic, social and cultural events of countries under consideration. There is not, according to these historians, a model of “one-size-fits-all fascism,” nor a universally valid definition. But on the other hand, one can note the existence of a basic minimal conception, common to the political movements and regimes which appeared in Europe at the beginning of the last century, in the midst of a cultural, economic and social crisis. A point of view a priori convincing but one which raises many questions.

The imperfect similarities which these historians point out constitute indeed a veritable jumble of ideas, values and principles; and there is of course no agreement on their comparative importance, frequency and significance. According to the convictions of the authors, there should be, at the heart of loose fascism, a mystical conception of life and politics; an irrational and voluntarist or idealistic or even spiritualist way of thinking; a cyclical view of history or a palingenesic view of history; the rejection of Marxist materialism; contempt for individualism, parliamentary democracy and the bourgeoisie, in the name of the organic, structured and hierarchical community; racism, anti-Semitism and hatred of others; the cult of the providential and charismatic leader; the call for a new elite, based on the virtue of example; the aspiration to a more mobile society; the desire to create a new ruling class from the middle classes and the working class; the exaltation of youth; the mobilization and integration of the masses through propaganda and the one party; realistic politics (Realpolitik) opposed to utopian politics (Phantasiepolitik); political-cultural imperialism; the heroic justification for war; the desire to reconcile technical modernity and the triumph of traditional values; the fusion of ideals common to traditionalism, nationalism, elitist liberalism, revolutionary socialism and anarcho-syndicalism; the assertion of the primacy of political sovereignty at the expense of any form of economism; the defense of the private economy but nevertheless the extension of public initiative; finally, and in order not to lengthen this list excessively, the will to transform society and the individual in a direction that has never yet been experienced or realized. In the end, a real intellectual patchwork that leaves one speechless.

In the face of these disagreements, many writers have come to deny that one can define a “generic fascist” phenomenon. Others take a less radical position, but nonetheless express the greatest doubt about its usefulness (see in particular: Gregor, Bracher, Allardyce, Muñoz Alonso, Fernández de la Mora, Arendt and De Felice, to name a few).

In reality, specialists of fascism fail to overcome the obstacle represented by the profound differences that exist between supposedly “fascist” movements or regimes, not only between fascist Italy and National Socialist Germany, but also between these two models and the other “nationalist-socialisms” that appeared in the years 1920-1940. To stick to the “state totalitarianism” of Italian fascism, and the “racial totalitarianism” of German National Socialism (and not to mention the “class totalitarianism” of the anticlerical and anti-religious Soviet-Communists), there is an immeasurable difference in the horror (the thesis of Emilio Gentile on “the Italian way of totalitarianism” has moreover been severely criticized by the disciples of Renzo de Felice). Before coming to power, between 1919 and 1922, the Italian fascists inflicted between 600 and 700 casualties among left and far-left activists, but also suffered roughly the same number of deaths in their own ranks. From 1922 to 1940, the Mussolini regime executed nine people (the majority of them Slovenian terrorists), and seventeen others in 1943 (date of the start of the civil war which claimed 50,000 victims, according to Claudio Pavone).

The number of political prisoners in fascist Italy never exceeded 2000. Italian fascism never had the intention or the possibility of developing a genuinely totalitarian system, based on the control of all state institutions and society, nor a fortiori a concentration camp system like those of National Socialist Germany and the USSR. The number of crimes, murders and executions, committed in the name of the “salvation” of Aryan humanity by National Socialist Germany or of the “happiness” of the proletariat, even of all humanity by the USSR and the other communist countries remains a subject of debate among historians; but in any case it is without comparison with that of the victims of fascist Italy (According to the methods, the criteria and the sources, the estimates vary by twice as much: They are from 8 to 15 million for National Socialist Germany, from 20 to 40 million for the USSR and from 60 to 120 million for all the Communist countries). Thus, with Italian fascism there is a difference, not only of degree but of nature.

All of these questions about the similarities and dissimilarities of the Nazi-German and Fascist-Italian models and many more are asked, examined and judiciously discussed by the author of Fascisme, histoire d’une concept (Fascism, History of a Concept). Free and independent of spirit, Paul Gottfried takes seriously the academic tradition of rigor and probity. In this he honors his profession, when a good number of his peers now wallow in ideology and intolerance. Gottfried is not one of those who claim to have the exclusive right to rational or “scientific” arguments, nor to have a monopoly on legitimate speech. He respects his opponents; presents their theses honestly; discusses their content, and presents his conclusions, always avoiding admonishment. If he accepts the categorization of “generic fascism,” he emphasizes, as other authors have done before him (such as Nolte, Arendt, Sternhell, de Felice, Payne, Del Noce or Gregor, to name but a few) that there are fundamental differences between German National Socialism on the one hand and Italian fascism and other “fascisms” on the other.

More seriously or more rigorously, since the “march on Rome” of the Mussolini fascists in 1922 (at least, if one accepts to put aside the recent ideological drifts of American and European universities), academic circles have never ceased to try to formulate explanatory theories of the phenomenon. To this day, and despite the incongruous assertions of Roger Griffin and his followers, the debate remains open because there is no consensus. On the contrary, a whole series of interpretations, for the most part initially advanced in the 1920s and 1930s, occupy the field. Some combine and overlap; others, for the most part, contradict and exclude each other.

According to the tastes and convictions of exegetes, fascism is sometimes perceived as the violent and dictatorial instrument of bourgeois capitalism, the “armed wing of capital,” as the Comintern affirmed, in the year 1923. Sometimes, fascism is seen as the effect of irrational, extremist and violent nihilism, a consequence of the moral crisis and the corruption of morals. Sometimes, fascism is regarded as the deleterious result of capitalism and sexual repression, the outgrowth of an authoritarian and repressive society, with its inevitable neurotic and pathological impulses, as the ideologists of the Frankfurt School claimed in the 1930s. The array of analyses, interpretations and explanations of the phenomenon does not stop there, however. About twenty specialists, internationally recognized as such, whose tedious enumeration I will spare the reader, identify other factors or characteristics which they deem more essential. The fascist phenomenon is, according to them, the product of the advent of the masses on the political scene; or, the expression of the exclusive radicalism of the middle classes; or, the response to a situation of distress in the face of a movement of social destruction, producing aversion to chaos among the most homogeneous social actors; or, the contemporary form of Bonapartism, independent of a specific class domination; or, the outlet for homosexuality; or, the product of late and atypical development processes; or, resistance to modernization; or, the prototype of the “developmentalist” and modernizing revolution; or, a form of populist and revolutionary ultra-nationalism; or, again, a “political religion,” the typical manifestation of 20th century totalitarianism, a collectivist and police-system specific to modernity, embodying the triumph of violence and terror, with the archetypal models of the Soviet-Communist and Nazi tyrannies, which have more in common with each other than with any other authoritarian form of government.

Let me stress, for the sake of being more complete, but without being exhaustive, that specialists also oppose the right, left or “right and left” nature of the phenomenon – some see fascism as the product of a revisionism of the left, socialist, statist, secularist, anti-traditional and anti-Christian. Others see it as a right-wing revolution, neither reactionary nor opportunist, based on the myth of renewal and regeneration. Still others see it as a revolutionary movement “neither on the right nor on the left;” or simultaneously on the right and the left, born from the synthesis of “revisionist” socialism, revolutionary syndicalism and a new community nationalism, organic and social.

However, fascism as a sociopolitical model of a general and transnational character (or if one prefers the categorization of “generic fascism”) raises more questions than it answers. How can one define fascism without sinking into interpretation-schematization or the reductionist cliché? Historians respond that defining “fascism” is above all about writing history, with the national characteristics linked to political, economic, social and cultural events of countries under consideration. There is not, according to these historians, a model of “one-size-fits-all fascism,” nor a universally valid definition. But on the other hand, one can note the existence of a basic minimal conception, common to the political movements and regimes which appeared in Europe at the beginning of the last century, in the midst of a cultural, economic and social crisis. A point of view a priori convincing, but one which raises many questions.

The imperfect similarities which these historians point out constitute indeed a veritable jumble of ideas, values and principles; and there is of course no agreement on their comparative importance, frequency and significance. According to the convictions of the authors, there should be, at the heart of loose fascism, a mystical conception of life and politics; an irrational and voluntarist or idealistic or even spiritualist way of thinking; a cyclical view of history or a palingenesic view of history; the rejection of Marxist materialism; contempt for individualism, parliamentary democracy and the bourgeoisie, in the name of the organic, structured and hierarchical community; racism, anti-Semitism and hatred of others; the cult of the providential and charismatic leader; the call for a new elite, based on the virtue of example; the aspiration to a more mobile society; the desire to create a new ruling class from the middle classes and the working class; the exaltation of youth; the mobilization and integration of the masses through propaganda and the one party; realistic politics (Realpolitik) opposed to utopian politics (Phantasiepolitik); political-cultural imperialism; the heroic justification for war; the desire to reconcile technical modernity and the triumph of traditional values; the fusion of ideals common to traditionalism, nationalism, elitist liberalism, revolutionary socialism and anarcho-syndicalism; the assertion of the primacy of political sovereignty at the expense of any form of economism; the defense of the private economy but nevertheless the extension of public initiative; finally, and in order not to lengthen this list excessively, the will to transform society and the individual in a direction that has never yet been experienced or realized. In the end, a real intellectual patchwork that leaves one speechless.

In the face of these disagreements, many writers have come to deny that one can define a “generic fascist” phenomenon. Others take a less radical position, but nonetheless express the greatest doubt about its usefulness (see in particular: Gregor, Bracher, Allardyce, Muñoz Alonso, Fernández de la Mora, Arendt and De Felice, to name a few).

In reality, specialists of fascism fail to overcome the obstacle represented by the profound differences that exist between supposedly “fascist” movements or regimes, not only between fascist Italy and National Socialist Germany, but also between these two models and the other “nationalist-socialisms” that appeared in the years 1920-1940. To stick to the “state totalitarianism” of Italian fascism, and the “racial totalitarianism” of German National Socialism (and not to mention the “class totalitarianism” of the anticlerical and anti-religious Soviet-Communists), there is an immeasurable difference in the horror (the thesis of Emilio Gentile on “the Italian way of totalitarianism” has moreover been severely criticized by the disciples of Renzo de Felice). Before coming to power, between 1919 and 1922, the Italian fascists inflicted between 600 and 700 casualties among left and far-left activists, but also suffered roughly the same number of deaths in their own ranks. From 1922 to 1940, the Mussolini regime executed nine people (the majority of them Slovenian terrorists), and seventeen others in 1943 (date of the start of the civil war which claimed 50,000 victims, according to Claudio Pavone).

