The Sacrifice For Civilization: A Conversation With Wayne Cristaudo

This month, we are highly honored to have a conversation with Professor Wayne Cristaudo, philosopher, author, and educator, who has published over a dozen books. He speaks with Dr. Zbigniew Janowski about the predominance, in the West, of idea-brokers, metaphysical rebels and triumph of ideational narratives over life itself. Professor Cristaudo aptly points to the great malaise of the West – its fervent addiction to bad ideas.

Zbigniew Janowski (ZJ): Let me begin this conversation with something that my Canadian colleague said to me when I arrived to teach in Canada—in Halifax—20 years ago. “We are Americans without being arrogant and British without being boastful.” Having never been to Canada before, I was under the impression that Canada is very much like the US.

Then I discovered – or at least what I discovered in Nova Scotia, which is very patriotic, somewhat provincial and certainly less cosmopolitan than the rest of the country – that they value their British roots, which defines their national identity. Most of my colleagues were educated at Cambridge, are Anglican, the system of education – tutorials – is much more like in the UK than in America, the city looks like small British towns, and Canadian flags used to hang on many houses, probably to stress their “independence” from the US. In this part of Canada, Britishness is still, or used to be 20 years ago, part of their identity.

As an Australian, someone from a former British colony, can you say that Australians feel like my Canadian colleague?

Wayne Cristaudo (WC): When speaking of Australians, the same kind of cleavages that are occurring elsewhere in the West between tertiary educated elites and more traditionally minded people, plus demographic changes due to immigration, make it hard to generalize.

David Goodhart in his The Road to Somewhere – largely an attempt to explain Brexit, but also the election of Donald Trump – speaks of two classes today: the “Anywheres,” – i.e. those who are largely free to work and live anywhere and whose sense of identity is bound up with their global opportunities and their own “progressive” values; and the “Somewheres,” those whose location and sense of place and national heritage matters, as they see their localities and values undergoing radical transformations.

This later group also sees itself as having lost the cultural and economic wars. My friend Bob Catley, in response to Goodhart, added that this is something of a misnomer, as the “somewheres” are now the “nowheres;” that is, their world is being destroyed daily.

In Australia, I think those who strongly identify with Britain are now in a minority, as the number of immigrants from non-British backgrounds has risen dramatically in the last few decades. When there was a referendum on Australia becoming a republic some 20 years back, the republican model was rejected. But this was not because of love for the “old mother country,” but because the majority did not like the proposed model that had come out of a publicly funded (ostensibly) representative “elite” forum.

Nevertheless, it is true that Australians would probably rather lose to anyone (New Zealand not included) besides England in any sporting event. We are, though, a deeply fractured society and so appeals to unity tend to ring hollow – as hollow as our terrible national anthem which almost no one can sing through to its bitter end. Like most other Western countries, Australian identity is secondary to some other feature when it comes to political disputation.

ZJ: Canada is part of the Commonwealth, just like Australia. On the Canadian dollar one can see a beautiful image of the British Queen. On the other side of the Canadian dollar, we find a loon. I used to tell my liberally-minded Canadian friends, jokingly, don’t think of seceding from the Crown. Why – they would ask? Because you will have to replace the Queen with another loon, a bear, or a bird.

Australians have the Queen, too, and a kangaroo. This sounds facetious, to be sure, but it touches on the problem of national identity. Cultural identity cannot be rooted in nature. Even Thoreau, who lived in the wilderness and praised nature, was a cultured man, who loved the Classics. In his Walden there is a beautiful chapter on education, in which he urges Americans to read the Greeks.

Do you see any similarities in the cultural and political predicament between Canada and Australia relative to your attachment to the British Crown? Or does the geography of Canada (as a U.S. neighbour) and yours – a continent – and different history (no Royalists [or, United Empire Loyalists] who fled to Canada after the 1776 rebellion) make a difference? For one, you do not seem to feel the same pressure that Canadians do to be more “American,” and thus, having your cultural affinities imposed on you.

WC: While I really have no idea if French Canadians feel any particular cultural connection with Britain, Australia does not have the American neighbour syndrome. As for being free to choose our identity, I think that while Australian tertiary educated people are frequently anti-USA – the USA being seen as the imperialist country which creates wars wherever it goes – it seems to me that the same class of people, especially those who are Australian ideas-brokers, take up every liberal-progressive position that is pushed by, and invariably formulated by, US ideas-brokers in the same professions. That is, our academicians, journalists, teachers, et. al. can be relied upon to repeat and vociferously defend any idea that has gained narrative traction amongst progressives in the US. Ultimately this should not be surprising.

Any collective is a collective because of the stories and experiences it shares. The U.S.-led globalisation of stories through Hollywood, Netflix etc., and the normative appeals that are characteristic of those stories, plays a huge part in how people now understand themselves. So, I don’t really see identity as a matter of choosing or not choosing, but as what people identify with, and presume. And what is occurring is that where narratives are shared and replicated, as part of daily social reproduction, common ways of talking, similar presumptions, expectations, habits (i.e., similar features of identification) are formed.

For example, the elite in Australia see Donald Trump in exactly the same way as the readers of the “New York Times” or humanities students in elite universities in the USA. At the same time, the people who voted for Brexit and the people who voted for Donald Trump have a great deal in common because they have experienced a very similar kind of loss with respect to their more traditionally based social and economic place in the world.

Interestingly, though, early nationalist theorists such as Herder held that the nation was commensurate with a more tolerant and (dare I use this term) enlightened and cosmopolitan world. Membership of a nation meant that one could connect with others through initially bonding around shared stories, experiences, sentiments, tastes, loyalties and commitments, and only after that would one be in a position to form further bonds of solidarity with others. The older notion of nationhood takes for granted that members of a nation are very different in the roles they must play and the sacrifices they must make. So, a nation bonds the different into a greater unity.

The contemporary anti-nationalist, on the other hand, sees identities as based on the will, and the body itself based on the will (sexual/gender fluidity, for example); and what really matters – indeed the only thing that matters – is that the principle of emancipation is adhered to.

Conversely, one has a stake in the future because one can demonstrate that one is of the oppressed and hence a contributor to the great emancipation. Of course, this is the triumph of the abstract – there is absolutely no need to understand people as complex characters in order to think like this. And indeed, most people I know who think like this are completely lacking in psychological acumen, historical and genuine cultural sensitivity.

ZJ: When I taught in Canada, part of the program was WWI poetry. I vividly remember teaching a poem by Wilfred Owen, which I would like to quote here: It is a poem you know: “Dulce et Decorum Est:”

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! - An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime. -
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, -
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

The poem is very timely in a perverse way. We live in times when nationalism is under attack, thought of as evil; patriotism is ridiculed; globalism is the new faith – but it is a faith of someone who is attached neither to his country, his religion, his civilization, or his culture. In fact, it is a faith of someone who has neither fatherland nor culture. All kinds of semi-ideologies, like climate-change, vegetarianism, etc., have become an ersatz for cultural identification.

The last line of the poem seems to ridicule or question the idea that goes back to the Romans and the Greeks.

When I taught this poem in 2001, the Canadian students were somewhat divided about the idea, about it being a lie to die for one’s country. However, one student – whose parents I knew rather well, a very old Nova Scotian family – blurted out: “I have no intention of going to war and dying for American IBM or the Canadian Postal Service; we had Royal Post and now we have a big nothing that does not even deliver mail on time.”

I thought it was an interesting answer. It expresses a deep human sentiment – the need to be attached to national symbols, country. Even death has cultural ramifications. People want to have a reason to die; they do not want to die as cogs in some global machinery – needlessly, senselessly. What is your take on it? Are Australians similarly minded, or are they going to go to war to die for Starbucks, and dying for Starbucks or Amazon is the new truth, whereas pro patria mori to gain glory is “The old Lie?”

WC: I think my last answer anticipated this question somewhat. So, let me leap ahead again and address what I think is the really important aspect of your question. As you have gathered, I am not at all comfortable trying to speak about Australian-ness as if I were somehow a representative of it, or as if it were some sort of essence. Its meaning is very loose and mutable. And, as far as I can tell, in so far as it exists today, I think it is largely limited to the “somewheres,” though the “anywheres” might support their one national team in sports such as cricket, rugby, soccer, the Olympics, etc.

The following example is pertinent. Recently, a Christian rugby player (one of the few star players in our national team) lost his contract because he tweeted that liars, adulterers, drunkards, homosexuals and others were going to Hell and he called for them to repent. He had violated some ethical code that the sponsors (Qantas) had dreamed up. Of course, it was not the adulterers, liars, drunkards who were offended, but the gay lobby group. The country was deeply divided – and the irony was delicious.

Most of the “anywheres” wanted him sacked because what he said was “hateful,” yet few of them actually believe in “Hell;” most of those who supported him were “somewheres,” and many were not Christians, but simply did not like a corporation having so much power, and they also don’t like the idea of their jobs being reliant upon not being allowed to express their opinions.

The “anywheres” present themselves as defenders of the minorities and marginalized, which means they put gays, “people of colour” (so all non-whites can be treated as oppressed), and Muslims all in the same box. I very much doubt that if the rugby player had been Muslim, he would have lost his contract. It would have gone into the “too hard to deal with” basket.

The globalist or elite understanding of identity requires simplifications which fit the larger narration of their idea of a better world, and that is somehow (inanely) supposed to bring together (non-European, and non-Christian) traditions and culture with modern sexual freedom and gender (now non-binary) roles. But the more archaic understanding of identity was based upon more primordial aspects of collective suffering and sacrifice, founding and forming.

The ancients knew that life is sacrificial – and the ritual of sacrifice is a figurative display of one of the most primordial truths of human existence – collective life requires of people that they yield something of themselves to the collective, and each member plays a role – those roles are not equal, of course. How could they be?

Equality is abstract; our original divisions of labour are driven by real problems not abstract ones – someone must grow the food, someone must stop others from making raids, someone must pray that the gods support us, someone must judge and so forth. Each kind of sacrifice has a specific value, and pay-off – warriors have weapons and extract from the food supply, but they risk their lives; food producers have security but are vulnerable. Life is not a geometrical puzzle composed of equal parts.

ZJ: So are you saying that the pre-modern understanding of the sacrificial dimension of social life has been replaced by a more abstract understanding that makes life more manageable?

WC: Exactly. The abstract nature of modern appeals goes hand in hand with an approach to social life generating leaders/elites who have to justify their authority: they are moral paragons who know all that needs to be known, and they will “save” us all by educating us to think just like them. But who wants to sacrifice themselves for a world that is part Brave New World (sex/ drugs/ infantile distractions and self-absorption) and 1984 (complete conformity down to what one thinks or thought twenty years ago)?

The world that is supposed to be totally emancipated will become the most slavish society ever; and the irony is that it will do so largely because the modern elite have no understanding of the sacrificial nature of existence – for our contemporary ruling class, sacrifice always means oppression.

The archaic and pre-Westphalian “people” or nation was a collective formed across generations, in which roles enabled different groups to operate upon, and open up, different “fronts” of the real: it identified with a certain history and destiny, and hence is as apposite as it is for tribes, cities or empires.. The nation in this sense is a source of collective sustenance; and as such it commands sacrificial service. To be sure, because something is held together by its sacrifices does not mean that those sacrifices may not be in vain, nor that there was never cruelty, or “oppression.”

Let me also tie this together with the point you make about what the young may be willing to die for – not, say, Starbucks, or a bank. We know that humans are quite ready to throw their lives away for something they believe in. And as I said, people generally seem to need to serve something higher than themselves. For a lot of people today it is climate – and there is a faith in the earth as our mother; and if we but treat her well she will treat us well.

This is a good illustration of the polytheistic nature of the modern – but this is all concealed because we use what Vico identified as demotic, rather than poetic language. And hence we make issues around climate a matter of “science,” reinforced by ideology and mechanisms of political authority.

So, the way I see it is that it is the spiritual hunger that is driving the various progressive/utopian narratives – and these are, in turn, shored up institutionally and economically, so that those who learn the narratives and share the spirit will become the priests, and their narratives become the prayers that the rest of us are meant to live and swear by.

But those whose economic agency and social existence is not at all nourished by this god, and this priest-class, look back to what has provided nourishment from the past – and that is the more traditional forms of communal solidarity: family, workplace, church, and the nation. But, sadly, for them and perhaps for us all, the fracture is so great that I do not think repair is possible.

ZJ: Let me ask you a related question about death. Albert Camus wrote the essay “The Myth of Sisyphus,” which opens with a strange idea: There is one, and only one, philosophical problem – that is, suicide. I was always puzzled by it. Here is someone in the middle of the 20th-century, who claims that the entire effort of Western civilization was pointless unless it addressed this one question. Accordingly, only a few thinkers would qualify to do philosophy in this sense: Pascal, Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, particularly his Dream of a Ridiculous Man. None of them, let’s note, figure in history of philosophy books.

Camus goes on to say that the question is whether it makes sense to go on living. In other words—Does life make sense? And he answers by saying that there are only two ways, of which the Don Quixote way is the only solution. What he means by it is that we have to invent sense. I like the Don Quixote metaphor. What happens in the novel is that Don Quixote wants to revive chivalry, an ancient, medieval way of life. He fights with windmills, glorifies a woman from low background by elevating her, in his imagination, to the status of a lady. Everybody is laughing, thinking that he has lost his mind, and to indulge him in his insanity; everybody plays the game. However, as they play the game, they get caught up in living in his world – the world of imagination.

One way of applying it to Camus is that only by elevating our status as human beings through imagination which creates values. Can we elevate ourselves without thinking about dying a senseless death? Do you think that what I said can be translated into contemporary social or political categories of national culture, patriotism, of defending oneself against the onslaught of globalist ideology, which leaves people helpless and contemplating death because they see nothing to live for? The suicide rate in the US went up 30 per cent or so in the last 10 years, and it is highest among young people.

WC: I love Camus – and it was very wise of him to make suicide a central issue, though the importance of collective suicide is something, I think, he addresses in The Rebel, a book I admire even more than the Myth of Sisyphus because it provides one of the most important diagnoses of the rise of totalitarian philosophies and politics.

At the heart of the book is the idea of metaphysical or cosmic rebellion, which I think is his greatest idea. Metaphysical rebellion is the defiance of life itself that involves resorting to absolutist abstract ends such as freedom, equality, justice, identity (the Nazis) which can never be actualized but which pull us ever further into violence and murder.

Camus compares this with rebels who make a pact to improve their specific lot and know that sacrifice and murder will be part of the deal – but in the knowledge of what they are doing, they bond together around the limit of their pursuit for overthrowing a specific group of people who are doing very specific acts of injustice. This is very different from someone saying that an entire system is unjust and that one must destroy the system/totality and replace it with a new one based upon perfect principles.

Metaphysical rebels – which is what the modern intelligentsia largely are – do not own up to their murderous incitements or deeds, and they find their absolution in the perfection of their ends which exist in such stark opposition to the world that they make.

I think it is also pertinent to your observation about Don Quixote. Cervantes is another great critic of modernity, who sees essential features of it and hence consequences for the modernization of humanity at the moment of modernity’s birth. His imagined world has a depth of meaning that the mundane world has lost – and it has lost it because it has sapped the inner resources of the imagination by constraining them in such a way that they are either directed to technique or technology, or entertainment and art.

Nietzsche saw the problem of nihilism, but he thought he could manufacture a myth that would make life for the strong worth living (“the eternal recurrence”). I think this is another symptom of the insane hybris of modern thinkers who think their scanty and threadbare ideas – their little bit of learning suffices to make a world (again, Descartes springs to mind, with the World being the title of his posthumously published magnum opus, though he limited himself to the natural world).

It would be a very good thing if people stopped revering intellectuals and operated from the basis that none of us know very much. One reason I like monotheism is that it accepts our need to divinize and serve, but also restricts it to one power. I am astounded, for example, by how little Marx and Nietzsche knew, compared, say, to Herder, who seems to have never stopped finding out stuff – not that I know that much, but my point is that none know that much compared to the infinite quantity of what there is to know.

ZJ: Since you mentioned Descartes, the question arises – his mechanical model of the world and man, his nature, whose operations can be explained in scientific terms, does not make room for values?

