The Death of Liberalism? An Interview With Nicholas Capaldi

This month we are so very pleased and honored to present this interview with the renowned philosopher, Nicholas Capaldi, who is the Legendre-Soule Distinguished professor at Loyola University, New Orleans, USA. He is interviewed by Dr. Zbigniew Janowski, who himself is a philosopher and author of several important books and is currently working on a collection of articles, entitled, Gods Will Have Blood: Rise of Totalitarianism in America.

Zbigniew Janowski (ZJ): My image of Nicholas Capaldi is that of an American intellectual and academic, rather than a philosophy professor. The reason is, correct me if I am wrong, that in your books you always try to tackle a big intellectual problem, just like in your book on analytic philosophy, which you inscribed in the Enlightenment Project. It is not just narrow philosophical problems that you see, but you see them in a broad historical context. The same goes for your other books and the one you have just finished, The Anglo-American Conception of the Rule of Law. Is my description of you correct?

Nicholas Capaldi (NC): Yes! Thank you. Philosophical issues do not exist in a vacuum but within a larger context. It is always important to ask “why” an issue is an issue and for whom. The academic world, wrongly modeled along scientific grounds, forces people to know or think they know more about less and less. The result is a series of fashionable discussions akin to a carousel on which the riders and tunes change but there is no progress or direction.

ZJ: Your other book is a biography of John Stuart Mill, the father of the Liberal Idea. What made you write it?

NC: As an undergraduate seeking to find my own voice, I was inspired both by Mill’s defense of individual autonomy and by the critique of censorship. A career in academe has only reinforced the need to seek for the truth and to be free to articulate it, even more so as the academic world becomes increasingly politicized and intolerant.

ZJ: As the author of two books on Mill, you are well qualified to assess Liberalism as a doctrine. Liberalism travelled a long way from where it started in 1820, as a criticism of the establishment of the aristocratic Anglican order to what it became in Mill, and to where it is now, essentially a form of Politically Correct orthodoxy. One could probably find a number of other intermediate stages in the 20th century (welfare state, extension of suffrage, etc.) How do you explain its plasticity, the ability to adapt itself to the changing circumstances? In ten years, it will be roughly 200 years since the emergence of the Liberal Idea in Oxford in the 1820s, as Cardinal John Henry Newman explained it in his Apologia.

NC: I think it is a mistake to talk about Liberalism. It would be better to focus on the importance of individual freedom and how it emerged/developed historically within the European psyche, but most especially in the English world. Once you try to understand this as an isolated concept (philosophical, political, economic, etc.) you have created a contextless abstraction – and abstractions can be interpreted to mean anything. The best discussion I know is Oakeshott’s distinction between civil and enterprise association, wherein the former is a society without a collective end, but exists to allow individual members to pursue their own individual ends with a minimum of conflict.

The existence of people (anti-individuals) who are incapable or unwilling to live in such a world enables them to take an abstract concept and make it mean the opposite of its original meaning. I might add that intellectuals who are limited to using only Greco-Roman models have bought into an intellectual frame of reference that limits their ability to understand individual freedom. Such intellectuals want to be free to impose their own model on others – freedom of speech for them means freedom to impose their private vision on others.

ZJ: What, in your opinion, were the classical characteristics of Mill’s Liberalism and which are the ones which today’s Liberals promote?

NC: Mill sought to respect individual freedom; today, many so-called Liberals seek to “promote” individual freedom by collectivist means. Assuming they know what they are talking about, they are blind to the inherent contradiction of ‘forcing people to be free’ (Rousseau). It all goes back to what Voegelin called “Gnosticism.”

ZJ: Let me give you one example, from his On Representative Government. Mill was a great proponent of universal suffrage. Yet, he understood that it was not a God given right, like the American inalienable rights, but contingent upon certain factors – education, for example. “Universal teaching must precede universal enfranchisement.” In other words, basic education, which he considered to be the knowledge of basic mathematics, reading, geography, national and world history is the foundation on which suffrage rests. We, today, on the other hand, believe that it is a right, that democracy can function anywhere, and that regardless of our personal and intellectual qualities, democracy can function. Democracy in Mill’s writings appears to be a very fragile and complex mechanism. How would he see the democratic world today?

NC: Mill wrote the essay, On Liberty, in part, to call attention to the difference between the negative role of democracy in the eighteenth century (favored by the U.S. founders) and the “tyranny of the majority,” against which Tocqueville argued so eloquently. Mill also called attention to the difference between what the majority might think and what those who claim to speak for the majority (power elite) claim on behalf of the majority.

ZJ: We seem to be obsessed with the idea of wide participation of the masses. No exclusions; in fact, every exclusion is called discrimination. Mill, sympathetic as he was to the idea of extending the right to vote, was very clear that, first, criminals’ right to vote should be suspended, that people who live off others should not have a right to vote, and those who are unemployed for an extensive period of time (he thought of 3-5 years), should not have a right to vote either. Today, Mill would be accused of discrimination.

NC: Today, democracy has become a mask for oppression. So-called “identity politics” brings together all the of the anti-individuals (mentioned earlier – see Oakeshott) to undermine the achievements and prestige of autonomous individuals. Instead of transferring resources from the rich to the poor, we transfer power from individuals to the state (de Jouvenel). Political discourse has become Orwellian.

ZJ: Let me go back to his educational requirements – literacy, national history, global history and geography. This is what he thought was necessary in 1861 when he published his work! The world of 1861 and the world of 2020 are not the same, and by that, I mean the world is so much more complicated and complex that even the best educated among us cannot claim to be experts in political matters.

Let me draw a parallel, I am not sure how useful it is, between criticism of Socialism by Hayek and democracy’s ability to sustain itself. According to Hayek, one major reason why Socialist economics is not viable is because no one can have complete knowledge that goes into pricing, and therefore, only free market can provide us with correct price of goods. Planned economy can’t work. The idea that the masses somehow have enough knowledge to run the social and political realms seems to me Utopian in nature, in the same way that Socialism was.

NC: You are absolutely correct. Keep in mind that Hayek’s argument against planning is a restatement of his mentor Mill’s position that no one can be infallible (remember the context of 19th-century debate on infallibility). The U.S. was founded as a Republic (constitutional protection of individual liberties) as opposed to a DEMOCRACY (majority-tyranny).

ZJ: In the beginning of his On Liberty, Mill states: “The struggle between Liberty and Authority is the most conspicuous feature of history with which we are earliest familiar, particularly in that of Greece, Rome, and England. But in old times this contest was between subjects, or some classes of subjects, and the government.”

This idea sounds very familiar to the readers of Marx and Engels, who at the opening of the Communist Manifesto formulated their vision of progressive history as well. In their view history is a class struggle, between oppressors and the oppressed. The oppressors are in Mill’s scheme the Party of Authority, and the oppressed are the Party of Liberty. Is it a coincidence that Mill – the Liberal – and Marx and Engels sound so alike? Or does the similarity stem from the popular understanding of History as Progressive, a popular conception in 19th-century.

NC: Great question. There were different conceptions of history in the 19th-century debate. For the mature Mill, history evolved but did not progress; as in the common law, we constantly seek to retrieve, explicate, and restate for new contexts the inherent norms of our inherited civilization. For Marx, Comte, etc. “history” was understood “scientifically” as a form of teleology or progress. The great attraction of the latter view is that it allows you to invent self-serving narratives.

ZJ: Do you think there are consequences of such an interpretation of history? In Marxism it was called “Historical Inevitability,” which in practice gave the communist apparatchiks a theoretical tool to eliminate the enemies: If History is progressive, if it unfolds itself in a certain direction, there is nothing wrong in eliminating the enemies of Progress. The idea had serious consequences in real life. Millions of people killed! The Stalinist trials, for example, are a good exemplification of it.

Let me quote a few sentences from Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, a book about trials, in which Gletkin, the interrogator, explains what kind of historical thinking drives the communists and what justifies the elimination of the enemies: “My point is, one may not regard the world as a sort of metaphysical brother for emotions. This is the first commandment for us. Sympathy, conscience, and atonement are for us repellent debauchery… to sell oneself to one’s conscience is to abandon mankind. History is a priori amoral; it has no conscience.”

Thus, one can torture, kill. History provides justification. Are today’s Liberals heading in the same direction? Not necessarily by physically extermination, but by destroying everyone who disagrees with them? I am asking this question because their intolerance is growing; they attempt to shout down any critical voice; they become increasingly more violent; and the words, such as progress, progressive agenda, progressive policies, etc. are their only vocabulary.

NC: I fear that you are correct. All of this nonsense reflects the fact that the British and U.S. Revolutions were “conservative” in the sense I attributed to Mill above. The Russian and all subsequent Revolutions have been “radical,” that is, based on abstractions. Furthermore, the intellectual origin of all of this dangerous nonsense is what I have described as “the Enlightenment Project” – the belief that we could construct a social ‘science’ and thereby a social technology. You alluded to this in mentioning my other book. Like all bad ideas it originated in 18th-century France. If there is a social technology then dissent undermines utopia. Again, this appeal to infallibility is what Mill objected to in Comte.

ZJ: These dangerous tendencies in mass behavior are not new. They were noticed by philosophers, sociologists and psychologists. Let me begin with Mill who talks about tyranny of the majority in a democracy often in his On Liberty. How do you account for his favorable, even enthusiastic support for the rule of the majority, on the one hand, and his contempt for them (the collective mediocrity), as he refers to them?

NC: Mill saw political democracy as inevitable—curiously a product of industrialization. What he advocated was a cultural and political bulwark against its excesses.

ZJ: Was his contemporary, Nietzsche, a more perceptive critic of democracy and majority rule than Mill? Sometimes they sound the same, but Nietzsche took the masses for what they are – mediocrity, and saw what Mill refused to see – lack of aristocratic virtues. In fact, Mill hated aristocracy; wrote nasty things about it. Do you think it was a well-argued position, or was it a psychological suspicion of someone who did not belong to an aristocratic order, and who gave support with the power of his considerable intellect to the rule of mediocrity?

NC: lan Kahan has written a good book, Aristocratic Liberalism, in which he makes the case that Mill, Tocqueville, and Burckhardt were exemplars. I have argued that England (individual autonomy tradition) was different from the Continent (long history of collectivism). I see Nietzsche as responding to the more threatening Continental context.

Elsewhere, I (following many previous writers) have identified the extent to which intellectuals are attracted to holistic, collectivist, and Utopian thinking (e.g. Enlightenment Project, Hoffer’s men of words in his book True Believer). So, it is no surprise that the ‘Continental Disease’ has slowly infiltrated the Anglo-American world.

I also believe that the cultural dimension is more important than the purely intellectual one. In the U.S., many ordinary people understand and respond positively to Clint Eastwood’s Western films and to Frank Sinatra’s song “My Way.” This is behind Buckley remark that some of us would rather be governed by the first 300 people in the Boston telephone directory than the faculty of Harvard.

ZJ: Ever since the beginning of the 20th-century, that is, the rise of psychology and sociology, we know not only how, but why masses behave the way they do. Freud devoted an interesting book, The Group Psychology, to the topic. In a nutshell, man loses his individuality and identity in a crowd. Following Le Bon, Freud claims, man goes back to his primitive instinct and nature, and acts like a member of a herd, again, an expression that Nietzsche uses frequently to describe what he calls slave-morality. Only individuals, not crowds, not masses, have a moral compass. How does it square, in your view, with the idea of a democratic, mass society? Is such a society bound to be immoral?

NC: This is the very issue that Oakeshott addresses in his essay, “The Masses in Representative Government.” His conclusion was that “….[the anti-individual or mass man] remains an unmistakably derivative character…helpless, parasitic and able to survive only in opposition to individuality….The desire of the ‘masses’ to enjoy the products of individuality has modified their destructive urge.”

ZJ: Let me turn to something that has been on my mind, and which made me put out a new edition of Mill’s writings, where I think one can trace the trajectory of his development; namely, the idea of authority, which is so inimical to Mill. He made it, as the quotation from his On Liberty which I used before reveals, the centerpiece of his philosophy. Authority is the enemy of Liberty. Plato, in Book. VIII of his Republic, on the other hand, saw the dissolution of authority as the beginning of anarchy, which, in turn, is the result of expanding equality in a democracy.

Now, Mill, as you know, translated several of Plato’s dialogues and knew his philosophy well. Did he miss something? Did he expect democracy to last despite Plato’s warnings? Or did he think that everyone is rational? Or was he just too steeped in the English tradition of respect for law, order, conservatism in private life, etc.? Did he think that the social order is self-sustaining, that we will not cross a certain line? How would you explain his position?

NC: The intellectual and moral responsibility of the public intellectual, whether he/she be Plato, Mill, or us, is to (1) identify the social problem, (2) defend one alternative solution/policy against others, and (3) offer a rhetorical (artistic) expression, designed to persuade others to see the world as we do. Plato clearly did this in writing dialogues. You captured some of this in your collection of Mill’s more popular writings. You also capture this in some of your own cultural writing. It has been my great failing not to have done more of this in my own.

ZJ: Is the suspicion or hostility, in your view, as it is in Mill, characteristic of Liberalism? And if so, how far can the Liberals go, you think, without destroying social order?

NC: The greatest threat to tyranny is the capacity of a few people to stand up and say, “The Emperor has no clothes.” Keep it simple, clear, and authentic. It takes enormous courage to do this. In the end, the question is never how far tyrants will go, but how far we are willing to go to oppose them.

ZJ: Let me return to the idea of order. In Aristotle, we find a claim that the function of a good law giver is to make citizens good. In his defense, one of Socrates’ accusers makes the same point. When I taught those thinkers, it struck me that if Aristotle had a chance to read the American founding documents—pursuit of happiness, that is, leaving an individual to his own devices, without any moral compass—he would give the Founding Fathers an F. The idea that human behavior can be left unregulated would be preposterous to the ancients.

Now, given the American Founding Fathers’ brilliance, did they miss something? It is unlikely, which leads me to my question. The US was founded by the sectarian Protestants, with a very strict moral code. They, particularly Jefferson, could believe that the public realm can remain neutral because the citizens’ religiosity, or the Churches, will keep pumping, so to speak, the moral code. What are your thoughts on this?

NC: I think you are correct. The U.S. is, as Samuel Huntington said, an Anglo-Protestant culture. I would also make the case that since Mill and Nietzsche, it has become necessary to find an intellectual/cultural defense of the values of such a Protestant culture not tied to a specific theology as traditionally understood. I have tried to make such a case in a way that is compatible with some but not all traditional forms of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Curiously, we live now in an increasingly secular culture where clergy who no longer believe in God are attracted both to mindless defenses of abstractions, like tolerance of intolerant religious sects and movements, and, at the same time, a therapeutic view of the welfare state as the new moral community. When I meet such people, I am not sure whether I should laugh or cry. Perhaps we need a new Reformation. This is part of what it means to retrieve our moral tradition in a new context. Retrieving a tradition can never be a simple matter of an uncritical return to the past. Instead, it is the re-identifying of something that is a permanent part of the human condition, even though it is always expressed in specific historical contexts.

ZJ: Now, 250 years later, with the decline of religiosity, low church attendance—and the same seems to be true of Judaism (as my Orthodox Rabbi friend tells me, reformed Judaism is likely to cease to exist in a few decades) – there is no moral or ethical powerhouse. It is almost as if Sartre and de Beauvoir’s dream came true. Everyone invents his own moral code, lives according to his own rules. Are we becoming a nihilistic society? Is this nihilism?

NC: I would make two points. First, there are lost souls, some of whom embrace the latest fashionable, and sometimes destructive, enterprise association. Second, nihilism is not to be confused with moral pluralism. We have always lived in a morally pluralistic world. The mistake we have always made is to try and find the one new true collectivist faith and impose it on others.

What we need, and what we have to some extent, is a plurality of substantive moral communities who need to agree on common procedural norms. I think many such communities exist. I think some of those communities presently lack the internal resources to agree to common procedural norms. In our book on The Anglo-American Conception of the Rule of Law, my wife Nadia and I have tried to show how this is possible and actual.

ZJ: Just like Mill, Jefferson was hostile to aristocracy, in his own, so to speak, American way. He saw it as an extension of monarchical order rather than a class, or much less so, because in one of his letters, he made a very strong case for aristocracy of spirit, education. He even designed a way how such a democratic aristocracy should be bred. In one letter he made a list of mad European monarchs, which, he thought, to be a very good case for abandoning monarchy as an institution.

Now, let me make this point – seceding from the British Crown, declaring independence from Britain, is one thing, establishing a new political order is another. So, after painful debates, the Americans chose the republic. Here is my question – one could believe, as Jefferson did, back then, that a monarch can become crazy and corrupt, but, one could argue, that one can replace a corrupt or mad monarch. However, when the masses become corrupt, what then? What can you do? And our present social and political situation seems to point to a number of problems which, on an individual scale, you could term unhealthy, or even insane.

NC: There are a number of issues here that need to be separated. First, I do not believe that the “masses” correctly captures the major issues. There are many people who cannot be classified as “intellectual,” but who are decent individuals and responsible citizens. You do not get to be decent and responsible by having a Liberal education. Second, the social pathologies I do see reflect the failure of major institutions (e.g. family, schools, religions). The failure of those institutions I would attribute to the false idea that we can have a social technology (i.e. the Enlightenment Project).

ZJ: You are an academic, having spent your life in academia. But you are more. You are associated with the Liberty Fund. When I think of the several conferences that I attended, I cannot resist the feeling that I have never, and I mean it, participated in more intense intellectual life than during the two days of their sessions. It is not only a well-organized setting, but it is a place where ideas matter. I am sure that you will agree with me. No university produces such an intense intellectual atmosphere as does the Liberty Fund. Do you agree?

NC: I would indeed agree. As long as the administration of Liberty Fund is true to donor intent, and is not captured by ideologues with a program, it remains the premier educational institution in America. Again, I would argue that the intellectual world in the last century has been a captive of the Enlightenment Project program of social technology. So-called higher education now disfigures the intellectual world, the worlds of the clergy, government administration, communication and journalism, law schools, teacher training, business, the arts, etc. At the risk of sounding self-promoting, higher education now controls the commanding heights of all that is wrong with our society.

ZJ: Given the absolutely dreadful state of education and universities in America, do you see a way out? The tenured academics will not give up their positions. Has academia been destroyed? Almost every week you can read an article of complaint from retiring academics stating how bad things are. Few people have the courage to stand up; and the majority of professors are afraid—afraid of students and administration. How did we come to be where we are?

NC: This is a long story. I started writing a book about it and became too depressed to finish it. It cannot be reformed internally, in part for reasons to which you have alluded. It can only be reformed from the outside. I do not see that happening in the short run. Our only hope is that it will collapse on itself, and the current financial crisis (student loan debt) may be how it happens. This is not an excuse for doing nothing – we keep up the rear-guard action. What we need to prepare is a positive alternative.

ZJ: What about the Liberty Fund method of education? Don’t you think that there is room for it to do the same kind of seminars with students? That Liberty Fund and other foundations could start real universities where education is what it used to be?

NC: I think the Liberty Fund model is a good one. I also think that education cannot be left to professionals alone. The articulation, defense, and critique of our fundamental norms should go on in every institution. The life of the mind also has intrinsic value. I end this interview as I plan to enter retirement with a program called “Community of Scholars.” Free from the constraints of teaching those who do not want to learn, freed from administrative B.S., free from the tyranny of journal editors and university presses; and with the help of the new technology and social media we can create a vast network of scholars who want to search for and articulate the truth, who want to share – for free – the wisdom of a lifetime of searching, and to do so in the spirit of Mill’s and Nietzsche’s ruthless self-examination. It requires both intellectual and moral virtue. It is our way, perhaps the only way, of keeping the Socratic faith.

ZJ: In 1977 Leszek Kolakowski published his opus magnum, Main Currents of Marxism. Its Rise, Growth and Dissolution. The first volume deals with the founders; the second with the golden age; the third with Marxism’s demise. Kolakowski’s work is, as I like to think about it, a death certificate of Marxist thought issued twelve years before the actual burial of Communism in Eastern Europe, and fourteen years before the end of the Soviet Union.

In his work, Kolakowski describes the vicissitudes of Marxism as a philosophy and practice. You wrote two books on David Hume, a massive book on the Enlightenment Project in analytical philosophy (or conversation!—as you called it), Liberty and Equality in Political Economy: From Locke versus Rousseau to the Present; and just a few months ago, you and your wife Nadia Nedzel, published The Anglo-American Conception of the Rule of Law.

The range of your interests is impressive, but you also wrote a fantastic biography of John Stuart Mill – a great read! Would you feel tempted to write a work on Liberalism à la Kolakowski’s Main Currents of Marxism? You could even title it, “Main Currents of Liberalism.” From our private conversations, I gather that you are thinking about it. Any thoughts on this and how would you structure it?

NC: I am most definitely interested in writing such a book. The general thesis is that what I have called the Enlightenment Project (18th-century French idea that there can be a social science modeled after physical science and that such a social science will give us a social technology) is the origin of Doctrinaire Liberalism, Marxism, and Socialism – these are all expressions of this bad idea (all bad ideas, by the way, come from France).

Doctrinaire Liberalism, I shall argue, is a French abstraction that (a) misunderstands Anglo-American culture, (b) and tries to introduce Anglo-American virtues into the Continent, but mistakes the abstraction for the reality. The mistake is then read-back into Anglo-American culture by British and American scholars and activists – thereby providing a fake history. All versions of the Enlightenment Project ultimately become totalitarian – hence, why what is happening in the U.S. (under the Democrats, not Trump) parallels what happened under Marxism.

ZJ: Marxism died not merely because the countries of real Socialism could not compete with the Western Liberal democracies, because the economy started to crumble, because of politics, etc., but because faith in Marxism died. Marxism, in its different stages of development, was not only a philosophy and political orientation, but a religion that required faith. One could say that its longevity depended on the existence of the believers. A host of intellectuals, writers, artists were Marxists; they gave support to the idea. When they lost faith in it – partly because of the form in which it manifested itself politically and socially – Marxism lost its magical power. Do you find any parallels between Marxism and Liberalism? Liberalism has also evolved, manifesting itself in different ways.

NC: I think you are correct that ideologies die when people lose faith in them. I do not think that this will happen soon in the U.S. In the U.S., the weakening has just begun; we need to make people aware that they are succumbing to an intellectual disease. We need to persist in weakening the faith.

ZJ: At the very end of volume one, Kolakowski characterized Marxism as man’s greatest 20th-century utopia, a flight to freedom. Today, the young generation is not familiar with such a hope and the Socialist idea, but being Politically Correct (with its call to social justice, the abolishing of “power structures,” etc.), which is a reformulation of Marxism. Do you think that the Liberal Idea is another utopia which replaced the old one, Marxism?

NC: Liberalism is just another version. What people confuse is our institutional structure with theory; we need to remind them that our structure is an historical product and not a theoretical product. I tried to initiate that in the book on The Anglo-American Conception of the Rule of Law.

ZJ: There are a number of books on Liberalism, beginning with Hobhouse’s classic, Liberalism (1911), which, in my opinion, comes very close to what we find in Mill’s writings; Harold Laski’s book The Rise of Eurpean Liberalism is another minor landmark in the development of the idea, and a number of minor works (O’Sullivan’s Liberalism, Schapiro’s Liberalism, Brinton’s The Shaping of the Modern Mind, part of which is devoted to liberalism, and so on). What is probably the most ambitious and serious book on the subject is De Ruggierro’s History of European Liberalism. It occurred to me that one could write a book on the development of Liberalism by tracing books called “Liberalism” or “History of Liberalism.” This is a phenomenon in itself, which makes one wonder why Liberals must redefine or readjust the notion of what Liberalism is every decade or so. Do you have an explanation?

NC: There is a disconnect between theory and practice, a disconnect that the discipline of philosophy has encouraged, namely, the belief that we can theorize the relation of theory to practice. Intellectuals, as Schumpeter noted, are the culprits here. Intellectuals so want to be the new clergy, they are unwilling to acknowledge the limits of discursive reason.

We cannot defeat them with more theory; we need to root out the notion that reason exists independent of all context (almost every major philosopher from Plato on has made this mistake). In the 20th-century, only Oakeshott and a few others have tried to reign in this rationalism.

ZJ: Do you think there is a need for a work on Liberalism, like Kolakowski’s Main Currents of Marxism, particularly now that Liberalism has assumed a freedom-threatening posture (I mean the PC movement, which is very destructive, socially, politically and culturally), just like Marxism before? Need the people be reminded how Socialism began and deteriorated? Liberalism is no longer an idea that promises liberation from the shackles of oppression but, like Marxism, has become an oppressive system, very much like what Tocqueville feared democracy would become.

NC: Several of us should write about it – not one book but a host of books. I do not think “democracy” is the problem. I think the problem is a collection of elites (academe, journalism, military, business, Hollywood, technicians in IT, etc.).

ZJ: Does Liberalism require and depend on faith as much as Marxism did? When this faith dies, does the Liberal Idea die with it?

NC: It is the same faith. We need to make clear what that faith is. Voegelin identified it as Gnosticism, a form of Pelagianism. It will never disappear; it will simply assume new guises. We have to be patient in dealing with its eternal return.

ZJ: Under Communism, where I spent the first 25 years of my life, we had a mild Marxist-Leninism indoctrination (it was not that mild in the 1950s or the 1960s); but no one believed this ideological rubbish. Opposing it meant serious consequences, losing a job, interrogations, prison, sometimes “an accident” (death). But people opposed it; there was an underground/ samizdat press. We would read Hayek, Milton Friedman, Roger Scruton, Kolakowski, and others in horrible underground editions. One book would be read by twenty individuals. People made the effort to clear their minds of the ideological pollution. But now they attend official university classes in feminism, gender studies, environmental justice, domination, patriarchy, colonialism, women in art, literature, and many others.

Here is my question: Why this weakness of man under Liberal Democracy, why such blindness? Is it because Liberal Democracies do not go after your body, but your soul, as Tocqueville observed? People prefer to lose their souls – integrity, conscience – than their jobs? This is not a recent phenomenon. Tocqueville saw it in 1835!

NC: We have to remember that the vast majority of Americans do not have college degrees; that the U.S. culture is not primarily an intellectual culture but a practice/pragmatic culture. The infected part of the population consists of two groups: (a) Intellectuals taking their cue from the Continental abstractions I previously identified, and (b) College students – most of whom are disinterested in ideas.

The public has been totally turned off by the media journalists (“fake news”), so they remain uninfected; and the public is largely oblivious to what goes on in higher education and still thinks it is about getting a better job. The problem is the intelligentsia (vast literature on why totalitarianism appeals to them) and the intellectual students who are indoctrinated. Most students are ignorant, disinterested, turned off, and remain quiet as a defensive maneuver.

It is OUR job to attack the intelligentsia (and remain unpopular with fellow faculty) to educate and re-educate those bright students with whom one comes into contact, and to reassure, by our opposition, the disinterested students that they do not have to take left-wing intellectuals and faculty seriously. The latter, ironically, may be the most effective thing we do.

ZJ: Thank you, Professor Capaldi, for this wonderful conservation!

The image shows, “Danish soldiers return to Copenhagen, 1849,” by Otto Bache; painted in 1894.

A Polish version of this interview appeared in Arcana.

An Interview With Jonathan C.D. Clark

Jonathan C. D. Clark, a prominent English historian of English history, a former Fellow of All Souls College, visiting professor in The Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago, and professor emeritus at University of Kansas. Professor Clark is the author of English Society, 1688-1832, Revolution and Rebellion, The Language of Liberty, Samuel Johnson, as well as an acclaimed critical and annotated edition of Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, and, most recently, Thomas Paine. Professor is here interviewed by Dr. Zbigniew Janowski, who has authored How To Read Descartes’s Meditations, John Stuart Mill: On Democracy, Freedom and Government & Other Selected Writings, and other books,.

Jonathan Clark (r) with Zbigniew Janowski (l).

Zbigniew Janowski (ZJ): When I interviewed you twenty-six years ago, I titled our conversation “Civil Society, Toleration, and All That.” Both topics were very timely. “Civil Society” was of utmost concern to the people in Eastern Europe, who only several years earlier had freed themselves from Soviet rule. Their primary goal was to rebuild “civil society,” create social structures, free from ideological dominion. “Toleration,” on the other hand, was more of a concern in Western countries, probably because of the rising pressure of what was termed “multiculturalism.” The question of how to respond to contradictory opinions, different cultural assumptions, relativism of values, etc., naturally resulted in invoking the old idea of toleration. When I reread our conversation recently, I was struck by the obsolescence of these topics.

The last thing one can say about America is that it is multicultural. It may be multi-racial or -ethnic, but not multicultural. Ignorance of other cultures and nations, civilizations, knowledge of foreign languages, is dismal. If there is any content to the term “multiculturalism” in America, it means that there is a great number of ethnic restaurants, which Americans occasionally go to. It is not an exaggeration to say that today’s America is totally monolithic.