The number of political prisoners in fascist Italy never exceeded 2000. Italian fascism never had the intention or the possibility of developing a genuinely totalitarian system, based on the control of all state institutions and society, nor a fortiori a concentration camp system like those of National Socialist Germany and the USSR. The number of crimes, murders and executions, committed in the name of the “salvation” of Aryan humanity by National Socialist Germany or of the “happiness” of the proletariat, even of all humanity by the USSR and the other communist countries remains a subject of debate among historians; but in any case it is without comparison with that of the victims of fascist Italy (According to the methods, the criteria and the sources, the estimates vary by twice as much: They are from 8 to 15 million for National Socialist Germany, from 20 to 40 million for the USSR and from 60 to 120 million for all the Communist countries). Thus, with Italian fascism there is a difference, not only of degree but of nature.

All of these questions about the similarities and dissimilarities of the Nazi-German and Fascist-Italian models and many more are asked, examined and judiciously discussed by the author of Fascisme, histoire d’une concept (Fascism, History of a Concept). Free and independent of spirit, Paul Gottfried takes seriously the academic tradition of rigor and probity. In this he honors his profession, when a good number of his peers now wallow in ideology and intolerance. Gottfried is not one of those who claim to have the exclusive right to rational or “scientific” arguments, nor to have a monopoly on legitimate speech. He respects his opponents; presents their theses honestly; discusses their content, and presents his conclusions, always avoiding admonishment. If he accepts the categorization of “generic fascism,” he emphasizes, as other authors have done before him (such as Nolte, Arendt, Sternhell, de Felice, Payne, Del Noce or Gregor, to name but a few) that there are fundamental differences between German National Socialism on the one hand and Italian fascism and other “fascisms” on the other.

That said, Gottfried prefers to reserve the term “fascism” for movements other than Nazism (which was a “borderline case,” marked by the totalizing and exterminating character of its dictatorship, and significantly opposed to any form of organic democracy) – and in the framework of “generic fascism” he distinguishes between and “Latin fascism” of Catholic countries from “North European fascism” of Protestant countries. He also agrees that the fascist phenomenon is revolutionary in nature and historically linked to interwar Europe. Furthermore, he also agrees that the traditional, nationalist and conservative rights of the authoritarian governments of Franco, Salazar or Dollfuss cannot be amalgamated with the only true model of “generic fascism” that is Italian fascism. On the other hand, considering that the dividing line between right and left rests on the principles of egalitarianism and hierarchy and on the acceptance or rejection of the myth of progress, Gottfried resolutely classifies fascism on the right, and opposes thus frontally authors who, like in his Preface to the French translation, Stanley Payne, believe that fascism constitutes, on the contrary, the only type of revolutionism beyond the classic forms of the left and the right.

One can however doubt that the categorization of “Latin fascism,” used by Paul Gottfried, is really of a nature to shed more light on the rather muddled question of “generic fascism.” For my part, I believe I know the life and political thought of José Antonio Primo de Rivera quite well, as well as the entire bibliography of his movement, the Spanish Phalange. The majority of specialists see in José Antonio the model of “Spanish fascism.” Defined as fascist, José Antonio is therefore necessarily anti-democratic, putschist, ultranationalist, imperialist, a warmonger, totalitarian, apologist of violence and dictatorship. The problem is that these opinions, accusations and value judgments are all questionable and easily overturned by the facts, life and writings of José Antonio. Let us pass over the annoyance and the legitimate sarcasm that the severity and the injustice of these judgments do not fail to arouse in Hispanic countries, when such judgments come from foreign authors who make sure to be much more careful, balanced and measured when the time comes to assess the immeasurably greater violence committed in the name of so-called peaceful democracy inside or outside the borders of their own countries.

But let us underline two points, often overlooked by those who approach the study of so-called “Spanish fascism.” It should first be remembered that over the past two centuries, both the Right and the Left have for the most part embraced their own forms of anti-democracy, authoritarianism, nationalism, imperialism, violence, warmongering, elitism, hierarchy, identity politics or particularism. It should then be noted that the José-Antonian Phalangist movement (1933-1936) has only very distant links with the Traditionalist Phalange movement, born of the merger of all the right-wing parties under the aegis of Franco, in 1937, and all the more so with the Caudillo regime from 1937 to 1975.

For the comparison with “Latin fascism,” let us stick here only with the Phalange of José Antonio. In reality, beyond the “revolutionary” or very reformist character of the economic and social program of the Spanish Phalange of the JONS, the elements which differentiate the José-Antonian ideal from fascism(s) are numerous: the conception of the subordinate state to moral principles and to the transcendent end of man, the sense of human dignity, consideration for the individual and social life, respect for freedom, the affirmation of man’s eternal value, and the Catholic inspiration of political philosophy and the structure of society. And this is not nothing. Anti-capitalist and anti-socialist-Marxist, José Antonio undoubtedly was. But was he anti-democratic? It is debatable: “The aspiration for a free and peaceful democratic life will always be the goal of political science beyond all fashions,” he said. Violence was not a postulate of its ideal, nor a condition of its objective, but a pragmatic necessity to avoid being annihilated (the José-Antonian Phalange suffered about fifteen fatal attacks the day after its foundation; after eight months of waiting, it launched into reprisals, leaving some sixty victims among its adversaries, a figure roughly equal to the total of its own losses. But throughout the duration of the Second Spanish Republic and until the outbreak of the Civil War there were nearly 2,500 dead).

José Antonio wanted to be a patriot much more than a nationalist. “We are not nationalists,” he said, “because being a nationalist is nonsense; it is to base the deepest springs of the nation on a physical factor, on a simple physical circumstance. We are not nationalists because nationalism is the individualism of peoples.” We do not find the slightest territorial claim in his Complete Works either. According to him, the Spanish Empire in the 20th century could only be spiritual and cultural in nature. One would look in vain for anti-Semitic or racist overtones in his remarks. No doubt he clumsily used the term totalitarian or totalitarian state five times, but he did so clearly to signify his desire to create a “state for all,” “without divisions,” “integrating all Spaniards,” and “An instrument at the service of national unity.” Equally surprising is his point of view on fascism expressed in his 1936 declaration: “Fascism is fundamentally wrong: it is right in sensing that it is a religious phenomenon, but it wants to replace religion with idolatry;” and “it leads to the absorption of the individual into the collective.” As for his Catholic convictions, they cannot be questioned. We find the ultimate and clear manifestation of this in the will he wrote on November 18, 1936, the day after a parody of a trial, two days before his execution: “I forgive with all my heart all those, without exception, who may have harmed or offended me, and I ask all those to forgive me to whom I may owe the reparation of some wrong, be it great or small.”

One can of course think that there exists between the agnostic Mussolini, the secularist Giovanni Gentile (official philosopher of fascism), the neo-pagan Julius Evola, the Romanian orthodox, very anti-Semitic, Codreanu, and the Catholic, national-syndicalist, José Antonio, a kind of lowest common denominator. But the link that would constitute “Latin fascism” is at the very least tenuous and questionable. The comparison of the young leader of the Phalange with the non-conformists or French personalists of the 1930s, or with the founder of Fianna Fail, President of the Irish Republic, Éamon de Valera, however seems much more convincing. It is telling that, somewhat embarrassed by the José Antonio case, most historians resort to a series of euphemisms. Joséantonian fascism would be, they say, “intellectual,” “rational,” “moderate,” “civilized.” “idealist,” “naïve,” or “poetic”. Perhaps! But these attributes are not among the commonly accepted characteristics of fascism.

With this reservation on “Latin fascism” made, I cannot say enough how much Gottfried’s book deserves to be read. Having appreciated the English version in its time, I was fortunate to be associated with the French edition project. In his beautiful Introduction for the French-speaking public, Stanley Payne writes: “Paul Gottfried’s book is the best and most comprehensive interpretive study of fascism that has emerged in the last decade of this century.” Allow me to correct just a few words to say in a way that I believe is even more precise: “which has been in existence for a quarter of a century.”

Note: A word on the Franco-French polemics around the “French origins” of fascism. According to the thesis developed over more than forty years ago, by the Israeli historian, Zeev Sternhell (who was a Zionist-socialist in his youth and then a social-democratic activist influenced by Habermas), France was the laboratory of proto-fascism and of fascism at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. It then had a real “fascist impregnation” in the 1930s, which finally led to the Vichy regime, the perfect realization of fascism. Obsessed with a view of the history of binary ideas pitting the heirs of the Enlightenment against their opponents, Sternhell exaggeratedly magnified the influence of a few political-cultural movements and a handful of famous intellectual figures. Contrary to what he suggests, there is a considerable difference between nationalist and authoritarian movements, which advocate state reform in the sense of strengthening the executive, and a fascist organization which pursues its revolutionary overthrow, or which aspires to a profound upheaval of social structures. Raymond Aron, Michel Winock, Serge Berstein and many other historians and political scientists, have demonstrated the amalgamations and the Manichean character of Sternhell’s work, which, despite very stimulating early intuitions, is more of a form of anti-fascist activism than a rigorous history of ideas.


Arnaud Imatz is a French historian and political scientist, and a great connoisseur of Spain. His notable publications include José Antonio et la Phalange espagnole and La Guerre d’Espagne revisitée. His lates book is Droite/gauche, pour sortir de l’équivoque.

This article appears through the kind courtesy of La Nef. Translated from the French by N. Dass.

The featured image shows a poster for the Repubblica Sociale Italiana (RSI), by Gino Boccasile, ca. 1944.

Marxism, Revisionism, Liberalism: A Conversation With Piotr Nowak

We are so very delighted to presented this interesting and wide-ranging conversation with Piotr Nowak, who is Professor of Philosophy at the Bialystok University in Poland. He translated works of such writers as Hannah Arendt, W. H. Auden, Leo Strauss, Alexander Kojève, Allan Bloom, Boris Pasternak, Vasyli Rozanov, Andrei Bely, Pavel Florensky, Jacob Taubes, Semyon Frank. He is the deputy editor‐in‐chief of the philosophical quarterly Kronos (in Polish), and the annual Kronos. Philosophical Journal (in English). He is also a member of the Board of the Count August Cieszkowski Foundation. He is the author of the following monographs: Ontology of Success: An Essay on the Philosophy of Alexandre Kojève (Gdańsk 2006), The Prince’s Signature: Reflections on Strength and Weakness (Warsaw 2013), The Ancients and Shakespeare on Time: Some Remarks on the War of Generations (Amsterdam–New York 2014; in English), Troglodyte Breeding: Comments on Higher Education and the Mental Culture of Contemporary Man (Warsaw 2014), I Die Therefore I Am (Warsaw 2016), The Box with Pandora Within (Warsaw 2016). His most recent book is Violence and Words. Political Philosophy of Hannah Arendt (Warsaw 2018), for which he was awarded the 2019 Daedalus’ Wings Literary Prize founded by the National Library of Poland. He is also the host of two TV programs and a visiting professor at Warsaw University.