WC: Modern myths are really “make believe” and they are predicated upon conscious decisions. I think pre-modern myths work exactly in the opposite way, which is why pre-modern myths are so fecund and modern ones so narrow and limited in their social appeal. This also relates to the other part of your question about national culture and globalism. National culture was a name after it was a fact, or rather an amalgam of practices, commitments, processes, appeals, symbols etc. long before there was such a thing as “nationalism.”

Thus, it was that when nationalism became a coherent ideology, it required retrieving a past and its symbols as powers for intensifying the solidarity that was already there in a particular collective formation – people felt part of something before they gave a name to what they were doing and had been done. The nation was actual before there was nationalism; nationalism, though, was invoked to overthrow powers that could be identified as serving other national or imperial interests. (Of course, the modern nation and modern nationalism also introduced novel political elements which were part of the great transfer of power between political elites).

Typically today academics see something like the nation as a confirmation of their belief that societies are constructed – the presumption being that they can create/ construct the kind of society they want. I think they confuse what it is they are doing and want to achieve with what other people before them have done. They focus upon intention, and completely miss the vast array of world-making that simply happens and is neither conscious nor intended.

ZJ: Once, in our private conversation, you mentioned Allan Bloom’s book, The Closing of the American Mind. The Great Books Program, of which Bloom was a great defender goes back a hundred years. if I am not mistaken, Harvard University Press or the University of Chicago Press were the first to introduce a set of readings – books – that every American should read. The Great Books Program became a standard of education in the US.

Bloom’s Closing started a furious debate over Western civilization in the States. Even Jesse Jackson, not known for his learning of Western Classics, said, “hi, hi, ho, ho Western Culture’s got to go.” It’s gone. The consequence – serious education disappeared from American college campuses, which became a mecca of cultural barbarism.

Here are a few questions. What kept Americans together, what formed national glue, was the reading of Great Books—the European Classics, which kept them close to Europe in the 20th-century.

What kept, or still keeps Australians (culturally) together? How did you ensure the sense of European identity in Australia?

WC: Let me first say something about Great Books in general, their importance and Bloom, then the US and lastly Australia.

I have taught the great books ever since I started academic life. One course that I taught for many years at the University of Adelaide had the title, “Great Ideas of Western Civilization;” another “Great Ideas in Literary Texts.” (Though the problems that have come to light with Australian universities wanting to stop, or undermine, the attempt to introduce courses in Western Civilization by the Paul Ramsey Foundation, indicates that, in many campuses, I might not be able to run courses with such titles today).

The reason I taught these books is that for a book to be considered great, it has to have had a great impact. The greatest, say, the Bible, the Koran or the Iliad have been people/nation-forming. The next greatest have been human-type forming. And finally, less impactful, but still important, the genre or subject forming or developing. Socrates and Plato formed a new human-type (the philosopher). Of course, the Pre-Socratics are their precursors in this project. Aristotle does not do that, but he certainly improves and contributes to philosophical ideas in a “great” way: One simply cannot talk about the Middle Ages without talking about the Medieval university and scholasticism – and as soon as one talks of them, one must speak of Aristotle. For Aquinas, Aristotle was simply referred to as “the philosopher.”

A great book is not just a matter of quality. This is where I think Harold Bloom got it wildly wrong and why his book on the Western Canon ends up as a list that exponentially increases because there are more and more people writing and a lot of it is very good. In some cases, the literary quality of a great book may have nothing to do with its greatness. Goethe’s Faust is a great book in its depiction of the modern predicament. But as a work of literature it is terrible – poorly cobbled together (over a life-time), haphazard, and containing episodes of very uneven quality, ding-dong poetry, etc. But none of that matters. To be greatly crafted and even imagined does not mean a work is canonical.

While Harold Bloom makes too much of literary qualities when it comes to great or canonical works, Alan Bloom makes another kind of mistake – though he is so much better than most of his critics who were just ideologues. Alan Bloom (in this he is just like his teacher, Leo Strauss) treats the great books on the basis of their perennial character. Like Strauss, he detests relativism and historicism. I don’t want to go into the grain of the arguments concerning historicism. And as for relativism, I think it is just a very unhelpful word, and I am suspicious of the way that disputes, where the details matter, become cordoned off into an “-ism.”

But what Alan Bloom and Strauss (to those who read German, this pairing of teacher and student is pretty amusing) tend to do is make of their student homo perennial as well as the book. So, once they start engaging with Plato or Machiavelli or Rousseau, you also find yourself caught up in the American constitution as well as arguments that ultimately require you to give yourself over to how Alan Bloom or Strauss see the world, which is ostensibly very reasonable, and which ostensibly owes so much to Plato or whoever. All sense of “growth,” of collective engagement and lessons that transpire over time and across the ages, that arise from very different kinds of circumstances and ways of world-making is simply brushed aside as “historicism.”

I don’t like this at all, because I think their students are usually very weak in their ability to enter more closely into other worlds and deal with problems that are not their problems, but which if they took seriously might considerably broaden their horizons, and their imagination and their capacity for empathy as well as their appreciation of human and collective nature and development. I have always found Straussians somewhat like Marxists. Girard tends to attract similar types: they all think what they know is essentially what they need to know.

So, Great Books – yes, great. But their point – for readers of today – is not merely to draw us into one person’s take on the real – no matter how brilliant. Rather such works serve as entrances into worlds far beyond what we think we know. They are revelations, founding acts of creation, as well as entrances into the creation of a new “world.” And one must realize how much contestation is going on within them, and how they are an opening to a great array of circumstances and problems and points of view, and they do not spare us our own tribulations and need for resourcefulness. There is no human master whose feet we can sit at while supping forever off their words. Life is one great trial after another.

ZJ: How does it relate to Australia, your sense of identity, and can one claim, as Americans did, that identity can come from reading certain books?

WC: As for the US and Australia and great books, as far as I know, the curriculum in the Arts and Humanities in Australia (up until the 1980s and 1990s) generally included works that would also be considered great. At the same time, I think already in the 1920s and 1930s, a scientistic spirit had entered into the university as behaviourism, and positivism took hold of the social sciences. Philosophy was beginning to focus upon problem-solving and moving away from a knowledge of the history of its subject.

But it was really the 1960s politicization of the curricula that led to the disciplines and their founding/core texts (great books) undergoing such a transformation that the minds of the students who entered them were left in tatters, only glued together by ideology. The same process, more or less, happened in Australia.

I think the identity that was cultivated had far less to do with universities, which were for the relatively few, and far more to do with schools and churches, and also clubs and associations. Here the Bible mattered a lot. As for Plato or Rousseau, etc., not that much. I suspect, but am happy to be corrected on this, that Montesquieu and Locke mattered far more for the historic moment in which Jefferson, Adams, Madison and Hamilton et. al played their part (and because they are founders, their ideas and reading really matters) than in times when the creation, diffusion and variety of ideas and practices are implicated in events that don’t have overly much to do with humanities subjects in universities.

Indeed, my criticism of Alan Bloom and Strauss is apposite here, in trying to figure out the values and collective decisions that were important in the U.S. and Australia. In the second half of the nineteenth century, or much of the twentieth century, I would not be primarily looking to universities, certainly not primarily to the study of Plato, Hegel, etc. when thinking about the US or Australia but to larger events and more variegated narratives, and the insights of journalists, writers, clerics and other well read cultural figures: the cultural unity was not primarily philosophical because it was not an ideational/ ideological fabrication. The importance of the Bible I just mentioned confirms the point I wish to make: the Bible is not a book of “ideas” – indeed it confounds rational explications of human behaviour or ethics. It is a book of stories, events, mysteries, relationships, trials and failures, broken and kept promises, sin and redemption. It is a story, a love story between the Lord and His “servants,” told across many ages, involving many people and events – not a philosophy. It spawns countless interpretations because it is full of contingencies – which is the way life is; philosophies, on the other hand, smooth out contingencies to make them align to what we or someone can rationally think about them.

However, in the 1960s, I think this changes because there we can definitely recognize (a) that the rise of mass education will impact upon those who go into professions and (b) that the ideas which were part of the social revolution of the 1960s have gained increasing social traction – in part again because teachers, journalists, etc. go to universities where these are the narratives and ideas they get trained in. This also happens to occur at times when the other sites of social induction (the church and clubs and associations) decline in terms of influence.

So, the attack upon authority coming out of the universities, which then enters schools, newspapers, tv shows, movies, etc. changes the entire culture and aesthetics of appeal and value, and indeed the moral economy, so that now being hostile to tradition is affirmed by one’s grades, employment opportunities, moral status.

To put it bluntly, the destruction of national identity, which is common to the entire Western world, is a direct corollary of the creation of an elite group of educators that is essential for the social reproduction of professionals who are needed to run the private and public sector. It was this class that created the Russian revolution, and it is this class that is creating the global revolution. And in both cases what was being thrown away was the features of identity and solidarity that are not the results of elite manufacturing.

Unfortunately, our elites can only think in terms of elite manufacturing. This is our tragedy – that our social and economic dependencies are dependencies of destruction – conscious attempts to rip up ways of life in which many people still have a stake, and replace them with new ones in which the stakeholders are mainly paid for words, ideas, and enforcement of those words and ideas, and practices that fit them.

ZJ: Several years ago, the Polish philosopher, Ryszard Legutko, published The Demon in Demon in Democracy, the book you read and liked. It sold 16,000 copies within a year. It may not be Bloom’s million, but it is totally unprecedented. It was translated into German, French and Spanish. It provoked good reactions for the most part. How do you explain its success? What is it about Legutko’s book that explains why so many people read it?

WC: When Closing of the American Mind came out a lot of people could see there was a kind of madness coming out of higher education, especially, but by no means only, in the USA. That book gave an explanation for it, and it also offered hope that there was a better cultural way. Sadly, I think that way has no institutional support.

Having said that and perhaps to offset my pessimism, it is also the case that institutions are bearers of spirit, and spirits die; and then it is up to us to give birth to new institutions that better enable us to carry on across the times, as we gather and transfer our powers to future generations. So, what I am seeing in its destructive throes is also the occasion of new unpredicted responses and creative acts that may well help us outrun these diabolical stupidities of the modern mind and heart.

Legutko’s book, which I learnt about through Nick Capaldi, is about the diabolical nature of over-politicization and the tendency of that within democracies. One should bear in mind about democracies that they have never endured for very long; and that while they solve problems, they also create a problem for any class or group that wants its way. This is the problem being faced now – democracy is taught as a good thing and is defended by journalists, etc. until the moment when the electorate do not want what their elites – especially those who live off narrative formation, instruction, etc. – want.

The EU is the model of the Western post-democratic future, though it may just fall apart. Again, I think there are many people who agree with the diagnosis provided by Legutko of how liberal-democracy is proactive in forming a totalitarian mind-set – confirmed, of course, in practice, by the hostile student attempt to stop him speaking at Middlebury. Again, it only showed how desperate our ideas-brokers are to preserve really bad and fragile ideas.

ZJ: What I find surprising, and I do not say it to diminish the originality of Legutko’s book, is that we do not find anything shocking in the book, and yet it became a philosophical bestseller. When I read it, I thought, it is very good, persuasive, very well-written – but he says things that should be obvious to everyone. Yet he infuriated the professors and students in America, at Middlebury College, for example, to the point that his lecture had to be cancelled because the college could not guarantee his security.

Under Communism, we would have loved to hear a speaker who said things which were controversial. In today’s America, we shut down people who even dare to think differently. Is the situation in Australia the same?

WC: Identical! Again, it has to do with class rather than culture; or, more precisely, class can also affect culture. The Left thinks it is making such great strides in human emancipation when it is just ensuring that we are replaceable, that we are resources to be managed and directed by those who have the ambition to rule, manage, and control the future on the basis of their certitudes about the nature and purpose of life. This is why global corporations can, and indeed do, ally themselves with socialist or “woke” “radicals” and causes – BLM, Antifa, etc. Forgive me being bleak again – but this is why the faith I have in humanity comes from spontaneous, unpredictable acts of loving kindness, friendship, etc.

Those people who booed and shut down Legutko showed that they are the real enemies of creative freedom and are the enemies of a more convivial future. But they cannot see themselves. If, as they get older, and they wake up a little from their “wokeness” and look back upon what they have done, and if they have any spark of soul left, they will be ashamed of what they have done. The millennials are just re-enacting what my generation did some fifty years back; and so a number of us also look back in shame at our younger selves.

ZJ: Let me go back a bit. You do not have, and have never had a Great Books program; nor did the Canadians. Only Americans did. All three of you were former British colonies, yet only in America’s case was the national identity guaranteed by “pumping” European heritage into the students’ minds; not in Australia, not in Canada. How do you explain it? Is the presence of British heritage stronger there than in America? Or is it connected with the idea that the U.S. had become much earlier a country of immigrants from all over the world, rather than from Europe or Britain?

WC: As I mentioned, I did teach Great Books, and for a long time. Although people did not teach subjects called Great Books, parts at least of the curriculum of the BA was steeped in Great Books. English literature students studied Paradise Lost, some Shakespeare, Blake, etc. Philosophy students some Plato, or Hume and Locke, and so on. So, I think the kind of “pumping” process was occurring. But as I said earlier, I think, the Bible excepted (and even that spreads through rite and ritual), the cultural formation should not be understood solely through books.

The British heritage was strong in Australia – but not so much now, though the other cultural forces are more diffuse. But the American influence (music, television, film, books, ideas) is huge. I don’t want to segue too far into American identity, but I will just say that I think Americans tend to see the world as themselves writ large, and Australians also tend to do this. There is, in my opinion, too much blah-blah about identity. Where real identity exists, one often doesn’t talk about it; one just carries on a certain way. Where people insist upon identity for political gain, it is usually because they want to dictate how people with certain features or interests must behave. It is very self-serving, and has little to do with any reality. It is true that if one’s world is under threat, then identity may be important. Context matters – there is a big difference between identity being appealed to from the ground up to bind people together because they are genuinely under threat and are treated as identical by enemies wishing to harm them than an elite defining what constitutes an identity so that they can make clients and dependents of a group with certain common features.

ZJ: Americans are obsessed with their founding. Each year we have another book about the American Revolution, and how great it was that we separated. One of the myths is “persecution” and “freedom” – which from European and particularly British perspective, sounds strange. It was the dissenters – the troublemakers – who fled, colonized the continent and, as a distinguished English historian, Jonathan Clark, sees it, 1776 was the last war of religion, and the unfolding of European history in the New World.

This is not so in Australia (or Canada where the Royalists fled [and known as the United Empire Loyalists). You do not have the same national myths, and your relationship with your “mothership” does not seem so stormy. Where might such a difference come from? What is Australia’s relationship to Britain now?

WC: We were settled by convicts, though not South Australia. The Australian myth is one of rebellion, mistrust of, and refusal to kowtow to, authority. Our founding myth is the Anzac defeat at Gallipoli. We are a nation of losers, so to speak. But there is also a sense of betrayal by the mother-country, of us being sacrificed in a larger game which we did not control. The other part of the myth was the Outback. But Australians largely live on the coast and most are urban dwellers.

Now the tertiary educated, who dominate our ideational narratives, see Britain as a colonial power wreaking destruction on the world, so we should distance ourselves from it. (They are so historically ignorant that they do not see the relationship between resource competition, the scale of territorial power, military conquests and alliances, the need to find resources to maintain military power, and hence the logic of empire as expansionary but also cross-cultural).

Thus, we went from having a bit of a chip on our shoulder about the British, to seeing ourselves as their moral betters – though we still have bits of shame and guilt to pour on ourselves with respect to the treatment of indigenous people. Given that the British, like the Americans, are also caught up in their own guilt and past shame, this too is a more global phenomenon within the West – Chinese and Muslims certainly are not using their own sense of shame as a means of moral, economic and institutional opportunity or gain. What matters for them is pride in their past – and their shame comes from the power they have lost, not the power they inherited!

Our old myths really have little leverage in Australia today. And all myths to the contrary, we are, in fact, a terribly bureaucratic country. The urban/regional split also means that those Australians who are more like the mythical Australian (laconic, irreverent, more given to practical action than talking) tend to be seen as stupid by urban Australians.