The idea of multiculturalism and toleration runs counter to the official Politically Correct orthodoxy, which is based on the premise that only one set of views is right, and therefore we can dispense with tolerating opposing views. In fact, the attitude of the Left, or ultra-Liberals, is that tolerating opposing views is wrong because the opponents are morally wrong. Thus, we no longer need to tolerate others’ views; we should actively fight them. Disinviting speakers to American colleges, shouting them down, canceling their lectures, firing people from their jobs for saying “one word too much,” ostracizing public figures for saying something that is not Politically Correct, is totally normal in American life.

Do you have an explanation as to what happened between the time we talked over two decades ago and now?

Jonathan Clark (JC): I have been trying to think of explanations, with little success. However, I have attempted a brief outline, in a thousand words, which is due to appear in the September issue of the UK magazine Standpoint.

I suggest – to reply directly to your question – that multiculturalism is a new ideology. It claims to respect all cultures; in reality, it hands power to the elites that administer the practical arrangements for which the ideology serves as a smokescreen. Civil society, across much of western Europe and parts of the USA, was partly rebuilt by mass migrations; toleration was demanded in order to defend the new plural societies that mass migration (and other developments) were bringing into being; democracy was reshaped in order to defend in power the elites that administered the system. Hence one of the key phenomena of our time, most clearly visible in the universities but evident everywhere: the rise of the administrators in numbers, power, and wealth.

In the United States and Russia, the vast distances, and the difficulty of learning about other cultures, homogenize the population to a marked degree: this makes the control of these populations by the techniques still labeled ‘democracy’ much more effective than it still is, say, in the UK. There, the referendum of 23 June 2016 that led to a vote to leave the European Union was, among other things, a powerful reaction against such trends.

ZJ: In 1991, Francis Fukuyama published an article in National Interest entitled “The End of History.” The article was occasioned by the collapse of Communism in Eastern European countries, in 1989, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, in 1991.

According to Fukuyama, the world exhausted its’ ideological alternatives: Liberalism and free market economy appeared to be the future of mankind, the fulfillment of human aspirations. Almost everyone—except you, and I shall return to this point in a moment—subscribed to his idea. Today, thirty years later, Fukuyama’s thesis, to use Marx’s expression, belongs to the Dustbin of History. Looking through the lenses of contemporary events, it appears almost laughable, but it was not then; no one ridiculed it, and, frankly, it sounded very convincing.

As a historian, how do you explain what is happening in the Western world? Are we witnessing a rebellion against Liberalism? Or, to put it in historical terms, is the rise of nationalism a response to the Enlightenment idea of universal human nature, the abstract nature divorced from tradition, history, religion, and man’s need to belong to a community?

JC: I suggest that ‘nationalism’ is the proper name for a new ideology, coined in continental Europe in response to the French Revolution. Other ways of picturing the commonalities of the populations of differing polities had long been available, and still are. There is not, then, one thing called ‘nationalism’ that currently reasserts itself. Rather, populations reassert their identities against groups within (liberal elites) and organizations without (multinational bodies, like the EU) that assert the rival values of what they call cosmopolitanism.

“Liberalism” is a doctrine that has evolved many meanings since it was coined in the early nineteenth century; today it includes, quite prominently, the rejection of religion either as metaphysics or as identity, and the rejection of the claims to allegiance of the nation state. The quite narrow identification of liberalism with free trade seemed in 1991 to be very forward-looking; now, it seems more of a throwback to 1891. Liberalism has moved on in ways hardly anticipated in 1991.

ZJ: A few years ago, Ryszard Legutko published a book titled The Demon in Democracy. Its subtitle reads: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies. Legutko points out how similar today’s liberal democracies are to former Communist—totalitarian—societies. Anyone who was born under socialism, as were Legutko and I, has the same reaction: “We have seen it before. How is it possible?

History is repeating itself; before it was called socialism, today it is socialism’s former rival—liberal democracy, which threatens us. It eliminates, through public ostracism and legislation, everyone who dares to be different, who dares to think differently. Under Communism, it was the “class-enemy,” “enemy of the state”; under liberalism the enemy is called a “sexist, racist, homophobe, xenophobe, misogynist, ageist”—that is, the enemy of equality!

Once again, how, as a historian, do you explain the “convergence” of the two systems, which for a hundred and fifty years appeared to be inimical? Has Liberal-democracy become totalitarian, and if so why?

JC: I suggest that the divergence in the meaning of liberalism, between freeing the individual from the community and identifying those unacceptable beliefs and actions that justified the intervention of the community, was there already in the work of John Stuart Mill. The same contradiction was present in socialism. But with the ebbing tide of socialism since 1989, the long-standing problem within liberalism emerges into clear view. What is new, I suggest, is the enormous expansion of the language of universal human rights since the 1970s, and the scope this gives to the new administrative elites to exercise their power in the name of the coercive component of liberalism.

ZJ: Let me go back to our old conversation and remind you of what you said: “I think it is extremely unfortunate if Eastern Europeans or Russians imagine that the only alternative to the Communist state is a Liberal state. They will immediately go from one unhappy state form to another equally unhappy state form.” You are a historian, not a prophet, but what you said in 1993 now sounds almost like a prophesy. Legutko’s book, in which he draws parallels between Communism and Liberalism, is a perfect illustration of your claim about one “unhappy state form” traded for another “unhappy state form.”

How is it that you knew what the Future holds for us, whereas everyone else had to wait another twenty-five years for history to unfold itself to fulfill your prophesy? Do you have a particular gift for prophesy? Did your study of history tell you Liberalism is bound to produce “an unhappy state” of affairs just like socialism did? If so, why?

JC: I claim no gift of foresight; academic history confers no such faculty. I had merely been taught to be a sceptic, to appreciate that everything changes, that there are no permanent secular truths, and that every secular ideology experiences a trajectory from inception through flourishing to decline. I also appreciated that although names (like ‘liberalism’ or ‘democracy’) remain the same, their content can change radically. These predispositions made me regard both communism and liberalism from the outside.

ZJ: Liberalism’s unhealthy state was recently acknowledged even by the editors of The Economist. On September 15th, 2018, The Economist published “A Manifesto,” their aim being to “rekindle the spirit of radicalism.”

In it, we read: “Liberalism made the modern world, but the modern world is turning against it. Europe and America are in the throes of a popular rebellion against liberal elites, who are seen as self-serving and unable, or unwilling to solve the problems of ordinary people.”

For The Economist this is profoundly worrying. We were created 175 years ago to campaign for liberalism—not the leftish ‘progressivism’ of American university campuses or the rightish “ultraliberalism” conjured up by the French commentariat, but a universal commitment to individual dignity, open markets, limited government and a faith in human progress brought about by debate and reform.

There is one minor point in the language of The Economist, which, I believe, is of historical significance: “radicalism.” If I remember correctly, at your seminar in Chicago 26 years ago, you said something to the effect that the premise of “Radicalism” is the doctrine of the natural equality of all men. Can you comment on that?

JC: I forget what, exactly, I taught about ‘radicalism’ in Chicago in the early 1990s. But I adopted the position at about that time that radicalism was the proper name for a new doctrine, coined in England around 1820, combining programmatic atheism, Ricardian economics and universal suffrage. This term, too, has been used to cover a range of evolving positions, and is now too vague to be meaningful in the way in which The Economist wanted to use it.

ZJ: This leads me to my next question. It is hardly possible to have a conversation today without sooner or later using the terms “liberal,” “liberalism,” “democracy,” or “liberal-democracy.” This was not so in the 18th century. If I am not mistaken, the term “liberal” in the 18th century did not have a political connotation. Also, neither democracy nor liberalism can be found in Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary, published in 1764. One is impelled to ask, how could the people of the Enlightenment go without using such words?

JC: Easily. They were preoccupied with other things, meaningful to them but largely neglected by us (we no longer share Paine’s prioritization of kings and aristocrats, or his lifelong antipathy to Trinitarian Christianity). We need also to understand the term ‘the Enlightenment’ historically, as a term of historical art unknown in the eighteenth century and propagated chiefly since the 1960s.

ZJ: In your Revolution and Rebellion, you write: “To attempt to write the history of liberalism before 1820’s is thus, in point of method, akin to attempting to write the history of the 18th century motor car. There were, of course, forms of transport which performed many of the functions which the motor car later performed, the sedan chair among them. Yet to explain the sedan chair as if it were an early version of the motor car, and by implication to condemn it for failing so lamentably to evolve into the motor car, is to turn a modern error of scholarly method into a failure of men in a past society.” The origin of the term is obscure, but you trace the origins of Liberalism not to politics, but theology, and point to the teaching of theology at Oxford.

JC: This was an early expression of my rejection of the methodological error of anachronism. I later learned much more about what ‘liberalism’ was, when first formulated in c. 1820.

ZJ: Let me go back to The Economist. However well-intentioned The Economist’s statement is, to me—someone who spent the first twenty-five years of his life under Socialism—it sounds like the statements made by the Communists. Each time, after a popular rebellion and crisis—be it the invasion of Hungry in 1956, or Czechoslovakia in 1968, events in Poland in 1971, the Solidarity movement in the early 1980s, and so on—the Communists would look for a scapegoat to blame. It was either the Party apparatchiks, the former Politburo members, the executive committees on high, middle and low level—but never the idea of Socialism. We were assured by the Communist Party that there was nothing wrong with the idea of socialism; the execution was imperfect.

When I read The Economist’s “Manifesto,” I recalled that Communist slogan: “Socialism Yes; Distortions No!” which can be reformulated: “Liberalism—Yes, Politically Correct distortions—No.” “There is nothing wrong with the idea of Liberalism”; the problem, as the editors claim, is “the self-serving liberal elites” who let “ordinary people” down, just like the Central Committee of the Communist Party let “the toiling masses” down, or academic radicals.

What is happening now looks like a mirror image of what we have seen under Socialism. Even the language sounds the same.

Do you agree that there are very close parallels between the two ideologies? Would you also agree that if there is an explanation as to why they exist, it is because both Socialism and Liberalism are the twin children of the same parent—the idea of equality? They may have looked dissimilar for some time, in their childhood and adolescent stages, but when they reached maturity, they seem to act alike.

JC: I do agree that there are structural and procedural similarities. To discern their substantive commonalities one would need to explore the young Marx’s work on religion, and here I defer to others. To understand liberalism, it would help to discern J. S. Mill’s rejection of the Anglican orthodoxy of his day. I don’t see ‘equality’ as an autonomous variable.

As to periodicals, I find the general stance of The Economist remarkably similar to that of the columnists of the Financial Times – this paper has evidently been captured by politicized liberals who regularly condescend to those who voted for Brexit in the 2016 referendum.

ZJ: Let me turn to the problem of academia, which, as it is constituted now, presents itself as a very serious problem, and the ideology disseminated therein permeates the society at large. Let me quote a fragment from an article by John Gray, the author of many books on liberalism.

In his TLS (March, 27, 2018) article titled “The Problem of Hyper-Liberalism,” Gray wrote: “For liberals the recent transformation of universities into institutions devoted to the eradication of thought crime must seem paradoxical. In the past higher education was avowedly shaped by an ideal of unfettered inquiry. Varieties of social democrats and conservatives, liberals and Marxists taught and researched alongside scholars with no strong political views. Academic disciplines cherished their orthodoxies, and dissenters could face difficulties in being heard. But visiting lecturers were rarely disinvited because their views were deemed unspeakable, course readings were not routinely screened in case they contained material that students might find discomforting, and faculty members who departed from the prevailing consensus did not face attempts to silence them or terminate their careers… Judged by old-fashioned standards, this is the opposite of what liberals have stood for. But what has happened in higher education is not that liberalism has been supplanted by some other ruling philosophy. Instead, a hyper-liberal ideology has developed that aims to purge society of any trace of other views of the world. If a regime of censorship prevails in universities, it is because they have become vehicles for this project.” And: “When students from China study in Western countries one of the lessons they learn is that the enforcement of intellectual orthodoxy does not require an authoritarian government. In institutions that proclaim their commitment to critical inquiry, censorship is most effective when it is self-imposed. A defining feature of tyranny, the policing of opinion is now established practice in societies that believe themselves to be freer than they have ever been.”

The way Gray formulates the problem it is reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984. However, for Orwellian Communist orthodoxy to work, one needed Ministry of Truth, Thought-Police, an army of informants, brainwashing, and so on. In America, we need none of this! We police ourselves, we destroy history, remove monuments, decry as enemies everyone who is against equality, who is for hierarchy and standards of excellence, and we voluntarily confess “crimes.”

There isn’t a day that passes by without a public figure apologizing for a racist, sexist, or homophobic remark. Confessions are a daily routine in America. You are accused of a crime, you make a public confession only to disappear, just like in Orwell. Orwell did not invent the idea of confession; he got it from the Stalinist trials of the 1930s (described by Arthur Koestler in his Darkness at Noon). Another parallel between Communism and liberal-democracy! Except that under Communism, people were threatened with bayonets, torture, and death. Yet many of them—the dissidents and the majority of society—opposed it. Here we have no opposition, people confess freely. The majority is docile. Can you explain how we came to be where we are now?

JC: John Gray and I experienced the Oxford of the 1980s and 1990s, and drew similar conclusions from it; he has continued to observe the university world in the UK, as I have done in the USA. Part of my response is contained in my article soon to appear in Standpoint. I would add to your account of the USA the lasting legacy of New England Puritanism, the consequent ‘paranoid style’ that has been held to characterize US politics, and the Puritanical zeal to enforce confessions and persecute heretical opponents. The past is always with us, and people in the present do not escape their determinative heritage by claiming to be secular.

ZJ: Heather MacDonald, a conservative American commentator of the Manhattan Institute, made a claim that the problem of today’s America is that the infantile academic mentality has spilled over to the public realm. The language, behavior, and ways of thinking that were characteristic of academia 20, or even 30 years ago, is now the dominant mentality of adult Americans, who behave like children. I believe her analysis is correct. What appeared to be a childish mentality—culture wars, fights over Great Books programs (or classics), as we call it in the US, and similar “academic” issues, to which not too many people paid serious attention in the past—is now a prominent way of thinking in the US. Academia was never as important as it is now!

JC: American conservatives are condemned to grapple unsuccessfully with a major problem: what, exactly, would American conservatives conserve? By implication, their civic religion, which is essentially a tradition of world revolution. It comes in a variety of forms, more or less extreme. But it is true of this revolution, as of all, that it takes time to work out its full implications. A parochial and campus contest over ‘Great Books’ was an expression of this, but not the cause. I find it difficult to think that but for certain tactical mistakes on US campuses 20 or 30 years ago, all would have been well. But I fully agree that such issues are often most clearly seen within the university world, now a very large one, as they were formerly most clearly seen in the coal mines and the shipyards.

ZJ: Besides Allan Bloom and E.D. Hirsch, when the attack on Great Books started 30 years ago with the blessing from Jessie Jackson, who famously announced that “Western Culture’s got to go”—who else would think that it matters whether you read your Plato, Aristotle, St. Thomas, Pascal, Marlowe, or Milton, Burke, Montesquieu, and Tocqueville? And yet, it does! It makes a difference whether you study serious thinkers or ephemeral authors, whose claim to fame is whether they are “supportive” of the “minority causes.”

JC: It should make a great difference to students to discover that these thinkers, or thousands of others like them, did not anticipate the American civic religion; indeed that their values were often antithetical to it. Quite right, then, that today’s cultural warriors work to block recollection of the past, and shepherd even History students into more and more modern time frames. But remember that ‘western culture’ or ‘western civilization’ are very much inventions of the twentieth-century United States, little known elsewhere; this says something of major importance about the long-term nature of the host culture.

ZJ: Today’s academia, as you know, is the Mecca of un-thought. Gender studies, Women’s Studies, all kinds of -studies replaced Departments of … Do you think that we didn’t pay enough attention to what was going to happen? Or, did we not realize how important academic disciplines are for the intellectual health of a nation? Were we simply too cowardly to stand up and stop the academic radicals from taking over universities?

JC: Many academic disciplines were undermined in the 1960s and 1970s by the Marxist and marxisant Left; but this is old news, and is largely forgotten by today’s commentators. Future histories of the long term development of academe will need to explain what happened subsequently. Clearly, Marx himself hardly anticipated the developments you refer to. Nor did his followers into the 1960s, however subtle and intelligent; consider, as just one instance, the absence of such themes from E. P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class (1964).

Did the Pyrrhic victory of anti-Marxist positivist scholarship so weaken it that scholarship in many areas could evolve into interest-group advocacy? Or did many of those positivist scholars themselves seek to promote their society’s myth of origins, so that their own traditions of advocacy could be taken over and used against them? There is, of course, nothing wrong with studying gender, or the position of women in society, and the rest; indeed it is perfectly proper to do so. What has been marked has been the ideological freight that these movements have been made to carry.

ZJ: Your books abound in criticism and scholarly “attacks” on former historians. I take it to be a sign of a healthy intellectual atmosphere when scholars do it.

Let me invoke a few names: Hobsbawm, E.P. Thompson, Raymond Williams, Christopher Hill, Sidney Hook or Irving Howe in America, and many others. They all were on the Left, or they were the Old Left, and one can hardly imagine the history of intellectual life without them. Whatever scholarly disagreements you may have with them, methodological problems you find in their works, you cannot, I dare say, claim that they were scholarly incompetent. Can one say the same thing about the proponents of the new -studies? Leaving aside the problem of comprehensibility of what they write, do the new studies advance our knowledge of anything, the same way that the Old Left inspired you to attack?

JC: You are right to think that I had considerable respect for the figures you mention: it was possible to engage with their work, whether one agreed or disagreed. The contrast is considerable with a number or present-day schools, and scholars, for whom a private language defends their enforcement of values in ways not open to debate. The prevalence of such assumptions explains how easy it is for dissentient arguments and individuals to be excluded from universities today. I am concerned that such abuses will only provoke an equally extreme reaction in the opposite direction. But at present the natural stance of people of my persuasion is often indifference to that which cannot enter into debate.

ZJ: As far as I know, you had your intellectual heroes, so to say, or at least people who influenced you, whom you admire. Let me mention three names of people whom you knew personally, and for whom, as far as I know, you have intellectual respect: Peter Laslett, a Cambridge historian, author of the classic, The World We Have Lost; Edward Shils, America’s greatest sociologist, whom, if I am correct, you met as a student at Cambridge, where you studied; Leszek Kolakowski, who was your colleague and friend at All Souls College in Oxford, and François Furet, an eminent French historian of the French Revolution, who invited you as a Visiting Professor in the prestigious Committee on Social Thought, at the University of Chicago. Can you say a few words about the way in which they impacted you, and how influential you think their works are?

JC: The task of historians is to commune with the dead, and I do just that with these great men. When teaching courses on historical methodology to graduate students in the USA, I would distribute photographs and obituaries of these and other such greats (Butterfield, Elton) in the hope that my students would reflect on their work, and come (however distantly) to stand in the apostolic succession. Their effect on me was that of intellectual liberation; they did not ask me to follow their doctrine, but implicitly showed me how to escape the orthodoxies that were all around me when I was an undergraduate.

ZJ: You gained the reputation not only of being “an eminent English historian of English history,” but, if you don’t mind, “enfant terrible” of English history, which I take to be a high praise, and, given your contribution to the history of England, well deserved. Your English Society is a book that no scholar of English history can bypass.

JC: Historians are seldom good at reconstructing their own intellectual development, and I am sure that I would be well below average if I tried systematically to do so. As to the ‘enfant terrible’ phase, I can say that I came on the scene in the 1980s when modernism was breaking up, and its senior exponents found it convenient to blame others for this; it was easier, and safer, for them to revile their juniors than to understand what was happening. On reflection, there may have been other historians of my generation who were as infantile, or as terrible, but it would be ungenerous to name them. We all have our faults. At least I try not to criticize those who are junior to me in years, if I can possibly avoid it.

ZJ: In your works, you took on virtually every past historian of distinction: Anthony Arblaster, Harold Laski, R. H. Tawney, Christopher Hill, C. B. Macpherson, and E. P. Thompson, the author of a 100 page long “Open Letter to Leszek Kolakowski,” which occasioned the latter’s famous rejoinder, “My Correct Views on Everything,” in The Socialist Register in 1972.

Your Revolution and Rebellion was released in 1985, your opus magnum, English Society, in 1986, when—I want to emphasize—you were only in your mid-thirties. Was it just you (your historical ingenuity, so to speak), or your Cambridge education that made you into the historian you are now? What is your background, experiences, schools, and, most importantly, what motivated you to rewrite the history of English society in the 17th and 18th centuries? I am not a historian, but have heard from others that, controversial as your thesis is, no student of 17th- or 18th-centuries can by-pass it? You “derailed” English historiography, didn’t you?

JC: Others must judge. But I may have been in the right place at the right time when it came to the intellectual developments that you refer to. Especially, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century English society played a key role in the twentieth-century account of modernism. At least I criticized my seniors, who were all too able to defend themselves by the means normally employed in academe.

ZJ: Your name, like that of Roger Scruton, is associated with the term “Conservative”—conservative in the British or continental sense. I remember, however, that in a short piece you wrote for a Bulgarian journal named Panorama more than two decades ago, you said something to the effect that the labels of Conservative, Liberal, Radical, only complicate our understanding of history, and that you hope that we can get beyond them. But one could say that, in so far as they persevere in existence, they point to our cultural and political legacy, whose origins can be traced to the French Revolution of 1789.

The old labels—Liberal and Conservative—assumed, however, new names: Politically Correct and non-Politically Correct. In today’s language, the first one means the enemy of sexism, racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, ageism, and chauvinism. As an ideological weapon, they are much more effective than the old labels, and serve to morally discredit the opponent. In the past, you could be a conservative or a liberal, without being accused of moral wrongness. Today, if you are not Politically Correct, you are not against the “phobias” and “isms,” which means, you are in the “moral wrong.” Would you agree that they are much more potent than the old labels?

JC: My project was always to understand these old labels historically, rather than to defend or adopt any one of them for myself. Certainly, to understand them historically is a profoundly subversive enterprise. Perhaps the recent discrediting of the claims to timeless applicability of the political language new in c. 1815-48 is one reason why a variety of present-day reformist or revolutionary initiatives meet with such ineffectual opposition from political parties calling themselves Conservative.

ZJ: Could we say that those labels literally mean blindness to all differences? Do you think that, in so far as those terms aim at erasing differences, they are the children of the idea of equality, and to be against equality is to be in the “moral wrong”?

JC: Such labels are intended to claim that those whom they identify are possessed of a coherent ideology. But were they, and are they? I am skeptical about that; everything changes. I am also cautious about accepting ideologies on their own terms: for me, equality is a theological position, to be debated as such.

ZJ: Could we say that, to the degree that the terms I used are operational, the legacy of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution is still very much alive, and that we’re seeing the unfolding—perhaps for the last time—of the consequences of the 1789 events?

JC: One might say that as we better understand the history of the American and French Revolutions, and of eighteenth-century thought (not ‘the Enlightenment’), we are emancipated from the mythologies that grew up to sanitize these things. Perhaps that merely frees us to make different sorts of mistake.

ZJ: If I am correct, one of your major historical claims, which also explains the American Revolution, is that the doctrine of equality of all men (all Men are created equal) comes from those thinkers who were most eager to attack the Anglican doctrine? Secondly, the American Revolution has little to do with democracy. As you point out, the idea of universal suffrage arises much later. Can you elaborate on these points?

JC: For my thoughts on these difficult matters, please see my book Thomas Paine. There I accept that equality is an idea the origin of which needs to be explained; it does not itself explain the American Revolution. The same is true of the idea of universal suffrage. But to make these points in simple terms is insufficient; the point is to substantiate them. I look forward to a debate.

ZJ: Another topic or term which occupies today’s social and political conversations is nationalism. If I am not mistaken, your claim is that nationalism, as we understand it today, is a product of 19th century cultural and political vicissitudes, and that the 18th century form of nationalism is not applicable to our understanding. Is it correct to say that the basis of nationalism, under the “ancien régime,” is law and religion?

JC: Law and religion, as systems of ideas shaping shared historical experience. I suggest that ‘blood and soil’ nationalisms were continental European innovations of the early nineteenth century; I do not subscribe to them.

ZJ: When did we start using the term “nationalism” and why? Given that under the Ancien Régime the sense of nationality was different, what are the consequences of it?

JC: Later than we think. The consequences? If patriotism led to war, nationalism additionally led to genocide.

ZJ: Let me ask you about the American Revolution. Was it a revolution? As far as I know, you have very unique interpretation of what it was and why it happened. Can you explain your position?

JC: It began as a revolution in a much older sense (as the term was applied, for example, to the change of government in England in 1688). But it ended as an unanticipated social upheaval, the extent and implications of which were not fully appreciated until events in France after 1789 could be reflected on. The term ‘revolution’ remained; its content developed fundamentally.

ZJ: Other terms, very closely related, which I would like to talk about are hierarchy and privilege. Today, they sound like an echo from a foreign land. Both terms, however, belong to the history of the world and our Western tradition, and were alive and well not long ago (roughly two hundred years). Can you explain what happened? How did they fade away?

JC: I used to explain to my American students that the difference between US and UK society was that UK society seemed very formal and hierarchical from the outside, but that once you were inside you appreciated that it was remarkably informal and egalitarian. Whereas US society made a great profession of informality and casualness, but was in reality rigid, authoritarian and stratified. Paine’s critique of hierarchy and privilege allowed elites to disown the terms, but retain the things.

All societies are built around hierarchy and privilege. The difference is who enjoys these things and what their premises are. Today, the highest paid employees of US universities are the sports coaches.

ZJ: Let me take you back to the mid-1990s. You may not remember, but I want to remind you of a small incident. I visited you at All Souls College in Oxford, where you gave me a tour through the College. All Souls is not open to visitors, and if you want to see the beautiful courtyard, you can peek through the cast-iron gate. I said to you, “Jonathan, I heard that as a fellow you have a right to walk on the lawn.” To which, you responded, very sincerely, and in a somewhat agitated voice, “I have a privilege.”

Every time I hear the word “right,” I recall this little incident. What you said struck me as something so rudimentary, and yet I, and ostensibly many others, have never thought about it. We stood on the grass while the porter was taking a picture. There were a bunch of tourists looking at us through the openings in the gate.

What I understood is that a privilege is a right based on merit, limited to a small group of elect people; whereas a right is a privilege extended to everyone, regardless of merit. If all people had the right to walk on the lawn in All Souls, the lawn would be destroyed within a week, and thus the idea of a right to walk on the lawn would be flawed.

To use an analogy, would you say that one of the gravest problems of the world today is the idea of rights? Everybody has a right to everything regardless of merit, which must lead to the destruction of institutions, just like the lawn.

Recently, a few schools in the US abolished distinctions, and the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test, which is the basis for admissions in many schools) is under attack. One can be pretty sure that it will be done away with, and then we will have no criteria to distinguish between students of greater or lesser intelligence, and low-level students will have the same right to attend prestigious schools as the high-level ones.

All this leads me to my question: can a civilization go on living if we do not return to the idea of privilege, merit, and thus hierarchy, which it would naturally recreate?

JC: Please see my piece in Standpoint magazine.

Implicitly, I am recommending a return of the meaning of rights to older ideas of privilege. The language of universal human rights, I suggest, is less and less effective in delivering good things to suffering humanity.

ZJ: Would you agree that the biggest fear of modern Western societies is inequality? It appears that all social and political structures aim at bolstering equality, and that any allusion to hierarchy or merit is met with dread?

JC: Inequality is everywhere in present-day advanced societies. The question is how it can be made acceptable to a wider public opinion. Today, it is hidden by the liberal rich from the traditional poor chiefly by geographical distance. This defence cannot be relied on.

ZJ: Let me take you back to the beginning of Western history: Plato’s Athens.

In his Republic, Bk VIII, Plato says: “I suppose that when a democratic city, once it’s thirsted for freedom, gets bad winebearers as its leaders and gets more drunk than it should on this unmixed draught, then, unless the rulers are very gentle and provide a great deal of freedom, it punishes them, charging them with being polluted and oligarchs.”
“Yes,” he said, “that’s what they do.”
“And it spatters with mud those who are obedient, alleging that they are willing slaves of the rulers and nothings,” I said, “while it praises and honors—both in private and in public—the rulers who are like the ruled and the ruled who are like the rulers. Isn’t it necessary in such a city that freedom spread to everything?”
“How could it be otherwise?”
“And, my friend,” I said, “for it to filter down to the private houses and end up by anarchy’s being planted in the very beasts?”
“How do we mean that?” he said.
“That a father,” I said, “habituates himself to be like his child and fear his sons, and a son habituates himself to be like his father and to have no shame before or fear of his parents—that’s so he may be free; and metic is on an equal level with townsman and townsman with metic, and similarly with the foreigner.”
“Yes,” he said, “that’s what happens.”