In this discussion with Zbigniew Janowski, Professor Nowak provides us with a profound analysis of modernity and the kind of society that we are sleepwalking into, where we have become prisoners of democracy.


Zbigniew Janowski (ZJ): I would like to focus our conversation on the topic of “revisionism.” We know this term from the history of socialism or Communism. Marxist revisionism was an important stage in the life of socialist philosophers, socialism itself, and Communism’s slow demise. It started after the so-called “October Thaw,” in 1956, and continued throughout the 1960s. It was an attempt to “revise” Marxist socialism after Stalin’s death in such a way as to make it look “human.” That is how the famous expression “Socialism with a human face” came about.

It is 2021, Communism is gone. However, over the last 20 or so years, Liberalism has evolved into what is sometimes called “soft-totalitarianism.” To be sure, this is not a system that operates on the basis of broken bones, mass-purges, imprisonment, or the existence of gulags, as socialism did; but, if we leave aside the free-market economy, today’s Liberalism became an ideology which controls as many aspects of human life as Communism, or even more. The first thing is the control of speech and our behavior.

Piotr Nowak (PN): Recently, I have reread the memoirs of Barbara Skarga, entitled, After the Liberation (1944-1956). Skarga, who later became a prominent philosopher in Poland, was an officer in the Home Army during the war. She was captured by the NKVD (Soviet secret police, responsible for purges and murders) when she was 24. She was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor in Siberia. She returned to Poland at a time when former Stalinists were trying to assume a “human face.”

Piotr Nowak. Photo Credit: Bartek Syta.

For years I have been reading Gulag literature with my students, among them Skarga’s book, but also Shalamov, Ginzburg, Herling-Grudziński’s A World Apart. Over time, I noticed a decline of interest in reading these books among students. It is exotic for young people today, but not for me. Unlike them, I know well – fortunately not from personal experience – what the totalitarian regime was like, what Siberia was and what a penal colony in Asiatic Russia was. On the other hand, I know from experience what authoritarianism, martial law, and military rule are. So, I quite dread using the term “totalitarianism” – in a reckless way. In the end, it seems reserved, to paraphrase Karl Jaspers, for liminal situations in history, such as Kołyma or Auschwitz.

At the same time, I accept your important disclaimer that “totalitarianism” (here the quotation marks are indispensable) exists in hard and soft versions. In my mind, the difference seems to be quite significant. Today, political opponents are not murdered in Warsaw and Berlin; rather, they are denied recognition. However, from a certain point of view – and you got me here – it is one and the same thing. Please note that Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin, the protagonist of Gogol’s The Overcoat, does not die from the cold, from the lack of a coat, but precisely from being denied recognition.

ZJ: Can you explain when and in what circumstances Revisionism under Communism came into being.

PN: It’s hard to say exactly. It was certainly not immediately after Stalin’s death, in 1953, but some three or four years later. In addition to Soviet Marxism, which appeared immediately after the war, the hitherto unknown in Poland, and even more so in the Soviet Union, Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 were discovered. At the same time, such prominent figures of Marxist thought as Gramsci, Lukacs, and later also Ernst Bloch and Theodor W. Adorno, had “arrived” in Poland too. Suddenly, it turned out that there was plenty to choose from; and the stuff was even an interesting read!

Besides, after the war, ideology was important in shaping social practice. If someone shared leftist values, it was difficult for him to question them. We need to remember that at that time the whole world accepted the Manichaean view of reality. This was the case not just in Europe but even in America. Communism was regarded as an angelic regime, maybe a bit degenerated and fallen, but angelic nonetheless. Such a view was partly because of the fact that it largely defeated fascism – undoubtedly the work of Satan. That is how people reasoned after the war all over the world. And this belief is still cultivated in some places in Italy and, above all, at the French universities.

In Poland, leftist sympathies proved to be strong for yet another reason. It is here that the Germans created the hell of Auschwitz. The very name of this place – apart from the association with the terrible suffering of millions of human beings – reminded us of the collapse of the old, pre-war, “fascist” moral order. In a place such as Auschwitz or Warsaw, 90% of which was razed to the ground, the mere thought of moral behavior, of old values, such as, honor, good birth, responsibility for others became questionable, or even impossible. The most important values on which humanity was founded turned out to be fleeting and completely obsolete. Hence, calls for the restitution of the old status quo appeared impossible to the majority of the population. For this reason, it was necessary to fill in the empty space, replace the old values with the new – victorious – ones. And that is what the communists did.

The hunger for meaning was sated quite quickly by giving people hope for a better tomorrow, without poverty and without fascists. This prospect turned out to be tempting and easy to accept, especially by those who were not victims. The joyful May 1st parade (International Workers’ Day), was celebrated each year. Its goal was to suppress the screams of the tortured victims, the slaughtered soldiers of the anti-communist underground, or the tormented Home Army soldiers. It was supposed to drown out the lamentations of the former landowners, robbed and dispossessed of their family estates by the communists. It was a politics of redirecting people’s attention to the radiant – communist – future.

Back then no one wanted to talk about Manichaeism seen from a different angle, that would make you see the face of the devil not only in Fascism, but also in Communism. The Red Army defeated the German Fascists and brought its own understanding of history. History is written by the victor, and the victor was Communism.

The opposition did not come right away; it was only later, around 1957, along with the Khrushchev Thaw. In the literary realm, there was a break too. In 1955, the poet Adam Ważyk wrote, “A Poem for Adults” which describes the madness of the situation, as in the following last two stanzas:

I went home,
like a man who had gone out to buy medicine,
and returned twenty years later.
My wife asked: Where were you?
The children asked: Where were you?
I was silent, trembling like a mouse.

The trouble with “madness” is that madness isolates and cannot become a collective state of mind. While someone can shout on his own behalf that he is crazy, his shouts can’t be repeated in pluralis majestatis, unless the term is used metaphorically, to the tune of: “The whole nation lost its mind to walk hand in hand with the communists.”

There is a book by Jacek Trznadel about the entanglement of Polish intellectuals in Communism, which stands in stark contrast to Miłosz’s The Captive Mind. According to Miłosz, it was the “Hegelian bite” – the intoxication of the great minds with ideology. Trznadel, on the other hand, argues that the mainsprings of ideological commitment and conformist behavior of intellectuals were fear and greed for influence and money, but also the hatred of the “ancien regime.”

As far as Revisionism is concerned, the most important attempt was undertaken, in 1956, by the young Leszek Kolakowski in Światopogląd i życie codzienne (Worldview and Daily Life, and which was published in German under the title, Der Mensch ohne Alternative. Von der Möglichkeit und Unmöglichkeit Marxist zu sein).

ZJ: One could say that post 1956 Revisionism was an attempt to create what came to be called “Socialism with a human face.” If pre 1956 reality was oppressive and brutal (“Stalinist”), it had nothing to do with Marxism; rather, it had everything to do with the actions and decisions of the corrupt State apparatchiks, who distorted Marx’s message. This was a way of absolving Marx’s philosophy of responsibility for the practice of socialism, which found expression in the famous slogan, “Socialism Yes. Distortions No.” After each upheaval, in each communist country, roughly every decade, we had a new Polit-bureau, composed of the new communists who would dispose of the old bastards who were guilty of abuses and responsible for “distortions.” But Marxism, so the argument went, was innocent.

PN: To all those who are able to spot a “human face” in socialism, I have a suggestion – try to find it! Leszek Kołakowski – probably the most outstanding Marxist revisionist of the second half of the twentieth century – ends his essay, Karl Marx and the Classic Definition of Truth, by paraphrasing Thomas Mann: “In the whole universe, man cannot find a well deep enough to not discover, looking into it, his own face down at the bottom.” The thing is, sometimes that face – a human face – happens to be a vulgar mug. Kołakowski writes about it in another essay, The Marxist Roots of Stalinism (republished in his collection of essays, My Correct Views on Everything), which, in my opinion, should be a mandatory reading at contemporary French and American universities.

We were told many times, and some still seem to believe it, that there was nothing Marxist in Stalinism. However, as Kołakowski argues in his essay, even if Stalinism was one of the many incarnations of Marxism, it was a legitimate one. If so, we must assume that even behind the face of a well-bred graduate of the École Normale Supérieure, we may find the face of a butcher.

ZJ: You have mentioned Kolakowski’s influential collection of essays which appeared in England as Marxism and Beyond and, in America as, Toward a Marxist Humanism. I would also add the issue of TriQuarterly: A Leszek Kołakowski Reader, with several essays written in the same period. These books contain most of his important Revisionist writings, which were quite influential among Western Marxists, especially in the UK and North America. Interesting as they are, as part of Marxist historiography, they did not save Marxism. The history of several decades –1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, which led to the collapse of Communism – was to demonstrate that.
Here is something I would like you to comment on – could one say that Revisionism was a failed attempt to breath new life into a world-view that was bound to breed economic inefficiency, oppressiveness, lack of freedom in the private realm and cultural poverty.

PN: Yes, that’s exactly what I was trying to say. It was bound to fail. Communism is a poisoned fruit. A fruit beautiful at times, occasionally even tasty and tempting, but fundamentally poisoned.

ZJ: But only a handful of intellectuals quickly realized that. That is, as you put it, the socialist idea was a poisoned fruit. Here two people, who realized relatively early what it was, stand out – Raymond Aron, the author of The Opium of the Intellectuals, and Czesław Milosz, the author of The Captive Mind. Kołakowski was another, but his realization came a decade later (he was also younger than Aron and Miłosz). You referred to his The Marxist Roots of Stalinism. But there is another important but less known piece by him where he seems to argue that absolving the old Marx by pointing to the “humanist” young Marx will not do. (He wrote this in “Althuser’s Marx,” for The Socialist Register, 1971; reprinted in The Two Eyes of Spinoza and Other Essays on Philosophers). Which is another way of saying, Revisionism was a waste of time.

Over the last five years or so, given what I experienced at American universities, I decided to teach a class on totalitarianism. I would regularly assign Orwell’s 1984. A friend of mine told me, forget about Orwell, make them read Miłosz, it is by far the best analysis of Communism. What Miłosz realized with full force was that Communism required faith to operate successfully. He called it a New Faith. As soon as people lost faith in the possibility of building “a just” (socialist) society, Communism started cracking. One could write a history of Communism through the prism of those cracks: 1956, 1966, 1968, 1970, 1981. The final nail in the coffin came in 1981 – the imposition of martial law in Poland. After that, only a few people retained faith, and eight years later, in 1989, Communism was buried in Eastern Europe. Do you agree with Miłosz that Communism required faith? And if, so, why did so many people – some very intelligent ones, like Kolakowski — “converted” into it? At the beginning of our conversation you answered this question to some extent; historical circumstances after WWII certainly helped.