One only has to tune into our national public broadcaster to see that our tertiary educated urban population are a nation of groupthink. Try questioning climate change in any public forum, or within a university – good luck! So, we are a torn country. Presently, many argue we should not celebrate Australia Day because it is celebrating conquest, if not outright genocide. Our professional classes are as given to moral absolutes and hyperbole as the Americans and other Western European professional classes – on very similar issues. Once again, it is symptomatic of the globalisation of industry and ideas, and the divide between the old national members and the new globalized elites.

ZJ: Let me recall a historical fact that few people remember or know of. In 1975, the Australian Parliament got dissolved by the British Queen because it suffered from gridlock. In other words, it became dysfunctional. We cannot do this in the US. In fact, we cannot do it anywhere with full democracy. In your case, it worked and it proved that a mechanism like that is needed because a parliament or congress cannot dismiss itself. Monarchy – however limited – seems to work. Look at Brexit… Parliament is helpless.

WC: Well, in that instance, it was the Queen’s representative that broke the gridlock. Many still call this a constitutional crisis, even though the election quickly followed the sacking of the elected Prime Minister. In a sense you have answered your own question. Britain is a monarchy; but parliament is helpless in times of a crisis. A political system is ultimately only as good as the political culture which sustains it. Thus, our crises are cultural crises played out within systems – and tearing them apart. A system does have a fair amount of cultural capital stored within its practices, but that cannot last forever where the wills of its opponents are powerful and unified.

It is probably obvious from the answers I have already given that I think Western democracies are in serious trouble. There are structural and cultural aspects of that crisis. Structurally, the crisis has come about through the elevation of a class who see themselves – and indeed have become – global and national leaders. They are like Nietzsche’s higher men – except they actually achieve their elevation by deploying narratives of equality and identity, narratives Nietzsche associated with the herd.

This is actually cleverer than Nietzsche (and it is not even the kind of clever that was consciously decided; rather, it is clever in terms of the interests it unifies through self-serving decisions), because Nietzsche failed to realize that the new elite would need to be seen to be serving the mass, even if they were creating a scaffold for their own in-breeding (the elites don’t generally marry down) and taste.

ZJ: 1492 – for centuries now, the date was associated with Columbus’ discovery of America. Today, in the US, it means genocide! Genocide of the Indians. Several cities in the U.S., including Washington DC this year, renamed Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day. You, as Australian, probably have views on the question. But before I let you answer, let me make a few remarks.

First, even if one would grant some validity to the objection, the problem is of judging the past by the standards of today. Second, it is a childish way of looking at history, thinking that it would have been good, but bad people made it evil, which is a demonstration of lack of knowledge as to what happened everywhere; that people would conquer other lands; and, as the philosopher you know well, Hegel, said, history is a slaughter bench on which millions have been sacrificed. This is not to say that we should continue slaughtering each other, but since it was a mechanism of history, people who claim it was genocide, do not seem to know how anything operates.

WC: This is exactly the problem. A knowledge of history that also takes into account social formation and transformation, and where conflict and resource competition fits into the picture, should cure people of utopian idealism – though there are plenty of historians who still read history as if they were God presiding over the Day of Judgment, and hence relate history as if history were a morality tale, and that its actors could and should have done differently.

History is neither a metaphysical nor a moral problem, but the accumulated experiences of decisions, actions and circumstances that have created the world we have to dwell in. What we also know is that our political moralists of today have what they have because of their history – which is our history.

To want to create a better world may be admirable, but one cannot forget that one is part of a world in which sacrifice, strife, competition for resources and group survival were primarily existential choices, not purely moral ones. This is as much the story of the ancients, of tribes, cities and empires, as it is of the moderns with our civil and world wars.

But genuine social betterment requires genuine alignments of solidarity, common loves and commitments, not the enforcement of principles and ideas. Having an idea that humans are basically good, or that we actually have rights that were not derived out of political and social experience, or that we can just apply a set of axioms about human behaviour, is the opposite of helpful. We have to work on the little bit of reality before us; and if we do not see forces that threaten to extinguish a group as we are focussed only upon our ideals, then we will go under.

ZJ: A few years ago, in Vienna, where there was a monument dedicated to the Polish king, John III Sobieski, who stopped the Turkish forces from invading Europe, in 1688. It was desecrated and a sign attached: “Genocide.” The king who was celebrated as defending Europe from Muslim invasion stands condemned for the very same reason – as the defender of the West, just like Columbus, stands condemned for bringing the West to the New World. Do you see a similarity, and what exactly, in your opinion, stands behind the two so different occurrences?

WC: When Columbus first arrived in the Bahamas, he thought he had found a new world free from violence. He quickly learnt otherwise. The idea that the Europeans created violence in the new world is a fantasy. Think, for example, of how the enemies of the Aztecs assisted Cortes. That Europeans brought a new kind of havoc that had really terrible consequences for the indigenous peoples of the “New World” is not something I dispute. I simply note that imperialism is a very ancient modality of social and political organization, and that scale and technology matter.

In part, though, I do see the hostility to certain founding myths as a fair enough response – up to a point. That is, the 1960s generation and their more left-leaning professors from a previous generation were not wrong to expose peaceful foundational myths as untrue. But this does not mean that the “New World” did not have its own survival strategies in which violence was a common enough occurrence.

I would also qualify this by saying where resources are spread widely and groups are small enough and can stay out of each other’s way, then it may be avoidable – at least up to a point. But anthropological finds of grave sites do indicate how common violent death generally was amongst tribes. The city and the empire are also, in part, a means for walling out violence. But, of course, as groups grow and empires subsist alongside each other, violence again enters into the picture on an even larger scale.

The problem is not that we should not be honest about conquest and violence – and once the United States was formed and the land expansion drove out the native Americans in the 19th-century, it was really shocking, though not altogether unlike how other tribes within antiquity had acquired land. A case can be made that, had the U.S. remained under the British crown, its history may have been far less bloody.

Of course, counterfactual history is only partially helpful. But that so many Western educated people believe that the West was somehow unique in its deployment of violence for securing territory and resources is silly – and, I repeat, making moral judgments about the past is meaningless, especially when the people making them are the beneficiaries of the bloody deeds that are their own history: What was unique was the technology and accompanying systems of commerce and administration which created greater opportunities for power enhancement and expansion.

But the idea, to take your second example, that Islam was not an imperializing enterprise from the very beginning, or that Muslims were pacifists and innocents, and Christian nations uniquely imperial, is historically mad (those poor Turks attacking Vienna!). But once you simply treat Muslims as a minority, you will project all sorts of virtues onto a group because they suit the narrative that you live off of and define your place in the world by.

Likewise, those Muslims who have aspirations to really fulfill the injunction to bring the world to peace through all submitting to Allah, will gladly support this narrative, and will gladly represent themselves as victims of genocide in Vienna, as if they were in solidarity with native Americans, whose people were subject to genocidal levels of violence. But, unlike the Westerners who fall for this, they at least know what they are doing.

ZJ: Given the logic of the genocide argument, we should conclude that neither conquest nor colonization should have ever happened – which means, no Persian Empire, no Greek colonization, no Roman Empire, no Mongol, Ottoman, British, Portuguese, French, Spanish Empires. What I have enumerated is only a tiny portion of what history looked like, which does not give much support for politically correct claims and visions of history, let alone human nature. But given all the PC activists’ ignorance of history, the question emerges: Does PC behaviour stem from ignorance or something else?

WC: I think I have already made clear what I think about PC anthropology. It is, as others have rightly labelled it, “Disneyfication.” As you know I am a great admirer of J.G. Herder, who unfortunately is usually just viewed as a “romantic,” when he is a complicated and a very profound thinker.

Herder made the point (one which you can also find in Augustine) that a group’s survival depends upon it having something lovable about its world. So, just as I cannot accept the romantic view of indigenous life, a life that like all social forms, has strict and often brutal means of enforcing group survival,

I do not deny that it was a dwelling place on earth with its own rewards and sacrifices. Hence, too, I also do not want to underestimate the cost of civilization. Our conversation is largely about the sacrificial component of civilization and how precarious our circumstances are right now.

And, as much as I disagree with the liberal-progressive view of life, I also acknowledge that it exists because of all manner of problems (including the last World War) which provided the backdrop for people wanting to “Give Peace a Chance” and “Imagine” a better world. So, I think, one may well have important discussions about different life-ways; and what is won and lost as one world is destroyed.

Now the indigenous worlds were destroyed because they had found ways to survive that ultimately (and I do not mean this in any disparaging way) curtailed the need for the kind of human inventiveness that developed with empires, and at their most sophisticated levels with the crucible of the West and its wars and revolutions.

I have said it many times now: Inventiveness is forged in the furnaces of war and horror, which is as true for the scientific revolution as for the formation of the modern nation state. The experience of the West was such that one crisis after another led to a certain kind of “advancement” – specifically, technological, administrative, socioeconomic and even political.

Fortunate were those (at least relatively) who could stave this off, until, that is, they found themselves in competition with outsiders over their resources. History cannot be unmade, and so any strategy of solving our problems which requires cultural romanticism is doomed to fail. Worst of all, it condemns the living to a lost past, so that they themselves become like ghosts and more like pieces in the imaginations of those who wish to dictate their own narratives and future for the living.

Culture, like everything else, is not an essence but an adaptive process. So, pretending that the powers of the modern world can be simply blocked out by a romantic retreat is to condemn people to powerlessness in their world. Although policy and public narrative commonly romanticize the past, imagine a government that said: “Sorry we did wrong, so what we will do is give you back a vast amount of territory, then build a fence, and leave you alone. No phones, cars, roads, hospitals, medical supplies, TVs or anything else that modernity has made will be available to you. You are free to return to a past world. We will not mine there or allow any of our people to enter. But once you go back you are not allowed to return.”

Can you imagine the outcry of indignation? Being in a world comes with a price. Our freedoms come at the cost of widespread depression, anomie, ennui, isolation, medication, infantilism, and so many other afflictions, including romanticism and utopianism and their institutional ensconcement.

The reason I am an Augustinian when it comes to human nature is that we all live off the violence and crimes – the sins – of our forefathers. Real dialogue is impossible, if we start with a mythic idealisation.

ZJ: Are the contemporary problems of the USA, Canada, Australia those that the Britishness of those countries created, by which I mean Protestant religion, common language. Again, to be clear, many of the problems that feminists see, such as the use of pronouns (he and she) are laughable from the point of view of someone who knows languages and knows that gender (masculine, feminine and neuter) is grammatical; it is not social categories. But in the English-speaking world, precisely because English no longer uses gender in its grammar, these problems have been created, which could not have sprung-up elsewhere. Yet, these English-language problems, because of American dominance, have become global problems.

WC: I think it is Europeanness rather than Britishness (and I would refer you to one of my favourite books, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s Die europäischen Revolutionen und der Charakter der Nationen – a different version of that book for an American audience was, Out of Revolution: Autobiography of Western Man.

If I think of the suicidal tendencies within the West today, it seems to me that they do come out of the appeals to freedom and social equality that are the outgrowth of the European experience and responses to their circumstances, including, perhaps most significantly, wars and revolutions.

That the European experience is predicated upon Christian culture, as well other sociological and geopolitical contingencies, seems to me very obvious. Calvinism, in particular, though not of British influence plays a decisive role in helping shape what will become modern republicanism. It will also play an important role in generating a moral and aesthetic orientation to personal and social life that will then become secularised.

I really like John Cuddihy’s book on the Calvinist influences upon the USA, No Offense: Civil Religion and Protestant Taste. A certain sensibility, which combines a sense of (divine/ moral) election, the overcoming of all evil, the doctrinal (moral) transparency of all souls within the community (see, Joseph Bottum, An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America) has prevailed within our elites (and this is as much the case in Canada, the UK, Australia, as the USA) – which is manifestly Calvinist in original form. but with the kind of content that comes out of the atheistic socialistic, progressive mind of the nineteenth-century.

This sensibility simultaneously combines guilt and a desire for the “kingdom.” So, without Christianity, it is pretty impossible to imagine this modern elite and our narratives of emancipation. But they are also anti-Christian and heretical, diabolical even – total faith in human knowledge, the human will, and the self/identity. The Islamists, the Chinese, the Russians, etc. think the West is killing itself. That is what I fear as well – and I hope I am completely wrong.

ZJ. Thank you so much for this conversation, Professor Cristaudo!

The image shows, “1807, Friedland,” by Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonie, painted 1861-1875.

What Made 18th-Century Britain So Innovative?

We are so very thankful to The Critic to allow us to bring to our readers a new series – History Talks – which are podcasts by Professor Jeremy Black, in conversation with Graham Stewart, The Critic’s political editor.

The purpose of these podcasts is to inform and also delight. Each month, Professor Black answers an important question, explores an interesting web of ideas, or simply tells us about things we may not know about. This means that each of his talks is nothing short of a “Grand Tour” of the past, providing exquisite nuggets of historical details that you can carry with you as delightful souvenirs.

We begin this month with an intriguing question – Why was 18th-century Britain so innovative? The ideas and inventions that emerged on this little island in the 1700s changed not only Britian but the entire world.

Things that we take for granted would have been impossible if they had not been invented and created in Britain, such as, free speech, a free press, consumerism, industrialization, urbanization. All this is finely summarized in Rupert Brooke’s famous words:

For England’s the one land, I know,
Where men with Splendid Hearts may go…

But why did all this not happen in any other country? Why did it happen only in Britain? Let’s listen to Professor Black for the answer.

What Made 18th-Century Britain So Innovative?

The image shows, A Philosopher Giving that Lecture on the Orrery, in which a Lamp is put in place of the Sun or The Orrery, by Joseph Wright of Derby, painted ca., 1766.

Notes From The End Of Philosophy

Rémi Brague, in Anchors in Heaven: The Metaphysical Infrastructure of Human Life, is concerned with what has become a central question in prosperous Western societies: Should we have children? If the human species should go on existing (which is taken for granted in the book), what assumptions are required for us to keep it going?

This question becomes all the more urgent as we witness what Aron called the demographic suicide of Europe. Implicit in the latter concern is the suicide of European culture as opposed to Islamic families in Europe for whom this is apparently not an issue. This seems, as we shall see, to be a special problem for Western intellectuals.

One can offer many causes for this demographic suicide, but Brague is not interested in causes but in reasons. That is, he is interested in the philosophical rationales for not procreating that have appeared throughout the history of philosophy but which have intensified since the 19th-century vogue for nihilism.

Brague seeks to understand how philosophy could have evolved into this morass. In his short book, he launches into an impressive philosophical tour-de-force that will make quite a few demands on the reader. The subtitle of the book is “The Metaphysical Infrastructure of Human Life.” As I understand his account, metaphysics evolved into the central issue of “being,” or a concern with the fundamental truths.

While “Being” in classical and medieval thought was originally focused on the world as a whole, modern philosophy (Descartes onwards) changed the focus to how we come to know being, the “truth” about being, or a shift to epistemology. This evolved even further with Kant into a concern for the “human being” or knower. In the 19th-century, it became even more clear that the knower actually projects meaning or truth onto the world and this projection has both a history and many varieties. This led in turn to the question of whether what we project is “good?” Unfortunately, we no longer had any reference point for answering this question. It was a short step from this to the conclusion that there is no way of anchoring the “good.”

Philosophically, “life” had lost its meaning. Further elucidation did not help. While we might no longer fear death, we might fear the losing of our life. But even this fear does not amount to an argument for “giving” life in the act of procreation or “sacrificing” one’s life for someone else’s life. We might love (enjoy) living but this does not entail that we should love giving life. In fact, armed with a little bit of philosophical nihilism we might justify wallowing in what Nietzsche described as the life of the “last man,” focused only on personal pleasure.

What is required is a new kind of reason to give life. Once more returning to the philosophical tradition, Brague references those thinkers like Mirandola who saw that free will (not reason) is what was unique to humanity. Brague maintains that this makes preserving freedom an end-in-itself; and that, given our personal finitude, giving life to others (or sacrificing for others) through procreation is or should be our highest aspiration. In this, he claims to have established “The Anchors in the Heavens.”

Brague’s scholarship is impeccable and wide-ranging. One cannot but agree with his identification and formulation of the issue. In addition, I would subscribe personally and whole-heartedly to his conclusion that what distinguishes us is our free-will, that freedom is an end in itself, and we should give life to others. In what follows I want to arrive at the same conclusions by a slightly different route. I note with approval Brague’s referencing literary figures and others outside of the narrow field of philosophy.

