In this wide-ranging interview, Nicholas Capaldi, shares his ideas on liberalism and its many “fruits.” This is a riveting discussion of the current state of the world – and more importantly what can be done about it. Leading the discussion is Harrison Koehli.
The featured image shows, “Feestvierende boeren (Celebrating farmers),” by Adriaen Brouwer; painted ca. ca.1605-1638.
We are so very pleased to present this interview with Helmuth Nyborg, the Danish psychologist, who has been leading the field in developmental psychology, with his work in polygene adaption and traditional behavior, with a focus on hormones and intelligence. He is a retired professor of developmental psychology at Aarhus University, Denmark, and has authored several notable books. Professor Nyborg is here interviewed by the French philosopher, Grégoire Canlorbe.
Grégoire Canlorbe (GC): How did you move from Olympic canyoning to an academic career? Which of those two activities was the most physically and mentally demanding?
Helmuth Nyborg (HN): The change was easy. Preparation for the 1960-Olympiad in Rome took five years in advance with three hours training from 6-9 am. and again from 6-9 pm – before dinner was an option – and year-round. Such a program taxes social, family, metabolic, and intellectual life considerably. So, as I shared a room in the Olympic village with gold medalist Erik Hansen, with whom and two others I won the bronze medal, I simply told him that my career in kayak ended at 3:08 pm. when we passed the goal line. He found it hard to believe, but I kept my promise and entered the academic world instead.
GC: You are currently working on a thermodynamic approach to the biocultural evolution of intelligence. How do you sum up your theory as it stands?
HN: Actually, already back in 1994, I wrote a book, Hormones, Sex, and Society: The Science of Physicology, where I argued that science would advance by skipping much abstract philosophical thinking about Man’s nature, and instead turn to the study of Molecular Man in a Molecular World. The jump from there to thermodynamics is short.
Currently I am trying to quantify 275.000 years of prehistoric competition between individuals in the struggle for capturing and transducing available energy (Wm-2), survival, and procreation, in a retrospective, pseudo-experimental design; that is, to redefine classic Darwinian thinking along the lines suggested back in the 18th century by the two famous physicists, Ludwig Boltzmann and Alfred Lotka.
GC: When it comes to intelligence, what does the second law of thermodynamics imply? (Namely, that the entropy of an isolated system, as is allegedly the universe, is necessarily increasing). Do you believe the universe’s average intelligence is necessarily decreasing?
HN: The second law of thermodynamics is about isolated systems and is therefore not of great use for understanding the way humans work, because they are open systems. We therefore need to call upon a fourth thermodynamic model for open non-equilibrium systems. It is easy to understand why global intelligence has been declining steadily since 1850: Low IQ people become more numerous and have more surviving children than high IQ people.
GC: A line of criticism occasionally heard against the coevolution idea (i.e., the idea that gene and culture are influencing each other in their mutual evolution) is that cultural patterns in a population are indeed influencing genes in said population—but that genes do not have the slightest influence on cultural patterns in turn. Thus, any population subject to the influence of a certain culture is allegedly led to becoming biologically adapted to said culture at the end of a few generations. That is how, for instance, the Berber, Afghan ethnicities, and various populations who were conquered by the Islamic Arabs allegedly ended up becoming culturally Arabized—and biologically adapted to the Arabic culture. What is your take on such claims?
HN: The whole idea of biocultural coevolution assumes that cultural aspects can be measured and quantified as accurately as the biological aspects. This is not the case, and this makes, in my opinion, the whole idea of biocultural coevolution untenable, as previously argued by me, in 1994.
As said above, we better entirely circumvent stubborn problems based on how more or less abstract culture works, for example, by trying to retrospectively define and quantify the prehistoric circumstance under which different peoples around the world have evolved; which polygene adaptation they were forced to make in order to survive and prosper, and which left surprisingly lasting polygene traces reflected in existing global differences in traditional behavior, which even the naked eye can see so readily today. The recent failing attempts to make Afghanistan democratic illustrate the point well in blood, violence, tradition, and despair
GC: An early investigator of the evolution of intelligence, Hippolyte Taine expressed himself as follows in 1867: “The man-plant, says Alfieri, is in no country born more vigorous than in Italy; and never, in Italy, was it so vigorous as from 1300 to 1500, from the contemporaries of Dante down to those of Michael Angelo, Cæsar Borgia, Julius II., and Machiavelli. The first distinguishing mark of a man of those times is the integrity of his mental instrument. Nowadays, after three hundred years of service, ours has lost somewhat of its temper, sharpness, and suppleness…. It is just the opposite with those impulsive spirits of new blood and of a new race [that were the Italians of the Late Middle Ages and of the Renaissance].” Do you sense that analysis is grounded at a thermodynamic level?
HN: The mathematician and physicist, Lord Kelvin (1824-1907), said in 1883 something to the effect that, if you cannot measure a phenomenon and express it in numbers, you don’t know what you are talking about. You may be at the beginning of knowledge but have certainly not advanced to the state of science, whatever the matter may be.
This problem is not only Taine’s, but has been with us since the dawn of time. People think of a phenomenon, say “impulsive spirit” or “motivation;” then they reify it and ascribe it causal value. Suddenly they have an explanation. Why did I do it? Well, I was motivated. They don’t see that this is a circular explanation: How do you know you were motivated? Well, I did it.
This kind of muddled thinking was common in the past and is still widespread today. One current widespread form is Social Constructivism, exemplified by, say, unsubstantiable theories of “systemic racism,” or the “glass ceiling” in “Gender research” (where Gender is loosely what you feel; a lived cultural proxy for real, measurable, biological sex differences).
GC: Thank you for your time. Please feel free to add anything else.