PN: Different things require different commitment, including faith. Communists believe in a better tomorrow; and therefore they believe in progress. The title of the Czech communist Julius Fucik’s book about a country where “tomorrow is already yesterday” conveys this idea quite well. This faith is contagious even today. The blind rush, headlong, ever onwards, always ends up in a nosedive. This attitude is perfectly reflected in Alfred Kubin’s 1902 painting The Man. It shows a human figure rushing downward from who knows where, going ever faster and faster. The problem is that there is no stopping this motion. As the knowledge of it dawns on her, the terror grows. Left-wing thinkers do not take this into account at all. For them, progress means not only technological advancement, but also a moral one; the improvement of humanity. They are convinced that in order to eradicate evil it is enough to correct poorly functioning social institutions and persistently strive to advocate for justice.

Both the Scriptures and Thomas Hobbes hold a different view: there is an evil in man that resists reforms. Man is terrible; he has done so much evil throughout history that there is no redemption for him in this world. We have to struggle with evil in us. Communism is the embodiment of evil, one of its many forms; perhaps it is the most demonic and bloody of evils. It harnesses beautiful words only to vulgarize and destroy them. Values, such as, hope, love, brotherhood and peace – all of them have fallen prey to the communist practice of vulgarizing them. In their hands, words changed meaning. Peace is a state of war, freedom becomes enslavement, and so on. We find it in Orwell!

As far as Miłosz is concerned, a lot has been written about him. Mark Lilla did a good job adapting him in writing his The Reckless Mind, for use at American universities (incidentally, I helped him with the Polish translation of this interesting book). Miłosz, on the other hand, translated Aron’s The Opium of the Intellectuals back in the 1950s. These are not only bibliographical details. They show how ideas circulated then and how they circulate today, and their mutual influence. Certainly, the problems of Communism did not concern only this part of the European continent.
Kołakowski, on the other hand, interests and inspires me not when he reaches “belief” in a better tomorrow, but when he abandons it and becomes a Christian. You say he was intelligent. Certainly not when he wrote that the Catholic Church was responsible for the death camps (Szkice o filozofii katolickiej [Essays on Catholic Philosophy], p. 57). He acquired wisdom and intelligence with age, especially when he recovered from “the beautiful disease of leftism.”

ZJ: Several points in your explanation as to why Communism was such a powerful force can be applied to Liberalism as well. It is also based on the idea of a better future, equality and justice. Contemporary politics revolves almost exclusively around these two notions. They are the axis of contemporary social policies, and it is there, in my opinion, where the problem of coercive nature of Liberalism lies. To be against “social justice” is to be, very much like the communists saw it, “The enemy of the people,” who deserve no place in society. Not to join the “social justice” crusade is tantamount to displaying anti-social behavior, very much like not participating in a May 1st parade, or in various social activities under Communism, which could get you in trouble. Those who dare to do it are castigated, scorned, looked down upon, eliminated, made to look like social pariahs. Elimination is not a physical one, but a social one; being fired from a job, from a university post, being “accused,” etc. Would you agree?

PN: Today’s Liberalism does not have much in common with classical Liberalism. If Locke and Mill’s Liberalism was conceived in such a way that it could support freedom – not only economic, but also academic, spiritual – then the Liberalism we are dealing with today has become hard-headed, moralizing, and schematic. Classical Liberalism fortified people, while the contemporary one wants to tell them how to live; wants to transform and reform them; bring everyone down to the same level; fashion them into one mould, contrived by who knows whom.

ZJ: By whom? By social activists! It is the fastest growing “profession.” They are experts in raising “social consciousness” about “social justice.” They are the producers of slogans calling on expanding equity and dismantling whatever is left of hierarchy (the so-called “power structure,” as we say in America).

PN: You are probably right. Liberals are not interested in the common good, but, as you say, in “social justice.” The res publica, the State, the nation do not exist in their minds. In consequence, they are nothing but a convenient instrument in the hands of the rich, a bargaining chip for people of influence. Such a weak State can’t make decisions or settle disputes. Conformist behavior is rewarded. Ordinary people are intimidated on a massive scale (“next we come for you”), reprimanded or intimidated. Adults are treated like children.

Are the people who influence and shape reality today still liberals? I don’t know for sure. I know that they dominate and willingly refer to liberal philosophy as a kind of legitimization for their ever-bolder actions. They are followers of progress and infinite improvement, which command people to part with everything they have learned at home, which they have acquired through tradition. Old and worn-down values are replaced by new ones.

ZJ: You ask whether they are liberal? I would say, very much so. If you really want to know, observe the actions (or the silence) of those who claim to be so-called classical liberals. They will say to you (in private), “I don’t agree with this or that; I don’t support this or that policy;” they will even be sincerely appalled by some things the radicals do, but have you seen them vote against the liberal radicals, or raise a voice of protest against the dumbest proposals in local politics, or oppose destructive changes in university curricula? You soon see which side they are on. They invariably support the same policies that the radicals do.

In their outer actions they are as radical as the true radicals; in their hearts they are most likely cowards. They use the term classical Liberalism to find absolution, to distance themselves from the wrongs done by their ideological affiliates. The so-called classical Liberalism exists in their imagination, just like true socialism existed in the heads of those who believed that the socialism in the countries of real socialism had nothing to do with Marx’s socialism.

PN: Those who experienced Communism know that the same thing happened half a century ago and earlier among the communists who created Homo Sovieticus, the new Soviet man, in Central and Eastern Europe. In that sense, Martin Heidegger did not err in equating – as he did in his Letter on Humanism – the degenerated, hurtling rudderless Liberalism with Communism. I remember that back in the time of the communist Polish People’s Republic, when I read this text for the first time, I did not understand this kind of association at all. Today I understand it. Both ideologies adhere to two common values: egalitarianism and the complete economization of community life.

Ford, Soros, and Stalin go along with lesser acolytes through the jungle of the 20th and 21st centuries practically side by side, causing untold catastrophes and destruction. Entire villages and cities disappear from the economic map of their countries. In schools and universities, propaganda centers are created, where courses in tolerance, adaptation, sexual harassment, gender identity and the oppressive nature of the modern family are organized. At other training courses – known once as “the reforging of souls” – you can learn how to eat European meringue and what equality is and why it has become the most important value in all areas of social and political life. Thanks to the newest ideological trends, deeply humanistic values, still so close to Mill, recur as their own caricature, a farce. Because this is how past events come back to us: history – said Marx – always returns as a farce.

ZJ: Historical circumstances – economic crises of the 1920s and 1930s, the rise of Fascism, WWII, and other events – made Socialism attractive to many people. Stalin’s death and the year 1956 made Revisionism necessary, at least for Marxists who wanted to save it. It was an attempt to save Socialism’s face; to make it look human! However, contrary to their hopes, Revisionism was not tolerated for long. Nikita Khrushchev, Stalin’s successor, even insisted that Gomulka, the First Secretary of the Polish Communist Party, organize an international trial of the Revisionists, Kołakowski being the main culprit. In Khrushchev’s mind, or those who advised him, Revisionism was dangerous for the maintenance of power, unity of the Party, but above all, its ideological legitimacy. When Kołakowski was fired from the Party’s ranks and his university post, the official document stated that he “fashioned the minds of the youth with ideology which was contrary to the development of the country.” Whether the communists understood Marx and Kołakowski’s reading of him, is irrelevant; but they suspected that philosophers’ reading of Marx could be dangerous. Insofar as the communist state was based on Marx’s ideas, interpretation of Marx was crucial. It was not just the Communist apparatchiks who were concerned but philosophers such as Jurgen Habermas who supposedly remarked, in the 1970s, that Kołakowski is a disaster for the European Left.

I bring this up to show that reading and interpretation of philosophical texts matters; and it was the reading of Marx which contributed to the demise of Marxist ideology, and people’s loss of faith in the system. Ultimately the system collapsed because the faith in it had been undermined by intellectuals.

As I said, and you seem to agree with me on this point, if Liberalism is becoming, or has become, totalitarian, its eventual demise – if it follows the trajectory of Communism – can be accomplished only if Liberalism finds critics among its own believers, who will come to the inevitable conclusion, as did the Marxist Revisionists, that the system is fundamentally flawed, that “distortions” are not distortions but fundamental features of the ideology. Are there any Liberal Revisionists, not just critics of Liberalism who never claimed to be Liberal? Mark Lilla, whose writings you know, seems to find Liberalism more and more disappointing; but he is far from breaking away from it.

PN: This argument about corrupting the youth is as old as philosophy itself, stretching all the way back to the trial and death of Socrates. We will not come up with anything new here. Politicians will always accuse philosophers of anything and everything, not only corrupting the youth, since they cannot bear the thought of free people, independent from their decisions.

You say that something in Kołakowski’s thought did not sit well with Habermas. That is just fine. There is a problem with German philosophy in general. The thing is that World War II seriously thinned out the Germans; and the Germans killed off the Jews. Meanwhile, for centuries both have provided us with intellectual fuel. War put an end to that. The defeat of the Third Reich has driven all German philosophy to the grave. German philosophy ceased to exist. With one exception – Martin Heidegger, the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century. The French took this opportunity to devise a hokum called postmodernism, talking about which here is a waste of time. We will do well not to refer to either the Germans or the postmodernists in a conversation about Marx, revisionism or Liberalism.

Of course, as everywhere, there are brilliant exceptions. In France, they include – to limit this listing to the living – Rémi Brague, Alain Besançon, who was a gauchist in the 1950s, and Pierre Manent, a French Straussian. That latter said in an interview with Benedicte Delorme-Montini something along the lines of, “if you aspire to understand modern politics, you must have a certain understanding of the United States; therefore you must have a little love for them … A minimum of sympathy and recognition for American achievements is a basic prerequisite of understanding politics even a little bit.” I will add from myself that it is good not only to love and understand them, but also visit and be interested in them.

In my mind the US is entwined – as is the case with of millions of Poles who are Americanophiles – with a childish dream of freedom. Growing up under Communism, we dreamed of the States as if it was Arcadia. Liberalism was also an Arcadian myth for me, a positive myth. In order to be able to revise the ideas on which a political system was founded, one must grow organically in it. Nobody can be a substitute for the British or the Americans in this. The “revisionist” impulse must come from them.
Mark Lilla is not entirely convincing in his writings. At first, I was amazed by his book on intellectuals because it was really well-written. Later, as I read his other books and essays he has written for The New York Review of Books, I realized that he was a literarily gifted opportunist who woke up one day and realized – like everyone in his social circle – that there is no God. Eureka! His The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West came from such a discovery. I stopped reading him after that book.