What follows might seem like a lengthy digression, but the capacity of intellectuals to muddy the waters (this does not apply to Brague) seems to be without limits. The field of philosophy itself contributes to the problem.

The Troubles With Philosophy

I maintain that professional philosophy is an obstacle to understanding. I shall offer three arguments. The first is that a careful study of the history of so-called “philosophy” will show that philosophy has defined itself out of existence. Second, one major strand of contemporary philosophy, analytic philosophy, appeals to science in such a way that to do so is to allow science to engage in the assisted suicide of philosophy. Finally, the other major strand of contemporary philosophy, Continental philosophy, has reduced philosophy to mindless advocacy.

One of Brague’s earliest, and to me, most important points is terminological. “Metaphysics,” which is supposed to be the most fundamental part of philosophy, was originally, in classical Greek, ta meta ta physika, the title of one particular book or collection of Aristotle’s lectures. It is not a term from Plato or any earlier thinker. The expression might mean “after” or “before” the book entitled “physics.” It is not clear whether this was a name given by a librarian to identify the position of a “book” on a shelf, or perhaps meant to be read before the “physics” and therefore somehow more fundamental. A version of the expression appears in the third century Greek and in Arabic in the ninth century. The expression becomes a noun “metaphysics” in a twelfth-century translation into Latin, and its history continues thereafter.

I think a similar account can be given of the term “philosophy” itself. Is it a kind of book, a noun, an adjective, or a discipline? There is no continuous and unambiguous history of the discipline of “philosophy.” You would look in vain for an entry on “philosophy” in a contemporary dictionary of philosophy, or an encyclopedia of philosophy. To be sure, there is an Academic discipline called “philosophy,” but you would be hard-pressed to distinguish among “philosophers,” “teachers” of philosophy or “historians” of philosophy. Likewise, there are people called astrologers, books on astrology, etc., people who are paid to cast horoscopes as well as offer advice and make predictions. But, unfortunately, there is no connection between the positions of heavenly bodies and human destiny.

What does the History of “Philosophy” show us? In the beginning, no distinction was made among intellectual disciplines. One popular formulation of the differences (Frankfort) has been among three things:

Mythopoeic thought > Hebrew monotheism > Greek Philosophy (world explains itself).

Among the latter, Plato and Aristotle (responsible for two perennial but alternative modes of thought) have been the most influential, down to the present. Aristotle offered a history leading up to him; such teleological accounts keep reappearing depending upon who the historian is. This makes the history of philosophy and philosophy itself all about “me.” An important feature of this kind of history is the assumption that the same principles explain both the non-human and the human world.

An important transition occurred with the advent of modernity (Descartes to Kant), the recognition that meaning is something human beings project onto the world. Copernicanism upends the whole tradition – knowledge = how human beings understand the world. How we understand ourselves is fundamental; how we understand the non-human world is derivative.

Within the foregoing framework, the seventeenth-century introduced the distinction between natural philosophy (non-human world) and moral philosophy (human world). In the eighteenth-century, the human world became more complicated, as it was recognized that how we understand ourselves obviously has an historical dimension. This raises the current ongoing issue of relativism.

Hegel was, officially, the last philosopher to put it all together, specifically by making the knower and the known identical and by recognizing the historical nature of the whole. Hegel also recognized that the arts, religion, and philosophy were all different ways of expressing the same truth. It was now not clear what philosophy could be hereafter except a limited canon with some pretentious terminology. Some writers (Fukuyama on Kojeve) have interpreted Hegel so that liberal societies are the end of all history. Apparently, nobody has informed the Chinese about this.

Philosophy came to an end with Hegel. This is not meant either to praise or bury Hegel but to call attention to a discipline now without a role. It is my hope that this will also shed some light on the waste in the contemporary intellectual landscape. Nor is this meant to delegitimize everything done by people now associated with this “passé” discipline. Anybody in any discipline, who attempts to clarify concepts, identify basic presuppositions, and discuss the origin, history and evolution of our conceptual framework can be said to be doing philosophy.

Moral philosophy has subsequently evolved into myriad disciplines, known as the so-called “social sciences.” Here, the dance begins to repeat itself. Some understand the model of all science to be mathematics or physics; others prefer biological models; still others insist that the “social” sciences are not really sciences but either sui generis or ideologies masquerading as science.

Psychology, for example, claims to be the science of how we understand ourselves; but psychologists are split among those who think such a “science” is either “mechanical” (physics is the model), “organic” (biology is the model), or sui generis. If psychology is some kind of hard science, as analytic philosophers maintain, then philosophy has just defined itself out of existence. Philosophy can be no more than an account of the methodology and history of science, something done in other disciplines. What does philosophy mean now that it is not a separate discipline or subject matter?

Those who understand that the human/social world is sui generis, for example, Hayek, point out that both Hume and Kant saw that science rests upon values that cannot be scientifically certified. Some other kind of understanding is necessary. The best example of someone who makes this case today is Wayne Cristaudo in his recent (2020) book Idolizing the Idea. Philosophy is not about eternal truths. The proper role of philosophy is not to answer questions which require all sorts of extra-philosophical knowledge, but to question the questions that lead our inquiries about ourselves. In order to do this adequately requires a hermeneutical, dialogical, and anthropological approach.

The contemporary alternative to analytic philosophy is Continental philosophy (structuralism, deconstruction, postmodernism, etc.) They are all philosophies of anti-domination and limitless freedom. These too suffer from the failure to understand how the world came to be the way it is and why it is the way it is. Both major movements have become a major source of social ill, folly, and division.

Nicholas Capaldi, a Legendre-Soule Distinguished professor at Loyola University, New Orleans, USA, is the author of two books on David Hume, The Enlightenment Project in Analytic Conversation, biography of John Stuart Mill, Liberty and Equality in Political Economy: From Locke versus Rosseau to the Present, and, most recently, The Anglo-American Conception of the Rule of Law.

The image shows Frenzied Woman by Odd Nerdrum, painted 2005-2007.

Victorian Values

Martin Farquhar Tupper (1810-89) was a once eminent but now unfairly forgotten Victorian. He had many virtues – a major figure in the Student Volunteer Movement, a pioneer in the study of African literature and the object of Karl Marx’s hearty dislike.

If remembered, it is for his didactic moralising, his prose taking the form of blank verse, which culminates in his classic epic, Proverbial Philosophy. Each Tupper line, truth be told, contains its own little piece of wisdom.

In an age of vacuous and godless relativism, his sonorous proselytising is a veritable breath of fresh air. At least twice, I have read out many lines of Tupper at wedding receptions, counselling the radiant bride and randy groom as to how they might best comport themselves in later married life, and have been deemed a jolly fine fellow for so doing. Whether you are happily married, eager to marry, or merely intellectually curious, I entreat you to share these fine Tupper lines with me. First though, here’s a joke. What did the servants of Mr and Mrs Martin Tupper call their food storage containers? Tupperware™

Excerpt from Martin Tupper, Proverbial Philosophy, ‘On Marriage’

Mark the converse of one thou lovest, that it be simple and sincere;
For an artful or false woman shall set thy pillow with thorns.
Observe her deportment with others, when she thinketh not that thou art nigh,
For with thee will the blushes of love conceal the true colour of her mind.
Hath she learning? it is good, so that modesty go with it:
Hath she wisdom? it is precious, but beware that thou exceed;
For woman must be subject, and the true mastery is of the mind.
Be joined to thine equal in rank, or the foot of pride will kick at thee;
And look not only for riches, lest thou be mated with misery:
Marry not without means; for so shouldst thou tempt Providence;
But wait not for more than enough; for Marriage is the DUTY of most men:
Grievous indeed must be the burden that shall outweigh innocence and health,
And a well-assorted marriage hath not many cares.
In the day of thy joy consider the poor; thou shall reap a rich harvest of blessing;
For these be the pensioners of One who filleth thy cup with pleasures:
In the day of thy joy be thankful: He hath well deserved thy praise:
Mean and selfish is the heart that seeketh Him only in sorrow.
For her sake who leaneth on thine arm, court not the notice of the world,
And remember that sober privacy is comelier than public display.
If thou marriest, thou art allied unto strangers; see they be not such as shame thee:
If thou marriest, thou leavest thine own; see that it be not done in anger.

Dr Mark Stocker is a former academic and art curator who lives in New Zealand. Besides his jokes, he has 230 marginally more serious publications, many of which are on Victorian public monuments, numismatics and New Zealand art. His book When Britain Went Decimal: The Coinage of 1971 will be published by the Royal Mint in 2021.

The image shows, “The Wedding Register,” by Edmund Blair Leighton, painted 1920.

The Dead-End Of Liberalism

This is a special review. It is special because it is the last of its kind. I no longer intend to spend my time, and your time, on books that I know to be completely wrong, merely to show they are completely wrong. I am keenly aware of what I call “the closing door,” embodied in the words of John 9:4 – “the night cometh, when no man can work,” which Samuel Johnson had engraved on the inside cover of his pocket watch. This does not at all mean that I am stopping writing, only that I will no longer write in the vein of correcting errors of the political Left. For the hour is late, and the Right has better things to do.

Thus, I will no longer review, or read, leftist claptrap. That includes a substantial majority of modern popular works; essentially all books on history and politics that receive wide publicity, from the latest anti-Trump screed to anything on race, along with a great deal else. It also includes many, though not all, older leftist works that are leftist canon. Does it profit me to read any such book and demonstrate its innumerable falsehoods and logical errors? No, because I know the truth already, and I know the minds of all these writers and the vast majority of their readers are a closed circle, filled with lies and impervious to the truth. I will discover nothing new; and they benefit by me wasting my time, because opportunity costs.

True, my writing about such books might profit others who are less informed or have spent less time evaluating leftist claptrap, and who are drowning daily in the disinformation spewed out by leftist media and culture. But I can add the same value for those people by sometimes discussing leftist propaganda when I am discussing legitimate works. All the leftist agitprop I am now going to ignore is worse than worthless. It is total lies, which, fascinatingly, is a relatively new departure for the Left.

Over decades, the Left was rewarded for slanting and twisting the truth, never punished, and now that they have total control over the organs of communication, culture, and power, simply disregarding the truth in the service of power, serving instead lying propaganda, is the inevitable consequence. What you reward, you get more of. For the Left, since 1789, after all, the ends justify the means, and the purported goal of their Utopian cult is now in sight, so any tool is justified. So I understand why they lie, and how and why the New York Times today became no different than the Pravda of 1988. But I see no reason I should legitimate their webs of lies.

It is all a question of priorities. My core priority is to establish the Foundationalist state, under which human flourishing may again occur. What is the chief obstacle to the Foundationalist state? The power of the Left, and the corruption of the West it has wrought, by rejecting the pursuit of excellence and accomplishment, and by corroding individual virtue. Working to demonstrate that the Left lies as it breathes merely grants power to their lies. As I have said, the only way out is through, and that means, most of all, offering a positive vision of what the future can look like, as opposed to the world visible around us wrought by the Left—and them implementing that vision.

More broadly, I no longer care what any organ of the Left, or any individual leftist, thinks or says about any topic. At all. I don’t need to understand them better; I already understand them completely, and what they have to say that is not lies, is evil that has led us to our current degenerate and decayed society, for which they bear primary responsibility. Nor is it important to understand better their motivations: greed, love of power, millenarian fervor, sheer stupidity, love of destruction, hatred driven by racist ethnonarcissism, animal rage generated by envy of beauty and accomplishment. No, there is no reason whatsoever to engage the Left, except in the act of utterly and permanently breaking their power and imposing a decent society. The time for debate with the Left is over; the time for the re-imposition of reality arrived long ago.

The Left, always and everywhere, has known the existential nature of the struggle, and the exterminatory character of their program, and in every case acted to the extent its power allowed. Today in America, they no longer pretend the Right is even permitted to debate; after all, error has no rights. They are now imposing their final end-state on us, a project they will soon complete if they are not stopped. Our only goal should be to smash the Left and impose the will of the Right, in a complete reformation of our society—if we can, a topic for another day. What form that imposition of will might take remains to be seen. It could be a democratic turn to a Viktor Orbán-type leader, though more aggressive, who combines economic populism and nationalism, and is not afraid to use existing tools to break the Left. It could be a fragmentation of the country, along Kurt Schlichter lines, where the Left is confined in their own new country to descend into Venezuela, or worse, and the Right can form a renewed society. It could be many other things, each prefigured by history. But the path leads inevitably to war, whether hot war or cold war. It already is war, though a war fought only by the Left. Time to fight back, effectively.

Oh, I will read plenty of books I disagree with, in whole or in part. But those will be books that illuminate the way forward. I will no doubt still find much to criticize in some books. I will continue to read and analyze books that I know are partially wrong, such as those written with a whole or partial Left bias that are not works of politics or history (e.g., science or economics), because in those something of value can often still be found.

I may sometimes read books that I strongly suspect are completely wrong, say anything new from Jonah Goldberg, but that could still contain something of interest, especially books whose readership may include those on the Right working toward victory. I may read classic Left works, because they are classic, thus they may contain something of value, and moreover I know they inform my enemies, so knowing their contents is of use. Lenin, for example. (Not all old Left works are classic, of course. Take Edward Said’s Orientalism—I tried reading that, and it was worthless, lying trash, and laughably, obviously so.) But for the most part, I will read either books that are not political at all, but of interest to me for other reasons, or books that I see as useful in building Foundationalism.

More generally, I intend to spend as little time as possible discussing political matters with the Left. They can read my works, or not, and there may be exceptions to my general rule. But why discuss political matters with leftist commenters on my writing, or with my left-leaning relatives? Their worldview consists wholly of lies, destructive lies, lies that corrode all societal virtue and wholly block all societal accomplishment. They cannot be convinced otherwise; like any cult member, and cult is what the Left is, as shown by that their ideology does not permit any new fact to contradict their prebaked conclusions.

Someone must rule; now it is them, and changing that is the challenge of the next decade, followed by the suppression of their evil works and the proper education of both our children and our brainwashed adults. Meanwhile, with leftists with whom we have a social relation, we can talk about other things—although since the Left insists on politicizing all of life, there is, sadly, often very little we can talk about.

But before I call it a day, let us discuss this book. In it, childlike naivete alternates with low malice, combining in an execrable stew. I read Why Liberalism Works because it claims to be an answer to Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed, a key text of today’s post-liberal Right. To my disappointment, other than in its title and one unbelievably stupid sentence inside, this book completely ignores Deneen’s book, and also ignores all claims and arguments of today’s post-liberals. Instead, it substitutes, for engaging with ideas, heated repetition of bogus ideological claims. It’s crushingly boring and tiresomely predictable. But reading this book made me understand more fully why and how we are all force fed propaganda, of which this is merely an exemplar, on a daily basis, and led me to the decision outlined above. I’m happy for that, at least.

The author, Deirdre McCloskey, is what we can call a “choice extremist.” This is a type of libertarianism, but not confined to limiting the state. Rather, it is an endorsement of man as mayfly, impelled by no other desire than maximizing pleasure, and insistent that any limitation on such pleasure is evil incarnate. People like McCloskey, who claim to be centrists seeking human flourishing, offer the distilled essence of the worst of the Left, without the leavening concern for social fabric that some of the Left offers, or used to offer. A clean sweep will begin with these people, McCloskey and his [indeed, his, ed.] neoliberal allies, many long falsely seen as conservatives. For me, this book was unpleasant to read, and this review a drag to write. Still, I read the whole book, every word, hacking through the ignorant writing and annoying tone of unjustified superiority combined with a jarring, oily pseudo-femininity. You’re welcome.

Totally aside from its other defects, McCloskey’s book is poorly structured, because rather than writing a new book, he cobbled together numerous existing short writings, added some filler, divided them into four rough groups, and presented the results as a tasty pottage to his masters at the American Enterprise Institute and other similar bastions of mendacious toadies to leftism and chaos. Constant repetition is therefore the hallmark of this book; it could have been a fifth of its length and said the same things. Again, you’re welcome. Rather than analyze the fifty essays in this book sequentially, I’m going to summarize the author’s key claims, which are merely repeated with slight variations and emphasis throughout the entire book. Let’s get on with it.