HN: It worries me to think that the political scientist Charles Murray (2003) has a valid point, when he concluded that Western thinking has been decaying since 1850. This most likely has to do with declining global and local average IQ.
In that connection, it hurts to watch the numerally quantifiable left-oriented political activist overtake of many modern universities and media, with their associated unprofessional “Cancel Culture,” “Critical Race Studies,” and politically motived data-poor gender and LGBTQ+++ activist reports.
It is terrifying to realize that so many weak academic administrators today carelessly allow left-oriented student hooligans to attack, and have sacked serious researchers they have a political distaste for – instead of furiously defending free speech and independent research in the Academy.
It is saddening to see that so many modern universities seem to have completely forgotten the Humboldtian ideals of a free University; and instead have allowed their organizations to degrade into mindless mass-producing institutions, where political correctness all too easily overturns rational science; and IQ research(ers) are tabooed.
All this bodes well neither for the future of European democracy nor the sustainability of enlightened societies.
O tempora, o mores!
The featured images shows the funerary stele of Lysistrata, ca. 350-325 BC.
We are extremely pleased to bring this interview with film star, Michel Qissi, a Belgian-Moroccan actor, director, screenwriter, stuntman, and martial choreographer. He is notably known for having played alongside Jean-Claude Van Damme in Bloodsport, Kickboxer, and Lionheart; and he choreographed the fights in Kickboxer, in which he played the cult villain, Tong Po. Mr. Qissi is in conversation with Grégoire Canlorbe, the French philosopher.
Grégoire Canlorbe (GC): Your first name, Mohamed, was changed into Michel, then back to Mohamed again. What is the story behind this?
Michel Qissi (MQ): When I was little, I helped Jean-Claude in his mother’s flower shop in Brussels, on Avenue Buyl. His mother, whom I called, “Grandma,” and his father, whom I called “Grandpa,” both called me Michel. Then, Jean-Claude, whom I got to know when we were young, also called me by that name. And when we both went to America in 1982, he continued to call me Michel. Today, it’s been twenty years that I have returned to Morocco and taken again the first name of my origins, the one my parents gave me and by which everyone here continues to call me.
GC: You were a choreographer on Kickboxer. Please tell us about that experience. What distinguishes dance choreography from fight choreography?
MQ: I indeed took care of the choreography and of the casting of the fighters in Kickboxer, which was an extraordinary experience. The fact that Jean-Claude and I had both trained for years and years, since we were little, was a huge help to us in our fight scene at the end of the film. There is dance in this fight, a visual beauty of the moves, which is why it looks so good on screen.
Dance and fight choreographies are nonetheless completely different things. I wouldn’t be able to choreograph a dance scene; but a fight choreography where the movements are of impeccable fluidity and elegance, where a kind of dance is played, a warrior-style dance, is something that is possible for me.
The risk of injury is much greater in combat choreography than it is in dance choreography. The actors recruited for fight scenes don’t just have to know how to act; they have to know how to fight, which is not something you learn in six months. They must be experienced fighters, who know how to control themselves, control their strength, and resist fatigue.
GC: Is Tong Po an entirely bad character? Or does he keep a part of the light inside himself, like Darth Vader?
MQ: The utter nastiness of Tong Po is plainly evident in the film. It impressed the spectators. As for Tong Po’s past and why he has become such an evil being, devoid of any light, the film remains a mystery. While it is true that some are born with a mental disorder, we are never born wicked. We are all angels when we come into the world. An unhappy childhood, marked by mistreatment and sexual abuse, is one of the things that can explain why some take a fatal path while growing up. At the moment, I am being offered the launching of an opus that would explore Tong Po’s youth, the education he received, the life’s challenges that he encountered and which rendered him the brutal and cruel being that the Sloan brothers have to face in Kickboxer.
GC: What do you think of Dave Bautista as Tong Po in Kickboxer: Vengeance, which is the remake of the original Kickboxer movie?
MQ: It is an honor for me that Dave Bautista, someone who enormously matters in the cinema world, whom we have seen playing in important films, like Blade Runner 2049, that he took over the character of Tong Po whom I was the first to bring to life. An honor and a pleasure.
GC: Would you say that the “American dream” that you lived is still possible for a young person in Morocco today?
MQ: Everything is possible in life, whether you are a Moroccan, or someone from another country. Everything is possible, provided that you are passionate, patient, and persevering; and that you work hard, get up early every morning, and enter those places where your passion brings you. If you are passionate about cinema, go where the cinema is. Whatever is the environment in which your passion finds itself, you will meet good and bad people there. Go to the right people; those who will help you. With advances in communication, contacting the right person is easier today than it was in the 1980s.
GC: Thank you for your time. In the end, what message do you want to convey?
MQ: My message to everyone, especially young people, is the following. On the one hand, respect your body, stay away from all bad drugs. The good drug is sport; the bad one is stuff like cigarettes, alcohol, or cocaine. On the other hand, respect your parents, whoever they are; listen to and respect their advice—especially when it comes from wise people.
We are so greatly pleased to present this interview with Dr. François Desset, who recently accomplished a remarkable scholarly feat – he deciphered an ancient and elusive writing system that used in Bronze Age Iran.
Dr. Desset is a French archaeologist, who earned his doctorate at the Sorbonne. His primary interest is Bronze Age Near Eastern Archaeology (ca. 3500-1500 BC), particularly in Iran, where he has lived for the most part since 2014, working at the University of Tehran, as well as with the French research team, Archéorient (Centre national de la recherche scientifique). He has conducted numerous excavations, especially in South-Eastern Iran, at sites pertaining to the Jiroft civilisation. Another interest of his is in Iranian writing systems.