Today, when the history of ideas in the West has receded several decades in relation to, for example, the late works of Martin Heidegger, the humanistic thought of the young Kołakowski has a chance for a renaissance. It fits quite well with the anticlerical antipathies of such authors as Mark Lilla, Stephen Greenblatt, Noah Harari, Christopher Hitchens, Giovanni Vattimo, Richard Dawkins, taken in concert with all the Frenchmen who fell out of Alain Badiou’s back pocket. These thinkers, like pack-donkeys, gradually and painstakingly reach the ideas developed by Kołakowski in the 1950s and 1960s, which he abandoned in his further philosophical work, and which brought such dazzling gems as The Presence of Myth or Metaphysical Horror.

ZJ: What was it about Lilla’s book or books that drew your attention? Did you see him as a Liberal Revisionist?

PN: No, Lilla’s books do not have that potential. I only skimmed through the latest ones. They adulate the liberal system in all its pathological layers, and if they undertake criticism, it is a predictable and authorized one. But the Americans had ingenious “revisionists.” They have forgotten about them. I am preparing an issue of Kronos magazine about Allan Bloom. So, I am re-reading his essays, such as those collected in Giants and Dwarfs. I doubt their “revisionist” power is remembered.

ZJ: Unlike Marxism, Liberalism does not seem to have the venerated “founding fathers,” to whose writings we can go back to. Juxtapose young Marx to late Marx; only to realize that the theory was flawed from the beginning. There is no body of writings like the Federalist Papers in the US, the Constitution, which we need to know how to read in order to get politics right. Perhaps that is why there is little chance that Liberalism will collapse the way socialism did because the theory contained in the writings of the founders turned out to be simply wrong.

PN: You have published two volumes of John Stuart Mill’s minor writings. You do not spare him harsh words. You are right. Something went wrong. We need to investigate what happened and when. But, let’s leave it to the Anglos. Personally, I would start by weakening John Rawls’s position in the American humanities. I suggest we should reread Bloom’s critique of Rawls, which he published in 1975, in American Political Science Review (69 [2]). I know of no more convincing criticism of his philosophy.

ZJ: I would disagree with you saying, let’s leave it to the Anglos, for several reasons. Liberal ideology enveloped not just the US, Canada, the UK. It is doing the same in Continental Europe, including the former socialist countries, and parts of Asia, South America. Liberal language of rights, justice and equality is everywhere the same. Rawls and company are not just an American problem; they are a problem for everyone. It does not matter whether a critique of Rawls comes from America or Scotland or England, so long as someone formulates it. There are others who wrote critically about Rawls: Roger Scruton and John Gray. The latter wrote a good book in the early 1990s called, Liberalisms (plural). It is worth rereading today.

Secondly, for critique of Rawls to be effective, one needs to undermine that which underlies Rawls project, that is egalitarianism. His whole theory of justice is based on the premise of the equality of outcome, and unless we go after equality, show how detrimental it is to man’s private life and social organization, we will always have another Rawls, another theory of justice. What is needed is a serious historical work, which shows how the egalitarian world came about. No one who read Peter Laslett’s The World We Have Lost: England Before the Industrial Age (1965) would give credence to Marx and Engels’ philosophy of history. As Laslett shows, in his line-by-line commentary to The Communist Manifesto, it was based on an erroneous interpretation of history. Jonathan Clark is doing similar revisionist work, and everybody who is interested in the subject of Liberalism should read his Revolution and Rebellion and The Language of Liberty.

Be that as it may, here is what I would like to ask: unlike Western Europeans and North Americans who lived through the entire time under the roof of liberal democracy, Eastern Europeans did not; their experience between 1945, the end of WWII, and 1989, the end of Communism, was different. We were inoculated against ideological thinking. Are Poles, for example, better equipped to formulate such arguments and thus can better offer their Western friends a piece of advice?

PN: I do not think so. For this I blame the stupid, naive, childish and probably unrequited love of Poles for the United States. For millions of Poles, Anglo-Liberalism (please do not confuse it with the economic doctrine of Jeffrey Sachs and Leszek Balcerowicz) will always be associated with freedom that was still there in the 1980s.

ZJ: As for my decision to put out Mill’s minor writings, I wanted to find out who is responsible for the social, moral and political chaos today. Not the chaos and demoralization created by socialism, but the chaos in the formerly admired liberal democracies. Mill appeared to me to be the best candidate. As I was preparing my first volume of his writings, I started realizing that he is to Liberalism what Marx is to Socialism. Just like Marx was not the first socialist, nor was Mill the first Liberal. But they both gave full expression to two traditions that existed before them. They codified them and made them into coherent systems.

When you read those minor writings (the second volume is scheduled to appear in the Fall) you no longer see Mill as the serious philosopher (as per, On Liberty, Utilitarianism, or Considerations on Representative Government, but an angry social activist, a propagandist, polemicist, who, like Marx wants to change the world.

What you are struck by is his dislike of the old hierarchical order – the aristocracy, the Anglican Church, religion, the State and, finally, his love of equality. This is what motivated his philosophy of Liberalism. To be sure, he was less radical than Marx and Engels, but his vision of the future of the world is similar: it is a world in which equality reigns supreme. This is what he says on the last two pages of his Utilitarianism, which sounds very much like Marx/Engels’ Communist Manifesto. And equality, like classless society in Marx, is what drives the liberal world today. I consider it to be a dangerous state of mind, which will not stop before it destroys all social institutions. Socialism did it then. Liberalism is doing it now.

PN: You suggested I read Mill, for which I would like to thank you separately. I took his minor writings seriously, and my colleagues in the editorial staff of Kronos magazine found them interesting as well. We decided to translate a considerable portion of them and devote the issue to Mill. I hope that it will contribute to the debate you care so deeply about here, in Poland.

It is true, there is a lot in them about equality – a noble idea in general, which our times have so exaggerated and vulgarized. For example, mentally ill and dysfunctional people are considered not to be different from healthy people. They are “just different.” The result is that we undermine the category of mental health, and thus we can’t cure them. We are not allowed to talk of disease; we use the language of “different sensitivity.” Less and less attention is being paid to crime victims.

At the same time, huge public funds are being committed to the resocialization of criminals, who often see themselves as victims of the social system, unable to take responsibility for what they have done. My daughter wanted to pursue this topic professionally – she graduated from forensic psychology at one of the English universities – but was successfully dissuaded from doing that. There are topics that may not be discussed in today’s academia! And that is utterly unprecedented! Wasn’t that what the right to freedom of expression was about, especially in academic matters? Was it not also postulated by Mill in On Liberty? The same Mill, who called for the liberalization of the law in relation to criminals.

Today the majority has been cornered by the minority. Nay! By numerous minorities who demand the same rights as the majority. Western democracies are on the brink of a civil war.

ZJ: You expressed concerns not just about American universities but also referred to the French ones, the intellectual scene there, and the French romance with Marxism. To be sure, Poles, unlike the French, may not find reading Marxist literature palatable, but in their general outlook, their thinking about the State as a provider of all kinds of goods and services, the power of centralized government, are, in my opinion, not different from that of the French. The Americans too. Whether it is the French egalité or Marx’s classless society, the Poles and other Europeans are true believers in equality. I would even go further: I would say that post-socialist countries may be in a worse situation than the Western European countries because we have had a state-sponsored egalitarian (Marxist) ideology for 45 years. We may have shaken off the Marxist new-speak, but not necessarily the belief in equality which socialism engrained in us. It is what Liberalism is doing now in the countries which by Marxist standards were class societies.
The alternative to equality of any kind and provenance would be a society based on hierarchy, merit, and privilege. All three were the primary object of Mill’s attack. Except for Sir Roger Scruton and Jonathan Clark, I do not know of anyone who would dare to defend it. Say to the Poles that you are a partisan of hierarchy and inequality based on merit, and you are likely to be socially decapitated, just like in the US. I believe you experienced it as well.

PN: I prefer not to talk about personal experiences, which will not teach anyone anything who refuses to understand the problems of the liberal societies we live in. On the other hand, people like us – you and I – understand the danger all too well. All I can say is that we are coming awfully close to communist reality in various fields, where people were destroyed for even being suspected of having views contrary to the existing ideology. Unless we wake up from our progressive dream, totalitarianism will always be with us.

As for your question about the Poles, let me give you an example. Poles have always shed their blood. You know the slogan “For your freedom and ours.” Tadeusz Kosciuszko, the commander of the Polish Army during the 1794 uprising against Russia, was one of the Polish generals who came to America to fight in the war of independence. He designed the defenses of West Point during the revolutionary war, and, later, suggested to Jefferson that Americans establish a military school for officers. There is a monument of Kosciuszko at West Point and on the square in front of the White House. Now he did not go to America because he was a partisan of equality! He just could not bear the thought that there are people who live in bondage. When he was returning to Poland, he left Jefferson his American estate to sell and use all the money from the sale – well over a million dollars in today’s money – to free as many Blacks as possible. I was tempted to find out how many people could be freed for it and it turned out to be about a hundred!

ZJ: Thank you, Professor Nowak, for such an interesting and invigorating conversation.


The featured image shows, “The Fair at Kawaria Zabrzydowska, Poland,” by Wojciech Weiss, painted ca. 1913.

Raising Questions

It probably won’t be as spunky as a putative Block vs Black debate, but here’s the next best thing. A tad riled by Professor Block’s article, “Incitement,” Dr. Mark Stocker penned a counter-statement, brimming with provocative questions. The venerable anarcho-capitalist (80) has thus been challenged by a young whippersnapper of an anarcho-art historian (65) who, despite Dr. Janowski’s best efforts, cannot quite rid himself of the last vestiges of lifelong liberalism. Is Stocker deftly skewered and brushed off like an irritating flea? Or does he bravely hold his own and show the veteran intellectual what’s what? You be the judge!


Mark Stocker (MS): ‘Incitement’ is a very clever article, stopping short of support for Mr. Trump (or The Donald as I prefer to call him) and the insurrectionists of 6th January, yet finding arguments in their favour, certainly the former. I’d like to ask you a number of questions:

MS, Question 1: What is the evidence that the 2020 presidential election result was ‘improper’? It didn’t go Trump’s way but it constituted a relatively comfortable victory for the Democrats, certainly comparable with Obama’s re-election. Don’t you think that the insurrectionists were deluded in the face of empirical evidence? Is there any evidence that the votes in the marginal statues of North Carolina and Florida were clean but those in Michigan and Arizona were crooked? In other words, does Republican
equal rectitude and Democrat equal crookery? I know we’re living in partisan times but this does seem rather daft reasoning.