First, McCloskey draws the line of demarcation that snakes through the entire book. We have “true liberals.” And we have everyone else. True liberals are awesome. Everyone else is bad, and bad precisely to the extent he differs in any way from true liberals. By “true liberal,” McCloskey means someone who is a fan of the core tenet of Enlightenment political philosophy, of emancipation from all unchosen bonds, an atomized free actor in every facet of his existence. True liberals, you see, adhere to the Golden Rule, which is, properly viewed, merely Adam Smith’s principles of free trade applied to all activities of life. In fact, total emancipation is dictated by God—McCloskey claims that some fictional “Abrahamic egalitarianism” is common to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and in case we are unclear, calls Smith, ad nauseum, “the Blessed Adam Smith,” who revealed the correct interpretation of the Gospel, which previously had escaped all of us.

The rest of the book is merely endless variations on ascribing superlatives to “true liberals” and attacking everyone not a “true liberal,” though flavor is added by changing the adjective occasionally from “true” to “humane,” “sisterly,” or “motherly.” To support this division as an intelligent way to view the world, McCloskey’s tool is not evidence or reason. Rather, his only tool is ignoring or totally mischaracterizing opposing arguments while using tendentious, emotion-laden terms. In the second paragraph of the Preface, for example, he contrasts true liberals, who have “splendid arts and sciences,… toleration,… inclusiveness,… cosmopolitanism” with “illiberal regimes,” from whose “violent hierarchies” true liberals have liberated us, though “brutal, scaremongering populists” such as Viktor Orbán are still fighting their inevitable defeat by the true liberal paladins. The rest of the book does not vary from this pattern.

Second, in order to praise true liberals as the source of all that is righteous, McCloskey offers a puerile and false chain of historical causation. It is hard to exaggerate how simplistic this book is. In a nutshell, which is all we are offered, in the late 1700s, true liberalism began, when demands for emancipation and atomized liberty, that is, the Enlightenment, began. This political philosophy created the “Great Enrichment,” “economic betterments for ordinary people,” by “giving voice” to people who were formerly voiceless and utterly passive. This has continued, so now we are rich and getting richer, which is all that matters.

Now, McCloskey does recognize the glaring problem in this set of claims, which is that only clowns believe that the Industrial Revolution had any connection to the Enlightenment. So he dodges by trying to separate the supposed Great Enrichment from the Industrial Revolution. He claims that the latter was a mere commonplace, frequent throughout history, of doubling income, but that the Enrichment was a new thing in history, created purely by true liberalism. In one of the most bizarre passages of a book that is filled with them, McCloskey claims that equally important industrial revolutions also occurred in Islamic Spain and Song China. Before 1800, you see, progress was regarded as dishonorable and sinful, something “economists and historians are starting to recognize”—led, of course, by the most insightful historian of the modern age, McCloskey himself. Our unexceptional industrial revolution continued, creating the Great Enrichment, because “liberalism inspirited the masses to devise betterments and to open new enterprises and to move to new jobs.”

These are radical historical claims, but no evidence at all is offered for them, or any other historical claim. McCloskey is a historian by trade, but almost zero history appears in this book. To be fair, that may be the nature of such a cobbled-together book; he mentions his trilogy of other books about “bourgeois values,” with a passing claim that those books support what he says here, so perhaps one has to read those too to get any actual arguments from history. I won’t read them, because life is too short.

But back in the real world, there is no mystery as to how the Industrial Revolution created the economics of the modern world, and there is no such thing as a separate Great Enrichment. The West, starting in England, combined the advances of the Scientific Revolution (created purely by Europeans) with the right cultural practices, such as hard work and the rule of law, added some other factors endlessly debated (coal? intelligence? sea power?) and thereby escaped from the Malthusian Trap, which had never occurred a single time anywhere else in the world. Once created by the West, this package feeds on itself, and can be exported to any culture willing and able to adopt the gifts of Western technology and culture.

Some are; most aren’t either willing or able, and haven’t been for the past two hundred years. If they do, and to the extent they are willing to adopt these cultural and technological practices (which do not include frippery such as democracy), countries are lifted out of poverty, a process continuing, in fits, starts, and steps backward, today. The end. The rickety and ahistorical claims that McCloskey makes are simply objectively false, which he probably realizes, since beyond announcing conclusions, he makes no effort to support them. (No surprise, McCloskey ignores China’s and Singapore’s adoption of Western technology and methods to escape the Malthusian Trap, since those successes alone disprove every single claim he makes).

Third, there are enemies of true liberalism, who want to cast the whole world into darkness and end the Great Enrichment by opposing choice extremism. These are, today, primarily the parties democratically elected in Hungary and Poland, though occasionally Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are thrown in too. As with all of his odious neoliberal caste, McCloskey hates and fears those in power in Hungary and Poland, because their success and popularity prove everything he says false, and he is afraid their powerful ideas will spread to dominate throughout Europe and the United States (a fear that is, fortunately, well on its way to being a reality).

McCloskey does not deign to tell us why Hungary and Poland are bad, or how the policies enunciated by their governments will end the Great Enrichment. He just mouths the usual total lies that the press is attacked and the rule of law eroded, without any actual attempt to demonstrate those claims. In reality, of course, censorship and erosion of the rule of law is far more prevalent in the United States and Western Europe; but that’s censorship and erosion of the rule of law McCloskey likes. He’s very much a fan of flexible principles – for another example, despite his claim that we should all operate only on “sweet talk,” he openly celebrates in this book how he helped destroy the life of J. Michael Bailey, a Northwestern University professor who failed to adequately celebrate sexual degeneracy.

In addition to Viktor Orbán and some Poles, there are also domestic enemies. McCloskey hates American conservatives, that is, anyone on the Right not a corporatist, Koch-type Republican, with an ill-concealed burning passion. No surprise, he never once engages their arguments, even though he chants “let’s listen, really listen, to the arguments of our supposed enemies, and consider their logic and evidence.” The core of McCloskey’s “thinking” is a crude logical trap. We should have “a society held together by sweet talk among free adults rather than by coercion applied to slaves and children.” What if that sweet talk concludes that most people want to, let’s say, ban pornography? That’s coercion! So, in other words, McCloskey wants talk, as long as that talk has no chance of ending in conclusions other than the ones he has already mandated as the only acceptable ones for society. That’s just dishonest. But that’s this book.

We reach the nadir of McCloskey’s hate and stupidity in the single sentence devoted to Deneen. I was excited to get there, figuring I would get an actual response to post-liberal arguments. What I got was this, in toto. Brace yourself. “Liberalism, intones Deneen, entails ‘the loosening of social bonds’ (bonds such as slavery in the British Empire), ‘a relentless logic of impersonal transactions’ (so unlike the transactions of pious Israelites selling lumber to Egyptians, say), and the proposition that ‘human beings are thus, by nature, non-relational creatures, separate and autonomous’ (as for example in the non-relational exploration of human relationships in the bourgeois and liberal English novel since 1700).”

That’s it. That’s the entirety of McCloskey’s “argument.” The first parenthetical, about slavery, is apparently meant to be a refutation of Deneen in some way I cannot fathom. I have no idea what the second and third parentheticals, about Israelites, lumber, and English novels, are trying to say; they are not tied to anything else McCloskey says elsewhere. I am still scratching my head. But I can assure you that McCloskey thinks he has crushed Deneen, which says a lot more about him than anything else.

Fourth, for McCloskey, there are no enemies on the Left. Sure, some on the Left are mistaken, notably Thomas Piketty, on whom McCloskey spills a lot of gently-phrased words. But everyone on the Left is “earnest and amiable,” just a little wrong, like the “sweet slow socialist” George Soros or McCloskey’s unnamed “beloved and extremely intelligent Marxian friend.” The New York Times is wrong sometimes, but “sweet” and “benevolent.” Anyone on the Right, though, is “vicious,” a “thug,” or any of innumerable similar terms, and McCloskey certainly has no friends who are conservatives.

Fifth, true liberalism must struggle against bad policies, some of which are pushed by evil people and some by ignorant people. Any policy that has any element of “coercion” is bad. The worst policy of all is any restrictions whatsoever on immigration. We are told that “bad people” in the United States “wish to deport law-abiding and hardworking immigrants, in response to a scientifically bankrupt economic notion, which is anyway unethical, that immigrants take jobs away from natives, or a scientifically bankrupt sociological notion, also unethical, that their children will never become properly American.” If the “Hungarian farmer or West Virginia coal miner” complains that he can no longer feed his children, he has no legitimate complaint, rather, “what is being complained about is change, and as it happens desirable change.” We know it is desirable because it is happening because of the free market, for “Profits are a signal of general worthiness.” The end. Really.

You can see why neoliberals love this stuff, but the normal reader wonders why no effort, none at all, is ever made to demonstrate the truth of these claims and why we are never, not once, given any suggestion that we should perform cost-benefit analysis on any social policy. McCloskey’s claims and demanded social policies are uniformly and without exception wonderful and costless, and this truth is self-proving. Any questioning proves you are “authoritarian” or “fascist,” not “humane” and McCloskey’s “dear friend.”

Sixth, total emancipation in all areas of life will lead to total human flourishing. We are guaranteed that it is an absolute certainty that so long as we are true liberals, unlimited wealth will be ours, which will make us happy (not for McCloskey any wondering about the relationship, beyond a certain point, of wealth to happiness). And not just happiness—the resulting “enrichment will cause . . . a cultural explosion, casting into the shade the achievements of fifth-century Athenian drama and T’ang poetry and Renaissance painting.” His evidence for this? That the 1960s, the dawn of emancipation in America, were culturally, especially in art, far superior to the Renaissance. Yes, that’s what he claims.

Woven throughout the endless repetitions of this six-point plan is much other dumbassery. We are lied to that the “classical definition of liberty/freedom is the condition of being liberated/free from physical interference by other human beings,” which is the exact opposite of the truth. Pericles would reject everything McCloskey says out of hand, then have him flogged for corrupting the virtue of the body politic. Economic fallacies abound, most of all the exaltation of GDP as a measure of human flourishing (combined with the only other measure of human flourishing, the absolute right, derived from nothing in particular, to not be “pushed or bossed around without voluntarily given consent or contract”). “Leisure… should be accounted as income.” If you can’t find a job because an illegal immigrant took it, you are still making money, peasant, so stop complaining! Third-rate thinkers like Tyler Cowen and Eric Hoffer are extolled as brilliant. If some things are better now, everything that exists now must be good. And, most of all, culture doesn’t matter for anything, and no human motivation other than the desire for maximized freedom exists.

I’m not going to waste any more time on the claims of this book, but I want to examine what this book means. That is, on its face, nearly everything in this book is shockingly dumb, and I don’t think McCloskey is dumb (though he’s not nearly as smart as he thinks he is). So why did he write it? Ah, there’s where it gets interesting, and indicative of our politics today. Every so often the real agenda’s slimy face peeks through. We see it in the occasional obeisances [sic] to a free-floating “dignity.”

McCloskey’s project is to endorse a vision of humanity completely atomized, and he knows that to sell this he has to claim that all the worthwhile advances of the modern world are created by atomization. Okay, but why is McCloskey paid to purvey propaganda under the guise of being a purveyor of history and ideas, and then lionized across many forms of media? It’s because this is merely one small facet of the giant propaganda machine that spews its output across our society today.

We are everywhere surrounded by endless propaganda designed to push an agenda that simultaneously pushes the Left goal of emancipation combined with forced egalitarianism while lining the pockets of our neoliberal overlords. Every movie, computer game, or other form of media involving violence or the military features a complete inversion of reality, where female warriors exemplifying alpha male characteristics triumph over weak men with feminine characteristics. Every movie and TV show, for children or adults, celebrates homosexuals and sexual degenerates. Advertisements do the same. Wise Latinas instruct stupid white people. The propaganda machine is kept going by aggressive censorship across all media and social media, silencing the strongest voices of opposition and ensuring that those that remain self-censor to avoid deplatforming.

Still, at the end, this is a clarifying book. It made me realize what I started this review with—that debate is a waste of time, and the choice is utter defeat by the Left, or destroying the Left. Dispose yourselves accordingly.

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

The image shows a detail from the Crucifixion and Last Judgement diptych, by Jan van Eyck, ca. 1430 and 1440.

The Young Person’s Guide To Fine Dining

A guide to fine dining, especially useful for wholesome families who wish to please our esteemed correspondent Dr. Zbigniew Janowski. It is accordingly intended for children, not kids.

1. Wash your hands before you start eating. Sing ‘God Save the Queen,’ but only the first verse, in its entirety while you do so to allow adequate time to kill germs.

2. Wait till the adults have taken their seats before you take yours. Very good children hold a chair for a senior member of the family.

3. Do not interrupt Grace, or still less attempt to eat anything before the Lord is duly thanked.

4. In a graceless household (I fear there are one or two), ask ‘Please may I start eating?’

5. When you want food to be passed to you, see if others need anything first, and if the food is some distance away, don’t grab it but ask someone near you to please pass it and quietly thank them when they do so.

6. Do not help yourself to everything from the above serving dish/plate. Remember that others need to eat too.

7. Don’t talk with your mouth full and related to this, don’t eat with your mouth open. Others do not wish to behold the contents.

8. Do not on any account put your knife in your mouth. And while you’re at it, don’t hold your knife like a pen.

9. Do not perform another function while still holding cutlery, eg scratching your head. My Grandfather, Colonel Stocker, would say ‘Don’t scratch your head with your knife’. Ideally head-scratching and nose blowing (with a linen handkerchief) are best conducted elsewhere. In which case, ask ‘Please may I leave the table?’

10. To non-vegan households: if you are eating a chop or chicken leg and your cutlery is no longer useful, lay the latter down. You can then pick up the piece of meat and chew it, Gladstone style (see below), using ONE hand to hold it. Yes, you will get grease on your fingers. In most households, the napkin should suffice. In super refined households there may be a finger bowl provided, but I am not advocating this here, as it is a potential source of danger to those less versed in etiquette. Some ill-advised people may wish to drink from it or pour its contents on to their pasta or curry: this is not recommended.

11. Use your table napkin (it is not called a serviette) where appropriate. Remember, it is not a handkerchief.

12. Don’t heat too hurriedly. Chew your food, especially your meat, thoroughly. My parents would say ‘Mr Gladstone would always chew his meat’. Mastication is the operative word. Whatever were you thinking? No, that’s rude.

13. Outside China, don’t slurp your soup or noodles.

14. Do not attempt to drink anything at the bottom of a glass with a straw, as it makes a foul noise.

15. Finer points – if you lay down your knife when it’s not needed, transfer your fork to your right hand.

16. Only say good things to your Mother about the quality of her cuisine, however humble.

17. To the grown-ups – do not put a milk bottle or carton on a table. If the beverage is either canned or bottled, decant it into a goblet. This can be cheaper glass for the more humble, not necessarily crystal. No smoking at dinner, not even between courses.

18. In conversation, the following are forbidden: sex, including organs, bodily functions, especially the bowels, abortion, intimate details of love affairs (for adolescents of all ages), most aspects of politics and religion.

19. When you have finished your main course, place the knife and fork together in the centre of the plate. Ideally invert the fork – AA Milne told Christopher Robin that if somebody fell through the ceiling and landed on the non-inverted fork, this could be somewhat painful.

20. Don’t gulp your pudding, and don’t loudly demand seconds, especially if it’s obvious that there aren’t any.

21. When you have finished, you should ask ‘Please may I leave the table’ or ‘Please may I get down’ and wait for a parental answer.

[Thoughtful elder children may then wish to make loose leaf tea or plunger coffee for their parents. Tea bags and ‘instant’ are not encouraged].

Dr Mark Stocker is a former academic and art curator who lives in New Zealand. Besides his jokes, he has 230 marginally more serious publications, many of which are on Victorian public monuments, numismatics and New Zealand art. His book When Britain Went Decimal: The Coinage of 1971 will be published by the Royal Mint in 2021.

The image shows The Potato Eaters, by Vincent van Gogh, painted 1885.

The Failure Of Woke Morality

A large portrait of William Shakespeare was torn down at the University of Pennsylvania in December 2016 , and a portrait of Audre Lorde, a self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” was placed on the wall in its place by student protesters.