In this latter field, along with four collaborators, Kambiz Tabibzadeh, Mathieu Kervran, Gian Pietro Basello and Gianni Marchesi, he has recently been able to decipher the long-elusive Linear Elamite writing system. At present, some 95% of the signs can be read. This is a monumental achievement, comparable to Champollion’s decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphic writing and Ventris’ decoding of Linear B.
This interview, on behalf of the Postil, is conducted by Robert M. Kerr, who heads Inarah, the institute for the study of early Islam.
Robert Kerr (RK): How did you first get interest in Linear Elamite writing?
François Desset (FD): During my first excavation in Jiroft (South-Eastern Iran), in 2006, four tablets with a “very weird” geometric writing system were discovered. My curiosity in undeciphered ancient Iranian writing systems, such as this geometric one, linear and proto-Elamite script, was sparked. This inspired me to write a book on the subject. At this time, most colleagues preferred to keep their distance from this material as it was still undeciphered.
RK: So, a healthy curiosity of the unknown took an un-relinquishing hold of you. As we both know, even deciphered writing systems of lesser-known languages, such as the language isolate, Sumerian, still pose considerable difficulties. Undeciphered writing systems, on the other hand, tend to deter serious scholars and attract dreamers, as for example with Linear A. Your approach, much like that of Champollion and Ventris was logical and systematic, leaving no room for wild speculations.
FD: Indeed. For me the turning point was the realisation that the proto-Elamite (as the early phase of the proto-Iranian writing system) and the linear Elamite (as the late phase of the proto-Iranian writing system) must be one and the same writing system, but at two different, chronologically distinct periods. Between the two is a middle proto-Iranian script, which, however, is still not well known. Crucial for me was that I was able to gain access to a collection of inscribed silver vessels (kunanki) in London (the Mahboubian collection) from which I could make exact copies. As pointed out by Gelb many years ago, the first step in decipherment, is to establish precise copies of the texts themselves.
RK: Certainly, without autopsy, you know nothing. Drawings in my experience are often detrimental to reading such texts.
FD: Initially, in my case, when I started in 2006, I only had photographic access to one side of the objects, the silver vessels; thus, I had only one half of the inscription. It was only in 2015, after considerable efforts, when I was granted access to the artefacts themselves that I was able to start to make progress. Two years later, I was able to present my first readings.
RK: Access to the written objects is the sine qua non of any philological endeavour. However, successful decipherments, yours being no exception, pursue in their analysis a three-pronged approach: Is the language previously known? Are personal names known? Are there bilingual texts?
For the first point, the key for the later decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs was the conclusion by Athanasius Kircher, a Renaissance polymath at the Collegium Romanum, that Coptic must be the last phase of the Egyptian language. Although he was unable to decipher the hieroglyphs themselves, this realisation was later crucial for Champollion.
We see this too with Ventris, who concluded that the language of the Linear B tablets must be a form of Greek, and Knozorov’s decipherment of the Mayan hieroglyphs. As per your second point, personal names, the realisation that such must be contained in cartouches was essential for Champollion’s work on the Rosetta Stone. The Rosetta Stone of course is triscriptural (hieroglyphs, demotic, both forms of Egyptian writing) and Greek and bilingual (Egyptian and Greek).
FD: With linear Elamite we do not have bilingual texts stricto sensu. We only have “partial bilingualism;” that is texts recorded in different languages and containing. e.g., the same anthroponyms, titles, etc. So, for example, those referring to the Susian king Puzur-Sušinak (2150-2100 BC), which display a cuneiform inscription recording an Akkadian text, and a Linear Elamite writing one, recording what we could prove as being an Elamite (or Hatamtite) language text. The texts themselves, although they share the same onomasticon and titles, deal however with different subjects.
The texts themselves, although they share only the onomasticon and titles, deal however with different subjects. Then, we also have what one might term “biscriptualism;” that is, two objects with the same text (in the same language), though written in two different writing systems.
This was the jackpot – the same Elamite or Hatamtite text written on one artefact in cuneiform, and on the other in Linear Elamite. This is a classic knowledge-driven decipherment based on our capability to make connections between Cuneiform and Linear Elamite scripts inscriptions recording the same Hatamtite (or Elamite) language text.
RK: An excellent point, especially in this day and age when many seek to replace knowledge with technology.
FD: Certainly. I wish in this regard to emphasise that I have been asked a lot about computers, statistical data, etc. All hogwash! Knowledge, especially cultural knowledge and of the languages used at the time, some luck, and most important perseverance were essential.
RD: Often today, computers are employed to avoid thinking, as an ersatz for genius – information nowadays often is mistakenly equated with knowledge. Technology is no substitute for ingenuity, the feat of you and your team is a true intellectual achievement. Here, with regard to the first criterium, previous knowledge of the language, you were sailing somewhat on uncharted waters.
FD: Not entirely. We had Hatamtite (Elamite) proper nouns recorded in cuneiform. Without that, we would have been unable to make any significant advancements. The language though, like Sumerian, is a language isolate (i.e., has no known cognates). We know now, after decipherment, that cuneiform is rather unsuited to render the Hatamite language.
So, for example, the name of the 14th century BC king rendered in cuneiform as Untaš-Napiriša is rather to be rendered Ontaš-Napireša, because we now have a graphic rendering in Linear Elamite closer to contemporary phonetic reality, i.e., how it was pronounced. This writing system is well adapted to the morphophonology of Hatamtite, much more so than (the au fond logographic) cuneiform.
We have now also made considerable progress towards understanding the phonology of the language. I have the impression that Linear Elamite is in a way more “advanced” than cuneiform since it provides a more precise rendition of phonemes.