Walter Block (WB) Replies: There’s lots of evidence. Ballot gathering. Republican witnesses told to stay 20 feet away from where ballots were counted. Lots of overnight changes. According to that old aphorism, it isn’t who votes that counts, it’s who counts the ballots. Public opinion polls find that even a sizeable number of Democrats think there were lots of “irregularities” gone. Post election evidence: Baseball, Coke, Delta airlines protest at Georgia’s attempt to fix these “irregularities” even though that state’s new rules are less restrictive than many other states.

MS, Question 2: What is your evidence that Pelosi and Schumer were ‘delighted’ about the insurrection? You are over-fair to Trump and unfair to them. Yes, there MIGHT have been a bit of Schadenfreude on their part but maybe I am naive in thinking that both of them would have preferred it had there been no insurrection – or indeed tragic deaths – in the first place. I am trying to be fair to them, and I don’t think the operation is quite as tortuous as your defence of Trump.

WB Replies: I don’t think that Pelosi and Schumer, evil that they are, were “delighted” (I never used that word in this essay, even though you attribute it to me) with the tragic deaths. I have no doubt this brought sorrow to them. I do think that they were “happy” with the discomfort this entire episode impacted Donald. It is only human nature to be joyous at the difficulties of your enemies. I don’t see why you call this an “insurrection.” You would hardly characterize the BLM and Antifa trashing of government property, courthouses, etc., in places like Portland and Seattle in this manner. Yet, what they all have in common is trespass.

MS, Question 3: You claim that the insurrection was far less violent than other Antifa or BLM demos. While I’m no fan of the latter, can you give me any instances of insurrections led by them that had as many fatalities?

WB Replies: Again, you attribute to me claims I have not made. I search in vain in this essay of mine for the claim that the event of January 6 was “less violent” than leftist “peaceful” demonstrations. The latter were more “devastating” than the former at least insofar as there was only one of the former, dozens of the latter. There were no fires, no property damages in the one, there were in the others.

MS, Question 4: Your PPS is amusing – again may I ask for evidence of Antifa or BLM sneaking in, as you allege? Perhaps you know something that other people as yet don’t. Were you a British subject I would be urging you to contact Her Majesty’s Constabulary and tell all!

WB Replies: This is exactly what I said there: “Is it possible that there was a false flag operation in effect here? That BLM and Antifa snuck into the confused melee, with the goal of undermining President Trump’s authority? Enquiring minds want to know.” I am merely speculating here. I don’t think it is incumbent on an author to offer evidence for mere speculations.

MS, Question 5: If there is one rarely observed point where you and I are likely to agree, it’s that is the insurrectionists were not as sinister as many have made out – simply because they weren’t very bright. There were no designated leaders, chain of command or carefully conceived strategy or tactics. They didn’t work out their complement of weapons. They didn’t bring food and sleeping bags with them and they didn’t capture any hostages and thus envisage sustaining a siege – good thing too. Perhaps, ultimately, they were greater fools than they were knaves.

WB Replies: Yes, yes, a point of agreement between us. But your point undermines your claim that this event was really an “insurrection.” A revolt needs leaders, plans, strategy, tactics. You concede that this “insurrection” had none of that.

Our friends on the left are now trying to defund the police, but not the capital police. I wonder why? I think it is because the capital police defend them, while ordinary city and state police do not. It is similar to the likes of Pelosi, Schumer, Biden calling for strict gun control, for everyone else, while they are protected by armed guards.


The featured image shows, “David und Goliath,” by Osmar Schindler, 1888.

Which “Ecological Conversion?”

Ecological frenzy feeds on the fear of collapse and gives rise to many very different attitudes. Between the excesses, the integral ecology of the Church traces a path respectful of all balances which only achieves its full coherence in a process of conversion.

To make the libertine of thought feel how dizzying their emptiness is before the Everlasting, which understands them and which they can only try to understand, in order to prepare their souls for conversion – such is the famous approach of Pascalian apologetics. Fright as a propaedeutic. Anguish as a preamble to metaphysical conversion. And this is also the method of a certain ecology of the doom-and-gloom variety.

The call for “ecological conversion” is fueled by the anguish of collapse. It is necessary to describe a crisis so that the feeling of ecological urgency arises, and with it the call for a radical change of lifestyle, a reversal of perspectives. The almost metaphysical vertigo, which engenders the consideration of the fragility of life and its conditions of existence, therefore, seems to entail a religious attitude.

It is one of the paradoxes of our time to seek in ecology the most ultimate contradiction to its technical frenzy. As if the consumption of organic quinoa seeds could make modern humans forget their addiction to new technologies. The recent investitures of so many mayors bearing this label of ecology, during the last elections in France, revealed both the omnipresence of the question of ecology in people’s minds and the great diversity of realities that it covers. There is Cassandra with apocalyptic prophecies, aka, Greta Thunberg now consecrated as priestess and pythia of this new spiritual order, which has given rise to public demonstrations of disturbing fervor, when it does not use openly pagan voodoo rituals, as in the case, for example, of the term “Demeter” used in viticulture.

It may be enlightening to read on this subject, Murray Bookchin, a thinker who worried about the epidemic rise of a “spiritual” ecology, and according to whom ecological problems are emptied of all social content and reduced to a mythical interaction of natural forces. Even among some Christian environmentalists, it seems that the way to Heaven sometimes resembles a bike trail, so that the question arises whether the way is even now clearly understood. Thus the “Green Church” label recently set down by the French Bishops’ Conference might well raise questions. Should the epidemic rise of this spiritual ecology worry Catholics? Is it a prelude to a radical conversion of the soul towards its Creator and Savior, or an ersatz conversion within the Church itself?

It appears that the relationship that man has with the Earth, which welcomes and precedes him, brings to light three possible attitudes that engage the individual in various ways.

Surface Ecology

The first attitude is a surface ecology, well-intentioned but really just navel-gazing, and steeped in inconsistencies. This explains the paradox of the Whole Food movement in the United States, offering “organic” products from all over the world, and also prospering on the awareness of the undeniable ravages of an ultra-productivist agricultural policy on the other side of the Atlantic. The recent takeover of this sector by the giant Amazon shows how much the logic of the market has taken hold of this attitude to better serve increasingly hegemonic group interests. In La Cyberdépendance: pathologie de la connexion à l’outil Internet (Cyberdependence: Pathology of the Connection to Internet Use), the psychiatrist Philip Pongy writes: “Capitalism is a past master in the art of recovering everything, including its most critical and virulent opponents. Promoting conviviality on Twitter strengthens Silicon Valley. To talk about degrowth on TV is to serve the entertainment industry.”

Thus, the consumer who eats quinoa seeds and soybeans from the ends of the earth, after leaving the overheated gym, can afford good intentions at little cost. The attention paid to the nutritional quality of food from large-scale distribution only reinforces the domination of a system of culture and consumption, sinful in its very essence. This ecology in no way educates the selfishness of consumers, governed by their pleasure principle, but rather adorns their impulses with a green polish. It is therefore not a question of a conversion of the individual but of the exaltation of his desire. It is not surprising that this pageantry-ecology can culminate in the apology for PMA, or in protests, because the endocrine disruptors contained in the waters of the Seine from the contraceptive pills discharged by Parisians which are causing a sex-change in fish, thus promoting “gender fluidity” among the lower orders. The primacy of the individual at the expense of the Whole is thus the matrix of this first green imposture.

“Deep Ecology”

The obverse of this surface conversion, is the second attitude, which is not mistaken in calling itself “deep ecology.” This Malthusian and guilty ecology, far more ideological, makes the Whole triumph over the individual. Humans are too many; they are a parasite; potential polluters who can be easily intimated by their carbon footprint, and must be destroyed. The appalling number of vasectomy treatments, the new face of this thousand-headed hydra that is the culture of death, illustrates the dissemination of this thesis to the general public. This ideology of Greenpeace activists, who immolate themselves when a whale is slaughtered, or castrate themselves to avoid giving life, is part of a vegan and animalist movement ranging from the agit-prop of League 214 (which wants to highlight the suffering of animals by shocking acts) to the candidates of animalist parties that we saw appear during the last European campaigns. It is no longer a question of exalting the desires of the subject, but of refusing any preeminence of human nature.

In this new face of transhumanism, man is nothing more than the link in a chain of mammals, all equally capable of suffering, and therefore all potentially subjects of law. The regulations protecting farm animals are thus underpinned by the recognition of their sensitivity; that is to say, of their capacity to feel pleasure, suffering and emotions. In France, it is Article L214 of the Rural Code (codification of a law of 1976) which mentions their character as sensitive beings. In 2015, the Civil Code recognized that animals are sentient beings, who yet remain subject to the regimen of property. On January 29, 2021, the National Assembly adopted at first reading, with modifications, the bill aimed at strengthening the fight against animal abuse.

Integral Ecology

Consideration of the singular vocation of the human soul and the duties which bind it to Creation, which has no rights but towards which the human sou has duties, can resolve this antinomy. Man is not an animal like any other precisely because his freedom makes him capable of taking care of Creation that is entrusted to him. This answers the anti-speciesist.

Ecology can thus only be chosen in an integral way; that is to say, by involving all dimensions of existence, and by requiring coherence. Such a consideration, to which the luminous encyclical of Pope Francis, Laudato si, beckons, is therefore at the same time an ecology of nature, a human ecology and an ecology of peoples, with each of these three orders meriting its balance to be preserved by the application of a principle of precaution. Ecology, which seems dangerous when it abolishes all transcendence in order to spiritualize matter, takes on meaning if it opens a Franciscan path of poverty and sobriety that takes care of the common home by considering creation as the image of the Creator, a mirror of His greatness. The “ecological conversion” is therefore neither ontologically nor chronologically first – it is the consequence of the choice to follow Christ, so that the most successful model of ecological life is undoubtedly the monastery.


Maylis de Bonnières is a French educator in philosophy. (This article appears through the kind courtesy of La Nef. Translated from the French by N. Dass).


The featured image shows, “Rocky Mountain Waterfall,” by Albert Bierstadt, painted in 1898.

Medieval Philosophy Redefined As The Latin Age

Through the kind courtesy of St. Augustine’s Press, we here offer to our readers an excerpt from Medieval Philosophy Redefined As The Latin Age, a newly published work of the late John Deely, one of the foremost semioticians of our time. He taught at the University of Saint Thomas and Saint Vincent College and Seminary. He passed away in 2017.

In this excerpted work, Deely brilliantly establishes the continuity of medieval thought in modernity.

Please do support the great work being done by St. Augustine’s Press by purchasing a copy of this book.