As Plato explains next, anarchy follows, which ends by the appearance of a tyrant who reintroduces order. The lesson we learn from the Athenian philosopher is that equality works like an acid, which dissolves hierarchy or authority, and produces anarchy. Tyranny is the natural outcome of democratic equality.

Looking at the West, and America in particular, everywhere we see signs of greater and greater lawlessness and dissolution of authority. Plato, probably, would not have a problem recognizing what the Future holds for us. Since your historical expertise made you somewhat of a prophet when we talked twenty-six years ago, what is your prophesy for the future?

JC: That anarchy and stability are not an either/or choice; it is a question of degree. Statistics of gun-related homicides, and of citizens shot dead by the police, are useful indicies of the degree to which anarchy is already with us. The authority of parents over children is hard to measure, but contemporary observers remarked on the transformation in this respect brought about in the Thirteen Colonies by the Revolution. I suspect that the future tends to be like the present, only more so.

ZJ: You are English. An overwhelming majority of the population in the UK is fond of monarchy. Partly, I presume, the reason is the deep-rooted English attachment to tradition; partly, because of the personality of the Queen, who fulfilled her role with incredible dignity for over half a century. However, my question to you is of a historical nature. Given the mess in which your country has found itself with Brexit, shouldn’t we have doubts about the efficacy, or even the validity of a parliamentary system (the same can be said of the US Congress, which can hardly pass any piece of legislation, and is always stuck in a gridlock)?

JC: The UK constitution is flexible, and continually changing. I would not be surprised if it changed in significant ways to adjust to exit from the EU. Members of the UK Parliament have fallen into considerable disesteem for their handling of this matter; the monarchy will survive, but many of them may lose their seats. Whereas the US Constitution is relatively inflexible, and members of Congress very hard to remove; this does not bode well.

ZJ: One cannot imagine a similar situation if we lived under constitution or limited monarchy. There are quite a few countries in Europe which have monarchs: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands. I doubt many people would take my suggestion seriously, but don’t you think it’s time to reconsider our intellectual assumptions about political systems?

One could cherish, as did John Stuart Mill in the 19th-century, and the American Founding Fathers (particularly Jefferson, who was extremely hostile to monarchy), the idea that democracy is the hope for the future, and will eliminate monarchy’s problems. However, when you look around, it appears that we have too much of it, and Plato would agree with us, saying that we are heading toward anarchy.

JC: I would suggest that the US system, combining the roles of head of state and head of the executive, has created a post that almost no-one has the talent to fill (cf. the position of Roman Emperor).

ZJ: Thank you Dr. Clark.

The image shows, “A Private View at the Royal Academy,” by William Powell Frith, painted in 1883.

The Polish version of this interview appeared in the January issue of Arcana.

A Conversation with Philippe Fabry

This month we are very pleased to present this conversation with Philippe Fabry, a lawyer and a theorist of history. His approach, which he calls “historionomy,” endeavors to identify the cyclical patterns of history. He is the author of Rome, From Libertarianism to Socialism, A History of the Century to Come, and The Structure of History. His personal website is: https://www.historionomie.net. This interview was conducted by Grégoire Canlorbe.

Grégoire Canlorbe (GC): You have never hesitated to challenge the usual discourse, which liberals (libertarians, classical-liberals, anarcho-capitalists, free-marketists) have never shunned, even the most conservative among them, by claiming France to be an artificial construction, from its establishment to becoming a unifying state – it is a political work, whose foundation is no more geography than ethnicity or blood. Far from having formed differently from other European nations, France has, according to you, been built around an ethnic and territorial reality, and globally follows the same trajectory in its history. Could you elaborate on that subject?

Philippe Fabry (PF): Yes, it is indeed a common place in the commentary on the history of France to say that it was the state which made the nation; while among our neighbors it would be the nation which made the state. I cannot say if historians believe it, because it is just not the kind of questions that they ask themselves these days. But it is the kind of ready-made thinking that is prized by journalists and politicians who pride themselves on diagnosing the “French trouble.” But, in truth, that dichotomy opposing France to the rest of Europe, if not the world, is fallacious, in two respects. First, all nation-states are constituted according to a standard model (in reality two models, with France using the most frequent one; I will come back to this), where the state does not have a more determinant role than territorial and ethnic factors.

There are two models for the emergence of nation-states. The most common model, the most immediate, primary one, is that of the long-term gathering – around six centuries – of territories and people under one single state authority. The other model is the one that I would call, “secondary,” with the nation-states born by secession, during an independence revolution: That is the case of Rome vis-à-vis the Etruscans; the separated United Provinces, formerly Spanish possessions; and the United States of America. These are formed when a population, geographically and culturally too distant from the state base of a “primary” nation-state, is yet under its control for various reasons.

France belongs, like all major European states, to the first category. The model is as follows. In a populated territorial area, more or less ethnically and linguistically homogeneous, but where there is no state, either because none has ever emerged (for example, Germania of the early Middle Ages), or because it is a former imperial state that has withdrawn (such as, Gaul during Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages, or Britain after the ebb of the Danes in the 10th-century). The primitive regime is feudalism and therefore extreme political fragmentation.

In the absence of a large-scale exogenous event, generally the invasion by an imperial power, a feudal lord more powerful than the others appears over time, who is logically the one who controls the economic dynamics of the territorial area. This economic dynamic, say, a fertile agricultural region, is very easily identified by looking at a relief map: It is a large plain, the largest in the territorial area.

For example, the Paris Basin in France, the North German Plain for Germany, the Guadalquivir Plain for Spain, the London Basin for Britain. The seigniorial power which relies on this economic dynamic has a decisive advantage in resources and can extend over all the space that is naturally peripheral to it; that is to say, both culturally close, and belonging to a geographically well-defined territorial area: The whole of Gaul for the Paris Basin, including the Breton peninsula; the Massif Central and the smaller plains of Aquitaine and Languedoc; the entire island of Britain for the London Basin, winning over Cornwall, and hilly Wales and Scotland; all of southern Germany for the northern plain, including mountainous Bavaria.

Of course, these centers of power do not stop at sharp boundaries, which for centuries have engendered conflicts over the exact boundaries of the areas of influence. Such conflict zones are generally distinguished by a hybrid character, allowing them to be associated with several groups. Thus, from an ethnic point of view, Britain may be linked to France by way of England, language linked Alsace to Germany, while the largest geographic area of the Paris Basin made it lean towards France, and so on. It is rare that a border so clearly separates two territorial areas that it is never challenged; but we can say that this was the case of the Pyrenees between France and Spain – thus, Roussillon, close to Catalan culture, did not become French until the 18th-century.

In effect, dominant seigniorial power then builds the state, first by going beyond the feudal system and creating an assembly, representative of the orders: Urban bourgeoisie, nobility, clergy, to which the peasantry is added in the Nordic countries. Such assembly allows the dominant seigniorial power to give itself a higher stature than that of the rest of the nobility and to embody the first national representation.

This new paradigm leads to the construction of an administration, which exercises regalian functions, more and more uniformly throughout the controlled territory. The population gathered under said authority gradually becomes a political community, becomes culturally uniform, and develops a national feeling. And it is when this national feeling is sufficiently present, and when some event occurs – say, a lost war which discredits the regime, that is, the “administrative monarchy” – then, what I call a movement of national revolution comes about, which is the final stage in the constitution of a nation-state, thus making the nation the true holder of sovereignty, and therefore of the power of the state, through a parliamentary regime. That revolutionary movement lasts about forty years and goes through various systematic stages: Collapse of the regime, radicalization of the revolutionary phenomenon, military dictatorship, partial restoration of the old regime, and final parliamentary change.

So it is always the state which makes the nation; but at the same time the nation which arouses the state. The geographic expansion of the state is constrained by cultural, demographic, linguistic and obviously purely geographic factors, but its emergence and consolidation are themselves the product of an ethno-geographic reality. It is a kind of feedback loop, and it is rare that a state absolutely corresponds to its natural ethnico-geographical zone: The competition of large states creates disputed zones, which are often resolved, either through an arbitrary delimitation, or through fragmentation and the appearance of multi-ethnic, multicultural, plurilingual buffer states like Belgium or Switzerland – which may end up developing their own identity, certainly, but one more accidental.

This determinism is not absolute and leaves the possibility of several combinations; but it is clear that it is the most “obvious” one which generally triumphs. Thus, in France, two nations could have been born, because there are two basins: The Parisian and the Aquitanian. For a long time, Bordeaux was the capital of that Aquitaine Basin, and Aquitaine dominated the country of Oc; while the country of Oïl depended more naturally on Paris.

The distinction between the two countries could have endured, since each had a certain linguistic and cultural unity: The language of Oc against the language of Oïl, a country of written law against a country of customary law. But first the Parisian Basin is much larger than the Bordeaux Basin, and second the “natural” territorial area was rather on the scale of the whole of the former territory of Gaul, whose settlement base had largely remained the same as during antiquity (the Great Migrations did not constitute a real demographic break). The Paris Basin therefore succeeded in its calling to dominate the whole, which has created France.

Another example. Germany saw the development of two centers capable of unifying the German nation: Austria and Prussia. Prussia controlled the plain of North Germany, and Austria dominated the plain of Pannonia (Hungary). That resulted in a division of the Germanic space between the two centers until the Great War, and ultimately the impossibility of keeping them lastingly unified after the failure of the Third Reich – even though the Germany of the seven electors, appointed by the Golden Bull of 1356, covered all of those German-speaking territories.

I think political debate would gain a lot, if these invariants of the state and national construction are better known, because they say a lot about what can or cannot be a nation-state, and about the deleterious effects that, for example, a constituted mass immigration can have on a nation-state.

And as for liberals (libertarians, from classical-liberals to anarcho-capitalists), there is a remark that I like to make to them, and that they generally take badly, and it is this – that if the nation-state is built in such a systematic way, it is because it is the most efficient product on the public security market, so that if we were to recreate an anarchic society, in the long term, it would be towards the re-emergence of nation-states that the political and social order would tend.

GC: While Greco-Roman paganism (on that point, in phase with Judaism) breaks away from the veneration of Mother Nature (the pre-Indo-European gynecocratic spirit), the biblical conception of time as linear (and of cosmic and human history as endowed with a beginning, an end, and a progression) contrasts with the pagan motif of the eternal return of the same. You assert both your Catholic heritage and your cyclical conception of history. How is that duality reconciled within your intellectual life?

PF: It always seemed natural to me, faced with that kind of conceptual opposition, to think that the truth was more likely to be a mixture of the two. Cyclicity and linearity are not necessarily contradictory, if we consider that there are several scales to consider, several temporalities. And it seems obvious to me that the story is both cyclical and linear, which is not only proper to human history, but also to natural history.

Take the evolution of species: It is linear; there is no turning back. But it is based on a cyclical phenomenon, which is the life of living individuals: Their conception, their birth, their maturation, their reproduction, their death. It is through that recurrence that nature, through mutations, which are then selected naturally, makes species evolve.

The same goes for humanity: It is subject to certain recurrences; but those recurrences end up drawing a linear pattern and a general progression – in the demographic mass of the species, the size of its political communities, its scientific and technical power, its artistic sophistication. Its destiny is linear; but its embodiment is recursive – which led me to suggest, and my work always leads me further in that direction, that human history can be modeled in the mathematical form of a cellular automaton, which is also a tool for modeling the appearance and development of life.

And I must also note that this double cyclical and linear conception places me in a situation which is a sort of mise en abîme: I thus notice, within the framework of the parallel that I draw between the history of modern Europe and that of ancient Greece, that the study of history itself goes through three great stages, more and more intellectually sophisticated.

First, there are the chroniclers, who are interested in events and great characters and who produce fairly simple narratives. That is the case of the Greeks before Herodotus, with the poems of Homer, in particular, and medieval chroniclers like Einhard or Gregory of Tours.

Second, there are the historians more curious about fundamental movements, like Thucydides or Voltaire, who analyze the economic and social foundations of history.

And, third, there are those who seek in history the recurrences, the laws, like Polybius (with his theory of anacyclosis), or Plutarch (with his Parallel Lives) in antiquity; and in modern times, Marx, Spengler, Braudel, Toynbee. It is in that last vein that my work falls; and I find it amusing, working on historical cyclicity, to note that those works themselves obey that cyclicity, that I am the logical product of my time. Feeling oneself to be the product of a certain determinism, when one studies precisely the role of determinism, is both very stimulating and the cause of a certain perplexity.

And it also makes you humble, which is precisely one of the fundamental values of the Christian faith. And since the cyclicity of life is not incompatible with that faith, the Church having besides recognized that evolution is “more than a theory;” there is no reason to think that it must be different for the evolution of human societies. On the contrary, it reinforces the idea of the cosmic order, which, assuredly, is a concept as much prized by the ancient Greeks in their cyclical vision as by Christians in their linear vision.

GC: Applying the historionomic approach to the dynamism of political ideas, you present the Right and the Left, not as categories of an alternative, which dates back to the French Revolution, but as a pair of opposites, which crosses all societies and all ages. In that context, you make your own that distinction by historian Fabrice Bouthillon between two forms of centrism: Centrism through the addition of extremes on the chessboard of opinion, versus centrism through the exclusion of those extremes. What does historionomy, armed with such a framework, teach us?

PF: My work on this divide, which I am, in fact, taking up and systematizing into a book, allows me to deepen certain questions dealt with in The Structure of History, which was mainly devoted to the research of the underlying laws of history, likely to explain in particular the models of the nation-state’s construction of which I spoke earlier.

One of the most interesting observations about those models is that not only is the same pattern observable in all major countries, but it takes place over an almost identical duration and at a similar rate – that is to say that within that overall duration, the major phases also always have a similar duration. So, it has something to do with the passing of generations and the circulation of ideas. However, it is precisely this aspect that the study of the issue of the divide provides some clarification: The ideas slide from Left to Right because these two camps bring together the population respectively favorable to change or conservation of an established order.

Since the established order slowly evolves, after a generation the one that the conservatives of the previous generation defended has largely disappeared, while the progressives of the previous generation have become for the most part conservative because the order now established is the one they wanted. The former conservatives are now becoming reactionary, that is to say supporters of the old order, and we are seeing new, more extreme ideas of change appear on the far Left, in the revolutionary fringe.

But reactionaries and revolutionaries have this in common – they are anti-conformists, that is to say, they consider the established order as illegitimate, while the conservatives and the progressives, that is to say the Right and the moderate Left, are conformists, and consider the established order as legitimate.

Most of the time, it is the Right-Left divide which governs political life: Conservatives join forces with reactionaries, and progressives with revolutionaries, to obtain majorities and govern. But in times of crises, there is often a conformist/anti-conformist tension, where those most moderate among the two sides join forces to defend the system in place, while those extreme among both sides find themselves together in the opposition to that order.

There are multiple examples of this: The banking crisis of the 1880s, but also the French referendum on the European Constitution in 2005, or the crisis of the Yellow Vests, for whom the power in place very quickly spoke of “red-browns.” One can also cite the Lega and Five Stars Movement coalition in Italy, which temporarily succeeded in seizing power from moderates, without ever really being able to get along in the exercise of power, since the two groups had opposite views on numerous topics.

Usually, centrism through the addition of extremes only succeeds in taking power, if a charismatic or skillful figure embodies it and is able to arbitrate between the two sides. That is the case with many great dictators in recent history: Napoleon, Stalin, Hitler. Often, moreover, the analysis of their policy reveals numerous about-faces and a certain ideological flexibility, without which they would not be able to maintain themselves.

Such an analytical grid allows, in particular, to better understand the way things happen during revolutionary periods, which quickly see the two divides alternate – but also to apprehend political developments over time, to understand by example that royalty in France was “on the Left” roughly until Henry IV, and was conservative during the last two centuries of its existence. It makes it possible to understand that there is in reality a great historical continuity, that the French Revolution did not at all make a Right-Left divide suddenly “appear,” which would not have existed before. And it also makes it possible to better model, as I said, the construction of the nation-state, since it is through such circulation of ideas, the effects on society, of the reforms it initiates that the political integration of the nation is brought about.

Indeed, the national construction largely consists of the progressive extension of the political body to the whole of the population. First, the political body of feudal society is composed only of the barons. Then it integrates the bourgeoisie of cities, then the peasantry, then the religious minorities (Protestants, Jews), then the workers, then the women – and today the immigrants. And, at all times, the main objective of the Left bloc is to integrate into the political body the class which is the most powerful among those who are still excluded from it. It is often said, too quickly, that the Left is the camp of equality.

This is both true and false. It is true because, indeed, the heart of the discourse on the Left is always to want to grant equality to a category of population which is excluded from the game. But it is also false, because at the moment, only the ambition of one category counts and the others only serve as foils – yesterday, women only served as foils for the workers’ movement; today sexual minorities, transgenders, and so on, alone serve as foils for the only truly powerful minority, that of non-European immigrants. And that is why the far Left never says a word about the persecution of sexual minorities by those very populations.

As long as the “priority” category is not integrated into the political body, the claims of other minorities are heard only if they are compatible with its own. And once that category is effectively integrated, it in turn becomes conservative and opposes extending rights to the next. To use a famous phrase, “the last to enter closes the door.” And the next must force it open, in turn.

But in nation-states which categorically refuse immigration, for example, that phenomenon cannot continue, since there is no new class of population to integrate. That is the case, I think, with Japan, which is a country very hostile to any immigration and that, in fact, has practically had no far Left for fifty years, because there is no longer anyone to integrate into the political body.

In Europe, on the contrary, we have been for fifty years bringing to light a new class of the excluded – by importing it: This is the non-European, African and/or Muslim immigration. As such, it will become, and is already in the process of doing so, the class whose claims will be hegemonic on the Left. In the next twenty years, we will probably have an Indigenist/Islamist party which will win 20% of the vote. And the order in place should progressively integrate a certain number of values and realize a certain number of demands of those populations, as one did for working-class populations throughout the 20th-century, by establishing not exactly what they demanded at the beginning of the century, communism, but a compromise with the old order, which is our current order: Social democracy.

GC: Presenting Rome and America as twin civilizations, separated by an ocean of centuries, you foresee for the latter a trajectory similar to the fate of the first. Could you elaborate what justifies the establishment of such a comparison – instead of a parallel, for example, between multi-ethnic America and the fragmented Hellenistic empire of Alexander the Great? As concerns the equivalent of Carthage among the enemies of America, do you rather think of Russia, Turkey, or China to play that role?

PF: The comparison between America and Ptolemaic Egypt is actually made by David Cosandey, in his remarkable book, Le Secret de l’Occident (The Secret of the West), where he develops fundamental concepts that I am currently taking up in ongoing works, as they provide practically turnkey explanations that I only groped at before reading this book.

These are the concepts of articulated thalassography, that is to say, the relationship between a geographical area and the length of its coasts – the lower it is, the more the coasts are important compared to the geographical surface, the more that area will be favorable to the development of an intense maritime trade. And, on the other hand, the concept of mereuporia, which designates the stable and lasting political division, which is indirectly linked to the thalassography articulated in the sense that an area with very long coasts often goes hand-in-hand with a multitude of peninsulas and a quite jagged coastline, which form many natural borders and thus favor the emergence of national isolates.

Cosandey thus explains, by geography, the parallel that I have detailed elsewhere between ancient Greece and modern Europe. In the context of the contemporary world, one notices that it is the place with the most articulated thalassography, which has favored, more than elsewhere, both the emergence of nation-states (among the Greeks, city-states) thanks to borders relatively stable over time (as per the model that I outlined above), and on the other hand, a strong development of trade between those bordered communities. And that all of Asia, while devastated for long periods by Mongol invasions that considerably hampered the political development of this region, also had less access to maritime trade and its decisive advantages in terms of transport costs.

As well, one notes that the Mongol invasions of Europe, then the Turkish ones, stopped precisely at the border of Europe with a jagged geography, that is to say, between Vienna and the Carpathians – beyond, are the great plains, open to the four winds, the steppes, where it is very difficult to establish sustainable borders.

Yet Cosandey, who already mentioned the parallel between ancient Greece and modern Europe, noted that after the domination of both, power had passed to larger entities, and on that occasion compares the Seleucid Empire, Eastern and Continental, with Russia, and the Egypt of the Ptolemies with the United States of America. But if the parallel holds for the change of scale, the analogy does not hold in my opinion.

Indeed, what brings the United States of America and Rome together, besides the role of a maritime power dominating the known world, is the internal political order and its history. These are two nations born of an independence revolution: In Rome, it was the Latins who hunted Etruscan kings (even Greco-Etruscans, since one of the ancestors of the kings of Rome was Demaratus, a nobleman from Corinth who immigrated to Italy), while the United States broke away from the British crown due to distance, and the length of time since the first waves of immigration, as well as the mix with populations of Dutch origin, who did not feel much attachment to English kings.

The nations which are the product of an independentist revolution always have a legal-political system that emphasizes the political community and the rights of the citizen; and this is particularly marked in Rome, as in the United States which, once independent, quickly set up a political system whose main concern was the control of power, the rejection of the monarchy, and the guarantee of the rights of the people. In both cases this produced a constitutional system that tended to be more rough-hewn than a highly intellectualized system, but one that was extremely solid and durable.

And it was this political system which allowed progressive growth over a large area, through federation – the Roman domination over Italy was of such a nature – and the development of an imperial republican culture, which is of something other than the search for power of a dynasty. Rome, like the United States, was a liberal [libertarian] superpower, which could go to war when it encountered resistance, but after victory sought a lasting and profitable organization – for example, during the liberation of Greece from the Macedonian occupation. And above all, Rome also exported a model of society, which was precisely that of its law, of municipal organization, all things likely to seduce the elites, even the middle classes of the allied or defeated countries – and which one also finds in the American mode of domination.

All these things, the product of the internal political evolution in Rome, as in the United States, did not exist in the Hellenistic kingdoms, which resembled rather the autocracy of the Tsars of Russia until the beginning of the 20th-century. And besides, in fact, the good ancient parallel for Russia is Macedonia, that state on the borders of Greece, not really Greek but not really barbaric either, which established its domination over a large number of Greek cities after they had bled themselves in internal conflicts, in particular the Peloponnesian War, and whose government was despotic, unlike the Greek cities in which the oligarcho-democratic model had spread widely.

The multiethnic aspect, in Rome as in the United States, is a late phenomenon, the consequence of the constitution of a world empire which then drains a population coming from the four corners of the world, and which brings about a cosmopolitan evolution of the imperial core. That has little to do, conversely, with the Hellenistic kingdoms which, in fact, were actually Greek colonies, where the elites descended from the Greek and Macedonian invaders, and spoke Greek, but where the background of the population was indigenous: Persian, Egyptian, and so on.

As for Carthage, everything depends exactly on the role attributed to it. There is not necessarily an exact parallel. One might be tempted to see Russia there, in its Soviet and then current form. But, as I said, Russia corresponds much more literally to Macedonia. Certainly, Macedonia was Carthage’s ally against Rome during the Second Punic War, and Rome definitively got rid of those two enemies in two simultaneous wars in 146 BC, but Russia never exactly had the same role as Carthage, which was rather the western enemy of Rome, the one which it faced far away from the ancient world, the world that counted, the Hellenistic world – the one which it seized control of, before turning to the most important half of that world, so to speak.

On that level, it is rather at the American wars in the Pacific that we must look, and in particular those against Japan, and against which the war was intense but brief. Since then, the enemy has been China, which is the only real threat to the American domination of the Pacific, and has been so since the defeat of Japan: China and America have clashed directly in Korea. So, for the geopolitical role of Carthage, perhaps, one should rather speak of Japan and China. But perhaps one should add above all that the Spanish-American War of 1898, which allowed the United States to get hold of Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines, and which constitutes an important stage insofar as this is the first time that the United States undertook imperialist behavior, annexing territories overseas.

As for Turkey, no parallel is possible with Carthage. But, depending on how it might develop in the coming years, it could find a role similar to that of the Parthian Empire, that power in the inland, in the heart of the Eurasian island world, which was an enduring source of skirmishes for the Imperial Republic. In particular, I think that this could be the case following a collapse of Russia, which would allow Turkey to extend its hegemony over the whole of the Turkish world, up to Xinjiang, by way of all the former Soviet republics with names ending in “-stan.”

It is also a classic scheme: Prussia achieved the unity of Germany only after the diminishing of France, which had, since Richelieu, worked for the fragmentation of the Holy Empire and for French hegemony in those regions. Russia brought about the unity of the Slavic world only after the collapse of the German and Austrian empires. Thus, Turkey will not be able to bring about the unity of the Turkish world as long as the essential part of the latter is under Russian influence. A sort of pan-Turkish empire would make for a precise repetition of the Parthian Empire. And that is probably what will happen, if there is a military confrontation with Russia, because Turkey would be on the side of the victors, alongside NATO, and in the same position as Stalin in 1945.

GC: A common apprehension is that the Trump era is only a parenthesis in the sinking of contemporary America; and that with the return of Democrats, deemed inevitable in the decade to come, the march towards socialism and the geopolitical abdication will only resume in an amplified manner. You are rather confident as regards the fate of America in the 21st-century, projecting the evolution of its regime towards an authoritarian Right – and the instrumentalization of the United Nations for the purpose of establishing an American world state. Could you tell us more?

PF: In reality, my opinion is rather that America is indeed moving towards socialism, but that the latter will not be accompanied by a geopolitical abdication, quite the contrary. The first thing I see looming internally is a new American Civil War. Over the course of the year, I had been invited to the monthly luncheon of a major Parisian review, on the occasion of the release of my book, Rome, From Libertarianism to Socialism. At one point the director of the review had gone around the table asking each guest (there were about thirty of us, economists, journalists, a European deputy) to talk a bit about what seemed to him most interesting in the news. Most of my counterparts mentioned Ukraine, since we were at the start of tensions with Russia after the Maidan affair.

I was the only one to tackle a story that seemed, I think, anecdotal to most of my guests since, we quickly passed over it, without comment. This was the case of the Bundy ranch, in the United States. It was an armed rebellion around the legal dispute opposing a local farmer, Cliven Bundy, to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) over land on which he was forbidden to graze his cattle, while he claimed he had been grazing his herds there for generations. The BLM had then tried to capture the cattle while they were grazing on the disputed ground, and, faced with the opposition of local militias rallied by Bundy, who were over-armed, as can only happen in American campaigns, they brought in federal troops, equally equipped, to fight Bundy and the militias.

My opinion at the time was that this matter was significant of what would eventually happen to the whole of Middle America when the gap between it and coastal, urban America only widened further. When I observed the hysterical reactions to the election of Donald Trump, and today when I see armed militias enter the Capitol of Michigan to protest against the confinement due to the coronavirus, I think my intuition has not deceived me.

The fact is that the United States is made up of one part that is the rural, continental America and which represents three-quarters of the mand-mass, and another part that is coastal (the Eastern and Western coastal strips). The first generally votes Republican; the second generally votes Democrat. The first has slow population growth and is generally poorer, and remains essentially white, little penetrated by immigration. The coastal states are more dynamic, and where immigration is also massing.

The gap between the two Americas has been widening for fifty years, while it hardly existed during the middle of the 20th-century. It seems less and less possible to reconcile those two mentalities politically. And this gap risks ending up causing a rupture of the American constitution. Let us remember that the election of the President of the United States, through the system of the greater voters, is a territorial as much as a demographic election: The vote by state balances the result in favor of the sparsely populated states, which mainly constitute white, rural and continental America.

In the election of Donald Trump, the “popular” vote, that is to say in number of votes, was won fairly widely by Hillary Clinton, with an advance of some three million votes. It is an argument that has been repeated many times by those who said – and still say – of Trump as, “Not my President.” Those in favor of Trump, or even simply objective, nuance that position by recalling that the voting system induces a different campaign strategy, and that if the election had been through a direct suffrage, Donald Trump would undoubtedly have led a different campaign, in which case he might have won the popular vote. So that we cannot “invalidate,” even in theory, the election of Trump, according to a democratic principle.

However, that discussion still says a lot about the growing fragility of the system, because it is in the political demagogic logic to focus on the simple mass, and the rapid demographic growth of coastal states, in particular through foreign immigration, mainly from Latin America, will increasingly benefit the Democrat camp in the number of votes.

But if Trump is re-elected and still does not win the popular vote, and in ten years, let us say after a Democratic alternation, a new elected Republican wins the presidency by lacking five, or ten million votes in the country, will that advance be concentrated in three or four very densely populated democratic states? One might think, of course, that there will be a risk of secession from those states.