Curiously enough though, many scholars thought that the silver vessels bearing the inscriptions were forgeries. After their publication in 2004, nobody seemed interested in these objects. I thought I must have missed something.
RK: There was of course in the 1990s the famous “heist” of supposedly Achaemenid metalwork in New York, which turned out to be modern forgeries.
FD: We must always be careful with objects which are not unearthed in the course of official, professional excavations. Metal in the Middle East, a scarce, hence mostly imported commodity, was nearly always recycled. We usually only find such objects in graves. My suspicion is that the Mahboubian artefacts may come from graves dated around 2000-1900 BC.
RK: Looted artefacts lack archaeological context and hence are of limited scientific value. And they aid in the dissemination of forgeries. In your case, your decipherment has shown that the objects must be authentic. Could you now briefly explain to us the distribution of writing systems on the ancient Iranian plateau.
FD: I am proposing a new history of writing in the Near East. Things in this regard have now become a lot simpler. Until 2018, I thought that we had proto-Elamite, Linear-Elamite and this geometric writing system only attested in Jiroft. Then I came to the conclusion that the first two must be one and the same writing system. Their different appearance is due to chronological development. My thinking now is that in this region, “Iran” (archaeologically speaking), there was only one ancient writing system which appeared around 3000 BC. It was used, based on the names of the kings attested until about 1880 BC. These I divide roughly into three distinguishable phases.
The first phase, traditionally known as proto-Elamite, I term Early proto-Iranian writing; these appear to be mostly administrative tablets, found on eight sites, primarily in Susa during the French excavations at the end of the 19th/early 20th centuries, on the Iranian plateau. They are datable to circa 3300-3000/2900 BC. Although these texts are hitherto undeciphered, now that we have deciphered what I call Linear Elamite (Late proto-Iranian writing phase), we will be able to work backwards (as was done with cuneiform).
Then, we have the Middle proto-Iranian writing phase, about which we have only sparse information, and which probably should be dated in between, ca. 3000/2900-2300 BC.
Then comes what has been conventionally known as Linear Elamite, Late proto-Iranian writing (phase III), that which we have deciphered and is more or less datable to 2300-1880 BC. For this last stage, the present corpus is not large, with currently some 43 inscriptions, found in Southern Iran, in Susa, in Fars and in Kerman province (Shahdad and Jiroft). Thereafter, this (proto-Iranian) writing system falls into disuse around 1880 BC.
I believe that there were two reasons for this: first, in the early 2nd millennium BC, there was a large-scale urban collapse in Eastern Iran, in what is now Kerman Province; all the cities, Jiroft, Shahdād (Khabīs), etc. were abandoned – but this was not limited to the Eastern Iranian plateau; this was also, for example, when the Indus Civilisation came to an end. Second, in South-Western Iran in this period, in Susiana and Fars, Mesopotamian cuneiform was adopted by Hatamtite speakers.
RK: Often with urban collapse, writing systems, whose primary function is administrative, fall into disuse. We see this elsewhere, for example at the end of the Bronze Age in the Eastern Mediterranean. Could you now briefly walk us through your decipherment of Linear Elamite?
FD: By being able to access the artefacts in the Mahboubian collection, I was able to distinguish specific, repeated sequences of characters which were likely to be names. Of special note was a sequence of four tokens, which I thought in all likelihood must render the name of a king. The first sign, /ši/, had been previously identifiedin 1905 by a German scholar, Bork; the third and fourth signs were identical. Thus, I just needed to find the name of a king whose first syllable was Ši- and which ended in two identical syllables and who ruled in the early 2nd millennium BC. The names of the Elamite kings are known (e.g., from cuneiform sources). And there was only one king to whom these criteria applied, namely Šilhaha (20th century BC). This was the key. It gave me the phonetic value of two further signs, from which I could proceed.
RK: I do not wish to diminish your intellectual achievement in any way, but could one say, that what aided you vis-a-vis previous scholars such as Hinz and Merigi’s brilliant and painstaking work, was that you had a larger corpus?
FD: Indeed, access to the Mahboubian collection was essential; in this regard I was quite fortunate.
RK: It was indeed your perseverance, gaining access to the collection while others showed no interest. This is an essential trait, especially for epigraphists.
FD: Yes, especially since the writing system itself is not as complicated as for example cuneiform.
RK: Yes, and with regard to writing systems, we must never forget that orthography and phonology are two related though quite distinct manifestations of language.
FD: Of course, language sound is not visual language/graphemic rendering. So, for example, there are logographic writing systems, such as Chinese characters (Hànzì), which do not record sound.
RK: And, as for example speakers of English and/or French know, how you write something is not how it is pronounced. These are two related, yet entirely different phenomena. We see that the advantage of the alphabet is that we can graphically produce words with a limited character-set, which then are read “hieroglyphically;” we recognise the word shape. Children and language learners have difficulties until they are able to master word shapes (cf., with smartphones, Chinese is written phonetically using the Latin alphabet, whereupon the user selects the correct character).
FD: Yes, speaking and writing serve two different goals.
RK: Moving on then, can you provide us with a brief overview of the Linear Elamite texts that you have deciphered.
FD: At present, we have a corpus of some 43 texts, which is not really a lot. We can roughly divide these into seven different corpora, periodically and geographically speaking. The first, the best preserved, longest, and the most important genre is votive or dedicatory royal inscriptions; those of Puzur-Sušinak (cf. supra) from Susa (2150-2100 BC). A second corpus in this genre is represented by the somewhat more recent texts on silver vessels of the late Simaški/early Sukkalmah dynasty (2000-1880 BC), by Eparti II and his probable son, Šilhaha (cf. supra).