The 17th century crash and burn of Scholasticism—the tradition of commentary on Aristotle (in philosophy) and Lombard (along with the Bible in theology) begun in the late 1100s—resulted from accumulated abuses on the part of authorities civil and religious, abuses in which the scholastic “establishment” within the universities was all-too-often complicit. What discredited the Scholastics in the end was the actual demonstration b men we now call “scientists” of basic truths about the universe that scholastics denied—while encouraging church and state officials to take actions of repression and thought-control. Not until 1757 did the Roman Church lift its prohibition from 1616 of books dealing with Copernicus’ view that the earth was not the center of the physical universe, and not until 1835 did an edition of the Index of Forbidden Books appear which no longer listed as prohibited the works of Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler!

However understandable, the turning away from scholasticism in philosophy turned out to be a matter of throwing out the baby with the bathwater; for thinkers of the time were so taken with the experimental and mathematical techniques that had shown the earth to move and the stars to be other suns that they came to believe that the whole edifice of human knowledge, without remainder, could be rebuilt on the basis of science in this modern, empirical and mathematical sense. The ascendancy of this belief defined the historical epoch that has come to be called the Enlightenment, the belief that philosophers might ask questions, but only scientists could actually give answers. If you think that this Enlightenment attitude is a thing of the past, you are mistaken. Yet increasingly has it come to be recognized that if the whole of the knowledge we acquire before becoming scientists has no independent validity, then science itself would have no validity.

The first major thinker seriously to recognize this situation, or at least most completely to do so, was Charles Sanders Peirce. Borrowing a terminology coined by Jeremy Bentham, Peirce pointed to the difference between critical knowledge based on common experience or “cenoscopy”, presupposed to the validity of the specialized foci of modern experimental and mathematical science, in contrast with the knowledge that only experimentation and mathematization of results can produce, or “ideoscopy”, which is science in the modern sense. Until now, philosophers generally, in desperation, have tried appealing to “common sense” as the basis upon which philosophy has a legitimacy of its own prior to and independent of science. But so discredited has the notion of “common sense” become in intellectual culture that appeal to it has little chance of persuading a wide audience. What is needed, rather, is the recognition that, while both science and “common sense” depend upon “the total everyday experience of many generations of multitudinous populations”, yet “such experience is worthless for distinctively scientific purposes”.

The “distinctively scientific purposes” includes, however, both exploration of human experience that requires experimentation to advance knowledge and the more general “scientific purpose” to evaluate and expose in critically controlled terms that overall framework of knowledge within and on the basis of which scientific research comes to be conducted in the first place. Articulation of the presupposed overall framework of knowledge and of independent results attainable within it too requires “science” (as critically controlled objectification), but not ideoscopic science: here is the domain proper to philosophy, cenoscopic science. It has a legitimacy of its own, and this is what the early moderns lost sight of in their enthusiasm for the then-firmly-established-possibilities of ideoscopy. Moreover, the most basic of the cenoscopic lines of investigation proves to be precisely inquiry into the action of signs, “semiosis”, because it turns out that cenoscopy and ideoscopy alike depend on this action throughout for whatever knowledge they succeed to establish.

Now it so happens that the first realization of semiosis as underlying the whole of animal experience and human knowledge — that it is the action of signs which makes experience and knowledge so much as possible in any form—was the distinctive achievement of the Latin Age. That is not the whole story of medieval thought, but it is the untold part of the story, the part without which (as all the modern “histories of philosophy” taken together illustrate) medieval philosophy cannot be seen in its distinctive unity overall, extending from the break with ancient Greek philosophy around Augustine’s time to the modern break with Latin philosophy in the lifetime of Galileo, Poinsot, and Descartes. The articulation and exposition of this cenoscopic foundation of all science, termed today “semiotics”, the Latins termed simply doctrina signorum.

Philosophy, then, as cenoscopic science, not only precedes ideoscopic science and provides its framework. Philosophy also, rightly understood, shows the inevitability of ideoscopic development in order for human thought to reach maturation—just what the authorities, Church and Civil, in the closing Latin centuries, failed to understand.

Exactly as Hannam says in the subtitle of his book: “the medieval world laid the foundations of modern science”; but the Latins achieved this feat, as it were, indirectly, mainly as a consequence or by-product of their exploring the dimensions and depths of cenoscopic knowledge out of which ideoscopic inquiries inevitably arise.

Latin focus on the doctrine of signs achieved clarity only late, and precisely in the closing scholastic centuries of the age glossed over or omitted entirely in the standard “history of medieval philosophy”; yet it is far from the whole or only story of medieval thought that this book aims to tell. Just as important are the broader results scientific in a cenoscopic sense that the Latins are able to achieve in exploring those dimensions of experience which cannot be reduced to experimental results available to sense-perception, as is required in ideoscopy. To restore in new light the remarkable preceding achievements of medieval philosophy in thinking through those larger dimensions of human experience which go beyond sensible instantiations is just as integral to the story of medieval philosophy as is semiotic as the doctrine of signs. So the doctrine of signs (or semiotics, as we now say) is only part of the “medieval story” that this book aims to tell; but it is that part which provides an “Ariadne’s thread” through the larger maze of medieval noetic development, the thread without which the whole does not appear.

This book, then, is a work equally of philosophy and of history. The two are not perfectly separable; for while it is possible to do history without doing philosophy, the converse is not equally true, as the Analytic tradition of late modern thought is just beginning to learn. Ideoscopic science requires laboratories to explore the consequences of its theories. Just so does cenoscopic science require historical awareness. The philosopher ignorant of the history of philosophy is crippled in ways that we have only to read Wittgenstein to realize—provided that we have ourselves come to that reading with an historical consciousness including Aristotle’s work (which Wittgenstein made it a point of pride not to read). (Plato provided the best prenotes to Aristotle; but in the history of philosophy after Aristotle, Plato himself becomes a footnote.)

So this book aims to redress the imbalance in human intellectual community that the “Enlightenment mentality” understandably introduced, and to do so mainly by restoring, while for the first time telling in the light of semiotics, something like the full story of Latin Age scholasticism, when cenoscopy achieved some of its highest peaks at the same time that it made the modern development of ideoscopic science inevitable in its own right—over the dead bodies of the “authorities” presuming to speak for God.


The featured image shows Saint Jerome offering his work to Saint Marcella, who is accompanied by Saint Principia. From a manuscript from the Notre Abbey in Citeaux, France; early 12th century. (Bibliothèque municipale, Dijon – ms. 132 folio 1).

About A Certain Left

In these pandemic times, even more than usual, how can we not be struck by the sheepish conformism of our fellow citizens, and by their lack of thirst for freedom, happily sacrificing it rather than accepting the inevitability of risk related to the use of freedom? The way in which the government has infantilized the French since the first lockdown – without even considering that it could have played the trust card, thus sparing social relations and the economy – and the fairly general acceptance of this humiliating situation – have revealed the stranglehold of power and the media on minds less and less able or willing to emancipate themselves from this double tutelage.

If the health crisis is an exemplary case study of this lack of love for freedom, it is unfortunately far from the only one. Anti-racist laws, laws of historical memory, etc., have long been limiting freedom of expression, while giving ad hoc organizations undue power to exercise vigilant policing of thought, when existing laws were more than adequately sufficient. But the machine went into overdrive with the emergence of gender theory first, then with “decolonial” theses and “cancel culture,” and now with “wokism.”

Against The Most Basic Common Sense

All this nonsense should never have expanded beyond the small groups that conceived it, so much does it clash with the most basic common sense. Nevertheless, it has firmly planted itself through the complicity of the cultural world and the media, all won over to the most progressive ideas. This system, which guarantees political correctness, blocks all debate, eliminates or disqualifies all opposition and thereby hinders freedom of expression.

The strong tendency to want to silence the opponent, especially by demonizing him, is, in France, the prerogative of a certain left. It was again observed quite recently when a minister dared to evoke the presence of “Islamo-leftism” at the university. While that is obvious for all to see, this left did not even seek to respond by way of debate, and instead took offense at such audacity and demanded that the minister apologize or resign.

I am talking about a certain left; but it is clear that it increasingly encompasses the whole of the left, even the environmentalists. Admittedly, there are the Chevènementistes still attached to the nation, or intellectuals who escape these sectarian ways and who still call themselves left-wing like Jacques Julliard, Natacha Polony or Michel Onfray – not to mention Jean-Claude Michéa who does not consider himself to be left but socialist. Alas! However sympathetic they may be, they hardly count for much on the left any longer – and many others, such as Alain Finkielkraut, have ended up leaving the left to think freely.

Hatred of Historic France

The characteristic of this left is its visceral hatred of France taken in the totality of its historical being and especially of its Christian dimension. No doubt it draws its repulsion from the Revolution and its consequences. Marxist internationalism, calling for the union of the proletarians of all countries, has contributed to this rejection of the nation and engraved in stone its schema of thought: history is governed by the struggle of the victims against their oppressors; yesterday the proletarians against the bourgeois, then the “democrats” against the ever-reviving “fascism;” today the “racialized” against the Whites, Muslims against Westerners, women against men, the LGBT against the whole earth. In short, it is always a question of pitting men against each other, the good against the bad, until the supremacy of the “bad guys” is overthrown, including by violence – hence, by the way, the explanation of the moral posture that the left likes, based on victim ideology, a person of color, a Muslim, a woman, a homosexual – being by nature a victim of the white, heterosexual and Christian patriarchal order. No social friendship, not even a simple peace, is possible according to this revamped Marxist logic that stirs up divisions: it is a political philosophy of civil war.

No society can endure in self-hatred as this sectarian and deeply anti-democratic left pushes us to do. This left succeeded in imposing its deleterious and crazy vision because of the cowardice of the “silent majority” which just ends up accepting everything. But far worse is the absence of a concerted opposition, even among the other lefts who all got on the progressive train by abandoning the social and latching on to rights, and which, with a few exceptions, have still not grasped the primacy of the war of ideas and its cultural dimension.


Christophe Geffroy is the founder and publisher of La Nef. Books include, Faut-il se libérer du libéralisme? Rome-Ecône: l’accord impossible? L’islam, un danger pour l’Europe? and Benoît XVI et la paix liturgique. This article appears courtesy of La Nef.

The featured image shows, “The Martyr of Equality. Behold the Progress of our System,” a colored lithograph, dated 1793.