Students did this to express their disgust with the perceived male chauvinism, white privilege, racism, straight sexuality, and poor judgment of UPenn and the Western canon of literature. When no action was taken against the rebels, and when the change of portraits was allowed to remain, as an alum of the Univ. of Pennsylvania, I had a brief correspondence with the chairs of the English Dept and of Graduate English Studies at Penn.

They assured me that Shakespeare was still actively taught. Thus, the mere fact that Shakespeare continues to be taught justifies their rationalization that (1) it’s only a picture, (2) kids will be kids, (3) throw them a bone (the new portrait on the wall was the “bone”) and they will be satisfied, and (4) life goes on in spite of caving in to student expressions of pique. They felt no need to publicly affirm Shakespeare’s rightful place on the wall, nor that student vandalism is unacceptable.

In a similar vein, during September 2020, the University of Edinburgh’s David Hume Tower was re-named 40 George Square because of some deplorable remarks Hume, a great 18th-century philosopher, made at one point about “negroes.” However, the University assured the public (just as UPenn had two years ago) that it will continue to teach Hume, and had a cadre of specialists more than able to do so.

The author of this article, Julian Baggini, took the tack of splitting hairs to explain and ultimately justify the name change. He’s against the dead “getting a free pass” on prejudice as being too lenient, but on the other hand, trying to punish them in absentia by today’s “higher standards” is too harsh. Instead the author equivocates and writes, “So before abolishing or renaming memorials to those who have views that offend or even distress us, maybe we should instead challenge our understanding of what such memorials are for. They are not there to encourage hero worship, to elevate certain figures above criticism.” What does this say about the University’s ultimate decision? He means it was too harsh, but he does not have an alternative.

Sadly, Mr. Baggini is legitimizing this action, and thus is still splitting hairs about this controversy. Actually, the name change is wholly ILLEGITIMATE. Changing the building’s name but still teaching Hume is like telling someone they still have a right to food, shelter, and clothing, but they can’t go out of the house because they should be ashamed to show themselves in public. At one point in my career, I taught the background of the Civil War in the U.S., and traced Abraham Lincoln’s attitudes towards blacks throughout his political career….

The Lincoln who opposed the popular sovereignty idea of Stephen Douglas was not as compassionate as the Lincoln who issued the Emancipation Proclamation, nor was that Lincoln as humble and godly as the Lincoln who prayed on his knees with black workers (not slaves) in the White House or the Lincoln with the passionate sense of God’s judgment in his Second Inaugural Address. He set the slaves free, but he was not always thinking that, who knows, maybe another Isaac Newton is now a slave, and being held back from his true destiny. Although he fully understood the justice and holy truth of emancipation, he did not repudiate totally the Confederate rebels who had brought about so much death and destruction. His hope in Christ had increased dramatically during the years of his presidency, and forgiveness was a central theme despite his anti-slavery commitment. If we took some earlier snippets of Lincoln’s views than the ones that emerged during the war years, we might find some reason to fault him or purge his name even. Instead, we purposely see the greatness of the whole man.

Of course some people are so evil that they are remembered for their wickedness, but in most cases that does not apply. “The good a man does lives after him, and the bad is oft interred with his bones.” Dishonoring someone for having had some opinions that seem wrong to many is a debacle. Hume did not go out of his way to harm any black folks. Slavery finally came to an end in the British Empire in 1833. To rename the Hume building is not just a wrong emphasis in thinking as the article suggests, but a case of egregious pandering to the racial demagogues.

Looking for reasons to debunk heroes of Western Civilization for their whiteness and supposed inappropriate statements – that supposedly reflect a deeply entrenched and abhorrent racism – has become a cottage industry in our political and educational institutions.

Not only do we see it at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Pennsylvania, but we see it in the self-confident ranting of a Scottish Member of Parliament, a man of Pakistani descent, SNP Justice Minister, Humza Yousaf. In August, he expressed his outrage that except for two seats belonging to two men of Pakistani descent, himself and one other man, the Scottish Parliament and so many other public officials who were – here’s the horrible word: white. This he proposes is white privilege run amuck. He is shocked and offended that in Scotland almost all the leadership is white.

Yet, a friend of mine, well informed about ethnography, wrote to me that “1) The northern parts of Pakistan are white – like the Kailash and the Kafirs, who are largely blued-eyed blondes and red-heads. Are they ‘white?’ According to Yousaf’s logic, they are not. 2) The rest of the population of Pakistan is Indo-Aryan – notice the term ‘Aryan’ – which means they are an Indo-European population (i.e., genetically, ‘white’).” This reality suggests that by having more Pakistanis in office, Scotland would be extending its pattern of whiteness, not counteracting it as Yousaf states. Despite his ethnographic ignorance and illogicality, Yousaf’s rant on Youtube led me to some radical introspection.

Why is it all the members of my birth family are… white? Is this a dreadful exclusivity? How dare they marry and procreate with people who look like themselves, and have similar mores to themselves?! And am I therefore now on the moral high ground because I married an Asian woman? My wife is Asian, but our daughter LOOKS white. That must mean that part of her is racist – against herself!

And why is it that so many of those in government in the West who are white believe in liberty while ignoring their white privilege? Why am I not relieved that my centuries old hypocrisy masquerading as “liberty” and “natural rights” is now being exposed?

Many are starting to say how “bourgeois” and inauthentic those words from the 18th-century now sound, how middle class and how WHITE (!) those calls for liberty and rights seem to be. The liberty talk we frequently hear, we are told by the left, is a cover for entrenched Western – especially American — racism. And worse still, this racism is linked to sexual militancy against LGBQ and especially T for transgenders. Think of it, neither Scotland nor the USA has had a head of state who is a transgender woman.

When we hear UPenn condemned or the Scottish Parliament condemned for its racism, do we not simultaneously tremble at the thought that trannies have been so systematically excluded from political leadership? There is a repugnant intersectional bias in Scotland and elsewhere, even too repugnant to be mentioned by Mr. Yousaf.

If we believe in liberty, are then people not free to have any genitalia they please – and to be elected for their stability of mind, values, and knowledge with or without their birth genitalia! Isn’t this the deep hypocrisy that the portrait of Shakespeare or the tower named after Hume exposes? Certainly, the rebels and iconoclasts on our campuses and in our legislative bodies believe this. Once persons admit they are racist, that puts pressure on them to admit they are also trans-phobic. And the phobic road is a long road indeed.

However, as we reflect on racism in the West (with its implied links to other generic, gender prejudices of custom and psyche via intersectionality), we see it extends beyond education and beyond public office. It is embedded in the warp and woof of society as a whole. This is true according to the latest big-name race baiting guru of America, Ibram X. Kendi, née Ibram Henry Rogers.

“You’re either racist or antiracist; there’s no such thing as ‘not racist’,” Kendi says. But then Mr. Kendi goes on to say that people are in a variety of complex situations with regard to race. In the criminal justice system, they may be racist, but in regard to the environment they are not racist. When it comes to healthcare they may be antiracist, but then in regard to education they are racist. The complexity does not have the effect of diluting racism, but instead helps perpetuate it. Complexity feeds racism rather than breaks its back.

And if you are white, you are hooked into racism by your attachment to capitalism, and you may be hooked into racism by saying you believe in assimilation. However, anti-racism is not compatible with assimilation. Ultimately, M. L. King Jr. got it wrong.

Thus, I attended an alumni day at the University of Pennsylvania a few short years ago, and was surprised to learn that there was a black segregated dorm on campus. The integration model of the civil rights movement had given way to a new black-initiated segregation. Listening to Kendi, I better understood why my beliefs in de-segregation were now being rejected. Anti-racism cannot identify with assimilation.

Kendi asserts this unequivocally. His view thus incorporates the Nation of Islam ideal of black separatism. But if it is true as stated in the Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education (1954) that “separate is inherently unequal,” then separatism by blacks is not announcing equality and not announcing inferiority.

Therefore, it appears that black separatism is a cover for black dominance and contempt for persons of European origin. However, by saying this, a white can be accused of trying to make blacks appear prejudiced, which itself brings out yet another accusation by blacks of racism.

Every verbal move – even a logical move – is considered a white racist gambit. Mr. Kendi and his ilk, like Mr. Yousaf from a different starting point in Scotland, are driven by the same demons, the same paranoia, the same demagoguery, and, on a kinder note, the same insecurities.

Jeffrey Ludwig is presently a lecturer in philosophy and has taught ethics, introduction to philosophy, American philosophy, and philosophy of education. He also spent many years teaching history, economics, literature, and writing. For ten years he served as pastor of Bible Christian Church; and his theological focus is on the five solae. He has published three books, the most recent, The Liberty Manifesto, being a series of essays about the importance of reasserting liberty as a social, political, economic, and theological value. His other two books are The Catastrophic Decline of America’s Public High Schools: New York City, A Case Study, and Memoir of a Jewish American Christian.

The image shows, “Auf der Flucht [On the Run],” by Magnuz Zeller, painted in 1920.

Nicolás Gómez Dávila: An Authentic Reactionary’s Critique of Modernity

I.

The philosophical, political, and theological thought of Don Nicolás Gómez Dávila (Bogotá, 1913 – 1994), perhaps one of the few authentic reactionaries of our time, rises as a reaction – and a most authentic one – to an intellectual, religious and aesthetic crisis whose invariably dire consequences form the heart of his overwhelming critical discourse: That crisis is that of the twentieth-century, with all that it implies.

All of Dávila’s work is a serious and passionate attempt to root out some cursed codes that have upset the immutable essence of the human, down through the centuries (and, by extension, the essence of the divine). But at the same time, his work establishes a solid, intellectual alternative to the inanity of our present era.

Unfinished philosopher, or consistent thinker who renounced the fatuous pretense of getting on the pulpit of philosophical pontification, Dávila never finished – that is, in writing – a philosophical system properly speaking, if he even sought to make such a claim, which would not have ceased to be ironic in a thinker of his stature and clairvoyance, for there is nothing dogmatic or conclusive in his work, if read intelligently. It is simply lucid.

Like Nietzsche, like the best of Cioran, he resorted to the ingenious and flammable spark of the aphorism, capable of setting fire to the largest surface only with its friction. But instead of calling such outbreaks of genius aphorisms, he called them scholia (escolios), thus approaching Spinoza.

Though a thinker in fragments, Dávila offers, on the contrary, a philosophical discourse of absolute coherence and integrity, whose intellectual depth and paradoxical acuity is unparalleled among philosophers and thinkers in the area of contemporary Hispanicism (both in Spain and in Spanish America). His references, on the other hand, leave no room for doubt about the depth of thought that pervades his discourse: Thucydides, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Montaigne, Juan Donoso Cortés, Jacob Burkhardt, are some of his distinguished professed teachers.

A miniaturist of language rather than a writer, a thinker rather than a scholar, and an artist of words; better than a mere philosopher, Dávila exemplified, with his illustrious reactionary position, one of the most notable, coherent and fortunate examples of ethical, aesthetic dignity and, if you will, spiritual dignity to be remembered.

Ignored for decades, his silent and monastic life, removed from the madding crowd, from the petty intellectual environments, from the miserable academic trivialities, went far beyond such conventions – his repeated refusal to publish and rub shoulders with power; his greatness of mind and keen sense of duty towards one’s own self, led him to make of his existence a true aesthetic exercise, and that of an “authentic reactionary.”

Secluded in his mansion, within the walls of a fabulous library of thirty thousand volumes, he took advantage of being well-off and devoted his life entirely to the complex exercise of thought. The most visible result of such efforts was his magnum opus, recovered for our benefit today, thanks to the effort, it must be said, of people like Ernst Jünger, Botho Strauss or Franco Volpi, among other enthusiasts – and which, under the title of Escolios a un texto implícito (Scholia to an Implicit Text ), heralds one of the most prodigious, valuable and imperishable examples of the effort of human thought during the 20th-century.

If the “heart” of Dávila’s work is his Escolios, then the “brain” in his Textos – a strange but effective comparison: What the Escolios forcefully feel (the incendiary jolt of the aphorism), the Textos reason through (the discursive continuity of the prose). A satellite accessory for some, Textos I carries in its pages the “key” stone of construction; that is, the enigmatic implicit text, the standard of future battles. But that is how one of his best readers, Francisco Pizano de Brigard, saw this work – and as far as we are concerned, we will stick with this option, which is very well justified – for where else can we turn? To the Notes, those conclusive sketches? To the fragmentary Escolios, despite their fullness? Is it worth the redundancy, the fragmentariness? Or perhaps the marginal texts, such as, the article entitled “The Authentic Reactionary,” or the one entitled, “De jure,” which remains inaccessible? In the absence of an “obvious” philosophical text, or even that which is simply obvious, we will take the aforementioned implicit text as the starting point for our precarious, well-intentioned exposition. So, let’s get into the matter.

The first idea may seem simple to a reader wearied by established ideologies: Capitalism and communism have a similar goal in common. They are different masks that cover, therefore, the same face: The nature of man (displaced to the political realm). A broken dialogue, therefore, between two democracies, whose mimicry becomes a forced conflict: The bourgeois and the popular, eternal rivals: “If communism points out the economic contradictions (the alienation of man, abstract freedom, legal equality) of bourgeois societies – capitalism underlines, in parallel, the inefficiency of the economy, the totalitarian absorption of the individual, political slavery, the reestablishment of real inequality in communist societies.”

In effect, Dávila does not seem to take a position on either one side or the other, even though the biased reader may consider him prone “to the right, and even to the extreme right.” Big mistake: The author’s reactionary discourse, extremely lucid, and part of the contradiction that directs communism and capitalism towards supposedly antagonistic goals – when, in fact, their goal is the same: Property, an obstacle for the former, a stimulus for the latter, without assuming otherwise: Ownership after all.

Bourgeois ideologies and ideologies of the proletariat consequently rush towards the same common hope: Man – “If communism denounces the bourgeois fraud, and capitalism the communist deception, both are historical mutants of the democratic principle, both yearn for a society where man is, in short, lord of his destiny.”

The theological, political, cultural reading of Dávila thus ratifies democracy as an anthropotheistic religion; a theology of the man-god is thus categorized: “The divinity that democracy attributes to man is not a figure of rhetoric, a poetic image, an innocent hyperbole, in short – but a strict theological definition” – a theological definition inherent in the perverted nature of the modern, whose essential corruption is nothing but an unspeakable product of the fixed idea of the discourse of modernity: Progress.

Progress, which is theodicy of futuristic anthropotheism, otherwise justifies all the atrocities of man in the name of the progress of humanity. The process of progressive improvement cancels the time of man and restores the no-time of man-god. It is mechanistic and industrial orgy, which disrupts the useless human effort in the tedious transformation of matter. It is filthy monologue, which sacrifices perishable existences to its own ends in the name of the fixed idea, thus banishing the supreme value from itself, because as Dávila poetically affirms:

“Life is a value.
To live is to choose life.”

Consequently, it thus becomes a theory of values which rests on two filial concepts: Atheism and progress, in need of an adequately emphatic rhetoric to penetrate deep among their potential victims.

The mere play of matter thus implies a universal determinism whose product is none other than a rigid universe, emptied of all possibility, where the cult of technology is the verb of the man-god, the principle of the sovereignty of the modern state.

Even so, the democratic era, and with it, economic development that is inherent to it, has money as the only universal value, its first and last reason: “Money is the only universal value that the pure democrat abides by, because it symbolizes a useful piece of nature, and because its acquisition is assignable to human effort alone. The cult of work, with which man flatters himself, is the engine of the capitalist economy; and the disdain for hereditary wealth, for the traditional authority of a name, for the gratuitous gifts of intelligence or beauty, expresses the puritanism that condemns, with pride, what the effort of man does not grant itself.”

This terrifying fact degenerates, therefore, into economic robbery and petty individualism, generators of ethical indifference and intellectual anarchism that dominate the modern world.

Faced with such detritus, the only path that Dávila clings to is that of reactionary rebellion. His great work, Escolios, is about such a quixotic undertaking, an implicit text, putting into practice reactionary rebellion through his most powerful weapon: The word.

II.