On the silver vessels we can also glean two important conjugated verbs, “I made” and “I gave;” e.g.: I am … the King of Hatamti, I made … and I gave (scil. presented this object to deity x). We only have one text containing historiographical data, a campaign by Puzur-Insušinak previously known from cuneiform sources. We do, however, have important data pertaining to anthroponyms and the names of their gods which were previously unknown. Also, because as elsewhere in the ancient world, names had an apparent meaning, i.e., they are grammatically analysable and hence supplement our knowledge of the language. Sometimes it is hard to distinguish between a simple sentence and a “sentence name.”
Now that we can read some 95% of the Linear Elamite signs, the challenge with which we are faced is the translation – as mentioned, distinguishing names from sentences, but also due to our limited knowledge of Hatamtite/Elamite grammar and lexicon. The latter especially, since we can now read the texts, we are continually encountering previously unknown lexemes and grammatical forms.
RK: These are the problems which one faces when reading a linguistic isolate. As we mentioned, Champollion had Coptic to work with, Ventris, Greek. And there are very few bilingual texts involving a Hatamtite/Elamite version, including most notably the much more recent royal Achaemenid trilingual texts (Old Persian, Akkadian and Hatamtite/Elamite). I read many years ago the works of David McAlpin, who proposed a relationship with Dravidian languages. This has not been widely accepted, and hard to prove due to the chronological distance between the recording of the two posited groups.
FD: Indeed, this is a very unlikely proposition. To the best of our knowledge, it would seem that Hatamtite/Elamite remains, for now, a language isolate. Of course, no language can be a real isolate; it is just due to the data available to us. A lot changes over the course of three millennia. I choose, however, to leave this for what it is. I am not a historical linguist.
It is however possible that Hatamtite/Elamite was spoken up to the tenth/eleventh century AD. Indeed, Persian geographers, writing in Arabic, make mention of a language (Khuzi) spoken in Khuzestan, which would seem to have been a late form of Elamite or preferably Hatamtite.
Here I wish to make a brief note on the terminology. I am a fervent advocate of using “Hatamtite” as a glossonym, based on the auto-toponym Hatamti found in Linear Elamite texts themselves. “Elam” is a Mesopotamian allo-toponym which can roughly be translated as “Eastern Highlands.” Hatamti was probably the most important designation for the political structure of the Iranian Plateau during the third millennium BC.
RK: Your point is well taken. When the Louvre has its displays rewritten accordingly you will know that you have won. Let us return to your point on proto-Iranian writing, that this is one system with three (chronologically distinct) manifestations (One might compare the decipherment of the Shang Dynasty ‘oracle bones’, whose writing system represents the first attested stage of Hànzì). Indeed how many independent writing systems might one expect in one culturally homogenous region?
FD: The idea is not new. In the early twentieth century, it was widely thought that they were related. Thus, I am rather promoting classical ideas. It was only in the 1970s/1980s that what I call proto-Iranian writing Early, Middle and Late phases were viewed as distinct and independent writing systems. Although a general scientific consensus remains in this regard, I believe that I have good reasons to dispute this. So, for example, even a superficial glance at the shapes of the tokens themselves strongly suggests that the Early (Proto-Elamite) and Late (Linear Elamite) phases (the Middle phase is still poorly documented) are one and the same writing system.
I have now started to work on the most ancient texts, the Early phase, using the phonetic values of tokens from the Late phase or Linear Elamite. It is still early days, but I can unequivocally state that there is a continuity.
RK: I do believe that you are on the right track and look forward to the completion of this work very much. Let us now turn to the implications of your decipherment and your thoughts about the origins of writing in the Ancient Near East, especially your suggestion that the earliest cuneiform writing and Early proto-Iranian (or Proto-Elamite) writing are contemporary, i.e., sister scripts. The communis opinio states that cuneiform is the mother of all writing systems. You posit a chronological and a logical argument.
FD: Yes, I have published extensively on this. Firstly, in my 2012 monograph, usually ignored by the academic world, and again in 2016, which received slightly more interest. This discussion is however completely unrelated to the decipherment of Linear Elamite.
However, I want to use the attention which the decipherment has attracted to promote my ideas on the origins of writing. Simply put, Carbon14 datings and the stratigraphy of the respective texts show that both Proto-Cuneiform in Mesopotamia and Proto-Elamite in Iran are contemporary. Conventional wisdom dates the Uruk (proto-cuneiform) texts to 3300-3200 BC. If we accept such, we must note that proto-Elamite (or Early Proto-Iranian) texts found in the1970s in the Iranian site of Tal-e Malyan were C14 dated to precisely the same period. From the point of view of pure chronology, based on the current data, both are consequently contemporary..
As for my second argument, logic, let me note that if proto-Elamite (or Early Proto-Iranian) was a daughter script of cuneiform, then it should manifest numerous shared elements or borrowings. However, both differ for roughly 95% of the time. There is only 5% which is shared, especially, the numeral signs and systems employed and several logograms or sign-objects. Both of these, however, can also be found in the “numerical tablets” which are somewhat older, ca. 3500-3000 BC and are attested from Syria to Iran. It is clear that both proto-Elamite/ Early Proto-Iranian writing and proto-cuneiform share a common ancestor, namely, these numerical tablets. Thus, they are sister scripts.
Although I have been criticised for this thesis, my evidence is solid. I would of course be willing to reconsider should an excavation in the South of Iraq produce proto-cuneiform tablets which can be unequivocally dated to circa 3500 BC or earlier. Mine is the most parsimonious explanation with the data currently available.
RK: One must not forget that these “numerical tablets” do not render a language. They display logographs which are language independent and numerals.