Of Universities And Their Collapse

Briefly, I would like to discuss Allan Bloom’s anticipations, from his excellent essay on the collapse of the university. But first, let me give you an excerpt from it:

Democracy, or the egalitarian regime, must (…) perforce have utility as its primary motive: it is founded on the rule of all, and the vital desires and the fear of death are shared by all – as opposed to the desires for glory and pure knowledge which are rare. This devotion to utility is particularly true of modern democracies, the theory of which was precisely to encourage the self, regarding passions as a sure means to political consensus. Disinterested love of the truth is particularly threatened in democracy… In modern democracies the universities have… attempted to provide a basis for the cultivation of the theoretical life which finds only thin soil elsewhere in the society. The university, to the extent it represented the theoretical life, is more a memory than a reality… One need only look at academic philosophy and the social sciences to see how irrelevant the tradition has become to them. They suppose they have found new methods in the light of which the older teachings appear primitive.

In the 1960s, universities all over the world experienced protests directed against traditional forms of education. The state, accused of authoritarianism and of hindering intellectual freedoms, had completely surrendered the system of higher education. It had, literally, abandoned the University and fled. For some time, the University belonged to no one. Yet, this situation couldn’t last long, because an abandoned object, especially when it presents a significant value, quickly finds a new owner and is taken over. Thus, the University fell into the hands of business and administration, that have provided it with a new purpose: utility.

This hostile take-over of the University by the market was accompanied by a bureaucratization of academic life, its – so to speak – “Americanization;” for the American model assumes that scholars are a bit like children, who don’t know what managing a corporation means, are not aware that teaching is business as good as any other, or even better than others, especially when you consider that everyone has to finish one school or another. In this way, at European universities, where administration used to play a rather marginal role, “America” had been discovered. The University could finally begin to lay down golden eggs. In April 1968, almost 2000 German professors protested against this sort of “Americanization” of the University, as well as against the increasing role of students’ bodies and academicians with lower degrees. With no results. Decisions had been made and the battle for the University was lost. Let’s see, what this change really meant.

The change meant an alteration of a definition of the University, as well as of the institution itself, which aimed at transforming it into a corporation. Anyone, who has difficulty with composing a senseless syllabus, who struggles with filling out an 11th evaluation questionnaire this year, who opposes blackmail by troglodyte students understands this perfectly. An “Americanization” of the contemporary University is about subduing it to the administration and allowing a corporate system to shape academic structures.

Ernst H. Kantorowicz in his brilliant and humorous essay about how pre-Nazi, German universities functioned proved that limiting the University’s freedom, a bureaucratization of even the simplest tasks, such as, grading a student, is just a prelude to totalitarian solutions on a much broader scale. That is why we have to move out from the University, at least for a while, and go beyond the stiff institutional framework. I can do at the University, whatever it expects me to do. I will fill out forms, give reports, apply for grants, write in English and Chinese (No, I won’t write in Chinese!) – but I will go elsewhere to think. I am not offended. I simply accept the rule, according to which I receive my paycheck for different things, than thinking. This is the new deal, which I accept, since it has been forced upon me.

Well, I have been doing this for more than a decade now anyway. With my colleagues I run a foundation, which publishes important, though usually unprofitable books. We organize conferences, give scholarships to young academicians. We move philosophy to the opera-house and into media. We show that thinking is sexy. And you don’t need big money to do that. Big money is necessary in sciences.

The thing is that the humanities, broadly taken, is no science. It is a craft, which allows the building up of national culture. Elements of graph theory, or research on non-linear optics – this is science, and it would be good to combine it somehow with new technologies, because it is here, on the free market, where it can display its efficiency. It is different with culture. It seems too fragile to be able to hold its place in the free market, without the help of the state.

I could suggest here a number of solutions, which would support such aims of the University, for example, freeing the humanities from the obligation of parametrization, which is used to measure progress in natural sciences. Yet, instead, I will formulate a more general postulate: let’s return the University to the state. Let’s make it an element of the system of state institutions responsible for culture and national heritage.


Piotr Nowak is Professor of Philosophy at the Bialystok University in Poland, deputy editor‐in‐chief of the annual Kronos. Philosophical Journal. He is the author most recently of The Ancients and Shakespeare on Time: Some Remarks on the War of Generations. He has published, among others, in Philosophy and Literature. He is also the host of TV shows.


The featured image shows, “Lorenzo Tornabuoni Presented by Grammar to Prudentia and the other Liberal Arts,” by Sandro Botticelli, painted ca. 1483–1486.

The Necessity Of Christian Tradition

For a period of about three years in my late teens and early 20’s, I was deeply involved in a charismatic house church. It was a deeply committed group of people (some of us lived in a commune together). Our services could run for hours with very intensive Bible teaching. A feature of that time and the charismatic movement was a concern for the “latest word.” By that was meant new insights, new emphases, and a very heightened sense that we were hearing moment-by-moment what God wanted to say to His people. It was exciting. It was also exhausting. It was also spiritually problematic.

I will not describe all the problems (there’s not time). For myself, I had a growing sense of questioning and unreliability. If the Church is led by the “latest word,” then its reliability depends entirely on the personalities involved in bringing such news. A survey of the charismatic, pentecostal, and evangelical movements over the past 50 years would necessarily include the many failures of key leaders and of various dangers associated with ever-changing emphases and fashions.

My questions brought about a crisis of faith. I left that movement and floundered a bit, eventually settling into the Episcopal Church in a search for greater stability (mind you, this was the early to mid-70’s). Of course, that move was something of a jump from the “frying pan into the fire.” But my instinct was correct. Christianity is not rightly built on moment-by-moment updates, or “every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14). The history of the primitive Church is a consistent movement away from such excitement and towards the solidity of a reliable hierarchy grounded in a received body of teaching. Its instinct was that the locus of change was within the heart of each believer rather than a constant flow of fluctuating information.

The early heresies had just the opposite instinct. “Gnosticism,” a label invented by modern historians, was never a single thing. Rather it is a collective term for scattered individual teachers who promised new insights, exciting, even “secret” information, which would grant its adherents a quick passage to a higher existence. There is evidence that these teachers (almost always existing outside the eucharistic structure of the Church) were already a problem within the time span of the New Testament. Modern liberal thought has sought to describe these teachers as “alternate Christianties,” largely in an effort to discredit the traditional Church. Over time, these groups fell into silence, particularly in that they were deeply driven by single personalities. They lacked the institutional reality required for generational survival.

My abandonment of charismatic Christianity and move towards received tradition led me, over time, to Orthodox Christianity. It was a renunciation of the “latest thing” in order to embrace the faith “once and for all delivered to the saints.” It was a movement from charismatic excitement towards sacramental stability. When people are young, there can be an excitement that surrounds dating, moving from relationship to relationship, dreaming of possibilities and riding the wave of romantic energy. That is a far cry from the daily life of a stable marriage extending through the years, giving birth and nurture to generations of children. Christianity, in its traditional form, is like marriage, not dating.

The most institutionalized element of Orthodox Christianity can be found in its worship. We have documents describing, in some detail, the structure of worship from as early as the 2nd century. It is worth noting that the word “Orthodoxy” is perhaps best translated as “right glory [worship]” rather than right opinion or doctrine. What the Church teaches is primarily found embodied in its worship. An old Latin formula has it: Lex orandi, lex credendi. It means, “The law of praying is the law of believing.” It explains how it is that Orthodoxy’s primary word of evangelism is “Come and see.”

There are roots for this understanding that run deep into the heart of the Old Testament. Exodus 25 describes Moses’ meeting with God on Mt. Sinai for a period of 40 days. In that encounter he is shown a “pattern” of the heavenly tabernacle, and given detailed plans for the building of the tabernacle and all that it contained. He is repeatedly told to build things “according to the pattern.” This heavenly pattern was of great interest within the writings of both Jews and early Christians. The instinct within that interest was that the heavenly pattern served as a template for God’s dwelling place among us. This was the understanding that marked the Temple in Jerusalem, and became a hallmark of Orthodox Christian understanding of worship, including the building itself. This pattern is itself an example of holy tradition. It was given by God [handed down] to Moses (not simply evolved through Jewish practices). But if what Moses saw was a “heavenly” tabernacle, then his vision was also of eternal consequence and merit.

Orthodox Christian practice recognized this fundamental layer of tradition. St. Paul describes Christians as the “temple” of God (1 Cor. 3:16). St. John’s apocalyptic vision centers around the temple in the heavens. The construction of Orthodox Churches has intentional parallels with the Jewish Temple, as do certain aspects of our worship. We speak of the Divine Liturgy as “heaven on earth,” and describe ourselves as doing here what is being done there.

“Let us, who mystically represent the cherubim and sing the thrice-holy hymn to the life-creating trinity, now lay aside all earthly cares, that we may receive the King of all, invisibly escorted by the angelic hosts. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

This hymn was added to the Liturgy in the 6th century but represents a thought and understanding that is far older. Perhaps more striking, and echoing the deepest level of Orthodox tradition can be found in this excerpt from the first homily of St. Macarius. He looks at the imagery of Ezekiel’s chariot vison, often understood as an image of the throne of God in the heavenly temple. St. Macarius applies it to the soul:

And this that the prophet saw, was true and certain. But the thing it signified, or shadowed forth beforehand, was a matter mysterious and divine, that very mystery which had been hid from ages and generations, but was made manifest at the appearing of Christ. For the mystery which he saw, was that of the human soul as she is hereafter to receive her Lord, and become herself the very throne of his glory. (H. 1.2)

His thought is of a piece with St. Paul’s description of Christians as the temple of the Holy Spirit.

There is a dynamic present in these images that carries the very essence of tradition as a way of life. Modern thought imagines human existence and even its “improvement” as a process of ever-increasing personal choice and freedom. It is a product of the imagination in which the individual becomes whatever they might choose to be. It is a model well-suited to a market-driven world. In many ways, the constant change and “latest revelations” in many forms of contemporary Christianity, echo that instinct, with theological insights and biblical themes arriving as marketed ideas. Like clothing fashions, such changing insights help establish a spirituality that has its own sense of “coolness.”

In the spirituality of Orthodox Tradition the point is to receive that which has already been given. There is nothing new to be revealed (as information), even though what has been made known is constantly revealed as life-creating truth within the soul itself. It is a life grounded in the Divine Life both in the temple of the Church (in praise and sacrament) and in the temple of the soul. It is ultimately within the soul that we perceive the face of God in Christ. It is in the soul that we perceive Him in the least of those around us and serve them as our service to God. It is in the soul that we offer the Eucharist (our giving of thanks for all things) in union with the earthly/heavenly Liturgy of Christ’s Body and Blood.

There is a stability in this way of life, grounded in the stability of heaven itself (which never changes). That same abiding reality has weathered the storms of 2,000 years even as its saints and martyrs join themselves together with the souls who currently labor and fight on earth. It is not a movement, nor a revival, nor a new thing. It is stubbornly ignorant of market forces. It is a sweet promise and gift.

He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them.


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


The featured image shows, “The Koimetesis” (The Dormition of the Virgin), ca. 1315-1321. Chora church, Constantinople.