But I do not think it would be the most likely scenario. Because the reality is that all the high places of power in the United States are in states that vote mainly Democrat. Rather than secession, the debate will therefore focus on the abrogation of the electoral college and the election of the President of the United States by direct universal suffrage, which also goes in the direction of the growing integration of the USA, by the magnification of the federal state, in the sense of a unitary state – which is a classic mode of development of a federation.

Of course, the political system will never result in a situation in which only the Democrats win and the Republicans never win an election again. Such a situation cannot exist for more than a few elections, for the ever-losing side adapts and adopts a line which brings the chances of success back to 50/50. It is the functioning of the political market. But this will also mean that the Republican Party should strongly converge on Democrat positions, and abandon a large part of the population of rural whites who love arms and the freedom to ignore the federal state.

I think that is where the political tipping point in the United States will be, perhaps with a hundred, a thousand insurrections like Bundy’s, and probably more violent, which will serve to justify the ban on weapons. The direct election of the President of the United States will make the presidential election a plebiscite election, which will go in the direction of an imperial mutation. And that will probably go hand in hand with socialist development, the appearance of universal income in one form or another, and so on.

As for the international situation, my idea is indeed that the United States has been working, since the beginning of the 20th-century to build a world state, something that the British Empire, for example, had never done, for the latter always perceived itself as a nation among others, elevated in strategic rivalry within the European game, and saw its world empire as a necessary strategic depth, while confining itself in Europe to maintaining a balance.

But the United States has a vision of itself very close to that of Rome: It sees itself as the free nation, which should not depend on anyone. They first tried to do that by being isolated – which was the meaning of the Monroe doctrine – and after a century, having noticed that they could not just cut themselves off from the world, they realized that the only way to be free was to be the world’s master, the universal suzerain. The United States, like Rome, does not accept equals. European countries have been accustomed, by a thousand years of history, to negotiate peer to peer, to make peace, to accept compromises. Americans at war are only looking for total victory – this was also the case with Rome.

This is part of the psychological paraphernalia of such nations. And in order to install their suzerainty, they end up developing institutions at the center of which are they, and which allow them to regulate the actions of other nations, including in peacetime. And the main institution they have set up for all this is the United Nations, which in fact has the role that representative assemblies have had in the building of nation-states – they serve, everywhere, to give superior legitimacy to the most powerful of feudal lords, and to go beyond that feudal order.

The UN, de facto, transforms the nation-states into subjects, and the United States, which has its seat, into the “Prince of the Nations.” The Security Council resembles all of those councils of the Greats who continued to assemble around the monarch in the early days of the monarchy, before absolutism. The great feudal lords can make their voices heard, but deep down, the institution serves the prestige of the prince.

As for the assembly, it serves to bring to the power of the prince an additional legitimacy for certain actions, mainly actions of authority against powerful recalcitrant lords. When we speak of the reaction of the “international community,” it is exactly that – it is about explaining that the action of the prince is in the common interest and for the ends of justice, and that it is not simply a coup de force of the strongest.

But we must be careful, here. I am not saying that the United States behaves like a bully. If the monarchy was chosen in preference to the feudal system everywhere, it is because most people found an advantage in it – pacification of relations, end of private wars (that is, interstate wars. This provided increased security and general enrichment, at first. But, in a second step, it also means centralization, uniformization. The multicultural model, the idea of a village-world, is both the cause and the effect of the progressive construction of a world state, which is only the repetition, on another scale, of the same process as the national scale. And the United States behaves vis-à-vis the United Nations as kings did vis-à-vis the Estates General – if the assembly supports the king, it is very good and that strengthens it; but if it opposes him, he reserves the right to override it, since it is he who holds true sovereignty.

But for the time being, there remain large powerful lords still capable of defying the king, such as the Montmorency or the Guise in France at the end of the 16th-century. Such are China and Russia. Their weakening is logically the last step before the imperial transformation of the American government – which is already underway, when one sees the increase in the use of American laws extraterritorially to exert pressures on foreign companies and governments. That makes you irrepressibly think of how kings used their power of justice as the first instrument to impose their power on all of their provinces. Sometimes, the judiciary power was even enough to bring down great rivals of the King of France – such was the case of Charles III of Bourbon.

GC: A contemporary line of research consists in exploring the genetic foundations of the cycle of ascension and decline of civilizations, envisioned as biocultural systems (within which genes and the acquired culture permanently interact). Here, the ascent allegedly coincides with the exercise of selection pressures (from the social or natural environment) which increase “general intelligence” or lengthen “life history.” The decline looms as the dysgenic trends linked to the attenuation of the aforesaid selection pressures erodes the “biological capital.” Does such an approach shed clear and satisfactory light on the structure of the necessary events (as opposed to the contingent and random aspect of history)?

PF: That is a question that I have only known about for a few years, and I admit that I did not have time to study that subject in detail. Until about five years ago, I was ignorant of all the literature and research on that question of genetics, intelligence, modification of average intelligence, etc. Those are things that are very much ignored in France, almost clandestine. If I have learned a lot about those subjects in recent years, it is because I have had the chance to meet a friend who is well trained in this field, who knows the bibliography and the state of knowledge well. It quite quickly became evident to me, indeed, that those factors must have a very important role in the cyclical nature of history, and the mechanisms already described previously for the constitution of nation-states – that to certain stages of economic, social and political development also probably correspond the fluctuations of average intelligence.

For example, it is quite striking to note that the scientific peak in a country always occurs at the same time as its movement of national revolution. With England, it is in the second half of the 17th-century, at the time of Newton. With France, it is at the end of the 18th-century, with Lavoisier, Sadi Carnot, Condorcet. With Germany, at the start of the 20th-century, with Planck, Einstein, Haber. Of course, this does not exclude, in each of those countries, that there are also some big names before and after – but at that time they are clearly above the rest; they are the heart of the great scientific revolutions of their time.

At first glance, I therefore think that biocultural evolution, the feedback loop between social and economic construction and the genetic selection of individuals, must indeed have a considerable place in the deterministic part of history. But before I can better measure whether it is preponderant and that I may better explain what are its driving forces, I will have to take the time to really study the literature on that subject, which I have not yet been able to do.

GC: Among the great tales that have structured European (and, by extension, Western) thought, there is the Hebrew perspective, according to which humanity is walking towards an era of peace and love, in which the people of Israel, not content with having put an end to their dispersion by gathering together on the soil of the Holy Land, will see their law and their god to be recognized among all the nations of the world.

We also should mention New Testament thought, where the final day of cosmic and human history will be that of the Last Judgment, during which Jesus, back in the earthly world, will judge all the deceased, resurrected on that occasion, and also the traditionalist thought that humanity has known since ancient times, of a “caste regression, ” of sacred leaders losing power to the warrior nobility; the nobility to merchants and serfs – which then ushers in its spiritual and moral degeneration, a degeneration whose final act is our egalitarian and utilitarian world (pending the start of the next cycle of degeneration).

With the hindsight that provides an overview of universal history, what do you think of those three narratives?

PF: Indeed, the traditionalist vision is seen, precisely, as a cyclical component, since, in fact, it is a movement that has already been accomplished several times: The ancients knew it; then the castes made their great return in the Middle Ages, and the regression of the castes started again, eventually resulting in social democracy. It is probable that after the fall of the American Empire, we will again enter a kind of Middle Ages, starting with the first stage.

As for the Jewish and Christian monotheistic narratives, it is difficult to adjudicate, since they have a linear vision in the very long term and are irrefutable: As long as there are human beings and thus history continues, one can always understand that there will be a coming/return of the Messiah. It is therefore a thought which is by nature outside of science.

On the other hand, what I can say as a historian is that monotheisms have a tendency to wear out, to get tired, in about a millennium and a half. They are very conquering in their first centuries, and bring about a kind of universal empire, which gradually falls apart. Then there is a millennialist revival, and finally religion falters and shrivels up.

One saw it with Judaism, with the kingdom of David and Solomon, its division, the dispersion of the Jews, the great impulse of conversion in the Roman Empire and of fanaticism going as far as terrorism (the Zealots), the messianist uprisings, and finally the advent of rabbinic Judaism, turned in on the community, and no longer proselytic.

Likewise, with Christianity from Constantine on – the Christian Empire, its disintegration, the advent of the Reformation, and associated with a lot of fanatical outbursts, like Savonarola, the Hussites, the Anabaptists of Munster, and then a slow numbness in Europe.

The same thing is happening to Islam, which is currently in its millennialist phase: Salafism is Muslim Protestantism. One wrongly speaks of “Islamoconservatism;” even while Salafism extols the step backwards, it is in the same mode as Luther and Calvin in the 16th-century. It is not conservatism, on the contrary. And so, I think that within a century or two, Islam will have become as harmless as Judaism and Christianity. But suddenly, there will be a void to fill and one will probably see something else appear.

GC: Insisting both on the internationalist doctrine of Islamic terrorist organizations and on the anti-capitalist nature of their discourse, you see contemporary militant Islam as the equivalent – within the Arab-Islamic world – of the Marxist-Leninist ideology. Should the nationalist and revolutionary Iran of the mullahs be envisaged as the equivalent of Stalinist Russia, which vilified “cosmopolitanism?” Regarding Xi Jinping’s China, engaged in a standoff with Uighur and Kazakh Muslims, does its opening to a semi-planned capitalist model lie within the same structural pattern as the “new economic policy” of Lenin?

PF: Yes, Iran can be seen like that, but I do not believe in its ability to be effectively for the Muslim world what Stalin’s USSR was for the communist world, because the fact that Iran is Shiite is a real hindrance to the penetration of Iranian power into the Arab world, which is Sunni. The Iranians tried to overcome that obstacle by making hatred of Israel the heart of their international propaganda, but it did not work very well.

I see Erdogan’s Turkey much more capable of assuming the role of the Islamist USSR. Erdogan enormously plays the card of pan-Islamism, even more so than that of pan-Turkism, and with a fluency all the greater than Ottoman history, which seems to give a form of legitimacy to Turkish ambitions. It has, in addition, very superior means: Turkish GDP is 50% higher than that of Iran; Turkey is better integrated in international trade; and the Turkish armed forces are much better equipped. Iran has likely reached the limits of its influence by somehow bringing together all of the Shiites under its control in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen. It collides with a glass ceiling and is maintained only by way of Russian and Chinese support. And Iran’s regime is starting to age, more than forty years after its establishment, while Erdogan’s Islamism is, I think, more dynamic.

Regarding China, it has only a few Muslims in its Eastern markets, and the problem for it is thus less acute. One can effectively compare the ideological concessions made from Deng Xiaoping to the NEP of Lenin, but I must say that, in general and except for fanatic exceptions like the Khmer Rouge, I am very reluctant when it comes to the determining aspect of ideology in the history of communism. I think that Marxism-Leninism had only very briefly a decisive role, and that the rest of the time it was mainly a rationalization for much deeper political evolutions. For example, I think that there was a real communist will in Russia, precisely and only before the NEP. I think that the mass collectivization resumed under the leadership of Stalin in the late 1920s because he needed to accumulate capital to create an industry, but above all an army, in order to conquer Europe.

That was the underlying determinism that guided his action, since Stalin was a revolutionary nationalist leader like Napoleon and Hitler. He was not overwhelmingly driven by communism, rather by the Russian expansionist drive, like French Jacobinism and German National Socialism. In China, Mao’s communism is the form taken by the Chinese equivalent of the Meiji imperial restoration in Japan – a very strong collective reaction to Western penetration, a nationalist will to rebuild and regain lost status. Structurally, is the Chinese Communist Party regime very far from the imperial regime and the administration of the Mandarins? I do not think so. In the end, the real change between the imperial regime before 1911 and that established under Mao, is that the earlier Mandarins were mainly Manchu, while the Chinese are mainly Hans, and that today the Chinese elites are mainly Han.

That is one of my main concerns throughout my works. I think that, for a century, we have given a causal role, which is also highly decisive, to ideologies, whereas they often only and ultimately embody much more primitive impulses. I should clarify. I do not believe, like Marxists, that the displayed motives are always untrue or hypocritical and that history is materialistic, and that the real causes of historical movements are economic. No, there are real fundamental reasons which are purely psychological, and nationalism is one of them; it is a real collective impulse. But when we see that Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin did pretty much the same things and pursued the same goals, even though their overt ideologies were very different, we must methodically deduce that those ideologies had no determining role and only served as window-dressing to the real underlying motive, which is similar in all cases.

GC: Let us allow ourselves a bit of alternative history after historionomy. It is well known that 8th-century Europe almost fell under the yoke of the Umayyad Caliphate, and that Christianity then owed its triumph over the Islamic invader by way of various military victories, including the battle of Poitiers which stayed famous for Christian Europe.

A more overlooked fact is that the Hellenized Judaism of the time of Jesus had constituted itself as a universal religion, which was turned towards a peaceful and philosophical proselytism, notwithstanding the Zealot revolts, intended to precipitate the universal reign of peace and of the mosaic law by liberating Judea. And that Christianity and Judaism during the first centuries of the common era would be veritably in competition for the conquest of Pagan minds, most of the inhabitants of the empire (in default to actually converting) were “judaizing,” in that they were assimilating Jewish practices such as Shabbat. From the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem to the abolition of the Jewish Patriarchate of Palestine, through the conversion of Constantine, Judaism would obviously be marginalized and discredited for the benefit of its own offspring.

Had it not been for the victory of Christianity under the Roman Empire. or the backflow of Islam in the 8th-century, would the fate of Europe have been significantly different today?

PF: Very precisely historionomy allows for the sorting of the possible and impossible alternative history scenarios; and I can therefore tell you the following things. First, Judaism could not compete with Christianity, for reasons that I have already mentioned on the fatigue of monotheisms. In the middle of the Second Century, Judaism had greatly exceeded the populations of the Roman Empire, by the excesses of its Zealots who nourished the same dreams as today the partisans of the Islamic State dream; and its rabbinical reform was not made to make it a religion very easy to disseminate – whereas, to the contrary, Christianity, from the Council of Jerusalem, had evacuated a whole lot of Mosaic prohibitions, in particular on circumcision and food, which made the Christian faith much easier to diffuse.

Concerning the Islamic threat, I am not convinced that Europe was really threatened with conquest – past the Pyrenees, the Umayyads were immediately stopped in Toulouse in 721; and the expeditions which led the Muslims to Tours were not conquest operations, but rather raids. Furthermore, if Islam relatively easily progressed to the Pyrenees, it is because Spain and part of the Maghreb were of Arian faith, much more compatible with the idea of a further revelation of Muhammad than was the Orthodox Christianity which prevailed in the land under Frankish domination. Let us recall that it was under the impetus of Charlemagne that the Filioque would be integrated into the creed. And, as well, this was already a century after the first impulse of Muslim conquest; and it is rare that serial conquests spread without petering out over more than a century.

The Mongol conquests extended between 1206 and 1279, the date when they reached their most distant Western point with penetration into the plains of Hungary. The essential part of the Ottoman conquests was made between 1430 and 1530. Even the entire empire of Rome outside Italy was conquered in one century and a half. So, even if the Umayyads had taken Toulouse or even Tours, it is unlikely that they would have managed to go further; and not long after their arrival they would have first needed to confront Frankish reconquest efforts, since the heart of Frankish power was in Austrasia, between Metz, Tournai and Cologne.

It is hard to believe that those who built Charlemagne’s empire in our understanding would not have been able to shake up Arab-Berbers enemies of Christ. And even if that had not been the case, it is the Vikings whom those Muslim invaders would have had to suffer under. In summary, progress beyond Aquitaine would have been very difficult, and installation in Aquitaine itself would have been complicated. So, I can accept a range of possibilities that went as far as taking Aquitaine, but not beyond that. Even less so since, when the Muslims were arrested in Aquitaine, the Reconquista had already started in Asturias.

But for the exercise, let us assume that by a remarkable accident the Muslims arrived in Saxony, seized all of Italy and converted all of Western Europe to Islam, all the way to Scotland. What would have happened?

Some events of relative magnitude would not have taken place – the Crusades against the Muslim world, in particular. But the crusades against the pagan world in the East would no doubt have taken place, and with even more vigor, under the banner of Islam.

The fact remains that Europe would have always benefited from its geographic advantages – the articulated thalassography, a geography favoring the emergence of states with stable borders. When the Muslim Empire disintegrated into a multitude of political entities during the 9th-century, this would also have been the case in Europe, as it was the case with the disintegration of the Carolingian Empire. No caliph would have succeeded in imposing his authority on Europe, given the distance of the Abbasids; and especially when one bears in mind the stormy relations between the Papacy and the Empire. It is even likely that Europe would have given itself a competing caliph.

The construction of European nation-states would therefore have been primed, as in our own time, with simply a practice of Islam – and still probably it would have been an altered practice, because it is difficult to conceive the prohibition of pork in countries where that meat has been part of the staple food since earliest antiquity. So, no, the fate of Europe would likely not have been very different. The Muslim world, if extended to Europe, would still have known a divide between the world to the north of the Pyrenees dominated by the German mentality since the Great Invasions, and the Mediterranean world – for we must not be mistaken, if Islam did not succeed in going North of the Pyrenees it is also because it was then entering another geographical, cultural, mental area, and those differences would not have been erased by religious conversion.

GC: Thank you for your time. Would you like to add a thing or two?

PF: We did not have time to talk about it, but Phoenicia was an aborted Greece, precisely because it did not benefit from a well-articulated thalassography and solid natural borders and was easily absorbed by Assyria. It is enough to look at a map of the colonization of the ancient Mediterranean to see that there was exactly the same movement of migration (Greek or Phoenician) on both sides. It is worth remembering that Phoenician culture was not less complex than Greek culture. But the Greeks benefited from being a very mountainous peninsula difficult to reach by the Persians for centuries, and therefore they were not absorbed.

The image shows the wheel of fortune (rota fortunae), from a leaf of Josephus’s Judaean War, Book VII, ca. 13th-century.

An Interview With Jeremy Black

This month the Postil is most pleased and honored to present this interview with Professor Jeremy Black, the prolific and influential British historian. Professor Black has added greatly to our understanding of Britain, Europe and America within the context of international affairs, as well as, diplomatic, military and cultural history. He is interviewed by Dr. Zbigniew Janowski, author of several books on Descartes and a forthcoming book Homo Americanus. The Rise of Totalitarian Democracy in America.

Zbigniew Janowski (ZJ): Allow me to begin with a short biographical note. Among your books are: Military Strategy: A Global History, The Atlantic Slave Trade in World History, Maps of War, Naval Warfare: A Global History since 1860, Naval Power: A History of Warfare and the Sea from 1500 Onwards, Rethinking Military History, The British Abroad: The Grand Tour In The Eighteenth Century, A History of the World: From Prehistory to the 21st Century, The Age of Total War, 1860-1945, Geographies of an Imperial Power: The British World, 1688-1815, War and the World: Military Power and the Fate of Continents, 1450-2000, Imperial Legacies: The British Empire Around the World, English Nationalism: A Short History, The British Seaborne Empire.

I missed “a few books”—or, more precisely, I did not list the 80 other books you wrote! In your bio, I found that you have authored 100 books. That’s more than what Paul Johnson, Arnold Toynbee or Guizot wrote. It is more than most, even very well-educated people, will ever read, let alone by a single historian. Are you writing, thinking what the potential reader should know, or are you answering your own questions?

Jeremy Black (JB): As you suggest, I have written more history books than any other British writer. I do not count them, but I think there are about 140 single author books, as well as three co-authored and quite a few edited. I obviously have a compulsion, but there is also a determination to rewrite what I think is poorly covered, at the very least offering a different interpretation so that no one can pretend that there is only one view, which is a flaw of the zeitgeist approach.

ZJ: In his The Idea of History, Robin Collingwood, following Voltaire, says that the idea of “Philosophy of History” means “a critical or scientific history, a type of historical thinking in which the historian made up his mind for himself instead of repeating whatever stories he found in old books.”

The Positivists claimed that there are general laws governing the course of events. Thucydides, Joseph Flavius, Dio Cassius, Procopius of Caesarea, and others on the other hand, say that the task of history is to preserve great human deeds from falling into oblivion. Do you subscribe to any of the above “schools”?

JB: I do not think that there are general rules in the writing of history, as it depends on the complex interaction of cultural and temporal contexts, individual approaches, and the particular issues at stake in specific topics. For each book, I consider the task I have set and the audience I have in mind, and I try to write and reason accordingly. The space available is also a key point. The analysis of documents can be scientific, but that of humans is necessarily more limited.

ZJ: So, let me follow up on your claim that there are no general rules in the writing of history. John Stuart Mill, who is hardly ever mentioned as a philosopher of history, claims that most of mankind has no history properly speaking. What he means by that is that history is more than chronology, and to turn chronology into history there must be an engine that drives it for history to develop. Otherwise we deal with static civilization, like China, which he uses as an example. Several thousand years and nothing, or not much. The same can be said about ancient Egypt, which Mill does not mention, but which falls under the same category of static civilizations.

If we look at, for example, sculptures, they seem to be the same for two thousand years. If we go to ancient Greece and compare the development of sculpture and vase design, from the white geometric style in 800-700 BC, to the Classical period, and the almost flamboyant, expressive, emotional Hellenistic style in 4th-century BC (Pergamon reliefs, for instance), we see fantastic “progress” or change in design and expression. Greece changed; China and Egypt did not.

Is Mill’s insight essentially correct? That is, to have history we need to inject the idea of progress into chronology?

JB: I see History as the Past, how we tell stories about the past. Neither in my view is inherently progressivist and I would argue separately that that is the conservative position; but then I am a committed conservative.

ZJ: Let me move to something you wrote about in The British Seaborne Empire. There you claim that in the middle of the 19th-century, Britain applied the new technology more successfully than other European powers, and its industrial production motivated the Empire to expand. However, this insight explains 19th-century expansion. What were the earlier motivating factors, and were they the same that made others seek to build empires?

JB: A quest for trade, a sense of destiny and a feeling of Christian providential is the same three for Portugal and Dutch.

ZJ: You mention what you call “gentlemanly capitalism,” which places emphasis not only on manufacturing of goods, but on finances, insurance etc., what we could call today infrastructure, which is connected with social values. Those values were propagated by the graduates of the British schools. Would you say that there were in fact two empires: one heavily industrial and the other “cultural,” which disseminated the British values (not necessarily intentionally), and that in doing so the British exported their value system to one fourth of the globe?

JB: I would agree entirely. To be effective an imperial system has to have an attractive ideology, else it relies on force and coercion which does not work in the long term as the continued free spirit of Poland shows.

ZJ: Here is a fragment from the description of your book, English Nationalism: A Short History: “Englishness is an idea, a consciousness and a proto-nationalism. There is no English state within the United Kingdom, no English passport, Parliament or currency, nor any immediate prospect of any.” Sir Roger Scruton in his England: An Elegy made what I believe to be a similar claim: England did not succeed in creating a nation, but, rather, Home for the English.

JB: That does not mean that England lacks an identity, although English nationalism, or at least a distinctive nationalism, has been partly forced upon the English by the development in the British Isles of strident nationalisms that have contested Britishness, and with much success.

So, what is happening to the United Kingdom, and, within that, to England? I look to the past in order to understand the historical identity of England, and what it means for English nationalism today, in a post-Brexit world. The extent to which English nationalism has a “deep history” is a matter of controversy, although he seeks to demonstrate that it exists, from ‘the Old English State’ onwards, predating the Norman invasion.

I also question whether the standard modern critique of politically partisan, or un-British, Englishness as “extreme” is merited? Indeed, is hostility to “England,” whatever that is supposed to mean, the principal driver of resurgent English nationalism?

The Brexit referendum of 2016 appeared to have cancelled out Scottish and other nationalisms as an issue, but, in practice, it made Englishness a topic of particular interest and urgency, as set out in this short history of its origins and evolution.

ZJ: What you said makes me wonder whether the reason for Asian civilizations not expanding or building empires lies in a very different character of Eastern religions. After all, around the same time, say 1500, Asia (China, Japan, India) was in some respects more advanced than Europe: Small continent, very divided, small kingdoms, principalities. Asia, viewed from above, appeared to be a better candidate to dominate the world than the West.

JB: You are absolutely correct. They were predominantly courtly and rural and hostile to mercantile interests.

ZJ: The British of 18th- and 19th-centuries did not study business, administration, finances, etc., the disciplines that are popular today. Yet, “reading” the classics or history, as you say of the UK, was fundamental in creating a frame of mind that was conducive in preparing a host of people to run the empire. What role did Classical education play in it?

JB: The Classical education that was dominant in England provided in the shape of Rome a model of imperial behaviour that was seductive in terms of British imperialism, but the mercantile order instead focused on experience-led understanding of opportunities.

ZJ: Since you invoked Poland, let me quote something that an Australian friend of mine wrote me recently: “I admire your energy, but cannot share in any optimism about the immediate future of the US or Western Europe – perhaps something from Central Europe, even Russia might be born – but I am with Kafka – yes there is hope but not for us. I am not trying to convince you – or anyone on this, I am just sharing what I see and feel about now and the future.”

Do you share my friend’s sentiment? I hear it often; the West—the US, Europe etc.—is lost; letting millions of immigrants who cannot assimilate was a mistake, the West abandoned its commitment to Tradition, history, values. Eastern European countries resisted and are in a better position to defend themselves.

JB: There is certainly a cultural crisis in the West, one linked to grave social issues; but the uncertainty of developments, the prime law of history, makes it impossible to predict the future.

ZJ: Does your claim about the rise of industrial production in 19th-century, which made Britain look to expand the empire, apply to China today? The new Silk Road, etc. inscribes itself well in what you said in your book. Is the mechanism the same, similar?

JB: China today has parallels to Britain’s pattern of growth, but is far more authoritarian.

ZJ: Let me move to another topic, but before I do, I would like to give you a few examples. In October 2017, Christ Church in Alexandria, VA, of which George Washington was a founding member and vestryman in 1773, pulled down memorial plaques honoring him and General Robert E. Lee. In a letter to the congregation, the church leaders stated that: “The plaques in our sanctuary make some in our presence feel unsafe or unwelcome. Some visitors and guests who worship with us choose not to return because they receive an unintended message from the prominent presence of the plaques.”

In August 2017, the Los Angeles City Council voted 14-1 to designate the second Monday in October (Columbus Day) as “Indigenous Peoples Day.” According to the critics of Columbus Day, we need to “dismantle a state-sponsored celebration of genocide of indigenous peoples.” Some of the opponents of Columbus Day made their intentions clear by attaching a placard on the monument: “Christian Terrorism begins in 1492.”

In June 2018, the board of American Library Association voted 12-0 to rename the Laura Ingall Wilder Award as the “Children’s Literary Legacy Award.” Wilder is a well-known American literary figure and author of books for children, including Little House on the Prairie, about European settlement in the Midwest. In a statement to rename the award, the Board wrote: “Wilder’s legacy, as represented by her body of work, includes expressions of stereotypical attitudes inconsistent with ALSC’s core values of inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsiveness.”

What is happening in America today sounds, to me, very familiar. As a former denizen of the Socialist paradise, I have the déjà vu feeling. Monuments were torn down, awards were renamed, etc. How do you explain these stunning similarities? To me, and I do not have a better explanation, things come down to History, the understanding of its essence.

History is seen as progressive, has a logic of its own and destroys its past; it condemns itself, its infancy for being immoral and discriminatory. The examples I gave you are American, but similar problems can be derived from the UK. I remember a controversy over the monument of Cecil Rhodes (the founder of a very prestigious scholarship for American and Canadian students) at Oriel College, Oxford, except that Oxford did not give in to the activists’ demands to remove it.

JB: I would prefer not to repeat what I covered in several books on the memorialisation of the past, which I commend to your attention, not least as they offer an account of historiography that is not limited to the narrow world of intellectuals. So, can I add a few contextual points?
A facile and inaccurate approach is to argue that battles over identity reflect the failure of the Marxist narrative and the competing ideologies of the twentieth century.

I am less sanguine. In part, I see a continuation in a new iteration of anti-Western Cold War narratives, especially of the Maoist type; in part The Long March through the Institutions, in part a narcissistic preference for present day emotion and sentiment over continuity, reason , and an understanding of the fecklessness of much current commitment, and in part a brilliant way by self-important monochromatic thinkers to advance their careers through polemic; monochromatic referring to a failure to see a full spectrum of arguments and polemic chosen rather than rhetoric.

ZJ: On September 1st, 2018, the Editors of a prestigious British Magazine the Economist, published “A Manifesto” to “rekindle the spirit of [liberal] radicalism.”

In it, we read: “Liberalism made the modern world, but the modern world is turning against it. Europe and America are in the throes of a popular rebellion against liberal elites, who are seen as self-serving and unable, or unwilling to solve the problems of ordinary people… For the Economist this is profoundly worrying. We were created 175 years ago to campaign for liberalism—not the leftish progressivism’ of American university campuses or the rightish ‘ultraliberalism’ conjured up by the French commentariat, but a universal commitment to individual dignity, open markets, limited government and a faith in human progress brought about by debate and reform.”