FD: earliest writing systems were not very related to (a specific) language. We also see that they were only employed in specific domains, mainly accounting. This can be done without rendering specific linguistic information.
RK: Furthermore, if one accepts the theory of Schmandt-Besserat, that writing emerged from the use of symbolic tokens, “tags,” clay envelopes which only then became tablets, then the origins of writing are logographic. The latter, especially in light of their distribution, both chronological and geographical, could well be the precursor to both writing systems.
FD: With regard to her theories, we must be cautious. So, there is the discussion about the simple tokens dating back to the sixth and seventh millennia BC, which I do not view as the precursors to writing. The complex tokens on the other hand, which date to the fourth millennium BC, along with the clay envelopes, may well be the precursor to writing stricto sensu.
RK: The envelopes are convincing because they were used into the early second millennium BC. Thus, the evidence for a common ancestor for both proto-Iranian and cuneiform Mesopotamian writing is very credible.
FD: When I refer to the common ancestor, I mean the “numerical tablets” and not the complex tokens. The former have been found throughout the Middle East, from Syria to Iran, and date to the mid fourth millennium BC. It should also be noted that these tablets did not immediately fall into disuse after the invention of writing, and continued to be used for accounting and administration alongside the writing systems.
RK: (Complex) Bureaucracies tend by their nature to be conservative, and these served the required purpose well. Can we turn now to the nature of the proto-Iranian writing system itself?
FD: Here we must proceed with caution. We must not conflate the Early proto-Iranian phase (proto-Elamite; late fourth millennium BC) with the Late proto-Iranian phase (Linear Elamite; late third/early second millennium BC). Let us discuss the latter first. Until 2018 – put yourself in my position at that time – what other writing systems were present? Mesopotamia, Egypt and Indus. Let us ignore the latter, it is still undeciphered.
Focusing on Mesopotamian cuneiform and Egyptian hieroglyphs, we see that they are mixed writing systems, employing both logograms and phonograms. Initially, I was convinced that this would also apply to Linear Elamite, and tried to identify these in the texts. I slowly however came to the realisation, confirmed, now that we can read some 95% of the graphemes, that this writing system was purely phonetic, using both syllabic and graphemes rendering one phoneme, without any logograms – it is an alpha-syllabary. It is thus the most ancient, purely phonetic writing system known to us. This is spectacular!
I believe that the Hatamtites were strongly attached to phonetic writing. So, for example, when they later abandoned proto-Iranian writing in favour of Mesopotamian cuneiform (cf., supra), they initially rejected the logograms and the logographic values of the characters. This has been known for a long time. Previously though, many scholars claimed that this was due to the Hatamites poor grasp of the essentials of cuneiform writing and its logograms; they were only able to use it at its basic, phonetic, level. We now know that this is not the case. The Hatamtites had a long tradition of phonetic writing, and kept this when they adopted another, scil. cuneiform.
They wrote cuneiform just as they wrote Linear Elamite. Later in the second millennium BC, logograms began to re-appear – here we see the influence of Mesopotamian scribal habits.
Late Proto-Iranian or Linear Elamite works on the principle of a phonetic grid with vocalic and consonantal values. It is perfectly logical. I could even use it to write French. Due to this, it works with quite a limited number of signs, especially when compared to cuneiform and hieroglyphs. Excluding some variants, we have about eighty characters. It is my impression, at present, that the Early Phase had not yet reached this degree of abstract rationalisation.
I am now trying to use our knowledge of the Later Phase to read the Early Phase texts, starting with the proper nouns, i.e., anthroponyms and theonyms. In these texts, we have longish sequences of characters, which do not seem to render numeric data, and which I suspect render onomastic information, which are often theophoric sentence names that undergo little innovation. My impression is that in the Early Phase (Proto-Elamite tablets), we have a hybrid system employed to record proper nouns, both logograms and phonograms.
My aim is to read the syllabically written parts of the personal names, and then try to deduce the value of the logograms. All in all, the corpus of tablets belonging to the Early Proto-Iranian Phase amounts to about 1700, mainly found in Susa and now in the Louvre – but also throughout the Iranian Plateau, with a more wide-spread distribution than in the Latest Phase. We have a good knowledge of the Susian onomasticon from the late 3rd millennium BC (i.e., written in cuneiform).
Using both the Late Proto-Iranian/Linear Elamite deciphered signs and the onomastic data available for the inhabitants of Susa in the cuneiform sources could lead to some progress in understanding the names recorded in the Proto-Elamite tablets. This is on the assumption that naming practices did not change dramatically during the third millennium BC. Of this though we can be fairly certain; so, for example, there is little change between ca 2300 and 1500 BC.
RK: This is certainly a good starting point. Just for the sake of clarity, in your Early proto-Iranian Phase, we find no cuneiform influence. The fact that it is a mixed logographic-syllabic system is what one would expect in the initial stage; this cannot be considered external influence. However, if the Early proto-Iranian writing was a daughter script of cuneiform, one would expect borrowings, since writing systems cannot be entirely separated from the language(s) which they rendered. So, the use of Sumerian logograms in Akkadian, and the use of Akkadograms in Hittite, etc. The borrowing of writing systems presupposes bilingualism in both the donor language and the target language. Cf., the historical influence of Latin in languages that use the Latin alphabet. When there is no bilingualism, it is the idea of writing that is borrowed, not the writing system itself (cf., e.g., Sequoyah’s Cherokee syllabary).
FD: Yes, as we discussed previously, the commonalities are largely restricted to the numerical signs and systems employed. Both Mesopotamian cuneiform and proto-Iranian inherited these from a common predecessor. The absence of Mesopotamian cuneiform influences supports both being contemporary and does away with the notion of cuneiform primacy, for which there is no evidence.