Entering the immense garden of the Escolios – a Versailles on paper – is an arduous undertaking, although stimulating over time: Tasting its fruits, savoring them for the right time and extracting the nutritious pulp from them – that is, something that is not empty didacticism. But it will become a fruitful task of enlightened pleasure for the intelligent reader. In this sense, Scholia to an Implicit Text is a healthy elitist work, against the current, and very politically incorrect, aimed at reactionary minorities; or, failing that, at awakened minds whose thinking does not gravitate around the state of predetermined ideas.

But what an effort to synthesize – if something like that can even be done, to further synthesize the essence of the rose – would go far beyond the narrow margins that we have imposed on ourselves. Even so, Dávila’s thematic ambition transcends the heterogeneous and shapeless mélange, while advancing a compact mass, more or less consistent, and capable of standing up to a hypothetical attempt at analysis.

But as we say, it is that thematic ambition, that looking from various points of view through a gaze that is neither Manichean nor tendentious, which allows its author to carry out, in a subtle and distanced way, the most brilliant critical x-ray of modernity: Democracy, the nature of the politician, the essence of communism, the Marxist problematic, the Left and the Right, technology, liberalism, the idea of progress, life and death in modern society, art and literature, God and religion, the modern Church, culture, atheism, the bourgeoisie, the work of the historian, intelligence, youth, mediocrity, sex, Sade, Plato or Nietzsche, as well as the privileged figure of the reactionary, among many other philosophical questions of the first order appear and reappear like recurring milestones, closely linked to each other by a fine chain of ideas. Such accumulation, on the contrary, does not degenerate into a string of tedious evidence of a graphomaniac charlatan, but rather into a disturbing problem not without acute paradoxes. This makes Scholia to an Implicit Text a river-like book, always in motion, capable of tackling a profound (in the real sense of the word) question anywhere, without betraying its ultimate meaning.

Of course, one of the most violent and effective criticisms, which is not really effective, despite its abrupt reiteration, is that carried out against democracy, a democracy understood not in the abstract, but empirically in the light of facts, and therefore as fraud, as effective apotheosis of the dominant mediocrity: “The bigger a democratic country, the more mediocre its rulers have to be: They are elected by more people.” And these mass rulers are none other than politicians, obviously: “Politicians, in democracy, are the condensers of imbecility.” Imbecility inherent in the crowds themselves and the basis of the politician’s explicit speech: “The democrat only respects the opinion that a large choir applauds.”

This unquestionable statement the author rethinks throughout his discourse, with historical considerations: “Democratic killings belong to the logic of the system. The ancient massacres of man’s illogism;” and from this, the following scholium: “Democracy celebrates the cult of humanity on a pyramid of skulls.” Recently updated pyramid: A concert-tribute to the victims of terrorism? A commemorative statue for a certain defender of democracy? In the name of democracy… But what exactly does democracy play out, play at?

Dávila does not hesitate to point with his pen to the main subject, a subject annihilated at the root: The stupid or the insane, depending on the times: “Democracy, in times of peace, has no more fervent supporter than the stupid, nor in times of revolution a collaborator more active than the madman.” And to give consistency to his thesis, Dávila only has to look to the past: “Athenian democracy does not inspire, except those who ignore the Greek historians.” The colossal figure of Thucydides, once again, strides forth to meet him.

In the midst of this abject masquerade that is modern democracy, the parodic figure of the politician is reduced to his most apt, creeping position: “The politician may not be able to think any stupidity, but he is always capable of saying it,” because ultimately , even “the ‘politician’ with the most delicate conscience barely manages to be a modest whore.”

An impassive critic of both the right and the left, as a genuine reactionary, Dávila throws some of his sharpest, sarcastic darts at the left: “The leftist miraculously avoids stepping on the calluses of the authentically powerful. The leftist only vilifies the simulacra of power.” Dávila concludes that in any case “leftism is the banner under which the bourgeois mentality of the nineteenth-century maintains its hegemony into the twentieth.” But, in the end, “the left and the right have signed, against the reactionary, a secret pact of perpetual aggression.”

The critique of democracy thus finds a point of equilibrium in the critique of Marxism, whose illustrious exposition, once again, clings to historical-economic reasons, drawn even from the most prosaic daily life: “Marxists economically define the bourgeoisie, to hide from us that they belong to the bourgeoisie.” But his criticism does not end in the petty contradictions of the mundane, since as a current of thought, “Marxism did not take a seat in the history of philosophy thanks to its philosophical teachings, but thanks to its political successes.” Only a certain exception is allowed with the very promoter of the pseudoscience of yore: “Marx has been the only Marxist that Marxism did not abominate.”

After these brilliant meanderings, the reactionary attack on modern society manifests everywhere, like a constant leitmotif, a kind of insect – of an invertebrate idea – that never ceases to whine behind Dávila’s ear, even within the walls of his aristocratic library, there where he feels farthest from that despicable and sordid society composed of a violently homogeneous mob: “The anonymity of the modern city is as intolerable as the familiarity of current customs. Life should resemble a room of well-educated people, where everyone knows each other but where no one embraces.” The very product of that crude and democratic society, “the modern man tries to elaborate with lust, violence and vileness, the innocence of a hellish paradise.”

It is not necessary to illustrate it – it is enough to open our eyes and look around us to confirm what has been said, since it is true that “modern society has been progressively reduced to whirlpools of animals in heat,” while the two poles of the modern life are clearly business and sex. And in the midst of such nonsense, “recent generations circulate among the rubble of Western culture like caravans of Japanese tourists through the ruins of Palmyra;” mere dots. Such a terrifying and accurate panorama duly crystallizes into one of the author’s greatest scholium: “Modern society does not educate to live but to serve.”

In midst of such a desert of skulls, a mass grave where everyone fits but no one actually belongs – and that, and nothing else, is democracy in the long run – there is nothing left for man but to die gracefully. Here are truly authentic reactionary words: “When everyone wants to be something, it is only decent to be nothing.”

José Antonio Bielsa Arbiol is a writer, art historian and graduate in philosophy. His work has appeared in many media outlets.

This article appears courtesy of El Correo de España. It originally in two parts, in Spanish. Translation by N. Dass.

The image shows Poem of the Soul, 18, Reality by Louis Janmot.

In Plain Sight: Who Are “We, The People?”

Introduction: Misunderstandings

Anyone with an ounce of spiritual awareness and emotional sensitivity knows low-level blues some of the time. Even our metric friends, they who hold but a diminutive gram’s worth of discernment, know well this vale of tears. In the catalogue of woes which stalk long downtrodden man, the disconnect between impression and reality is prominent.

At a political hearing I attended earlier this year, for example, I was taken aback to learn how divergent our general understanding of the immune system is as compared to where science presently stands. What we are taught in high school is about a century out of date.

Another example is seen with driverless trucking features on TV. Broadcast in North America and Europe, these specials have all the schadenfreude that reality TV can dish up. The producers narrate as high-tech lorries roll across the screen. As these programs unfold they inevitably cut back and forth to befuddled truckers. Always American Southerners, the interviewees coyishly confront their livelihood evaporating before their bloodshot eyes. Remarkably nonplussed (or fronting heavily), they assure the host that such machines will, “Never take off.” After all, “Who’d you trust on a highway, me or some robot.” The producers have made their point: the wagoneers are out of touch with reality.

We won’t even get started on the perception-reality dynamic surrounding face masks vis-a-vis virus protection.

Think of all the lost opportunities, the mistaken conclusions, the wasted health and wealth and peace of mind which is out there because people’s perceptions do not match reality. It adds up and it wears one down. I suppose there’s some proof of Original Sin in all this. And we see the same disconnect with politics.

A Most Popular Crew

One error heard throughout these States united concerns invocation of “the People.” Their mention, typically an ever-present warble, becomes a clashing gong each presidential election. And why wouldn’t it? The purported benefit to the people can justify any scheme. Is mechanical abortion good? Yes, because the people benefit. Should it be permitted? Of course not, babies are people too. Some foreign country must be invaded to avenge the people! No, it mustn’t. People might be killed. Taxes are necessary to provide services to the people. Taxes steal the people’s money. You get the point. Sprinkle the people on it, and any topic is justified.

The purpose of this article is to pin down the members of this timely clique. Who are the people? Or rather, who are the People? (n.b., We’ll get into the capitalization significance below). The People must really be special to have so many skins talking about them! The purpose of this article is not to lampoon the present condition of Western democracy, a ludicrous system custom-fit for every two-bit grifter from your town hall alderman to your Supreme Court heavy hitter. Nor do I write this with a moralizing spirit. I am not saying the conclusion herein is good or bad. Alas, political discourse is frustratingly given over to what people think of this or that occurrence; little attention is given to how things are. Let us put our emotions and impressions and solutions aside. Let us look at the naked reality.

The Rub

That we not beat around the bush, the People are a specific group of men distinct from the mass of Americans. Almost certainly you, kind reader, are not among the People. Their concerns are not your concerns, their loves are not your loves, their fears are not your fears. Only by a polite omission on the part of the People themselves, combined with a baseless and monstrous assumption on your part, do you believe you are among the People.

By blood, or marriage, the People were or are those related to the 18th-century constitutors of the state and Federal governments of America, as well as those men so involved with states later incorporated into these United States. Far from being a stealthy clique, they number in the hundreds of thousands, perhaps the millions. Far from being secretive, their identity is trumpeted in both the legal documents they publish and it is plainly seen in their behavior. With eyes to see, one stands in awe of just how explicit, frequent, and honest the People are in advertising their distinction from the regular Americans they rule over.

There are four reasons which support this unusual and uncomfortable, but inevitable, conclusion. They are (1) legal grammar, (2) the Founders’ historical awareness, (3) the U.S. Constitution, and (4) the present and historical behavior of the People.

Specificity & Hierarchy: Legal Grammar

The legal system is specific. Indeed, specificity is shy only of artificiality when comprehending the legal control matrix. Without general nouns there is no way whereby one group can be designated from another. Likewise, without proper nouns there is no way things of a kind can be isolated from their larger mass. What book-hoarding boon is a library card if it has no name to it and if anyone in the town may use it? What fear does a speeding ticket hold if there is no specific man to mail it to? Without specificity, statists cannot exert their will upon their subjects. Legality demands specificity.

General specificity only gets one so far. Hierarchy is needed for greater distinction. If we all have individualized library cards, to carry over the above example, who goes first if we both want to check out the same book? To see the People for who they are we need to unlock the hierarchy their system assumes. The maxims of law and the doctrine of capitis diminutio are our keys.

The maxims are the skeleton upon which the legal system hangs. They’re analogous to a Catholic’s examination of conscience for Confession. They are less a list of hard and fast regulations and more of a general collection of proverbs which explain the principles of legal land. Woe betide those who do not make this distinction! The penitent becomes a neurotic and the barrister a hack should they put such enumerations literally into practice. Many a soul and many a lawyer has been ruined by this oversight. When it comes to the maxims of law, the spirit rules and the letter kills.

The creator controls, is one such proverb. In fact, it’s a truism so fundamental to legalism that it often does not appear in published lists of maxims. Only the frequent reading of case law, or “reading between the lines” on the compiled legal proverbs cited in Black’s or Bouvier’s dictionaries, will discover this plain principle. Upon this doctrine, for example, I have the sole authority to decide what gets mentioned in this article. I am the creator of this article; I am it’s sovereign. However, should I desire this piece to be published on a platform created by another, I must submit this creation to that creation, myself being the petitioning party. I must subordinate this sovereign creation to that one (i.e., for editing, formatting, etc.). From the doctrine of “the creator controls” the whole legal structure flows.

Capitis deminutio is a principle which the Founding Fathers, mostly lifelong barristers and/or merchants, would have been familiar with, at the establishment of the country’s governing system. A concept from Roman law, a system which all English-speaking structures eventually default to, should there be no usable precedents, capitis deminutio designates the amount of control an entity is under. Long story short, so that we don’t get tangled in jargon, the capitalization of the first letter of a noun in legal land designates something as both a specific something, and under the ownership of another. If you are up for a load of jargon, here’s the definition of capitis diminutio from Black’s Law, 2nd edition: “In Roman law, [capitis diminutio was a] diminishing or abridgment of personality. This was a loss or curtailment of a man’s status or aggregate of legal attributes and qualifications, following upon certain changes in his civil condition. It was of three kinds, enumerated as follows:

Capitis diminutio maxima. The highest or most comprehensive loss of status. This occurred when a man’s condition was changed from one of freedom to one of bondage, when he became a slave. It swept away with it all rights of citizenship and all family rights.

Capitis diminutio media. A lesser or medium loss of status. This occurred where a man lost his rights of citizenship, but without losing his liberty. It carried away also the family rights.

Capitis diminutio minima. The lowest or least comprehensive degree of loss of status. This occurred where a man’s family relations alone were changed. It happened upon the arrogation of a person who had been his own master, (sui juris,) or upon the emancipation of one who had been under the patria potestas. It left the rights of liberty and citizenship unaltered. See Inst. 1, 1G, pr.; 1, 2, 3; Dig. 4, 5, 11; Mackeld. Rom. Law.”

Thus “the People” in a legal document, such as, the U.S. Constitution, or in the mouth of someone holding a legal office ultimately under the jurisdiction of the Constitution, refers to a specific group of people, rather than any old sinner walking on top of America.

Togas & Muskets: The Framers’ Historical Awareness

Second, the claim that the People refer to a specific caste of men is supported by the historical awareness of the Founding Fathers. They were a clutch deeply steeped in ancient history. Their use of antique references bolstered the point that their political arguments were timeless.
When news of the Battles of Lexington and Concord came to holy Connecticut, for example, jovial Israel Putnam immediately dropped his plowing in situ and raced Cincinnatus-style to join the Massachusetts rebels. About two months before Dr. Joseph Warren became Bunker Hill’s most famous casualty, he was seen speechifying on the streets of Boston in a Roman toga!

The American Revolution came at a time when various trends were at their zenith. The equality of armaments between rulers and ruled, is one example, the afterglow of a Protestant revival is another, and the obsession of that generation with the likes of Plutarch and Cicero is yet one more example. The Framers could not get enough of ancient history.

Those acquainted with Rome will be aware of the divide between the patrician and plebeian classes. The interaction between those who traced their families back to the original stock of Rome (patricians) and those who moved in later (plebeians) provides an enduring thread through all the turns and jolts of Roman history. But even the dullest pleb, a manifest client of Sulla or Caesar, one hopelessly addicted to bread and circuses, would never seriously think the “P” in SPQR (i.e., Senatus Populusque Romanus, the Senate and the People of Rome) meant him. The “P” for People meant the patricians. Everyone else was along for the ride.

Communist countries like China and North Korea are more in line with this Roman bluntness than the democratic West on this point. Everyone knows when an office holder in those countries talks about “the People” they’re referring to the members of the Party, which is considered to be a type of incarnation of the will of the populace.

The American Framers meant to provide against a repeat of the ancient slide towards democracy and chaos. Far from being a sexist, hypocritical oversight, their limit of the voting franchise to men, and only men of property at that, was a direct homage to the early Roman Republic. Of course, they would say, men of maturity and wealth – the material success stories of a community – ought to be the ones to steer the ship of state. Jobbers and renters were not fit to run a county, having so unimpressively run their lives. Reprising the paterfamilias role, the males of the early American republic would stand in for all their family members’ concerns in the public sphere. They would save – not exclude – women, children, and the indigent from the morass of electoral politics.

In Rome the patrician class was not static. There was the process of adoption. Far removed from motives of modern charity or conjugal sterility, adoption was offered to promising youths entering their adult years. The Emperor Augustus is the most famous example of this. It was a means to ensure inheritance in a society with disabilities on women’s ability to inherit property.

Teasing these points out, the existence and stability of the patrician class and their use of adoption, we see how the American constitutors were primed by their interest in Rome to create a governing caste in their “People,” which was stable yet occasionally open to fresh, well-vetted blood via marriage and other forms of incorporation.

In Plain View: The People Define Themselves

The third point is proof from the U.S. Constitution. We take the legal and historical setups above into this consideration. Now that we know the principles under which the Framers operated, the identity of the People is hardly a question at all, as we examine a document they produced.

The U.S. Constitution is a contract using specific legal language. It plainly states for whom the new government exists. It famously begins, “We, the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” There you have it. The United States Federal government, and its incorporated state entities, exist for the sole benefit of the People.