However sober the Economist’s statement appears, it is reminiscent of past declarations by the Communists (in 1956, 1966, 1968, 1971, 1980). After each crisis, they made their declarations to keep the faith in the health of communist ideology by blaming the former Party executive committee. The declarations found the classic expression in the slogan: “Socialism Yes, distortions No!”

Once again, as a historian, do you see analogy between Socialism and Liberalism?: “Liberalism Yes, distortions No!” Same problems, same explanations, same idea of blaming someone: the kulaks, the party members, the corrupt elites—but never the Idea, be it the Communist idea or Liberal idea.

JB: Liberalism, like Conservatism, is a mood as well as an ideology, and practices as well as precepts. Inherently, a Liberalism predicated on individual freedom had much to offer and there are contexts in the nineteenth century where Liberalism or at least Liberal causes were meritorious and remain attractive. Anti-slavery, opposition to censorship and support for religious freedom are prime instances. It is ironic to a degree but also a reflection of the ideological essence of the last century, that these ideas are now best advanced by Conservatives while the progressivist dimension of Liberalism has been transmogrified into an authoritarian statism that owes something to Socialism but is not restricted to it.

ZJ: Can there be a healthy conservatism in the US? As our friend Jonathan Clark argues, Americans have problems answering the question what should be conserved. The new country was founded as a rebellion against the Past, against the hierarchical order.

JB: The differing natures of ideological parameters are suggested by the contrast between The USA and Europe. In the former case, the competition has been between different conceptions of individualism with the ability to choose and change religious affiliation at will, a key form of individualism. Conservatism tends to be expressed in terms of hostility to government, hostility which indeed can have an anti-societal perspective and notably so if social norms are imposed. In Europe, notably Continental Europe, the understanding of society places less of an emphasis on the individual.

ZJ: We tend to see the PC movement in the US as an aberration, even insanity, and there is every reason to consider many of the claims made by the advocates of PC as insane. One can hear the call to dismantle “power structure” daily. Listening to the liberal rhetoric one often gets the feeling that oppression is real, as real as it was in 18th c. However, from a broader historical perspective one can see what is happening as further unfolding of the principles which were at work in 18th-century America

JB: There is no correct format, that indeed being a characteristic of Conservatism, being more pluralistic than the doctrinaire nature of the Left. As a British Conservative, I seek a middle way between the two, which incidentally helps explain my support for leaving the European Union. I am wary of government but keen on society.

ZJ: Let’s dwell for a moment on what you just said: As for the first part of your statement (“Conservatism tends to be expressed in terms of hostility to government”), the same thing can be said about Liberalism. You remember how German socialist, Ferdinand Lasalle, described the limited or Liberal government: Nachtwächterstaat—a night-watchman state, or, in the words of the British historian, Charles Townshend, as a “standard-bearer.” If I remember correctly, the opponents of the liberal states called their supporters the “minarchists.”

The sole duty of such a state was to prevent theft, enforce property laws, and provide security. This is not the reason why the Conservatives are hostile to government; they, as you said, are afraid of the government because it can be an instrument of the imposition of laws and regulations which are fundamentally hostile to the “natural order of things.” Can one say, then, that both parties differ with respect to what they see the function or role of the state should be, or why the state is there in the first place.

JB: The interaction, indeed melding of traditional conservatism and liberalism, has varied greatly and will continue to do so. In large part, this reflects contingent circumstances and the way in which they are debated and recalled, in short, the weight of history, but there is commonality of the issues posed by democracy and democratisation, as well as the particular inroads and challenges of Communism, Socialism, and Fascism. To a degree, these developments made classic liberalism redundant unless in a conservative context.

ZJ: With respect to how Liberals and Conservatives perceive the role of the State, can one say that the difference between the two lies in that the Liberals use the state to impose abstract social norms, whereas the Conservatives see the state as a guardian of the inherited order of the Past. Edmund Burke saw it when he talked about the “Empire of Reason,” “cold hearts.” This way of thinking underlies the idea of social engineering, that is, finding a method of molding reality into what the abstract reason, unrestrained by tradition, history, the Past, wants it to be. Thus, the Past—national history, national identity—is no longer something worth preserving, but a piece of clay in the hands of “experts” who know what social and political life should be like.

JB: You have expressed that very well. Macron is a liberal in these terms.

ZJ: Going off of what you just said. (In large part, this reflects contingent circumstances and the way in which they are debated and recalled, in short, the weight of history, but there is commanality of the issues posed by democracy and democratisation, as well as the particular inroads and challenges of Communism, Socialism, and Fascism. To a degree, these developments made classic liberalism redundant unless in a conservative context).

This raises a few interesting points, which I would like to phrase in the following way: First, redundancy. The appearance of the Socialist idea made Liberalism, or some of its propositions, redundant or even obsolete because socialism (not in the Stalinist version but in socialist-democratic version) could be said to have proposed them all, or made them look even better. Second, your redundancy thesis against the Conservative background also helps to explain why Liberalism appeared to be benign and made Conservatism look like a proposition which does not have much to offer.

For as long as Communism was threatening, Liberalism appeared to be attractive because it fought for individual liberties against its collectivist rival. With the collapse of Communism, Liberalism lost its urgency to defend the individual against the democratic collective, which de Tocqueville feared so much. Would you agree?

JB: I would agree completely, and would add that the challenge from liberalism has become more serious because of the ability of left liberals to control the mechanisms of the steadily larger public sector. This provides a different ethos for statism to that of Communism, but it is statism nonetheless.

ZJ: I want to quote something to you. It surprised to me how few people noticed the similarity between Marxist and Liberal understanding of history. Here is the first passage: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.

In the earlier epochs of history, we find almost everywhere a complicated arrangement of society into various orders, a manifold gradation of social rank. In ancient Rome we have patricians, knights, plebeians, slaves; in the Middle Ages, feudal lords, vassals, guild-masters, journeymen, apprentices, serfs; in almost all of these classes, again, subordinate gradations..”

And here is another passage: “The entire history of social improvement has been a series of transitions, by which one custom or institution after another, from being a supposed primary necessity of social existence, has passed into the rank of a universally stigmatised injustice and tyranny. So it has been with the distinctions of slaves and freemen, nobles and serfs, patricians and plebeians; and so it will be, and in part already is, with the aristocracies of colour, race, and sex.”

The second passage comes from the very end of Mill’s Utilitarianism. Marx talked about laws of historical development; Mill in his earliest writings –”Perfectibility,” “Civilization,” “The Spirit of the Age” – talks about “tendencies” (i.e., the spirit).

What is the goal of History to Marx and Mill? Essentially an egalitarian world, a world without polarizing impulses which divide people, and which create hierarchy. History, as it unfolds itself, eliminates hierarchy and leaves “no one behind,” as we say in America.

First, how does such a proposition of a non-hierarchical order of things sound to an eminent historian like yourself? Second, given the “equality” of results—that is, the fact that liberalism is turning into soft totalitarianism—should one see the progressive vision of history as the source of oppressiveness of the two socio-political systems?

JB: To be succinct, equality of outcome, as an impossible result, can only be the objective of the misguided and/or totalitarian. That encompasses liberalism and Marxism, both of which are based on the flawed proposition that mankind must be made equal, and that all else is a false reaction and/or consciousness. Thus, the false consciousness that the Left propounds is in fact its condition.

ZJ: A typical liberal response to your answer about equality of outcome is: we want equality of opportunity. When I hear it, I tell my students: “do farmers in all places have the same opportunity, the same fertile soil and good climate? The same goes for fishermen, and so on.” My second response is: “consider your situation: you have equal opportunity in my class to learn from me; do all of you take the advantage of it? The majority of you did not even do the reading for today.” Some of them seem to understand what I am saying; others resist it. How do you respond to it?

JB: I agree entirely with your observations about teaching. Moreover, the pursuit of equality only creates more inequalities, not only in the determination of an alleged problem, but also in the measures pursued by means of implementation and with reference to the likely outcomes. As a consequence, we are in the world of fleas on fleas.

More subtly, the quest to end inequality inevitably destabilises the precarious equality between state and society, and between government and the individual.

ZJ: Let me put forth a suggestion here, and please do not hesitate to correct me if I am wrong. England is not exactly a home of Liberalism. True, we can talk about the project of broadening the franchise through the Reform Bills of 1832, 1867, and 1884–85. But they can be said to be fundamentally democratic claims. Yet Mill’s Liberalism, as a panoramic, all-embracing vision in the context of 19th century English political thought, occupies a rather exceptional place. Mill’s ideology, because that is what his system is, inscribes itself better in the Continental way of thinking.

Could one say that Liberalism came to England through the back door, through France? I do not mean by that a commonsensical claim, which says that we all are influenced by ideas which come from different geographical places. But that Mill created a political philosophy that had little chance of being created out of “natural” English soil? One could literally point with a finger to places in his On Liberty which Mill “borrowed” from Guizot, in whose General History of Civilization in Europe he found a progressive scheme of history, as much as he borrowed from Wilhelm von Humboldt and Alexis de Tocqueville.

JB: English political thought and practice are traditionally accretional, with the ad hoc quality owing much both to the specific nature of case law and to its use in a parliamentary context on a contingent basis arising from particular challenges. As a result, Mill’s systematic prospectus prefigured the challenge of the later stages of the EU in providing an account that left no real role for the granulated character of English life and institutions: An excess of philosophical idealism cut across the organic development of the nation.

ZJ: You call yourself conservative. Can you explain what it means to you today?

JB: Change in the form of adaptation is an obvious necessity of the human species, but a conservative knows that in itself change is not a moral good, and that change ought to be referential to the past and reverential of it. The social and psychological benefit of continuity is as one with an ideological commitment to the value and values of the past. That is not reaction, but a key element of the trust between the generations that is a necessity for us as individuals and as part of a broader group.

ZJ: You wrote 140 books, including the history of the world, which means you know more history than any single individual on the planet. Historians by the very nature of their profession should care about the Past. Many of your colleagues seem to use history to invalidate Tradition, Culture, the Past—History. How do you explain their attitude? Is it the hatred of oneself—mankind—as Herr Freud would have it? But to be serious: could we say that they are unhappy about who we, as human beings, are?

JB: I fear we are looking here at a profession which is disproportionately attached to identity politics of a peculiarly destructive form, in large part because of a combination of facile Post-Modernism with doctrinaire Socialism. Existing systems are rubbished in terms of an alleged false consciousness.

ZJ: The Walters Museum in Baltimore, where I live, announced (proudly) that this year they will not purchase any pieces of European art; only the art by minorities. They are looking for funds to by art created by “minority” cultures. Decisions like that could be considered insane, but they are made by people in charge of serious cultural institutions.

Looking from a broad historical perspective, one could say, there is nothing surprising in it; the Americans are repudiating, and disposing of, the Past, they continue the 1776 Rebellion. In the middle 1980s they started repudiating education by doing away of what used to be called in the US Western Civilization courses, or Great Books programs; 35 years later we see the intellectual devastation not just in the educational realm but public realm. American students do not know anything. Compare them to students from Kenya, Nigeria, Nepal, Pakistan, India and other places…

Once again, the comparison with Communism comes to mind. They too, were selling “the bourgeois” art in the 1930s. American museums are full of the paintings the Hermitage sold, including a great Poussin in Philadelphia.

JB: Yes, see also the sales by the Newark Museum. The destruction of a great heritage is serving fashionable interests deploying an anti-colonial agenda, so-called, in order to justify their sectional and partisan political agenda. It has no intellectual purpose, but is a deliberately iconoclastic movement which delights in disorientating culture and society

ZJ: Here is a sentence from a recent email by my former (female) student: “I had told you once: We are all on the same conveyor belt headed to the slaughterhouse, just some are further down than others. I’m just trying to save my soul.”

First, what I see in her email is a sense of desperation—the same sense of desperation that people under communism felt—the Roller of History will crush us, thus we need to “adjust our thinking to the official views.” It explains why so many intellectuals compromised, sold themselves, their intellect, talent, integrity… to the ideological devil. More importantly, my student’s reaction is emblematic of how the young and thoughtful American feels.

I used quotations from Marx and Mill to make a point. What is the goal of History to them? An egalitarian world, a world without polarizing impulses which divide people, and which create hierarchy. History eliminates hierarchy and leaves “no one behind,” as we say in America.

JB: The presentation of history as uni-totalitarian is morally flawed and empirically wrong. It is a present, not conceit that seeks to extol a particular perception at the expense of the complexity of the past and the role of free will and choice, both moral and otherwise. The idea of determinism underlies such teleological visions, but they empty life of choice and therefore moral compass.

ZJ: Thank you, Professor Black.

The image shows Captain Ewart capturing the eagle standard of the French 45th Regiment, at the Battle of Waterloo, by Denis Dighton, painted 1815-1817.

This interview was prepared for the Polish magazine Arcana and appears with permission.

A Conversation With Kamel Krifa

The Postil is very pleased to publish this conversation with Kamel Krifa, an actor, film producer, and trainer of Hollywood stars – including Jean-Claude Van Damme, Michelle Rodriguez, Eddie Griffin, Steven Seagal, and so many others. Krifa is Van Damme’s longest collaborator and personal friend, acting alongside him in various movies. This conversation with Grégoire Canlorbe began in Paris, in July of 2017; it was resumed and completed in April of 2020.

Grégoire Canlorbe (GC): In Kickboxer IV, you gave flesh and soul to iconic villain Tong Po. Do you intend to return to the saga?

Kamel Krifa (KK): At the time I was offered a contract for five films to interpret the character of Tong Po. It was an interesting challenge, for my acting was essentially limited to the expression of my eyes and to contorting my mouth. In fact, I was asked to wear a mask, so I would have oriental features.

As for the fight-scenes, I didn’t have the opportunity to really prepare for them well, because I had to keep from sweating and spoiling, the three hours of make-up that I had to undergo each day. (Plus, an extra hour needed to remove the make-up after filming).

In the end, I could give my interpretation of the deceitful and cruel Tong Po (actually my strength and my agility) only once. But in way, I did return to the Kickboxer franchise, when I appeared in Kickboxer: Retaliation, alongside Mike Tyson, Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, Christophe Lambert, and none other than Jean-Claude Van Damme. The movie was released in January of 2018. It’s the sequel to Kickboxer:Vengeance, a remake of Kickboxer which came out twenty-seven years after the original.

GC: Jean-Claude Van Damme has directed a single film, The Quest, in which he plays alongside the late Roger Moore. According to you, why did JCVD not want to repeat the experience again?

KK: Jean-Claude has an undeniable talent as a director and he does not hesitate to advise the directors who work with him. They benefit from his experience, acquired both in front of the camera and behind it. In turn, he offers them the best of himself in his acting.

Since The Quest, he now prefers to delegate the task to the director so he can focus on his interpretation. This allows him to let his mind float easily, instead of confining his attention with a host of technical considerations that can never leave his mind in peace. In this way, he can become fully invested, relaxed, and reactive in front of the camera; he can put himself in the skin of his character with a heightened ability to concentrate.

Also, entrusting the filmmaking to someone else, who he knows is qualified, and to whom he can give directions, gives him time for himself, time to commune with himself, and to read and meditate on subjects that are dear to his heart. Jean-Claude is not only a man of great culture; he is authentic and gifted, with a superior intelligence, who possesses unique insights into people, the things of life, and the universe.

GC: Whether as his coach, his producer, or his on-screen partner, you have been working steadily and consistently with JCVD. Would you care to say a few words about this experience?

KK: I have known Jean-Claude since he was thirteen. When I met him, I was twenty years old; and from simple sports room colleagues, we quickly became best friends and spiritual brothers.

In 1989, Jean-Claude, who had just acted in his career-launching Bloodsport (and was about to become an international star with the tremendous successes of the early 1990s), suggested to me that I become his exclusive trainer. Very honored, I accepted his offer. I then had the opportunity to act alongside him in Death Warrant and Lionheart, and that is how I became a Hollywood actor.

During the 1990s, I continued to appear alongside Jean-Claude in various action movies; and at the same time, I ventured into production. That is how I was an associate producer for Double Impact, featuring Bolo Yeung. I also co-produced Legionnaire, for which I did location-scouting in Morocco for two years. I must confess that I have a special affection for this period film, which deals with the Rif War and which features Abdelkrim Khattabi, whom I had the good fortune to play. Most recently, I collaborated with Jean-Claude on the pilot of the TV series Jean-Claude Van Johnson, sponsored by Amazon, and, of course, on the last installment of the saga, Kickboxer.

GC: Let’s talk about how you got your journey into films all began. Is there a connection between your Tunisian childhood and your early discovery of martial arts?

KK: At the age of seven I had stars in my eyes, as I watched sword-and-sandal and spy films in the 1960s. And it is to a large extent inside the popular movie theaters of Tunis, where action movies had me mesmerized, that my vocation as an actor was born. But it was also at home, from a very early age, where I’d have fun and shoot amateur films, imitating my role-models, like Tarzan or Maciste, that my attraction for cinema took shape. The martial arts, which I have been practicing since childhood, seemed to me early on to be the best way to make my entry into the Hollywood milieu. As an adult, my experiences in the army, the police, and as a bodyguard allowed me to perfect my combat skills.

My childhood was very beautiful, bathed in a diverse yet uniform environment, which was shared by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, living in a fraternal understanding. I could not say if the fact of having spent my childhood in Tunisia, rather than in India or in Australia, made me more predisposed to those life choices. But Tunisia was most certainly a country with no future for me – while Europe was my springboard.

At the age of 15, an internship in the hotel industry allowed me to leave my native land and settle in Germany. One year later I moved to Belgium, still in the hotel industry. After having worked in major, internationally renowned hotels and taken over the management of food and beverage, I had the opportunity to take over a French gastronomy restaurant in Brussels, which specialized in seafood.

While learning English (the mastery of which was indispensable to me, if I wanted to break through in Hollywood), and traveling regularly to America, I also kept up my martial arts training assiduously. At the age of 36, I made the decision to move definitively to the United States. Around the same period, Jean-Claude, then crowned with the halo of success for Kickboxer, introduced me to producer Mark DiSalle, who insisted that I be in the casting of their next movie, Death Warrant—and the rest, as they say, is history.

Finally, I’ve spent more time in my country of adoption, America, than in the country of my origins: the Tunisia where I was born and where I took my first steps, and where I discovered the martial arts and action movies, and from where I set out to conquer Hollywood. Naturally, the fact of having had that Tunisian childhood sensitizes me to the social and economic development of my native country. As such, I have many projects in mind to give back to Tunisia, such as, its first place for open-air studios for foreign films – the place it has lost to Morocco.

GC: Your life is also rather iconoclastic. Do you believe that the law of attraction has something to do with your success?

KK:  I am a very thankful person. I believe in the law of attraction, of course! I believe what we have the ardent desire to obtain, if we work hard to have it, and if sincere and regular prayers accompany our efforts, then we end up getting it – because then events miraculously work in our favor. Since my earliest childhood, I saw myself in Hollywood, and I have been pious and laborious. What my mind dreamed of, the universe brought about.

What are the ingredients of the law of attraction? Having faith in oneself and in one’s destiny; working hard every day that God gives; expressing gratitude towards the Almighty for the favorable news that reaches us, the rewards that our efforts reap; and also, respecting others, showing generosity, helpfulness, and compassion. Be a good and charitable person, and what you have offered, the universe will give back a hundredfold!

There is a precept in Islam, zakat, which asks the wealthy Muslim to give 10% of his wealth. The Good Lord rewards everyone according to his beneficence. He who gives little will be recompensed little by life; he who offers much will see his desires fulfilled.

I am now over 65 years old; and yet people think I am in my fifties. Why? I take care of the body that God has given me: it is the sanctuary of my faith. I train every day. I drink only occasionally, and never to excess. And now I don’t drink at all. I watch what I eat. I avoid soda-pop, and also polluted fish and meats poisoned by added sugar.

But that is not all. I look after the health of my soul and strive to be a good man. I pray—and I train—in my own way, each day that God creates, and I always respect His laws. I pray on all occasions, whether I’m in training like on my bike or in a meditation session.

My physical health is not only the result of the care I take of my body; it is the reflection of the cleanliness of my soul. Martial arts have given me that integral discipline – the discipline of both body and soul – that Islam expects of the good Muslim. Ditto for a Catholic, a Jew, or a Buddhist – all religions converge in their teaching.

GC: It is not uncommon to point out – without condoning the bestial wars carried out on behalf of God or Allah – the allegedly heroic and ascetic ideal of Islam, which would contrast with the “consumerist apathy” of the allegedly atheist West. What are your thoughts on that subject?

KK: I am a spiritual believer, open to the world. When I am in Los Angeles, I go to the church with Jean-Claude Van Damme; when I am in Asia, I pray in a Buddhist temple. I pray as much in the mosque as in the synagogue. To me the word “Islam” means peace and respect. And whatever the religion envisaged, one obviously must be careful not to paint everyone with the same brush. Not all Muslims are terrorists or fanatics. For my part, I respect all religions, but I reject all fanaticisms, in that I reject the fanaticism which can be found in all religions.

As for the true ascetic, the true warrior, he is not the one who shoots at an innocent crowd or who beats his wife. He is the one who has the spirit of competition, the taste for armed struggle or with bare hands, the rage of the conqueror; but who can restrain himself at the same time. He is the one who offsets his assertiveness and his passionate temperament with his generosity, his greatness of soul, and his sense of duty; the one who protects and avenges the weakest, and who devotes himself to work, to prayer, and to self-purification.

A warrior makes war on all that can corrupt and disfigure his soul, be it debauchery, drunkenness, laziness, superficiality, or egoism. Islam properly understood does not call for perpetrating barbarous acts; it calls for putting into practice self-discipline and self-purification, in which lies the key to personal fulfillment. It also calls us to watch over our neighbor, whatever his religion may be.

Right now, the coronavirus epidemic reminds us of the importance of discipline: Being able to stay away from each other, and being able to wash your hands, your face. We wish our future to be good; we pray for a happy future for the world, which is going through a difficult period with this virus, without medication to treat it.

Islam insists on the duty of cleanliness: Routine and meticulous cleanliness. It also stresses the importance of praying, not only for oneself, but also and above all, for the whole world; the duty to pray (and to act) so that everyone may be healthy and eat his fill. As such, I am currently dedicated to the distribution of protective masks, through an association that I have just created and which works closely with companies specializing in medical equipment. Your readers are welcome to write to me for more information.

GC: Do you see a universal message common to Islam and to all other religions?

KK: Yes, this one: We are all human and we all have the same God, the same Creator. We all live under the same sun and in the same universe, the same house, and we are all passers-by here below. The Prophet Muhammad enjoins us to watch over our neighbor, not to brutalize or enslave him. He enjoins us to respect him, to lend him assistance, and to consider him as our brother. He calls us to lead a virtuous, charitable, and fulfilled life; and to be at peace with ourselves, and to care as much for our souls as for our bodies.

What the Prophet Muhammad, in his own way and in his own language, states, all religions affirm so. Muslims respect all Prophets: Ibrahim, Moses, Jesus. They follow only the last of them, Muhammad, for he is the one who was announced to close and clarify their teachings. Muslims believe the Koran because it contains things that are unexplainable by reason alone; it surprisingly predicts the future.

The good Lord gave me good health (hence my gratitude), which in turn gave me the power to persevere, and then to know the joy of finding an opening, a loophole, for each obstacle in my way. For this reason, I want to give humans and animals what life has offered me. I want to take care of my companions out of gratitude for Allah and out of love for others.

The concern for watching over others pushed me, throughout my life, to work seriously and to devote myself to the cinema and coaching. I am a soldier. Today it is that same state of mind that has led me to launch my charitable foundation, the Kamel Krifa Association, to take care of humanity and all the creatures that inhabit this world. You surely know that Jean-Claude has animal welfare very much at heart. When I told him about the association I was setting up, he made sure to tell me, “Don’t forget the dogs!”

GC: According to Mike Tyson, who plays alongside you in Kickboxer:Retaliation, a great man is not the one guarding himself from the people, but the one being accepted by the people. According to you, to which of those two categories of men does the current US President, Donald Trump, belong?

KK: Both Mike Tyson and Jean-Claude Van Damme have declared themselves publicly in favor of Donald Trump. For my part, I do not meddle in politics. Since we are talking about Mike Tyson, I would like to say that he is a person I admire: An authentic warrior. When one gets acquainted with the videos of his youthful fights, easily found on YouTube, there is only one possible reaction – you’re blown away. And also, Mike Tyson came to find solace, a guide in the Muslim religion.

Again, the asceticism preached by the Koran does not consist in mortifying oneself, or making oneself small. On the contrary, it is a discipline that allows you to give the best of oneself; to achieve the objectives that you give yourself; to live up to one’s ambition – be it as a boxer, a practitioner of martial arts, an actor, a writer, a politician, a physician, an engineer, or even a businessman.

GC: A quick glance at contemporary film production allows us to notice that a white hero imbibing Asian values is often portrayed in American films and series. That form of soft power, which allows the Asian culture to bleed into the modern myths of the West, is manifestly unfamiliar to Russia. To my knowledge, at least, there is no movie where an American hero cottons onto Orthodox-Slavic values. How do you explain it?

KK: Your question is interesting. The attraction of the American action movie for Asia seems to me to be, to a large extent, linked to the mystical aura surrounding the Asian martial arts. Indeed, Russians may well have Systema and Israelis may well have Krav Maga, but Asia is clearly the unassailable homeland of martial arts.

For Asians, the martial arts are much more than a discipline; they are a religion and a philosophy in themselves. For the adepts of martial arts, all nationalities and all confessions considered, Asia means the equivalent of Mecca. Russia simply cannot compete with the appeal of Asian culture in that area.

GC: Thank you for your time. Would you like to add a last thing or two?

KK: Whether it’s from trips and outings of all kinds, to the previews of the movies of Jean-Claude, Paris is a city where I have many memories. You know, when I started helping Jean-Claude, he was not an international star at all. I fought non-stop for him – by getting on-board financiers, advertisers, and journalists who would propel him forward. I did it for a brother, never asking for anything in return; and without ever letting myself judge him for his excesses with drugs or alcohol. Because who am I to judge my neighbor? God alone is in a position to judge what we do with our existence on this planet. But I am very happy that Jean-Claude, whom I tried to rescue in that long fight also, ended up overcoming his addictions. I prayed to the good Lord that he cast off his demons; and today Jean-Claude is perfectly clean.

The most important thing in the life of an actor – Van Damme, Schwarzenegger, Stallone – is not his image, his roles on the screen; it is what he does with his life, it is the good he manages to do around him in his life. I always told Jean-Claude that in my eyes, the ultimate goal of our success in cinema, the ultimate dream, was to assist the weakest and the most disadvantaged. I find myself in the perfect moment of my life to remember that.

More than ever, I wish to do for my neighbor what I have done for Jean-Claude over all those years: Helping people in all areas in which I have expertise – more than ever, because I believe in the brotherhood of all men (without distinction as to color or religion). I wish to take action in the fight against poverty, mistreatment, pollution, and war. In a word, to work towards the unity of the world.

That is the goal of my association, which will include an academy for martial arts and a production house for films from all over the world, as much the United States, as well as, Africa, Europe, or China. More than ever, I wish to work in positivity, generosity, love, and the awareness of all those things. “To be aware,” as Jean-Claude puts it so well.

You can reach Kamel at his email address: krifaster@gmail.com

You can follow him on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kamel.krifa

Or on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/therealkamelkrifa/

The image shows a bubishi illustration from the 19th-century.

A Conversation With Howard Bloom

This month, the Postil is pleased and greatly honored to publish an interview with Howard Bloom, who started in theoretical physics and microbiology at the age of ten and spent his early years in science. Then, driven by the desire to study mass human emotion through the lens of science, he went into a field he knew nothing about, popular culture. He founded the biggest PR firm in the music industry and worked with superstars like Prince, Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Billy Joel, Queen, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Billy Idol, Joan Jett, Styx, Hall and Oates, Simon & Garfunkel, Run DMC, and Chaka Khan. Bloom went back to formal science in 1988 and, since then, has published seven books on human and cosmic evolution, including The God Problem, Global Brain, and The Lucifer Principle. Called “next in a lineage of seminal thinkers that includes Newton, Darwin, Einstein, [and] Freud” by Britain’s Channel 4 TV, and “the next Stephen Hawking” by Gear magazine, he is the subject of BRIC TV’s documentary, The Grand Unified Theory of Howard Bloom.

Grégoire Canlorbe (GC): As an entrepreneur in the public relations industry, you were particularly active under the Reagan era. How do you explain that the eighties saw both a return to some conservative values and an explosion of creativity and coolness in music and movies?