RK: I think that you have made a strong argument that proto-Iranian writing and Mesopotamian cuneiform are sister writing systems with a common ancestor, the numerical tablets. And again, my congratulations on your brilliant achievement in deciphering Linear Elamite – we eagerly await the publication of your findings. We also look forward to the progress of you and your team on proto-Elamite. Many thanks for your time.
Harrison Koehli from MindMatters talks with Ryzard Legutko about his work, life under communism, editing samizdat, the recent controversy with his university’s “office of safety and equality,” and the time he got sued for calling some students “spoiled brats.”
This is insightful and riveting discussion.
The featured image shows, “The Genius Of France Extirpating Despotism, Tyranny, and Oppression frokm the Face of the Earth,” an engraving by Isaac Cruikshank, published 1792.
He is here interviewed by Grégoire Canlorbe, the French philosopher, whose work has appeared often in the Postil.
Grégoire Canlorbe (GC): Could you start by reminding us of your main findings about IQ differences?
Kenya Kura (KK): My first motivation about IQ study, basically, came from the simple fact that some IQ researchers, way back, like Richard Lynn and Arthur Jensen among others, reported that East Asians are higher in their IQ. And I was just wondering if it was true or not, and then, I went into the field of whether or not there is some kind of gradient of intelligence among Japanese prefectures.
And so far, what I have found is very much in line with other findings that the Northern Japanese are somewhat more intelligent than the Southern residents on these islands. As for the gradient amount for the Japanese people, what I have found is not at all unique. In Northern Japan IQ tends to be probably about three points higher than the average Japanese.
And in the Southern Island of Okinawa, for example, it is like seven points lower than the average. And pretty much, it varies. A type of stylized pattern which I figured out many times and very consistently. That’s pretty much it. Also, I’ve been probably more interested in the psychological differences between East Asians and Europeans than most of the European psychologists.
GC: Could you comment on the dysgenic patterns (i.e., the factors of genetic decline at the level of things like fertility gaps) in contemporary Japan – compared with the West?
KK: Actually, Richard Lynn has been asking me for probably more than a decade, probably 15 years or so, if I can get some kind of evidence about this genetic effect in Japan. But unfortunately, I haven’t got a very solid dataset on the negative correlations – the so-called and famous dysgenic trend found almost everywhere in the world that more intelligent women tend to have fewer children.
But, having said that, it’s very, very obvious that in Japan, this genetic effect is going on as much as in Western society. For example, Tokyo has the lowest fertility rate – precisely where most intelligent men and women tend to migrate when they are going to college or when they get a job. So, it’s apparent that most intelligent people are gathering in the biggest city areas like Tokyo; and Tokyo has the lowest fertility rate.
So, it gives us some kind of evidence but, unfortunately, this is not a really solid analysis. I also figured out that the more educated you are, the fewer children you have. This is a very much a stylized or prominent sort of phenomenon also found in Japan. So, I’m sure about this genetic effect.
GC: Is it true that the taboo about genetic differences in intelligence is far less prevalent in Japan (and the other East-Asian countries) than it is in the West?
KK: I have been working on this subject matter for at least 20 years, and I got the impression that the real taboo of this kind of research is pretty much the same as in Western society. But there is one very big difference – in Western culture you can always pursue your scientific theme or scientific field and prove you are right. And it’s a very Western idea: individuals have a right to speak up and try to prove they are right.
But Asian culture doesn’t have that. So, the problem is that Japanese scholars are scholars in some sense, including myself; but, actually, most of them are just mimicking or repeating what Western people are doing. So, there aren’t many Japanese scholars actually trying to show or present their own thesis, their own theory. So, in that sense, if Western society or Western science says A is right, B is wrong, Japanese society will be subordinate to this Western conclusion.
So, I would say that mainstream Japanese scholars tend to just follow the mainstream Western culture. Personally, as for this sensitive scientific field, I really don’t have any friend working on this topic. People, including myself, are afraid of being regarded as a very strange, cranky person who is saying: “look, in group data, we are so different that there isn’t much we can do to, for example, alleviate poverty in the third world or in developing countries.” If you say that, then people think, “What?” Even though you might be right – and many people think you might be right – but it is not part of our culture to speak up. That’s why I don’t expect anything to come out of the Asian scientific community that will have an influence on the Western scientific community.
GC: While any evolutionary psychologist will agree, in principle, that human individuals are not tabula rasa genetically; most evolutionary psychologists nonetheless refuse to admit that it applies to groups as well, i.e., that human groups exhibit as much specific genetic characteristics as do human individuals.
In other words, all agree that a human individual (whoever he is) is endowed with a specific individual genome that contributes to shaping his psychological identity; but only a minority agrees that a human society (whatever it is) is also endowed with a specific collective genome that contributes to shaping its cultural identity. How do you account for this duality?
KK: On this sort of question, I have pretty much the same opinion as other IQ researchers of this kind. Basically, as you said, many people agree about the genetic differences between individuals; whereas, when it comes to group differences, they try to negate the existence of genetic differences.
So, yes, there is a dichotomy, here. But I also understand why this is so – because everybody wants to be a nice person. Right? So, if you are seeking the truth only as a scientist, that is fine. But we do not live some sort of abstract existence with no relationship to physical reality – everyone around you will feel awkward, probably, if you say – Yeah, but, you know, group difference makes a lot of sense. And most of the sort of talk that inequality existing in this world is probably explained by genetic differences, as Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen said, makes all the people around you feel very, very awkward or strange about you or your political views. I can say only probably this much. So, many people are just politically persuaded not to mention – and not to recognize – with a lot of effort the difference, and try to negate the fact. That’s my understanding.