The “We” and “ourselves” refer to the signatories themselves, the 39 souls who met in Independence Hall. Through the doctrine of delegation, however, the People also included those men who constituted the several state governments which dispatched those representatives to Philadelphia. Remember, the creator controls. Thus, by the agentic, representative relationship, the Peoples of the 13 states were invisibly present at that Pennsylvania meeting, too.

Then there is the mention of “our Posterity.” Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary, a text whose definitions are closer to the Founding Fathers’ understanding than our dictionaries, defines posterity as, “Descendants; children, children’s children, etc. indefinitely; the race that proceeds from a progenitor. The whole human race are the posterity of Adam.” His second definition defines posterity as, “In a general sense, succeeding generations; opposed to ancestors.”

We know the first definition is what the constitutors intended because legal language is specific, not general. John Bouvier’s 1839 dictionary defines posterity as, “All the descendants of a person in a direct line.” Therefore, the Posterity mentioned in the Constitution refers to the descendants of the constitutors. Unless you are one of the fortunate few hundred thousand or millions of souls related to those state or national leaders, you are not the People. With the legal definitions, principles, maxims of the system itself, not what we assume they mean, we come to know who the People are. Only an undiscerning and gross assumption suggests that “We the People” applies to all Americans.

Distinctions, Distinctions, Distinctions: The Vote And The Election

Lost on Americans is the distinction between two events which the media conflate into one: The Presidential vote and the Presidential election. They are not the same event. The early November vote is largely a straw poll, while the December election makes the actual choice of President. The November event is a way to take the pulse of the country. It has no direct say-so on who becomes President. It is nearly, but as we shall see not totally, meaningless.

The November vote is analogous to Catholic parish administration. The priest has absolute, official, final say in ordinary decisions for his parish. In no way whatsoever is he obliged to listen to the directives of his council. Yet to go against the zeitgeist of the parish council in a major way would be foolish. It would create sullen, testy subjects. Such a rash override would form a block of uncertain loyalty should the priest run afoul of the bishop at some future date. In the Catholic parish council as soon as in the American vote, the mob has power of a sort. However, that power is consultative not formal. At base, the November vote serves as a psychological release valve. It lets off tension which otherwise would manifest itself in discord and revolution.

The election, a distinct event from the vote, is a quiet event which takes place in the 50 state capitals mid-December of each election cycle. This limited December event has in fact all of the import which people ascribe to the popular November event. The tally of the December electors decides who will be President, not the vote.

The electors are drawn from the suggestions of the state political parties. They’re largely the same sorts who participate as delegates at the state and national conventions charged with selecting the presidential candidates. To follow the cursus honorum of such party delegates/electors is to see the People in their natural habitat.

At this year’s Democratic National Convention, where state party delegates met to choose their national candidate, there was a remarkably helpful commercial released, entitled, “We The People at the Democratic Convention.” A superficial viewing showed a diverse collection of Americans of all races, classes, and creeds. However, a closer re-watch reveals that all participants were sitting office holders, Bar attorneys, or DNC representatives. Once you know who the People are, you’ll never hear politicians the same way again!

By Their Works: The People In Action

Lastly, the People are a specific clique based on the observable behavior of the American ruling class. From time to time, articles appear noting the relationship of this or that politician with this or that movie star or commercial mogul. If only in the interest of trivia, most Americans probably know a few examples of this.

The relationship between the second and sixth Presidents (Adamses), as well as the 41st and 43rd ones (Bushes), are commonly known. The simplified observation that California Governor Gavin Newson is the “nephew” of California Congresswoman and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (herself the daughter of a Maryland Congressman and the sister of a Baltimore mayor) has received some press, as Mr. Newson has run California off a financial cliff in 2020. Less well known is that Gavin Newson is the removed cousin of the far more useful soul, the harpist, Joanna Newson.

And relationality in the ruling class isn’t a modern phenomenon. Chilly Connecticut, where I compose this article, was started by a breakaway faction of Puritans led by Thomas Hooker. The good reverend left his mark in the new-found colony. Aaron Burr, George Catlin, J.P. Morgan, and William Howard Taft were all descendants, with Hooker’s blood running through the veins of the Pierpoint and Edwards families.

I could go on and on. If you spend an hour or two nosing around your socially-distanced library, if you connect the dots between the “related to’s” in the biography section, you’ll see the combination the People have going. You may even visit Google and use their “People also search for” feature to do the same. If you invest the time, these simple experiments about the People will solidify profound conclusions about American government than do isolated barroom anecdotes. If one understands the People to be the specific class they define themselves as, a great many baffling statements and state policies become sensible.

There is a Masonic aspect to this topic I only skirt now. It’s a theme which could swallow this discussion. Suffice it to say, the practitioners of occult schools were well represented at the state and national constituting conventions of late 18th-century America. Within those communities the use of adept symbolism and “open secrets” are no strangers. The occultation of the meaning of the word People is not beyond the pale in this context as well. But before we get all tangled up in “endless genealogies” (1 Tim. 1:4) we remember that, like the Roman system, the present order is simply codified nepotism. Don’t overthink the motives of the People.

Conclusion

Plato argued that societies need a noble lie to keep them living together harmoniously. Such is the spurious assumption that all Americans are the People. By quietly letting the mass of men believe they are this group, the American system rectified the failings of ancient experiments at self-government.

As noted, one of those failings was a tension between the patricians and the plebeians, the old blue bloods and later settlers. One way to provide against the selfsame tensions which destroyed the Roman Republic is not to mention this social division, however true it is. If the pleb believes he is a patrician a great source of resentment is avoided.

Power to the People!

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

The image shows, Cincinnatus abandons the Plough to dictate Laws to Rome, by Juan Antonio de Ribera; painted in 1806.

The Valle de los Caídos: Place of Memory, Faith, And Polemic

The Basilica of Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caídos (Holy Cross of the Valley of the Fallen in Combat), inaugurated by Franco in 1959 and consecrated by Pope John XXIII in 1960, is regularly the subject of severe criticism by Spanish politicians and journalists. The controversies grew and reached peak intensity in 2019, following the decision by the Spanish government to proceed with the exhumation of Franco’s body.

The Vice President of the socialist government of José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (President from 2004 to 2011) had wanted, many years ago, to make it “a museum of the dictatorship.” The president of the Forum for Remembrance had wanted it to be converted into a museum “of the horrors of repression.” More radical still, the Irish-born socialist writer, Ian Gibson, no doubt unconsciously following the example of the Islamist demolishers of the Bamiyan Buddhas, suggested destroying the monument by dynamiting it.

It seemed the Law of Historical Memory, of December 26, 2007, had provisionally settled things: the Basilica of the Valley of the Fallen in Combat was to continue to be a place of Catholic worship, but political gatherings were prohibited there. This solution seemed reasonable, after all, because this monument, which is the most visited in Spain after the royal palace and the Escorial, is part of Spanish heritage.

But under the guise of justice, the fight against hatred and the fight against “fascism,” the so-called “good-guys,” embodied by a large part of the political caste, is now calling for reform and extension of the Law of Historical Memory and implicitly the generalized, official teaching of only their vision of history. The spirit of the Democratic Transition (spirit of reciprocal forgiveness and consultation between government and opposition), which had so beneficially dominated the years 1976 to 1982, and which the international press then unanimously praised, has now seen better days.

Most of the Spanish media seem to see this no longer as a shameless manipulation of justice and history, as an unacceptable cowardice. The nation, the family, and religion (Catholicism of course, but also Christianity more generally) have once again become privileged targets of subversive political propaganda. The coalition government of President Pedro Sánchez (a socialist at odds, like Zapatero was, with the cultural moderatism of Felipe González) and Vice President Pablo Iglesias (the leader of Podemos, a party shared between supporters of Marxism-Leninism and followers of “Bolivarian” or “Venezuelan” populism) has not ceased to rekindle the ideological battle, or even to foment social unrest with the shameful aim of maintaining power, no matter what the cost.

Over the years, the Valle de los Caídos has become one of the pillars of “progressive-leftist” mythology, and one of the main symbols of the struggle for freedom of expression and worship in Spain. Located 58 kilometers from Madrid, the imposing mausoleum of the Sierra de Guadarrama, where the remains of 33,847 nationals and republicans (including more than 21,000 identified and more than 12,000 unknown) rest alongside each other, was originally designed by Franco and the Francoists as a monument to perpetuate the memory of the “glorious Crusade.” This was, moreover, the point of view of the Church and in particular that of the Catalan cardinal and Primate of Spain, Plá y Deniel, in 1945.

The religious component had been, let us remember, decisive during the uprising of July 1936. During the Spanish Civil War, in the Popular Front area of Spain, nearly 7,000 priests and nuns were killed (not counting the thousands of lay people, eliminated because of their faith), religious worship was prohibited, and the destruction of religious buildings was systematic.

But from the end of the 1950s, on the eve of the inauguration of the monument, once spirits had partly calmed down, the architectural complex had been presented “in the name of reconciliation,” as a tribute to the combatants of the two camps of the Civil War. To this end, the decree-law of August 23, 1957 clearly ordered: “Consequently, it will be the Monument to all those killed in combat, over whose sacrifice the peaceful arms of the Cross will triumph.”

The construction of this colossal temple, sheltered by the mountain and crowned on the outside with a monumental cross, took place between 1940 and 1958. It was entrusted first to the Basque architect, Pedro Muguruza, then to Diego Mendez. The basilica, of pharaonic dimensions, has a capacity of 24,000 people. The nave measures no less than 262 meters. The maximum height at the transept is 41 meters. On the outer plaza 200,000 people can gather. The cross, designed by Muguruza, rises 150 meters, to which must be added the 1400 meters of altitude of the Risco de la Nava. Two cars can pass each other along the arms of the cross, which are each 45 meters long.

Juan de Avalos is the creator of the Valle sculptures, in particular the gigantic heads of the evangelists at the foot of the cross. Before the Civil War, he was active in the ranks of the socialist youth and held the membership card number 7 of the Socialist Party of Mérida. Another interesting detail, the figure of Christ that dominates the main altar and that rests on a cross, whose juniper wood was cut by Franco, is the work of a Basque nationalist, the sculptor Julio Beobide, disciple of the famous painter Ignacio Zuloaga.

Above the altar, the impressive mosaic-covered cupola is the work of Catalan artist, Santiago Padrós y Elías. With a diameter of over 33 meters, it contains no less than 5 million tesserae. The central figure is Christ in Majesty, surrounded by angels, saints and martyrs.

This religious building includes not only a monumental church – elevated to the rank of basilica by Pope John XXIII – but also a Benedictine abbey. Until the Democratic Transition, there was also a Center for Social Studies (Centro de estudios sociales del Valle de los Caídos), the objective of which was to study, collect and disseminate the social doctrine of the Church, so that it inspired laws, and the actions of businessmen and the unions. The ideology of the Franco regime was marked – let us not forget – by the desire to rebuild a state which was to be above all Catholic. And it was for this reason that Pope Pius XII had conferred on the Generalissimo the Supreme Order of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the highest distinction of the Holy See.

The actual information on the construction of the structure was rarely published in the press. The media took the opportunity to report often extravagant figures. Thus, the number of political prisoners who worked there was not 14 or 20,000 (or even 200,000), as was repeated following the rants of the socialist Léo Brincat, responsible for the draft recommendation condemning the Franco regime to the Council of Europe (November 4, 2005). In fact, the number of worker-prisoners never exceeded 800 to 1000 men, or less than half of all workers (prisoners and free employees). At the end of 1943, the Spanish press even reported a total of 600 workers.

In a book published by the architect, and director of the work, Diego Mendez, it is stated that 2000 men worked in the Valle from 1940 to 1958. One of the very few researchers, if not the only one, who took the trouble to methodically analyze the documentary evidence (“Valle de los Caídos”), in the General Archives of the Royal Palace of Madrid (General Administrations Section) is professor of history at the CEU San Pablo University, in Madrid, Alberto Bárcena Pérez, author of La redención de penas en el Valle de los Caídos (The Reduction of Sentences at Valle de los Caídos), and a 2015 book, Los presos del Valle de los Caídos (The Prisoners of the Valle de los Caídos). The archival material is housed in 69 boxes, and the thousands of documents they contain completely demolish the caricatured and fraudulent image claimed by politicians, journalists and academics in the service of power.

The archives of the former Centro de estudios sociales del Valle de los Caídos (Center for Social Studies of the Valle de los Caídos) show 2,643 workers, including a minority of political prisoners who, in principle, “had to be volunteers who freely chose the system of reduction of sentence by work;” or, first, two days of reduction of the sentence for one day of work, then, six days of reduction for one day of work.

Alberto Barcena specifies that the prisoners carried out the same work as the free workers and under identical conditions (wages, hours and food). The detainees were also employed by the companies responsible for the work. They had to submit their request through the Patronato de Nuestra Señora de la Merced or National Center for the Redemption of Sentences, which had been created for this purpose and which had its seat at the Ministry of Justice.

The main part of the salaries of the detainees (fixed according to their family responsibilities) was sent directly to the families through the “local pro-prisoners committees,” which covered most of the national territory. Another part was placed in a booklet, the full amount of which was paid back when the detainee was released. Finally, a third part was given by hand. Political prisoners did not receive 0.5 or 1 peseta a day as it has often been written, but 7, then 10 pesetas, plus bonuses for hazardous work. Their families could reside in the barracks in the Valle, provided for this purpose. The working conditions were of course very harsh and the salary more than modest but, it must be remembered that at that time the standard of living in Spain was very low and that the average salary of a university assistant at the highest was barely 300 pesetas per month.

In 1950, nine years before the construction was completed, under the remission system, there was no longer a single political prisoner in the Valle. According to the testimonies of the doctor, chief physician, Angel Lausin, and the nurse, Luis Orejas, two proven supporters of the Popular Front, who arrived at the start of the worksite as political prisoners, and who remained there, after serving their sentence – in nineteen years of work, there were between fourteen and eighteen deaths (to which must be added more than fifty victims who died due to silicosis). Finally, the monument was not financed by the Spanish taxpayer, but by private donations and by the profits of annual lotteries.

The ultimate avatar of history: the last will of the old dictator, Francisco Franco, who died on November 20, 1975, was not respected. The Caudillo wanted to be buried in the cemetery of Pardo like other figures of the regime. But the head of the first government of the transition, Arias Navarro, and the new head of state, Juan Carlos (proclaimed King on November 22, 1975) decided otherwise. The King asked the Benedictine community, guardians of the Valle and of the Basilica, for authorization to bury the body of Francisco Franco at the foot of the altar, in front of the burial place of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, which was done with great fanfare on November 23, 1975.

Forty-three years later, on February 15, 2019, the day after his arrival at the Moncloa Palace, President Pedro Sánchez pledged to have the remains of dictator Franco exhumed as quickly as possible from the Basilica of Valle de los Caídos. This resulted in an endless legal battle. For a whole series of reasons, the Basilica is a place of worship whose inviolability is guaranteed by an international treaty on religious freedom, signed between Spain and the Holy See in 1979. The Benedictines, responsible for the monument, do not depend on the Vatican, but are under the authority of their abbot and that of the superior of their order, the abbot of the Abbey of Solesmes.

The Franco family demanded that the remains of the Caudillo be transferred to the family vault of the Cathedral of Almudena (Madrid), a proposal unacceptable to the socialist government. Finally, the improvised drafting of the royal decree-law ordering the exhumation was also to be a source of complications. Its strict application could indeed result in the immediate exhumation of 19 Benedictine monks as well as that of 172 other people who died after the end of the Civil War, and who are all buried in the Valle.

Finally, after the Supreme Court gave its approval, the political will of the government was imposed and the exhumation was carried out by the police on September 24, 2019. Since then, more or less authorized voices have been calling for the exhumation of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, who is, however, also a victim of the Civil War. But at this stage, we cannot say whether, in the near or distant future, the authorities intend to give a new meaning to the monument, to desecrate the Basilica, or even to demolish the monumental Cross. These different options are in any case openly considered in the mainstream media.

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

The photo shows the Pieta of the Valle de los Caídos, sculpted between 1952 and 1959 by Juan de Avalos.

Translated from the original French by N. Dass.