Howard Bloom (HB): That’s a very good question. I’ve never thought of that connection before. My wife had been a socialist when I met her in the 1960s. And then in the 1970s she became a conservative. So she was siphoning money out of our bank account and giving it to Ronald Reagan’s political campaigns—without telling me. She knew I hated Reagan. But I never connected Ronald Reagan with what was going on in popular music at that point. In the 1960s popular music was the music of rebellion. Rock music was about raising your fist and saying to adults: “I have a right to be an individual. I have a right to exist.” Rock was in tune with the hippie philosophy: “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” And, “We’re here to overturn the establishment.” In other words, rock and roll was part of a rebellion whose political activists were working to toss people our parent’s age out of power. That was the 1960s. But there was no overt philosophy—there was no ideology—of rebellion in the 1970s and the 1980s. However if you look at the attitude of the artists who emerged, it was sheer rebellion.

Joan Jett got onstage and raised her fist. And the way she raised her fist was the strongest part of her message. She was a woman. And as a woman, you were expected to be like Grace Slick or Janis Joplin: the guys had the guitars, the power instruments, and you did not. You simply crooned into the microphone. But Joan was saying: “I’m going to take over the fucking guitar, myself. I have the power. I own the power on stage. And I am going to rebel as a self-contained entity not needing the “weapons” of “males with guitars.” My band? Hey, that’s just an extension of me.” Joan’s was the rebellion of girls who had been raised with working mothers. And for a middle class girl to be raised by a working mother was something brand new. It was a result of the invention of indoor plumbing, the washing machine, the drier, and the dishwasher. Women were no longer the slaves of water-hauling and clothes washing. And the women’s liberation movement had given them the freedom to compete with men in the workplace. Now the daughters of these liberated women had a very new experience of what it meant to be female. And that sense came to a head in Joan Jett. Or it came to a fist. But as for men, I mean, look at several of my other clients. Billy Idol also raised his fist in a gesture of rebellion. Did the anger of these fists have anything to do with the Reagan era? It’s hard to tell.

John Mellencamp also came to the lip of the stage with his fist raised. If you were here, I could show you the difference between the raised fist of each of those three artists. Each made a slightly different muscular statement—a statement made with muscles. And then, there were bands that were already slipping into acceptance of a parent’s generation, and acceptance of an older generation. Not rebellion, but acceptance. And those were bands like Spandau Ballet, Berlin, which were both my bands, and a bunch of others. Later, the whole attitude of rebellion would disappear from popular music. At least, it would be minimized significantly. In fact, Michael Jackson would live with his mother, his father, and his brothers—an unthinkable act among the rock rebels. And that business of raising your fist on stage would no longer be part of the package, if you were a rock ‘n’ roller. In Michael Jackson it would be replaced by fierce pointing.

The Reagan era was relatively prosperous, which was good. And it’s only when you have a prosperous age that kids can afford to be thoroughly rebellious, because when you have an age like the 2000s and the 2010s, when adult kids are still living in their parents’ houses, kids can’t afford to rebel. They need the comfort, the shelter, of their parents to move forward. So, that helps explain why the attitude of rebellion disappeared. And I don’t see rebellion in the music, today. Admittedly, listening to music has totally changed. Working with music has totally changed. I listen to Pandora. I don’t know the era of the bands that Pandora is playing to me, but to me, that attitude of rebellion has gone—maybe I just don’t understand these bands well enough. I don’t know the physical stance, the muscular message, of bands like The Eagles of Death Metal and the Queens of the Stone Age or of stars like Joe Bonamassa and Jack White—not to mention trans-racial artists like Keb Mo.

GC: Your babies, Prince and Michael Jackson, both died in the past ten years. How did you react to learning of their disappearance? As a critic of hard ecologism (or eco-nihilism), how do you assess the lyrics of Jackson’s pieces such as “The Earth Song” or “Heal the World”?

HB: Michael Jackson died on my birthday, June 25th, 2009, and I always felt I had conversations that I needed to complete with Michael. It took me years to realize why. My initial response when I started getting calls from the manager of Michael’s brothers in roughly 1982 was, “No, I don’t want to work with the Jacksons.” The Jacksons were easy. If you have a talking dog, the dog can get on the phone and say “Michael Jackson,” and any editor in the country will drop everything and offer the dog a cover story in exchange for an interview. And I don’t do easy things, so I was not interested. I do hard things—I do crusades. And then, I got a call from the Jacksons’ manager, the same guy I’d been saying no to for four months, saying, “The Jacksons are gonna be in town this weekend, and they’d like to meet with you.” And, Grégoire, you know my background. I did not grow up with other kids. I did not grow up with adults. I grew up with guinea pigs and lab rats and an aquarium full of guppies. So I didn’t know about normal human rituals, but I had heard this phrase that if you want to say no to somebody, if you’re going to be a mensch, if you’re going to be a real man, you have to say no to their face.

So I agreed to a meeting with the Jacksons and I took the elevator up to the 54th story of the Helmsley Palace Hotel on Madison Avenue at 50th Street in Manhattan. And I walked down the corridor and I knocked on the door, and the door opened four inches. And the minute the door opened, I knew I was going to have to work with the Jacksons because you could see these four guys plastered up against the wall as if something really dark and ominous was in the room, and nobody could tell what it was. And it took me about 10 or 15 years to figure out what I felt the Jacksons had hired me for. Once I finally figured it out, I realized they had hired me to save their brother’s soul. Because there was trouble—there was big trouble. So, when Michael died, I felt that my job was not finished. I had not succeeded in my task. The whole story of tracking down the villain who did Michael Jackson is in my new book Einstein, Michael Jackson & Me: a Search for Soul in the Power Pits of Rock & Roll.

Michael spent 50 years on this planet, and for 25 years, he was rising towards superstardom. The biggest superstardom anyone had ever seen. Then for 25 years, for half of his life, he was dangling on the cross. He was crucified by the press, of all things. And I felt that the job of saving his soul was unfinished. And I felt the conversations that we were missing, that we had never had, that we should have had. But I always thought there was plenty of time, and then, all of a sudden, the night of my birthday, as a present, I got the news that Michael Jackson had died. I was devastated—I was floored. The story of the night I was told Michael Jackson had died is in the opening chapter of Einstein, Michael Jackson & Me. When they closed the coffee shop where I was working in those days for the night, I went up to the park for my walk through the meadow, looking up at the stars. And then, I was walking back from the park down the street. And normally, the streets in Park Slope, Brooklyn, at that hour—it was about 12:30 at night—are abandoned. They’re deserted in my neighborhood. But that night, there were two kids, about 19 years old, sitting on a stoop. And as I walked past them, I heard a voice.

I had my headphones on, so I didn’t know what the voice had said. I was listening to a book. And then, I realized when I got another hundred feet down the street that it had said, “Michael Jackson is dead.” And I wondered, “Are they saying that to me because they know that I’ve worked with Michael Jackson? Or, are they just saying that to anybody who passes by?” So I turned around and walked back up the street and took my headphones off and said, “What did you say?” And they repeated, “Michael Jackson is dead.” And I said, “Why did you say that?” expecting that they would say they knew me from the Tea Lounge, the cafe where I worked. And they just said, “We’re trying to tell everybody.”

So it became obvious that they were saying it to me because I was a generation or two older than they were, and they wanted nobody over the age of 30 to get away without realizing that a greatness had passed, that somebody of tremendous importance had just died. And I don’t remember whether I told them that I worked with Michael or not, but knowing me, I probably did tell them. Michael’s death was shocking. As I said, I still have conversations I need to finish with Michael. And one of the most disturbing things about death is its finality. You can no longer talk to those people who are gone—not at all. There is no longer any chance whatsoever of having a conversation.

Prince is a whole different matter. I felt more in response to Michael. Look, when I was 10 years old in Buffalo, New York, no other kids wanted me. My parents didn’t have time for me. So I had been alone since I was an infant. One afternoon I was in my living room and there was a book open in my lap. And the book said the first two rules of science are these: “The truth at any price, including the price of your life.” And it told the story of Galileo and they got it all wrong. As if he’d been willing to go to the stake to defend his truth. That was false. Galileo swore that everything he’d written was false in exchange for house arrest. But I needed the heroic version of the story. The book said that the second rule of science is, “Look at things right under your nose as if you’ve never seen them before, and then, proceed from there.” And it told the story of Anton van Leeuwenhoek—it got a bit of that wrong, too. He was one of the two men who invented the microscope. But those two rules became my religion. And Michael Jackson was the living incarnation of those two rules; he was those two basic rules come to life. The first rule: “The truth at any price, including the price of your life” is the law of courage. Michael had courage. He would not let anybody fuck with his kids. And the second law: “Look at things right under your nose as if you’ve never seen them before” is the law of curiosity, awe and wonder. And Michael had awe, wonder and surprise in a degree that I had never expected to see from any quarter.

Prince and I had something in common in that we had both built our own mini-societies. I helped put together, by accident, the hippie movement. Since other people’s cliques wouldn’t have me, the only cliques in which I could live were cliques that I fashioned myself, and Prince had that quality too. You know, when he was a teenager in Andre Cymone’s basement, he put together a culture—a mini-culture—his own mini-culture based on the idea that sex will liberate you, sex will set you free, and that sex will make violence unnecessary. That was actually an idea he got from the culture that I had helped start, the hippy culture. Remember, our motto in the hippy movement was “make sex, not war.” We created a sexual revolution. Though we didn’t actually start the ideas of that revolution—that idea of free love got started around 1800, 160 years earlier. But I did not have as many unfinished conversations with Prince. He was so vigorous in the whole time that I knew him. He was so well built despite the fact that he was only five foot two, or something like that. It was impossible to imagine him being gone.

And so, there wasn’t as urgent a need to finish a conversation with him, though I did feel I had unfinished conversations with him. After all, we’d risen together. I’d helped take him from an unknown 19 year-old—that’s what he said he was at the time, he may have been 22—to superstardom, and I had used everything that I had ever learned in years of studying star-making in order to get him there. And we did have things to say to each other. But it wasn’t the same thing. Michael was to me twice as important as anybody I had ever met in my life—at least twice as important as anybody that I had ever met in my life.

Prince, for all of his remarkable workaholism and all of his tremendous productivity and all of his astonishing ability to command an audience on stage, was a normal mortal. Michael was not like a mortal at all. Michael was like an angel or a saint. In other words, he was the living incarnation of some sort of divinity—specifically, the divinity that comes from his astonishing degree of awe and wonder. “Earth Song” is probably my favorite piece of Michael Jackson’s music. It’s just gorgeous, musically. The lyrics aren’t anything special, because they’re about standard ecological clichés. But remember, Michael was not just a lyricist; he was a musician. He spoke through his music. He spoke through his dancing. And what a powerful song that “Earth Song” was!

So, Michael was showing you his soul through his songs, through co-writing things like “We Are the World,” “Earth Song,” and “Man in the Mirror,” which basically says, “If you’ve got something important to do, start it now”—the same message as “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” a T.S. Eliot poem I grew up on. Michael showed you where his values were with those songs—although, not completely. If I hadn’t spent the night that I described in the book, sitting in a trailer outside of a huge studio complex, listening to his explanation about why he was canceling his tour, and then, trying to give him an explanation of why cancelling his tour would do damage to the kids that he took so seriously—the tens of thousands of kids he carried around in his heart—I would never have understood Michael’s intense commitment to his audience, to his kids. Again, that’s a story in Einstein, Michael Jackson & Me: a Search for Soul in the Power Pits of Rock & Roll. And it’s an amazing story.

But Mother Nature loves those of her kids who, like Michael Jackson, oppose her most. Nature proceeds by breaking her own rules. And we are the next generation of nature’s lawbreakers. We carry nature into her future by inventing new things. For 13.7 billion years, nature has been going from nothing but a big bang of space, time and speed to an increasingly complex universe, from elementary particles to atoms, from atoms to giant sweepings of atoms called galaxies, from galaxies to the stars and planets, and then, to big molecules and life. In other words, nature has never stopped creating in the entire 13.7 billion years of this universe’s existence. And we are just her next tools for creation. So, we have an obligation to create. We have an obligation to innovate. We have an obligation to break nature’s laws—on behalf of nature and her restless creativity.

Now, this isn’t to say that we have an obligation to destroy the ability of this planet to sustain life, far from it. But it’s we humans—specifically us Western civilization humans—who invented the idea of ecology and invented the idea that we should “heal the world” instead of destroying the ecological systems on the face of the planet. And this is the very first time in human history that we’ve had massive protest movements that have been given institutional sanction, that have been made a part of the system. And it’s the first time in human history, in the course of the last 150 or 200 years, that we have had peace movements, that we have had anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism movements—and then, ecological movements. We have had Greta Thunberg shouting “How dare you?” just like Michael Jackson was singing “All I wanna say is that they don’t care about us.”

But even that is unnatural, to have protest movements. And it’s through those protest movements that we have self-correction mechanisms. The job of humans is to do things as unnatural as plants taking to land, as trees taking to the sky, and as the invention of photosynthesis. Because that is the way the universe proceeds. She breaks her own laws. She busts through her previous limitations. Nature rebels against the shackles of her nature. She constantly springs what my books call shape shock and supersized surprises. And nature, or the universe, never goes backwards. When she seems to go backwards, as when she exploded her first stars, a million years into those stars’ existence, she uses that catastrophe to create whole new realities. Long before those star deaths, when the first generation of stars was born, there were only three different kinds of atoms: hydrogen, helium and lithium. And in the collapse of dying stars, nature created eighty-nine new kinds of atoms. That’s what nature does with the process of destruction: she creates.

GC: You are regularly travelling into Asia for professional reasons. How do you account for the fascination that Asia and especially Thailand turned out to exert on the eighties’ action movie—with John Rambo (played by Sylvester Stallone) seeking refuge in Thailand… or Jean-Claude Van Damme defeating a Thai champion to the acclamation of a crowd that calls him “the white warrior”?

HB: I’ve been in Seoul, Korea, twice. One of those visits was to keynote a United Nations conference on governance. I’ve been to Chengdu, China, once. I’ve been to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, twice. First, to put together a two-day intensive training program for CEOs and general managers called “Re-perceiving leadership,” and the second time, because I co-founded and co-chaired the Asian Space Technology Summit. So, that’s my Asian experience. Oh, yes, I went to Kobe, Japan, to lecture on harvesting solar power in space and transmitting it to Earth.

We – the West – started dealing with Asia two thousand years ago when the Silk Road was opened and China started exporting silk to Rome. The wives of Roman senators – the wealthiest women in Rome – tried to one up each other by wearing the ultimate status symbol, robes made of Chinese silk. And then, we fell out of contact with Asia again when we, the West, lapsed into our dark ages, and contact began again with Marco Polo about 1250 A.D. China has been a land of riches and it’s been a land of wonders for those two thousand years. China, through almost all of those two thousand years, has been the greatest exporting nation on earth—and the most innovative. Plus, we’re so fascinated with societies that are radically different from ours that we developed exploration and anthropology. China has almost always been ahead of us. Except in curiosity about other societies—to China, societies outside the boundaries of the Chinese empire were too barbaric to merit attention.

In the West, the idea of anything strange and exotic attracts us. At least, it attracts us when we’re not in dark ages. When we are in dark ages, we pull a blanket over our heads and hide—we don’t want to know about things that are alien. But we are so fascinated by alien cultures that we dream up alien extraterrestrials, people from other galaxies. And many of us are certain that these aliens exist and that they’ve been making contact with Earth for a long time. The difference and the strangeness are exhilarating – especially the strangeness of a culture that’s almost as old as ours, being only about two thousand years younger, and which has produced astonishments, marvels! I mean, the Japanese and the Chinese invented the use of tea as a beverage. They invented the teacup, the saucer, and the fine porcelain these things are made of. They invented the teapot and the tea ceremony. They invented all of these things that to people like Voltaire were mesmerizing.

Voltaire lived in a time that was fascinated by Asia, fascinated by India, fascinated mostly by China, and also fascinated by Japan. And we’ve been attracted to Asian culture ever since because of the East’s radical difference and the light that difference has shed on our own culture. Thailand, specifically, I can’t answer that question, except Thailand was Ceylon, and Ceylon seems to have played a big role in the Thousand and One Arabian Nights, in the story of Sinbad the Sailor. And until the last 100 years, Ceylon was a magical place, a place where strange and magical things happened.

GC: Clint Eastwood, who spoke favorably of Trump in 2016, instead announced his support for Michael Bloomberg in the coming 2020 presidential election. To what extent do you recognize yourself in such an endorsement?

HB: I was hoping that Bloomberg would become the Democratic nominee for President. Bernie Sanders is a brilliant man, and one of his brilliances is his ability to boil an entire platform down to five sentences, something that Hillary Clinton definitely was not able to do. And another of Bernie’s brilliances is to be honest if he’s asked a question, like four days ago: “How do you feel about the Russians, about the idea that the Russians are supporting your election?” he was asked by a reporter. He came to the camera and said immediately, “The Russians had better get out of our elections!” I wish Donald Trump would say that. But for all of his brilliance, Bernie Sanders doesn’t understand the capitalist system.

The Western system, the system I outlined in The Genius of the Beast: a Radical Revision of Capitalism, has brought material miracle after material miracle to the face of this Earth. And the Western system is based on a balancing act between private industry, government and the protest industry. Or, to put it differently, the genius of the Western system is based on a balance between socialism and capitalism. Government provides things like roads and the Internet, which government invented. DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) invented the Internet. You could call that socialism if you wanted to. Then there’s the protest industry, which we talked about a minute ago: the peace movement that received the tool of civil disobedience in 1848 from Henry David Thoreau; the anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism movement that had its first global conventions in 1899, and the environmentalist movement. And when you keep those three elements in balance—private industry, government, and the protest industry—you have a brilliant system that produces astonishing results. But Bernie doesn’t understand the private enterprise part of the system. He doesn’t understand billionaires. He thinks there should be no billionaires whatsoever.

Right now the American government space program at NASA is dead—it’s absolutely down. It’s spending huge amounts of money, but it’s not accomplishing anything, at least when it comes to humans in space. It’s accomplishing wonderful things when it comes to doing science in space, science done with automated equipment like our wildly successful Mars Rovers. But the only thing that’s keeping manned space alive and showing us hope for the future—for getting beyond this planet, for putting towns on the moon and putting cities on Mars—is Elon Musk, a billionaire, Jeff Bezos, another billionaire, and, possibly, Richard Branson, another billionaire. But that initiative is not coming out of governments at all. If we didn’t have billionaires, we wouldn’t stand a chance of gardening the solar system and greening the galaxy. We wouldn’t stand a chance of bringing space to life by bringing life to space.

First billionaires buy things that only they can afford. Then 20 years later, we can all afford them. But it takes the billionaires cutting through the interference. It takes billionaires carving out the next step, or at least, being there to pay for the next step. Michael Milken, the guy who invented junk bonds, has founded a cancer research institute that’s doing some very important work. Bill Gates is funding very important stuff all over the planet. We need billionaires. Frankly, we don’t need billionaires who are billionaires because their fathers made the money, or their mothers made the money. We need billionaires who are capable of making the money themselves because in order to make those billions, they have to make a major contribution to society. Bernie doesn’t understand that.

Bloomberg does understand that. He started as just a normal middle-class kid and he built an empire that’s worth 59 billion dollars. He built it by offering new services and improvements on old services. He has managed and organized people by the thousands. Donald Trump never managed much more than about four employees, or maybe 10 at most. Donald Trump was running a very small business based, to a large extent, on lying and cheating. But Michael Bloomberg has done it the honest way. Michael Bloomberg is a failure in debates. But he has demonstrated his platform through something more important than words on a debate stage. He has demonstrated it through actions. Look at the charities that he has been supporting very generously over the course of the last 20 years: leading the anti-gun movement and underwriting education for inner city black kids who do poorly in the public education system.

My cousin Deborah Kenny founded something called the Harlem Village Academies that take kids at random off the streets of Harlem and put them through an education that helps them get into college. Then her kids stay in college – they graduate. It’s remarkable. And Bloomberg has funded these educational programs. He has funded an entire anti-gun organization. My nephew has been one of his community organizers for those anti-gun groups. Bloomberg has funded environmentalist organizations. He doesn’t need to win in a debate. He wins through the actions that he takes.

GC: President Trump is occasionally said to have introduced a “punk” spirit in politics. Yet Donald Trump has established himself as a womanizer; as a President he is now establishing himself as a man of peace, breaking with the interventionist neoconservative doctrine, as well as endeavoring to set up peace in the Middle East between Sunni nations and Israel—and to trigger the fall of the Mullahs in Iran. From this angle, is he not rather in line with the hippie motto “Make love, not war”?

HB: That’s a very interesting way of looking at things. We’ll eventually see the impact of what Trump is doing. You know, the economy did very well under Barack Obama for the last six years of Barack Obama’s term. It did very well under the first three years of Donald Trump. In fact, it set new records during those three years. Then came the Covid-19 virus and ended the longest period of economic growth in American history. However, the Obama administration created more jobs in its last three years than the Trump administration created in its first three years. Remember the first rule of science, the one that I latched onto at the age of ten, the rule that Michael Jackson embodied: “The truth at any price, including the price of your life.” One of the things that bothers me about Donald Trump is that Trump tells 12 lies a day, and he just makes it up as he goes along. He has no allegiance to the truth. And his truth changes every day—he contradicts himself. And I can’t stand that—I just cannot stand that destruction of truth. To me, a democracy depends on truth. So does the successful conquest of Covid-19.

I didn’t read Trump’s peace plan when it came out. I was probably busy appearing on the radio or something and researching another topic. But before the peace plan was announced, Trump’s plan was to get the Saudis and the other Sunni nations together and get them to make peace with Israel so that the Sunni nations could take advantage of Israel as an ally; and so together they could face off against Iran. This is exactly what Saudi Arabia wants to do. It wants to lead an alliance against Iran. The Saudis are scared to death of Iran. I, as a Zionist, very much welcome peace with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Dubai, and all of the middle-eastern Sunni countries. And I am horrified that the world lets Iran get away with having its people chant in the streets, “Death to America, death to Israel,” because the Iranians really do mean death.

They can’t rain death down upon the United States with their missiles—at least not yet—but they can do it with Israel very easily. And I am appalled that the world tolerates it when Iran puts: “Destroy the Zionist entity” as a slogan on the sides of its missiles as it test-launches them. I’m appalled that the world would allow an entire nation to get away with an overt genocidal policy. So, what Trump is doing in the Middle East looks good to me. The difficulty is when Trump is gone. Of course, Trump has no intention of ever going, and Trump wants to be replaced by his son Donald, and then by his daughter Ivanka. But if Trump is ever gone, there is such revulsion against Donald Trump in the United States that that revulsion will also be used against Israel because Trump is just poison in the minds of American Democrats. And I’m a Democrat and a liberal. So it’s tricky for me to acknowledge that Trump has done some things that I approve of.

GC: In his autobiography Billy Idol recalls his collaboration with you on the occasion of a hectic episode of his career. “In late February 1987, I found myself on another coke-smoking binge, walking into a police anti-crack sting in Washington Square with another lady friend, Grace Hattersley. Everyone else in Manhattan had read in the newspaper that day that there would be a police operation in the park that night. The police only insisted on arresting one of us, and Grace kindly decided to take the fall for me. A true gift, since I could’ve been deported had it been me who was arrested. Nonetheless, it ended up on the front pages of all the New York papers. “Just prior to this incident, I had taken a meeting with my press agent, Howard Bloom, who was telling me we needed a major press event to help announce the tour, so when I saw him the day after the front-page exposure, I said to him, “Well, how’s that for press coverage?” and he responded in an exasperated tone, “I didn’t mean that kind of press.” The story didn’t end there. Grace gave a press conference, mentioning that she was my girlfriend, which enraged Perri, who decided to call her own press conference to announce that she was my real girlfriend. The day after Grace’s media chat, Perri appeared at hers, opening up her shirt to display a leopard-print bra to the photographers as she exclaimed to the assembled press: “I’m Billy Idol’s girlfriend. I know something like this may split up some people, but we’ve been through a lot.” That settled it. When I headlined Madison Square Garden later that year, I opened the show with an insider’s remark, “From Washington Square to Madison Square,” and the audience roared with laughter.” How do you remember this tragicomic incident for your part? How do you assess the present situation of Billy Idol’s career with respect to that of Mick Jagger or Iggy Pop?

HB: I think Billy’s book is brilliant – and it’s brilliant for what it reveals. What disturbed me about Billy was his use of drugs. And I thought he was only on cocaine. But it turns out, when you read his book, that he was not only on cocaine; he was on heroin and he was on alcohol. Then, it also turns out that he was freebasing cocaine. Well, I actually knew about his free-basing. But to discover in his book just how hideously he was into drugs was horrifying for me. And, through his book, to see that he’s gotten off of those drugs and can write about it is, to me, admirable. God knows what my response was. I vaguely remember that incident in the park that Billy is talking about, but the most important thing that I remember was trying to save Billy’s life, and trying to save him from drugs. And, hopefully, we accomplished that because he was on his way to death. And that would have been terrible because he’s actually a brilliant man. And he certainly lives out his personality in a very big way.

So, I’m glad we managed to stop him. I mean, basically, what happened was this. His parents came into town, and I was very upset about what was happening to Billy with drugs. And his parents met with everybody on his team. And all the people on his team said, “Oh, Billy’s doing wonderfully. He’s doing just fine!” because they didn’t want to lose their jobs. Being associated with Billy Idol meant money, and it meant power to them, although it hadn’t when I first started with Billy. His career was about to die when I started with him. I came up with a strategy that basically brought him back to life and made him a source of money and power. But his parents were getting false reports about Billy. They had us come into the room one by one. So, finally, they had me come into the room where they were sitting, and I said, “Your son is killing himself, and we have to stop him.”

I explained the drug problem to his parents, and his parents took him away from his manager Bill Aucoin. Bill Aucoin was also freebasing and would destroy his own career with freebasing. Unfortunately, because I loved working with Bill Aucoin, Billy’s manager—I loved the man. But it’s that crusade to get Billy off of drugs that I remember the most about working with Billy. I last saw him about seven years ago on New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, a TV New Year’s eve celebration, which is a big deal in the United States. I was astonished. He looked in the same physical shape that he had when he worked with me. He was ripped. It was hard to believe. I mean, you look at Christina Aguilera back from her heyday and how she looks today; and back then, she had this gorgeous figure, and now, she’s a little plump, round thing. And Billy has not succumbed to age at all.

I haven’t heard what he’s doing musically today. My Pandora station never plays me Billy Idol. So, I don’t know what his music is like these days. It’s my impression that he is still an icon, that he is still some sort of a musical force and some sort of a personality. But I can’t be sure because, you know, media is fragmented these days, and I don’t follow music journalism at all. I’m too busy doing politics and science. I’ve tried to reach out to Billy a couple of times, but I haven’t gotten any answers back. However I did get a series of emails and calls from his manager recently asking me to be in an upcoming documentary on Billy. And when I went into Manhattan to do the interview, the documentary’s director promised he would let Billy know how deeply I still feel about him. We’ll see if that message gets through.

GC: In your book The Genius of the Beast, dedicated to cracking the mysteries of Western creativity, you introduced the notion of an immaterial form of capital—one made from our Promethean dreams. You called it the “infrastructure of fantasy.” Did the way you came up with that idea have something to do with Billy Idol’s song “Flesh for Fantasy”?

HB: That’s a good question. I don’t remember the lyrics to that song. But my concept is to take things from the realm of fantasy into the realm of flesh, and turn them into realities, which is something we humans do better than any other creatures on the face of the Earth. In fact, to the best of our knowledge, we’re the only ones who have fantasies. Much as we spend time studying animal behavior, we haven’t seen fantasies in animals. So, to the extent that Billy’s song is about moving things from a rebel fantasy to the realm of reality, I’m all for it. We are nature. And all of the things that we admire and think are natural are as unnatural as could possibly be.

Take a tree, for instance. About roughly 400 to 600 million years ago, just after the Cambrian explosion, plants took to land, despite the fact that this was quite a fanciful proposition. I mean, plants needed water to survive. It was water in which life pulled itself together. The idea that you could take plants to land, a place with very little water, was completely unnatural. Land in those days was all virgin rock, and rock was hostile to life. Stone didn’t contain the water that life needed to keep its cells alive. After all, most of a cell is water. And where were you going to get the water to sustain a cell if you left the ocean behind and you went to the surface of this very hard, impenetrable rock? In addition, there were ultraviolet rays, the radical climate change of summer, fall, winter and spring, and a multitude of other threats on that hostile, barren surface. For the first plants to get to land was an impossible proposition—and totally and completely unnatural. And yet plants did it. And the first plants that evolved on the land were capable of getting about three inches high.

That’s almost eight centimeters. But going “Fuck you!” to nature’s most basic law, the law of gravity, and lifting themselves three inches high was violently and radically unnatural. And then came trees, and trees were even more of a “Fuck you!” to nature. They were even more unnatural. They lofted themselves thirty to sometimes one hundred and fifty feet high. Which means they had to lift 100 gallons of water a day from the earth to the sky just to survive. That’s totally going against the law of gravity. And remember, gravity is one of nature’s most basic laws. So if you and I had been sitting around a coffee table at the beginning of the universe, back in those days, I could have proven to you that trees could not possibly exist. But the fact is that nature advances through the efforts of her unnatural children—through having children who will be unnatural and defy her. And everything futuristic that happens with this universe—everything that defines the future of the universe—takes place through those rebels who are unnatural, who are as unnatural as Joan Jett, John Mellencamp, and Billy Idol raising their fists.

Even when we start inventing technologies, we’re no different than trees. I mean, plants have invented photosynthesis. That’s radically unnatural. It means taking things that don’t exist—waves, pulses of electromagnetism called light. Those pulses are not even stuff; they’re not material at all. And the first photosynthesizers captured those photons of light and turned them into power sources for the process of life. That is a technology, and it’s a radically unnatural technology to take something that isn’t material and turn it into energy, a technology that harvests an immaterial thing for a material purpose. So the inventions that we’ve made are very much like photosynthesis. They are radically unnatural, but only to the extent that a tree is radically unnatural or that photosynthesis is radically unnatural.

GC: In Global Brain you evoked at length the immemorial fight between the increasingly interconnected human species and the worldwide intelligence of bacteria, viruses, and microbes, especially zeroing in on the confrontation between the globally proliferating HIV and the planetary brain of scientists in the last decades of the 20th century. Do you see history repeating itself with the current epidemic of Covid-19?

HB: Absolutely. Viruses and bacteria, the world of microbes, have incredible creative powers and incredibly adaptive abilities and are constantly doing research and development. And the task of humanity has been to outpace the world of microbes in doing R&D. Just a few years ago, it took two months to sequence a virus. And with the novel coronavirus—the virus that causes Covid-19—sequencing only took days. Less than two weeks—but that’s not enough. We don’t have a vaccine to fight Covid-19. We don’t have a drug to treat those for whom a vaccine is too late. Though we are testing nine existing drugs in double-blind studies. But we need to get our research and development stuff in order so that we can really do a crash program to come up with a vaccine against this virus. Right now [May 2020] the Covid-19 is beating us. It’s outpacing us—it’s winning the race.

GC: In devising a new version of a godless metaphysics, one highlighting communication and creative self-organization “from quarks to humans,” you modeled the cosmos as a big bagel. Could you tell us more about it?

HB: I came up with the Big Bagel Theory in 1959 when I was working at the world’s largest cancer research laboratory, The Roswell Park Memorial Institute in my hometown of Buffalo, NY. I was trying to solve the CPT problem in theoretical physics. The CPT problem—the charge, parity, and time problem—is this: if matter and antimatter are created at the same time in equal amounts, where is all the anti-matter? So, imagine a bagel with an almost non-existent hole, and at the instant of the beginning of the universe, the matter universe comes out of that tiny hole and rushes up the top of the bagel and the antimatter universe comes out of the hole on the bottom of the bagel and rushes down the bagel’s underside. The steepness of the slope coming out of the hole means that the matter universe and the antimatter universe are moving away from each other very fast. And then, you get to the hump of the bagel. And the fact that there’s a hump means that the matter universe and the antimatter universe have slowed down. They’ve run out of the energy that it takes to push them apart. But the matter and anti-matter universe speak a common language: gravity.

So, they start whispering to each other with their gravity. And their gravity starts pulling them at an ever-accelerating speed down the outside of the bagel toward each other until the matter universe and the antimatter universe meet on the very outer edge of the bagel, annihilate each other, and become the next hole at the center of the bagel. So, in essence, the universe is this big recurring thing like a photon, which comes down to absolutely nothing, then rises to the height of its amplitude and then, comes down to nothing again, and then rises again. Our universe is doing that. It’s first going up to the limits of its amplitude, which is at the very bulge of the bagel. And then, coming back down to nothing and then, rising to the height of its amplitude again. Or so Big Bagel Theory says.

GC: Thank you for your time.

HB: Thank you for all these years of friendship, Grégoire. That has meant a great deal to me.

In the lineage of How I Accidentally Started the Sixties, Bloom has an autobiographical book, Einstein, Michael Jackson & Me: A Search for Soul in the Power Pits of Rock and Roll to be released in April 2020. Bloom also co-worked with Canlorbe on a (currently finalized) conversation book synthesizing the Bloomian journey into the universal patterns shaping cosmic and human history.

The image shows, “Impressions in a Dance Hall,” by Jules Schmalzigaug, painted in 1914.

A Conversation with Mary Lefkowitz

The Postil is most pleased and deeply honored to publish this interview with Mary Lefkowitz, professor emerita of Classical Studies, at Wellesley College. Her husband was the late Classics scholar, Sir Hugh Lloyd-Jones. She is the author of such important works as, The Victory Ode: An Introduction, The Lives of the Greek Poets, Women’s Life in Greece and Rome, Greek Gods, Human Lives: What We Can Learn From Myths, among many other works. She has also been a stout-hearted and brilliant opponent of the “Black Athena” fantasy-theory, as laid out in her two books, Black Athena Revisited and Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth As History. She further described her ordeal in History Lesson. Currently, she has co-edited, The Greek Plays. She is interviewed here by Dr. Zbigniew Janowski.

Zbigniew Janowski (ZJ): The first time I came across your name was in the second half of mid 1980s. I found an article you wrote in the English Conservative magazine, The Salisbury Review, edited back then by Sir Roger Scruton. It was an anti-feminist article – an article written by a female scholar of antiquity. Yet you wrote several books about women in ancient times, in tragedy. One can’t think of Greek tragedy without women. My question is: Where does your interest in ancient women come from? Clearly, given your stance on feminism, it was not just a fashion: A woman writing about women.

Mary Lefkowitz (ML): That article was one of several articles which I wrote about revisionist histories. In the seventies and eighties some feminists were using Greek myths to argue that early in human history there had been peaceful matriarchal societies that were eventually usurped by men, and I tried to show why myth couldn’t be used as historical evidence. I can’t imagine that there ever was a time when women were in continual charge of their societies. Until relatively recently in human history, anatomy was destiny.

ZJ: When you look at your antifeminist articles, your book Not Out of Africa, and watch today’s academic landscape, do you think fighting it, writing against it, changed anything? I can come up with a few names of female scholars in your field (Mary Beard and Edith Hall) who write about the Greeks and the Romans as if feminism and Marxism were an orthodoxy. Beard’s popular history of Rome reminds me of the Marxist interpretations of Roman history which I read in Communist Poland: Roman masses are her hero. Now the same message comes from the most prestigious British universities.

ML: Feminism, Marxism, and Afrocentrism are like religions; believers are not persuaded by arguments based on known, warranted facts. But (as I think I said) I’m not against feminism per se. Rather, what I object to is the use of mythology as history.

ZJ: The position of women in Greece was not the same as in Rome. There is no Greek Livia, Augustus’ wife, who—if we follow Robert Graves’ account —was the real force who shaped Augustus’ politics, and so many others. Given different stature of women in Greece and Rome (Greek women, from what we know, did not yield the same power, even behind the scene), how do you explain the importance of women in Greek tragedy? Did the Greeks see some fundamental difference between men and women which the tragedy explores?

ML: In fifth-century Athens women certainly did not have any political power, but women in Sparta had considerable political influence, and Artemisia of Halicarnassus in Asia Minor commanded her own ship fighting against the Greeks in the battle of Salamis. But in the Hellenistic Era, there were powerful women rulers who had even more power than Livia, e.g. the Macedonian Greek Cleopatra VII of Egypt. Such women were all from royal or aristocratic families.

ZJ: What is striking about Greek tragedies is the importance of female characters. Neither Ismene nor Chrysothemis in Sophocles’ Antigone and Electra seem to have much to contribute to the plot. They serve as a contrast to Antigone and Electra. What I mean by contrast is the personae of Ismene and Chrysosthemis—their femininity. They want to live, have families, children. Antigone and Chrysosthemis, on the other hand, are obsessed with one idea: vengeance. But for it to work, they have to turn off their emotions, forget about their feminine charm, their feminine nature. There must be a reason why both playwrights chose women to be there, why they constructed the pairs of women to act this way. Do you think there is something about women, their psychology, their nature, that Sophocles and Euripides saw and explored? After all, one could use a male character there, but they did not.

ML: I suspect that Greek women, then as now, had plenty to say, even though they weren’t officially in change – that’s apparent even in Homer. Contrasting strong women with weak women allows the dramatist to show that women can be as heroic as men in life and death situations.

ZJ: Unlike in a number of other disciplines, there are and were many outstanding female scholars of antiquity: you; Jacqueline de Romily in France; in my native Poland there were several; Lidia Winniczuk, H. Kronska, Maria Dzielska. There is Grace Harriet Macurdy, professor at Vassar College, whose book Hellenistic Queens was published in 1932! One can also invoke the name of the 18th century translator of Epictetus’ Enchiridion, Mrs. Carter. And, of course, Edith Hamilton, the author of very popular books on Greece and Rome. You can probably come up with many more names. What attracts women to Greece and Rome? You said, “Contrasting strong women with weak women allows the dramatist to show that women can be as heroic as men in life and death situations” Is it just a question of weak versus strong women? Why should we assume that the strength of women lies in their being “as heroic as men”? Why should we measure strength of women by analogy of what is valuable in men? Why not assume, as we did even in the Enlightenment period, that the virtues of women – of which Rousseau in his Emile or La Nouvelle Heloise and Laclos in his Education of Women wrote – are different and they should be measured as such? Would you not agree that to judge women against men – whether they can be like men – is to capitulate to the democratic idea of equality.

ML: How do we measure qualities like courage? How can we measure courage? Or constancy, or determination, or whatever other qualities we can think of? More men have been greater mathematicians and physicists than have women, but is that because men have more testosterone in their systems than women, or because women have not had the same encouragement or opportunity?

I suspect that what attracted women to the study of antiquity is what has attracted men to the study of antiquity: the challenge of learning difficult languages, the excitement of reading great literature. In my own case, learning Latin helped me understand the structure of English grammar. Greek seemed to me to be particularly interesting because the words seemed to be more literal, closer to what the parent language must have been like. I tried to make myself study something more practical, like Chemistry, but couldn’t stop wanting to read Sophocles. So that’s what I did.

ZJ: T. S. Eliot once said, tragedy is impossible in the Christian world, or Biblical world – I cannot remember. But the Old Testament story of Job seems to indicate that he had both in mind. I made it my habit to teach the Book of Job to students to draw a contrast between the Greeks and the Hebrews, and, more precisely, between Job’s attitude and Epictetus or the Stoics. My standard questions after reading the two texts is: “Was Job a Stoic?” If you were to look at Job from Mars, you would not know whether he reconciled himself to his fate because he had faith in God or whether he reconciled himself because he was a Greek Stoic philosopher, a man who accepted life “as it happens.” “Don’t seek to have events happen as you wish, but wish them to happen as they do happen,” says Epictetus. Perfect one-line expression of the Greek mind. Was Eliot right? Tragedy in the Biblical tradition—whether the Jewish or Christian versions—seems impossible. No savior, no messiah. The universe is blind and deaf, and thus, human life is tragic!

ML: Eliot was right. You can’t have tragedy in a universe where divinities are supposed to promote human welfare and cooperate with one another. Ancient Greek deities disagree with one another. Hence the Trojan War, the death of Hippolytus, Juno’s wrath against the Trojans in the Aeneid.

ZJ: If you think of what happened to Oedipus, he does what he was bound to, but then when he discovers what he did—killed his father, slept with his mother—he blinds himself. Another proof: Fatum is blind, we must account for our “sins” even if we did not know, which makes me think of Agamemnon and the origin of a fundamental issue in European culture: Justice.

The Trojan war. It starts with the abduction of Helen. The Greeks gather at Aulis. Agamemnon goes hunting; crosses the sanctuary of the Goddess of Nature, Artemis, who demands sacrifice of his daughter, Iphigenia; reluctantly, he does it because the winds will not blow; he goes to Troy, comes back, he gets killed by his wife, Clytemnestra, who, to avenge the death of their daughter, kills him. The filial duty falls on Orestes and Electra, the two children, who kill their mother, and who must be killed. It is a domino effect. Those involved in the killing must suffer too. Why? Because Agamemnon unknowingly crossed the boundaries of the Goddess sanctuary. Ignorance, like in Oedipus’s case, is no excuse in the eyes of the gods. Finally, Apollo intervenes because Orestes and Electra would have to be executed for killing their mother, which they had to do.

The moral is: Vengeance is not mine; to do justice we have to transfer it to the impersonal entity, the State; family members cannot exact justice. Is this so? Is this the point where and when European civilization begins – with the recognition of creating a system where emotions must be turned off? Would you agree with such a characterization?

ML: I wouldn’t put it quite that way. Fate isn’t blind; we are. Hamartia doesn’t mean “sin,” but rather “missing the mark,” “making an error in judgment,” which is what Oedipus did when he thought he could avoid fulfilling the oracle that he would kill his father and marry his mother by leaving Corinth, and the people he thought were his father and mother, which enabled him to fulfill the oracle by heading for Thebes. Tragedy reminds us of this fundamental human weakness. We always know less than we think we know. Tragedy allows us to turn our emotions on, and to reflect on the limitations of our own knowledge.

ZJ: Let me continue by moving to a special topic: Western Civilization. In AeschylusPersians, the playwright makes the Persian king listen to his advisor, to understand that the Greeks govern themselves in an incomprehensible way: they are governed by the many, not one king. The explanation comes when the Persian defeat is just about to happen. Let me point out, if the Greeks were to lose, there would be no democracy, no republic if the Persians were to invade and conquer Italy, no system of government that we take for granted today.

Western civilization is a complex entity, built over two thousand years but the question is what are its foundations, the ingredients without which it would not exist. When I teach I use an image of what we call in America: a melting pot, but it is a Western Civ. pot: here are my ingredients: The Jewish/Biblical One God, love your neighbor, in the Christian form, love of all others, other nations; Greek ingredient is philosophy, mathematics, architecture, tragedy, and democracy; my Roman ingredient: Roman law, administration, architecture (arches; aqueducts, dome), republican form of government (two chambers). You mix it, you get the basic dish: European civilization from which the Middle Ages and Renaissance sprang. In it you have the foundations of Modern Europe.

Yet, all of this is today under attack: colonialism, racism, misogyny, patriarchy. Why are we so ungrateful to the Greeks and Romans? You spent your life in Ivory Tower. Life of the mind is the most precious thing, and yet, it is the academics who are destroying it.

ML: Academe hasn’t been an ivory tower since the student revolutions of the late 1960s, as the result of which curricula became increasingly politicized. Academics and students wanted to study society’s problems so they could do something about them. They wanted action and had no time for reflection. What they didn’t and still don’t understand is that knowing something about the past and human nature could help them better to understand the present.

ZJ: Several years ago, I came across the name of a Saudi Arab intellectual Ibrahim al-Buleihi, former Saudi Shura Council Member, who in an interview titled “Western Civilization Has Liberated Mankind” said many things that few professors in America would have the courage to say. Here it is:
Buleihi: “My attitude towards Western civilization is an attitude based on obvious facts and great accomplishments; here is a reality full of wonderful and amazing things. [Recognizing] this doesn’t mean that I am blindly fascinated. This is the very opposite of the attitude of those who deny and ignore the bright lights of Western civilization. Just look around… and you will notice that everything beautiful in our life has been produced by Western civilization: even the pen that you are holding in your hand, the recording instrument in front of you, the light in this room, and the journal in which you work, and many innumerable amenities, which are like miracles for the ancient civilizations. If it were not for the accomplishments of the West, our lives would have been barren. I only look objectively and value justly what I see and express it honestly. Whoever does not admire great beauty is a person who lacks sensitivity, taste, and observation. Western civilization has reached the summit of science and technology. It has achieved knowledge, skills, and new discoveries, as no previous civilization before it. The accomplishments of Western civilization cover all areas of life: methods of organization, politics, ethics, economics, and human rights. It is our obligation to acknowledge its amazing excellence. Indeed, this is a civilization that deserves admiration… The horrible backwardness in which some nations live is the inevitable result of their refusal to accept this [abundance of Western ideas and visions] while taking refuge in denial and arrogance.”

‘Okaz: “Sir, you can admire this civilization as much as you want, but not at the expense of others, especially our own civilization.”

Buleihi: “My admiration for the West is not at the expense of others; rather, it is an invitation to those others to acknowledge their illusions and go beyond their inferiority and liberate themselves from backwardness. [Those others] should admit their shortcomings, and make an effort to overcome them; they should stop denying the truth and closing their eyes to the multitude of wonderful achievements. They should be fair towards those nations that achieved prosperity for themselves but did not monopolize it for themselves and instead allowed the whole world to share the results of this progress, so that other nations of the whole world now enjoy these achievements. Furthermore, Western civilization has given to the world knowledge and skills which made it possible for them, the non-Western nations, to compete with it in production and share markets with it. Criticizing one’s own deficiencies is a precondition to inducing oneself to change for the better. Conversely, to glorify one’s backward apathetic self is to establish and fortify backwardness, to strengthen the shackles of apathy, and to eradicate the capabilities of excellence. Backwardness is a shameful reality, which we should resent and from which we must liberate ourselves.”

What is your reaction to al-Buleihi’s statement?

ML: I agree with what he says. The students who chanted “Western Civ has got to go” were only considering the downside of Western Civ, which is pretty much the downside of human nature generally, anger, violence, self-aggrandizement, etc. Plato and Aristotle showed us ways in which all people could lead more constructive lives, but their visions did little to address social issues, like oppression of certain people, such as slaves.

ZJ: There is a tendency today to just go over religious traditions (plural) as if religion was never part of any culture. Why do we operate in this religious vacuum and how does it obfuscate our understanding of both Antiquity and Modernity? You probably know the movie Troy with Brad Pitt. It is, in my opinion, a very well-done movie. However, same thing: no gods! Last year in November, Joseph Epstein wrote a nice piece for the Wall Street Journal about Thucydides. I always enjoy finding something like that. The title of it is “History Made by Men, not Gods.” To ignore gods is to miss the point of the Iliad. Gods are as important as humans. I remember Sir Moses Finley’s several articles about Socrates, whose trial, according to him was motivated to a large extent by the suspicion that he really did not believe in the gods, and the Athenians, remembering well the plagues that visited Athens and devastated population during the war, thought disbelief was a serious problem. What is your view here when it comes to taking religious views seriously? Can one understand culture, Greece and Rome, in particular, by simply saying – myths, gods…

ML: I believe that you cannot understand ancient Greek literature, history or philosophy unless you take account of ancient Greek religion. Although it’s hard for us to understand, Greek theology (I prefer that term to mythology) assumes that the gods exist for their own benefit and for the benefit of human beings, and that they often work at cross purposes from one another. It provides a means of understanding why bad things happen to good people, and the forces of evil are so often successful.

ZJ: Is what I implied in my previous question a matter of changing world-view (un-religious, a-religious, atheist, skeptical, scientific, or whatever else you want to call it or; ignorance, or a-historicity), which makes us create worlds of the past that do not correspond to historical reality and from which we can’t learn.

ML: We could learn from ancient Greek religion that there is only so much we can do to shape the courses of our own lives, much less the lives of our communities or nations.

ZJ: When did the awareness of the Ancient world start dying in the US, in the West? Complaints go back to the 19th century. I have in front of me two wonderful little books by Henry Nettleship, a great scholar of antiquity: The True Aim of Classical Education and The Moral Influence of Literature, and The Moral Influence of Literature: Classical Education in the Past and at Present. Two Popular Addresses. Both books aim at explaining the importance of the classics. The decline of interest can be traced, I think, to the late 1970s. The map of heavens is Greco-Roman, so were all space programs: Geminin Apollo, etc. Then, things changed. No Greeks, no Romans. Columbia, Challenger, etc. and the nail in the coffin was… Jessie Jackson in 1988: “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Western culture’s got to go.” So, the Greeks, the Romans, the West are gone. You as a teacher of the Greeks in a prestigious college are well qualified to explain: Should we feel more sorry for the Greeks, or for ourselves?

ML: For ourselves, of course. Western Civilization has many shortcomings. Greek philosophy has not solved all the world’s problems, because it is essentially elitist and relies on the existence of a working underclass. But the critical thinking that it encourages offers the best means of finding equitable solutions for the disparities in our society.

ZJ: This leads me to the question that made you to be probably the most known classicist in America. The controversy in which you were involved. It concerned the book by Martin Bernal, Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization. Can you briefly say what the book claims before I ask you about your role in this controversy? You responded to Bernal’s book with your own book: Not Out of Africa: How “Afrocentrism” Became An Excuse To Teach Myth As History. Something must have deeply gotten to you that made you write an entire book to debunk a myth. Was it just scholarly integrity or something else? After all, not all scholars of Antiquity bothered to write a sentence. Why did you pick the fight? What do you think motivates people like Bernal to write such books?

ML: I believe that Bernal (an Englishman) resented the prestige associated with studying Greek and Latin in British public schools (=of course, elite British private schools) and may have had an unimaginative Classics teacher at his school, because he believed that learning conjugations and declensions numbed the minds of anyone who studied Classics. My experience with learning Latin was just the opposite: it helped me understand the structure of the English language and encouraged me to think about the etymology of words. Greek was even more exciting because it was even more foreign and harder to put into English. The first Greek text that I bought was the New Testament, which I was able to read on my own because the syntax was easier than that of earlier Greek prose writers. Reading the first sentences Gospel according to John in Greek helped me understand how much had been lost in translation.

ZJ: We’ve come to the point in our conversation when I have to ask you about PC in America, at American universities. It is a destructive force. No one, perhaps with the exception of Allan Bloom in the 1980s, understood how influential and destructive certain trends can be. Serious academic life is close to being gone, and it is not only because of myths about African origins of classical civilization, or relativism, that Bloom was concerned with. No one even uses this term today. Today we look at everything through the lenses of sexism, racism, misogyny, feminism, colonialism (the last term is a bit passé).

ML: Political correctness is an orthodoxy, like that of a monotheistic religion. (Ancient polytheism was much more open: new gods could be added ad lib.). Monotheists look down on polytheism as superstition. Any questioning of orthodoxy is heresy, punishable by exclusion, exile, etc.

ZJ: Do you think we can survive this level of intellectual barbarism which we see around? It is a total disregard for truth, scholarly procedures, life of the mind, and it is not an ordinary American on the street who is supportive of it, but the academics.

ML: We survived the orthodoxy that existed when I was a schoolgirl and an undergraduate (1940s and 1950s) and for a few decades afterward. White Anglo-Saxon Protestantism was the norm, so Catholics and Jews were treated with caution and some suspicion, African Americans were segregated even in the North; all of these were subject to quotas as students and faculty members at many schools and universities are in this country.

ZJ: I started my university education there, in Poland, not in Stalinist times, to be sure, but never experienced what my students are experiencing in America today. Some of them see that something is not right, but are too afraid to say anything. Only last week, a female student came up to me and said, “Dr. Janowski, do you realize you are the minority of one here; in other classes students who disagree with professors are berated; other students attacked me.” My student’s feelings are now common. Many of them are afraid. Do you see a way out of it?

ML: The way around it is to do what you are doing, to encourage students to think independently and to question orthodoxies.

ZJ: What role can and should Classical education play in rebuilding sanity? Is there a way of explaining the importance of classical education to the general public, to give support to what appears obvious to me and you.

ML: Learning about foreign and ancient cultures requires us to think, to use our imaginations, and to get out of ourselves into very different worlds. Ancient Greece and Rome are particularly worth studying because their writing and thinking and art have had such a profound influence on Western culture. But I am not suggesting that we should regard those cultures uncritically; quite the contrary. And we should acknowledge their debts to other ancient cultures, such as those of Egypt, India, and the different civilizations in Asia Minor.

ZJ: Let me finish this conversation with something I tell students. I make them take a map of British Empire—the massive Empire. I say, look at it and ask yourself how one little country could colonize such vast areas. They must have had skilled people to do it. What do you think they studied? There was no department of Administration, Foreign Affairs, Public Relations, etc. They, as the Brits say, “read” Classics and History. Both give you intellectual skills to understand many things that no specialized, narrow discipline will never give you. Even today, plenty of people in the City of London, graduate from Oxbridge and make big money without a degree in business. What do you think?

ML: I agree with you. Studying ancient Greek and Roman literature is a great way to prepare for any number of careers, first because the process makes you get away from yourself and the times you live in, and reimagine other, different societies and ways of thinking, and then because the subject matter allows you to understand something about the beginnings of European civilization, and its good and bad characteristics.

ZJ: Thank you, Professor Lefkovitz.

The image shows, “Ulysses and the Sirens,” by John William Waterhouse, painted in 1891.

A Conversation With Daryl Kane

This month we are very pleased to have a conversation with Daryl Kane (DK). This interview was conducted by Grégoire Canlorbe (GC), on behalf of The Postil. Briefly, Daryl Kane is an American politician best known for his book, Cultural Cancer: Treating the Disease of Political Correctness. He also hosts the well-known podcast, Right Wing Road Trip, and serves as the editor of the journal, Revenge of the Patriot. He will run as a Republican candidate for the President of the United States in 2024.

GC: You are campaigning for the presidential election of 2024, under the banner of Christian morality, economic freedom, ethnic identity, and the fight against leftist cultural cancer. On the issue of immigration, how exactly does your program stand in relation to Trump’s politics?

DK: Immigration obviously is such an important topic, and I give Trump credit for emphasizing it in his campaign. Rhetoric aside, how much has he achieved? I’m not sure. I think a lot of good has been done – but, really, when we’re talking about slowing, even stopping the tide, this is a stopgap mentality. It’s not a conversation about solutions.

Very clearly, the American people, and really just about all citizens of Western nations… Look, this is and has been political warfare, and the damage sustained is reaching, and has really passed, a point where we can just end this nonsense, without also taking remedial, restorative measures.

This is naturally a very charged topic and one which must be approached with sobriety, but also with care and humanity. On the one hand we have a ship that is sinking, and, you know, we can’t just plug the holes; we have to also start removing some of the water. But we’re not talking about water, we’re talking about God’s children. So, you know, perhaps to the chagrin of some – no, I’m not just going to arbitrarily throw everyone out. But you know, I actually don’t think we really have to either.

One big talking point for Trump is about moving us to fully merit-based immigration, which strikes most conservatives as a tough, sensible response. Certainly, this is better than the prior lunacy. Things like “diversity visas,” which for me is a term that I often instruct people to pause for a moment and think about. What exactly is a “diversity visa?” Well, obviously it’s a seat in our country, which we are setting aside, reserving for people on the basis of them being less similar to our current citizens than other would-be immigrants.

For me, you know, I’m not sure we do want to move away from identity-based immigration. I think maybe we keep a lot of that stuff, and by the way this pertains to domestic programs as well, where you know we spend billions a year to promote this or that group; really, any group that we don’t usually associate with mainstream Americanism.

Maybe we keep a lot of this diversity infrastructure, at least the concept of them – but we actually invert them; or, you know, replace them with a desire to reinforce or advocate for traditional Western identity. Maybe we start setting visas aside for, oh, I don’t know, white, English speaking Christians? (Laughs)

You see, no one ever really bothered to explain to Americans why they needed things like diversity visas, diversity scholarships, etc. They were just sort-of injected in, draped in this very flowery, humanistic rhetoric. I think it’s time to start talking about things like homogeny-visas and see what happens when the Left has to justify why it’s OK for them to play this game, but not us. Let’s have a national dialogue about the benefits of both ends of the spectrum, and let’s see which of the two seems more beneficial at this point in time.

And, look, I’ve said this too. I’m not an anti-diversity person. Diversity can be good; it can be bad. I do like being able to enjoy all sorts of unique ethnic cuisine in cities and things of that nature. A lot of people scoff at equality now; and, you know, I don’t know.

That ideal still resonates with me, and I don’t want us to lose that ability to make friends from different places, to connect, and be decent to one another. But I think quite clearly the level of diversity which we now have, frankly—and this is putting it mildly, it’s plenty.

A lot of the kids look at these issues and see only one way out, secession, war, etc. I don’t see that at all. I think we get so caught up with this mess that we overlook an important fact which is that when we talk about the violent demographic shifts forced on our nation by the Left, it was virtually all done peacefully.

The way out of this is really to take what they’ve done, recognize that they’ve established a precedent, both legally and morally for us to peacefully do just the opposite. It’s not an overnight thing. It’s a gradual thing; and something that we work on, together with other nations confronting this same challenge; putting together the very same global initiatives to save our nations which were put in place to doom them.

And we balance this with the human or spiritual element which must always remain front and center. This is a Christian nation, and the golden rule must always be supreme on our soil. Look, if you’re a true Christian, that is to say you’re aspiring into the faith, rather than using it as an excuse for sin – you’re welcome here; you’re safe, period; end of discussion.

We’re not going to treat people differently based on what they look like, or if they have accents, or stuff like that. My gosh I have so many great friends from all different communities and most of them will be totally lock in step with us on all of this.

There’s the micro and the macro. On the micro, we’re going to continue treating everyone with decency, courtesy and compassion; while on a larger scale, we’re going to gradually, but methodically, steer our nations away from the cliff. It’s a tough balancing act. But I truly believe that we can, and must, do it.

GC: While the Soviet Union (like North Korea nowadays) stood up against free enterprise and the bourgeois mentality, it was far from pursuing a “cultural Marxist” agenda in the sense that is commonly understood in the West, namely, the leftist attack against traditional family, marriage, heterosexuality, race preservation, and militarized nationalism. Marx himself was quite a conservative beyond his concern for overthrowing the bourgeoisie and abolishing private property. How much relevant is the use of the locution “Cultural Marxism” in that regard?

DK: Yeah, I mean you’re talking a bit of history and semantics here which is good and meaningful, of course. Is the term “Cultural Marxism” hugely effective in pushing back on these things? Maybe not. I think I follow your point and it’s a good one.

There’s a trap maybe in over complicating this stuff, making it less accessible to common, decent people of all backgrounds, who I feel are our natural voters. I use terms like evil, perverse, deviant, etc., which I think well-meaning, sensible people can pick up on right away. Cross dressers reading to children at gun-point, I feel, is a great, visceral talking-point, which resonates with really all people around the world, save a small handful of “true believers” driving this agenda.

I think bold assertions of truth have tremendous power to move the attitudes and sensibilities of the public – and my major critique of mainstream conservatism is that it lacks the sort of guts or spine that are required to truly impact public opinion. The attitude has been, you know – look the world is changing and we might not like that, but we’re going to have to bend a little bit to remain relevant – which to me is not only totally feckless, but really even, speaking pragmatically, just a losing strategy.

The newer model which has been percolating, which I and others represent, is one of recognizing that, yes, things are changing and that change is the problem and must be confronted head on, lest we surrender the future. But rather than finding our place in an increasingly shrinking land mass, it’s more about, OK, let’s examine the things which are driving these changes; let’s attack these things; and let’s craft a platform which takes the fight to the enemy’s territory, in order to take away some of the territory they occupy.

The difference here is that one approach is about transacting for a place in a broken future versus fighting to create a new one. It’s only natural that when voters get a chance to choose, they will always choose to go for the guy who is fighting for them – versus the guy who is seeking to negotiate terms for their surrender.

Where terms like “Cultural Marxism” have relevance is in conversation with the current authority figures within the GOP. You know, the mostly brain-dead losers, who have been steering this ship over the waterfall. Really smart guys, old money types, serious intellectuals. (Laughs.)

Terms like “Cultural Marxism” makes them feel comfortable and important, because it incorporates the concepts which they pinned all of their ideas on to; ideas like size of government, Capitalism vs. Marxism, etc., things which, oddly enough, the younger crowd is increasingly less and less interested in, than the things which really matter, which are, of course, culture and identity.

There’s a lot of hostility towards this generation, the boomers, and I certainly understand it. But, look, this thing is going to be ours. There are too many dynamic laws at work which dictate that. Most obviously, this generation is on its way out, so to speak.

I think the tone in which we approach them is important, to make this thing more seamless, to really unite the conservative coalition which, really, for all intents and purposes, is what we used to refer to simply as the American people. We don’t want it to be nasty or overly combative. Their ideas are weaker than ours. We don’t need to rub their noses in that fact. Let’s lead them. That’s what I’m about.

GC: As an actor and producer, you enjoy first-hand knowledge of the American movie industry’s ideological agenda. Yet you are fond of describing 2005’s Revenge of the Sith, not only as an eternal masterpiece, but as one of the keys unlocking the “mystery” of your political platform. Could you tell us more about it? Between Siths and Jedis, who may be seen as the equivalents (in George Lucas’ universe) of Marxists?

DK: (Laughs!) I see you’ve been reading all of my tweets and doing your homework. Don’t believe everything you see on the internet. The truth about me and who I am really isn’t all that impressive, or important for that matter. I’m a normal guy who grew up in crummy apartments and figured out how to make enough money to live by myself in major cities, drive sports cars and buy all these fancy, magical foods they call organic. (Laughs)

I’ve made a ton of mistakes along the way, and I’ll, no doubt, be confronted by them all, by the time this thing is finished. Of course, anytime a person comes along and suggests raising ethics, civility and public decency, there’s this tremendous excitement when the opposition discovers they themselves are somehow less than perfect. Spoiler Alert: I too, am less than perfect!

And, you know, there’s a trap here too, where we as Christians say only Christ is perfect, but I’m forgiven so all of these pet sins are OK. Of course, they’re not. And I’m not giving myself or anyone a pass. But the other trap is to be intimidated away from aspiring to goodness, because of your own imperfections. Let them focus on bloodying my nose, drawing distinctions between myself and my ideals.

Now, I work every day to reduce these distinctions, to be a better man, to better walk the walk, and I’ll never stop on that. But, at the end of the day, we all do fall short, be it an inch or a mile, and I am; and, not shifting responsibility here, but our generation grew up in an age of remarkable social chaos. I think now, more than ever, we all have unique baggage, scars, shortcomings; and it can almost be overwhelming.

That’s the challenge for our generation – to really become the CEOs, to take it all, to be the buck-stops-here generation, to ultimately forgive each other for where we’re all at, and somehow reform proper families, proper communities, and take all of this nonsense to our graves. Give our kids the type of world that our parents threw away; only now, maybe, just a little stronger, a little more sensitive to the threat of complacency.

So, yeah, you’re all going to get to look at me and judge for yourself if I’m up to the task of turning this ship around and getting us back on course. But whatever comes my way, know this, know that none of it will ever move me off of my ideals, my vision for the country and the world.

A bit of a tangent there, oops. What was the question? Yes, Star Wars. Great topic. I don’t do the Game of Rings or Lord of the Dragons stuff (Laughs), but, of course, we all love Star Wars, right? As for the prequels, I’m someone who was growing up when they came out. I was the target demographic, and forgiving a few things in Episode 1, the next two for me, are easily high-points in the series.

At the time, of course, there was this incredibly vitriolic response from a small crowd of, what we basically now call, trolls, I guess, who managed to drive public opinion on these really charming, fantastic and poignant movies. What does all of this have to do with my campaign, exactly? I think in your question you’re asking for parallels: Who are the Jedi, who are the Sith, etc. The Lucas’ films deal with archetypes and the subconscious, so there’s a bit of an astrology-thing at work, where we can really all read into it and see ourselves as the heroes, and our enemies as the villains.

Realize that Lucas is a 60s era progressive, and, you know, we can probably infer certain things about his views in relation to the work. At that time, when he was coming of age, they had this idealistic desire to spread love and peace. And that, in and of itself, while perhaps misguided, is not an ugly thing. So, I think from Lucas’ perspective, his framework is probably that the rebellion related to progressivism and the Evil Empire reflected conservatism.

But again, what made his movies so moving, on a massive scale, is that underpinning archetypal, universal mythology. And in a way (and I write fiction for my family, so it’s something I relate to), in that type of storytelling, you’re more of an investigator; you’re drawing from this primordial well. You’re refining it, discovering it—but you’re not the source of it. So sometimes the thing you are looking for, sometimes it’s not necessarily what you’re drawing forth.

So, that’s the backdrop, I think, of the work. But what Lucas also puts into his work is very classical, traditional sensibilities. This is really what that backlash was about. Ugly people who want to see ugly things – Tarantino kind of crap. You know, we’re talking about people who are still, to this level, viscerally upset about the fact that Han is no longer shooting first, or whatever.

Here, what you really have is an artist acting responsibly in his role as content creator. He stepped back and thought, you know, I think, they get that he’s a bit of a Maverick; but that scene struck him as a little bit too much of a “Dirty Harry” kind of thing, so he adjusted it.

This is a thing to be applauded, frankly. And the prequels, really, in all senses, visually, thematically, they’re very classical; much more so than the originals, and for a certain percentage of the original fandom, the type who totally missed the original message, obese basement-dwellers, frankly, they just loathed them because of it.

You know, to me they are very beautiful films, visually, thematically and even the tonality of them all. They’re designed to be digestible; for all ages; and yet they’re packed with all of these rich literary themes and traditions. Really, if a kid watches all six movies, he actually has a pretty solid foundation for Western storytelling tradition. To me, really, a lot of these so-called critics, they really reveal their ignorance of film history.

There’s a lot of old Hollywood in the prequels, the old James Dean movies Lucas grew up watching, as one example among many. Attack of the Clones to me is very much a sort of Rebel Without a Cause or East of Eden set in space. Revenge of the Sith, to me, clearly the best of the lot, is quite Shakespearian, a combination really of Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth.

These are really terrific things which he draws from, works which have stood the test of time, and Lucas really blasts it all into space, using the best technology available; technology he created out of necessity to properly illustrate his imagination. All of this other stuff now, the Marvel stuff, whatever, it’s all owed to him, at least, in this regard.

Now I think, Lucas may be rethinking some of his own progressivism, as he most clearly sees what Disney has done, which I regard as a rather high act of violence against the collective psyche of the American people. It’s a topic I take very seriously, and really, is a big part of my Defense of Culture Act (D.O.C.A.). I’ve been clear on this.

The entertainment industry is really a big, big part of the problem. We’ve given them a pretty long leash; and where we’ve ended up, where essentially every movie, every show, every network is dedicated to lecturing, degrading and humiliating traditional Americans – is just not acceptable. It has to stop, and it’s going to stop. Period. End of discussion.

This is where we really break the mold on traditional conservatism, which plays within these polite rules of engagement, and as a private sector thing; this is just something we’re supposed to accept as being out of our control. You know, maybe work on some lame little alternatives of our own and hope that in 50 years our programs are watched by more than 3,000 people. Read my lips America. This ends under a Kane administration.

Most likely we’ll start by imposing some common sense ethics, like we had with the Hayes code, but more tailored for the times. If you want to create some nihilistic art film about the evils of colonialism, I don’t know, maybe there’s a place for that. But if you’re going to sell these ideas, you’ve got to do it on your own product. You aren’t going to be allowed to take Captain America, or whatever, and rebrand him as a bi-racial trans-sexual; or reduce War and Peace to a diatribe about victim-feminism.

And, you know, if you can’t comply with this pretty basic expectation, maybe there really just isn’t a place for any of that stuff in this day and age any longer. The first step for me as POTUS is going to be to tell them something they’re not used to hearing, which is a very special, two letter word called, “NO.” Their reaction will determine steps 2, 3, etc., until I’ve resolved the situation to the satisfaction of the American people.

So, what has just happened with Star Wars, I feel is a turning point, because the end result was such garbage, so devoid of anything remotely relatable or meaningful to anyone, even the targeted demographics and identity groups, so that this cherished franchise is basically dead, what 5 or 6 years later? It’s out-and-out parasitism, to take over cherished names, characters and stories, inject them with your intellectual graffiti and extract a few billion dollars out of the American people before they catch-on, and walk away for good. And, you know, you can’t really fix this stuff now; the actors are dying off; the characters are dead. You’d basically have to annul the new movies entirely. I don’t know, maybe we do that. (Laughs)

You’d better believe Disney is on my radar, I think, accounting for something like 80% of the highest grossing movies of 2019 which effectively makes them a monopoly; and what they are churning out is basically enemy propaganda. Very sad to me that a name and a company known for wholesome, family-centric entertainment, has been transformed into something so dark, perverse and distorted.

This stuff is no longer fit for adults, let alone children; and I’m very concerned about the whole thing. There’s this deep visceral hatred for boys in particular, which is so concerning, especially when you see it forced so awkwardly into something like Star Wars, where the original target audience really was young boys.

So, my DOJ, we’re going to look into this stuff. Maybe it’s a coincidence that virtually all of the good guys are women and minorities and effectively all of the villains are these extremely pale guys, almost caricatures of whites and men. But you know, maybe it’s not. The point is we’re going to find out. With such a massive impact on our shared cultural experience, we’re going to need to dig in a little deeper to get to the bottom of this stuff.

I want to see the development notes. I want to see if they were targeting specific groups. And if they are, especially when it involves entertainment for young adults, then you’re going to see me take steps, maybe unprecedented steps, on a Federal, Executive scale to address them.

A bit of a longwinded response again…What does Revenge of the Sith have to do with my campaign? That’s a more ethereal, metaphysical type of thing which I think is best to let you guys figure out as you re-watch these films, which I’m told are now becoming popular with the zoomers.

I do think in a strange way, it coincides with an awakening on so many more things we’ve been told are “down” but in reality, are “up.” The neat thing about this movement, why I became so encouraged years ago, is that it’s so very synchronistic.

You’ll find people like myself and others who are totally unaware of each other and their work emerging from various corners of the world presenting very similar ideas, even using identical lingo and verbiage, terms like “degenerate,” for example, which I’ve always used to describe this stuff, being used by everyone.

This is a very good sign and something which should terrify our political opponents, whose ideas never really seem to spring up on their own; their verbiage and lingo is so unnatural, so fundamentally backwards that they cannot possibly spread without a massive propaganda apparatus. Step one is cut the monsters legs off; stop the apparatus. Isolate the beast. That’s really the idea and culture. Entertainment is a very major part of this, which the political Right must confront in a very assertive manner. And that’s what we’ve done and what we’ll continue to do.

GC: It is not uncommon to speak of Catholicism as a Pagan religion venerating statues and preserving Indo-European archaisms, whereas the spirit of the Lutheran Reformation (culminating in the American civilization) is supposed to have ended the Catholic version of the old Pagan world’s tripartite order, namely, the king and the warlike aristocracy, the Church, and the commoners – for the benefit of the advent of a burgher-civic order, fully in line with the Christian mindset. As a Protestant politician, do you share that claim?

DK: Well, really, what I would say, I identify most as is Orthodox. But I say this, and I don’t really feel that I am properly equipped to wade too deep into discussions about the various denominations. Some things, sure. Episcopalianism for example, where you have openly gay priests performing same sex marriages – this is clearly not a part of the larger family that we’re talking about here.

You’ve got to remember, I wasn’t raised to be too much of a Christian; it was something I fell into, quite literally, in my twenties, after trying all sorts of tragic, misguided attempts to find God. It got to the point where I’d tried so many different things and I found myself in a very dark place spiritually, a place I couldn’t think or reason my way out of; and I just instinctively said, “I’m sorry.”

And I started saying this over and over in my head: “Jesus, I’m sorry, and I love you.” Looping it over and over again. I later realized that this was very similar to the Orthodox heart prayer, which is really what drew me to that particular expression of the faith along with these other elements, liturgy, the icons, which I find to be so mystical and moving.

So, I’m relatively young in my walk with this thing. I’ve read the “good book” cover to cover twice now. But I’m not there yet, the basic level of scriptural literacy which was once a basic expectation for respectable men. I have a lot of younger men who follow me that really are much further along in that walk than I am, and I rely on their council quite a bit.

Your question here is really so specialized, I want to make clear too that I give the Catholics respect, and I know many, many great Catholics. Some great Catholic Latinos as well, who I find very easy to relate to. Look, they get laughed at for contraception. But, really, looking back, we can see that they were exactly correct.

Contraception was the beginning of a wedging between the act of sexuality and the consequence of reproduction, a wedge which the Satanic Left has used to now pry the things so far apart, where we recognize same sex unions, where reproduction is fundamentally impossible to marriage. A big winner for me with the zoomers is my Federal ban on pornography, which really should be a no brainer for any sexually normal person.

If for no other reason than its association with sex trafficking. I mean, look, get a new hobby people. Go outside and meet someone. I don’t know. (Laughs). Now, do I call for a federal ban on contraception? I’m not sure, probably not. But I think that we can really look at what this stuff has led to and use it to really re-imagine nationally how we engage with birth control.

What are our objectives with this stuff? Let’s engage with this stuff in a manner which steers the American people back in the right direction, which is limiting sexual partners, sexuality in general prior to marriage and working to rebuild the family.

So, really on this topic, and I know my answer is weak here because I’m not actually as familiar with these ideological struggles as you assume that I am – but, look, there are people of strong Christian Faith in most of these groups and I want to encourage that. There are also many, many more lukewarm Christians floating around as well. Prosperity gospel nonsense. It appears to be spreading to varying degrees in all of the denominations.

My biggest concern isn’t so much your denomination, it’s your motivation. What are you looking for from your Faith? For me, especially for men, it has got to be about challenging yourself, critiquing yourself. If you’re using it to excuse yourself, to pat yourself on the back, that’s really what’s of concern to me. For women, perhaps, a little Joel Osteen, a little encouragement can be nice. But, as men, really, I need guys that are getting up every day and fighting internally, preparing for the external struggle. That’s really my contribution on this topic.

GC: A word about foreign policy. Some time ago, President Trump reportedly considered the possibility to invade Venezuela. Would you welcome such an operation? In regards to the Iranian regime of the Mullahs, how do you assess the option of invading Iran and restoring the Shah’s heir as the head of that country?

DK: I know there’s a lot of hubbub about fighting other people’s wars, and I certainly understand that. And, you know, of course, military conflict should always be approached with due diligence. But I’m going to be clear on this. I am no isolationist. I believe in leadership; and I look at what is happening, particularly in Europe, from a cultural perspective; and I am not OK with that. Europe is far too important culturally and historically to our world to simply be allowed to sink and disappear.

On a global scale, I intend to be extremely proactive in terms of pushing our values and ideals. It’s our responsibility as the super-power of the world to step up and lead when we see what is occurring. Where you’ll find my leadership to be very different from the Neocons of the past is what my values are. I think the big, fatal flaw of what has been American Imperialism is the place where it’s coming from.

For half-a-century, we’ve operated under the premise that the “good news” that Western civilization had to spread to the rest of the world was democracy and capitalism. That may be a fruit of the good news. But the “good news” I’ll be looking to export to the rest of the World is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the foundational pre-requisite for enjoying so many of these wonderful things, free trade, etc. What we’re seeing now in our nations is that they don’t work so well without that foundation.

Democracy works great perhaps when you have a nation of ethical Christians. But how quickly does that blessing become a curse when you have a nation of heathens?

So, for me, when I look out into the world and we start talking about the true threats to Western Civilization – and I’ve said this before, Iranian Ayatollah Khamenei is far less concerning to me than London Mayor Sadiq Khan, as an example. Let’s start with the enemies within. But let’s also not pretend that a resurgent Ottoman Empire is a good thing, either.

Geopolitically, we need to reshape the whole thing. I think a lot about moving away from the E.U. and starting a totally new league of Patriarchal Christian nations. To start exerting pressure there. First on these European nations, who are quite literally selling their people into their graves.

There are a lot of other topics on the horizon as well, such as, Artificial Intelligence where, I think, we want to start working together, leading with other nations, a lot of whom are Eastern European, to start putting this thing back together, back into place.

Technologies, like designer baby stuff and all of that crazy stuff. Look, there are free market forces which, if unchecked, will launch these deeply demonic realities into our world. I don’t ever want parents, whether they are American, British or Chinese to have to choose between having the child God intended for them and one that can effectively compete for an adequate quality of life.

Russia to me is a natural ally in so much of what we’re about; and, of course, we see great things from nations like Poland and Hungary as well – versus places like France and Germany, where leadership has just been appalling. But I don’t want to turn my back on the good people in those nations, either. In fact, I won’t. I think a lot about that 3rd of France that voted for Marine Le Pen. God bless them.

That’s a lot of Patriots living in a crumbling country, without a government that gives a damn about their future. They need and deserve our help; and if their governments won’t stand up for them, I think it falls to us, as the leaders of the free world – the Christian world – to do it for them.

I’m not talking necessarily about military intervention here, but sanctions, financial pressure. This is where I want to be focusing this stuff initially. Once we unite our own world, I think, the barbarians at the gates become much easier to confront, dismantle and defeat.

Christian Authority is “plug and play” for Western Nations and is, far and away, the most efficient, effective and humane way to get our shared civilization off of this trajectory towards death. It’s funny, because I get asked about a lot about current events, and I’m often pretty out of the loop. I was extremely into politics when I was in Middle School and High School, and I think, and not wanting to sound arrogant, but I reached a point where I felt I pretty much understood all of the various dynamics at play and really stepped back; haven’t looked at it as much since because, really, it’s all been rather easily predictable. Not specifics like election outcomes, but the general thing which is occurring, which is that we are, I feel, inevitably heading into authority, as a result of this rather tremendous, rampant social chaos which we’re drowning in.

The question is who is going to get there first. I think, objectively, we have to step back and realize that the Left is much, much closer to realizing that destiny. Look, the two sides are not going to be reconciled. The side which gets there first, they’re going to win. It’s a bit of a cat-and-mouse thing. If this coalition of people, who used to be understood as the American people, but who are now one of two parties and represent a base which is dwindling – if they, we, don’t step up, rise to meet this thing, get there first, they’re toast.

That’s why my shot here is 2024. That’s the earliest I can go for it. It’s too urgent. I can’t wait. we can’t wait, if I’m an odds maker. Look, the Left is basically an election away from sealing this thing up. But there’s something in the air, something about the look in our eyes. I like our chances – and I sure as heck would not bet against us.

The image shows, “Christ in Majesty” by Jan Henryk de Rosen, completed in 1958, in the apse of the Great Upper Church, in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Ricardo Duchesne: The Necessity Of A Common Ground

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview: Drieu Godefridi

This is a new series we are launching – interviews with important thinkers of our time.

For our inaugural interview, we are very honored to have Dr. Drieu Godefridi. He obtained his PhD from the Sorbonne in philosophy, and he has written several important books on gender, the IPCC and environmentalism.

Dr. Godefridi’s books may be found here.

The Postil (TP): Welcome, Dr. Godefridi. Thank you for giving us this opportunity. To start, do you think the West is in crisis, where everything must be questioned so that it can be replaced by something “better?” Or, is it simply bad political management, in that we are in a period of kakistocracy?

Drieu Godefridi (DG): There is an element of risk in answering such a broad question. The West is more powerful than ever, its military might is peerless and its cultural impact is probably greater than ever. At the same time, the threats to this hegemony are evident — mass migration, economic stagnation in Europe, self-destructive totalitarian environmentalism — and a Left getting more and more extreme by the day.

TP: Why does the West still want to be “moral”, while also being aggressively atheistic (where science alone is the arbiter of truth)? Can this contradiction be easily resolved, or will it only produce chaos?

DG: I don’t see either the United States or Eastern Europe as being particularly “atheistic”. What you say is true only of Western Europe, and of the American Left. This is not “the West” as a whole; the Kulturkampf is still very much ongoing. As for the “morality” of Western Europe, for instance regarding foreign affairs, it leads nowhere, as Henry Kissinger predicted in his formidable book Diplomacy. After Brexit, I see the European Union — beyond its function as a common market — as condemned; it is now only a question of time. When Germany is unable to pour huge amounts of money into Eastern Europe anymore — which will soon come about, given the utter folly of the Energiewende, Germany’s energy transition to poverty — Eastern Europe will exit, too.

TP: The native populations of the West have constructed all kinds of myths about their own “evil” (white supremacy, colonialism, misandry, environmentalism, and now genderism). These are very powerful myths which now determine global intellectual and socio-political discourse. Where does this self-loathing come from? And how can we diminish its harmful impact?

DG: Myth and ideology are consubstantial with mankind. That aside, I see no commonality to those ideologies, for instance, you may think that colonialism was economically deleterious — as F.A. Hayek did — yet be radically opposed to the other ideologies you mention. Nevertheless, one thing they do have in common it is that they are false. To say that the West is “white supremacist” is grotesque and does not deserve serious consideration, no civilisation has taken in so many people from every race, continent, creed, religion and origin as has the West over the last 50 years. And genderism, basically the idea that sex is a cultural creation, not a biological reality, is a false theory with absurd consequences, particularly detrimental for women. As for environmentalism that is a very powerful and comprehensive ideology that is the subject of my latest essay.

TP: You have long defended Liberalism, while also refuting Libertarianism (or perhaps, “Rothbardianism”). Why is Libertarianism a failed project? And why is Liberalism still important?

DG: Capitalism is fundamental to the West and is the embodiment of freedom in economic affairs. I’m very much in favour of capitalism. Libertarianism as an apriorist theory that pretends to “derive” all rules of law and of morals from a single axiom —non-aggression— which seems to me a very simplistic contrivance. An anarchist political theory is a contradiction in terms.

TP: Is Croce correct in observing that liberalism has been replaced by “active libertarianism?” And is Croce also correct in calling “active libertarianism” a form of fascism?

DG: I do my utmost to avoid those words. The word ‘Liberalism’ had been employed, particularly in English, in so many different and irreconcilable ways, that even Joseph Schumpeter and Hayek were sceptical of its usefulness back in their day. It’s even more true nowadays. People in favour of infanticide — postnatal abortion — and euthanasia without consent or those viewing sex as a cultural creation are not libertarian, liberal or whatever: they are merely rationally and morally wrong. 

TP: You have also written about George Soros and his efforts to construct his own “empire.” This “Sorosian” imperialism has its roots in the ideas of Karl Popper (which is Marxism without Marx, in that the desire to change the world remains valid). But Soros is also a highly successful capitalist. How can “Sorosian” imperialism (making the West into an “Open Society”) be properly critiqued, while retaining the importance of capitalism?

DG: The political philosophy of Mr. Soros is international socialism with a heavy accent on “crony-capitalism” — he is himself the ultimate insider, and has been criminally convicted as such. Mr. Soros, who has invested $35 billion not in true philanthropy but in the promotion of his political ideas, must be seen as a sui generis phenomenon. You are right regarding its origins, for his foundation was named after the “open society” of Karl Popper. But in fact Soros is no Popperian at all. Popper was in favour of democracy; Soros is funding hundreds of extreme NGOs; some of which use violence and intend to abolish democracy in the name of Gaïa, Allah or whatever. Soros is no Popperian, he’s an international socialist who fancies himself as some kind of god. Popper defined himself as a liberal in the classic sense of the word, close to the philosophy of Hayek and the Founding Fathers of the Unites States.

TP: You have just written a very important book on the dangers of environmentalism, which we had the pleasure of reviewing. Why did you write this book?

DG: My goal is to show that the end result of the green ideology will be misery and the complete abolition of freedom. If human CO2 is the problem and we have to reduce it to zero —as stated by the IPCC, the EU, the UN and the American Left— there is no room left for freedom. Freedom = CO2. Whichever perspective we choose, be that theoretical or practical, contemporary environmentalism brings us back to this truism, this obvious truth: if human CO2 is the problem, then Man’s every activity, endeavor, action, and ambition is the problem.

TP: Why has environmentalism become the West’s new religion?

DG: People in Western Europe do not believe in God anymore so were ready for a new source of “meaning”. As Ayn Rand stated, real atheism is not for the weak. Most people try to find a substitute for God. Gaïa — the “All-Living” — is exactly that to the environmentalists.

TP: Freedom is disappearing very rapidly. Theoretically, freedom is a Western virtue. But in current Western socio-political policy, freedom has become a crime. Why this contradiction, and how can we overcome the emerging oppression?

DG: By winning the Kulturkampf. Cultural submission to the Left — the European way — is no solution. We must fight for freedom and defeat these extremists within the framework of the constitutional order — which is the American way, thanks to the ultimate fighter Donald J. Trump, probably the most important political figure of our time. You do not collaborate with the enemies of freedom: you fight them, you defeat them. There is no middle ground. We will not be subordinate to “Gaïa” — which is a concept devoid of meaning — nor material “equality” — which is a natural impossibility — we are the resistance; we are freedom fighters.

TP: Lastly, what do you think is the most important issue of our time? And why?

DG: Freedom is the most important issue of all time in the West because, from ancient Greece to today, it is the value on which our civilisation rests and is, at the same time, the driving force of our society. If you abolish freedom, you abolish the West as a distinct concept.

TP: Thank you so much for giving us this opportunity to share your valuable ideas with our readers.

DG: And I’d like to thank you for the recent appreciative review of my humble essay on the totalitarian essence of environmentalism.

The image shows, “Green Graveyard,” by the Brazilian artist, Benki Solal.