GC: It seems the Indo-European cultural pattern that is the tripartite hierarchy of society for the benefit of a warlike, sacerdotal aristocracy with a heroic ethos (i.e., the ethos of self-singularizing and self-immortalizing oneself through military exploits accomplished in contempt of material subsistence) has been present or paralleled in traditional Japan. Do you suspect an Indo-European influence in Japan?
KK: Oh, I have sort of an idea. It’s not very much proven, but Japanese society or Japanese people are basically a hybrid, about 30 percent of the original so-called Jomon, before the Chinese or Koreans came, about two thousand years ago. And this Korean or, I would say, Chinese genetic factor constitutes about 70 percent.
So, 70 percent of Chinese plus 30 percent of indigenous Japanese people is the basic genetic mix of current Japanese people. And this huge 70 percent explains the East Asian characteristics. Basically, it gives us looks like mine, right? Probably, any European can notice that Japanese, Korean, Chinese typically have different facial characteristics. And although, as I said, Japanese people have 70 percent retention of this genetic tendency, the 30 percent remains in our genetic structure.
And I suspect that this natural 30 percent gives us more of a war-prone personality than the Chinese or the Koreans. So, that’s why we put a lot of war emphasis, like the Samurai theory, as you might know – more martial arts, real battle and war, and real domination, all over Japan. That’s my understanding.
GC: The traditional Japanese have been highly creative and sophisticated in the martial-arts – to the point of surpassing the Westerners in this regard. Yet only the traditional Westerners have come to transpose to the field of science the art of fighting, i.e., to transpose to science the spirit of competition, innovation, and assertiveness associated with physical combat. How do you make sense of it?
KK: It’s a very good point – an interesting point for me, too. My understanding about it is that, for example, French people seem to like judo a lot. I have heard that it’s very popular. So, for example, judo, or we have a similar sort of art that is huge called kendo. But that kind of martial art, as you said, has been very sophisticated in this country, and also in China, to some degree, maybe even more so.
But that brings to mind the idea of science itself, because science itself is equally divided into both natural reality and the analytical approach for every kind of phenomenon. For example, we in Japan don’t have social science, and so we just import it from the West. It’s the same. I mean, natural science was imported from the West. And when it comes to science, it’s also based on logic – a heavy dose of logic and mathematics, usually.
None of the Asians were interested in mathematics, at least not as much as Western people had been. So, when it comes, for example, to geometry, even the ancient Greeks were very much interested in it. The Chinese people never developed the equivalent of that kind of logic. And it’s also true that mathematics has been developed almost exclusively in Northern Europe within the last five hundred years. And Chinese people, although they were in higher numbers than White Europeans, they didn’t develop anything. Neither did the Japanese or the Koreans.
So, the problem is that East Asians tend to neglect the importance of logic. They don’t see that much. They just talk more emotionally, trying to sympathize with each other, and probably about political rubbish, more than Western people. But they don’t discuss things logically, nor do they try to express their understanding and make experiments to determine if something is true or not.
Scientific inquiry is very much unique to Europeans. That’s my understanding. So, although it seems like East Asians are very quick to learn things – the Chinese are probably the quickest to learn anything – but they’ve never created anything. That’s my idea. So, they don’t have the scientific mentality, that ability of inquiry or sufficient curiosity to make science out of sophisticated martial arts.
It may be true that the “traditional Japanese have been highly creative and sophisticated in the martial-arts field – to the point of surpassing the Westerners.” But I guess nowadays even judo or any kind of martial arts is more developed or more sophisticated, a lot more sophisticated, in European countries.
The Japanese or Chinese created the original martial arts. But their emphasis – especially the Japanese – is too much on their psychic rather than physical power. So, when you look at any kind of manga or anime, the theme is always the same: the rather small and weak main character has got some kind of psychic power and a special skill to beat up the bigger and stronger enemy. And it’s pretty much like “the force” in the Star Wars movies. But in the case of Japan, it’s a lot more emphasized. So, they tend to think less about physical power and more about the psychic personality. That’s the sort of phenomenon that we have, which shows some lack of analytical ability, from my point of view.
GC: A common belief is that the Japanese people are both indifferent to the culture of Western peoples – and genetically homogenous to the point of containing no genius. Yet contemporary Japan is displaying much ingenuity in videogames (like Shigeru Miyamoto), music (like Koji Kondo), etc., and is quite open to the Western world culturally. Videogames like Zelda and Resident Evil are highly influenced by the West (Western heroic fantasy in the case of the former) and George Romero’s movies in the case of the latter. Some Japanese actors (or movie directors) enjoy worldwide fame, like Hiroyuki Sanada who portrays Scorpion in the new Mortal Kombat movie.
KK: Regarding personality and the intelligence of geniuses, that is Dr. Templeton and Edward Dutton. I’m sure that you talked with him – Edward Dutton wrote a very good book about why genius exists and what kind of mixture of personality and intelligence we need to make a real genius.
And I do agree basically with Edward Dutton’s idea that we don’t have the sort of good mixture of intelligence and, at the same time, a sort of very strong mindset to stand out from other people. The Japanese tend to be like others too much. So, they can’t really speak up and have a different kind of worldview from other people. As I said, Japanese scholars tend rather to avoid discussion or serious conflict with other scholars; so, that’s why there is no progress or no need to prove what you’re saying is true or not. That is a problem.
Yes, this is only a partial answer to your question. And the other thing is – and as I’ve been talking about science – in order to be a scientist, you have to basically propose some kind of thesis and at least show some evidence that your thesis is right or proved piecemeal. But when it comes to fine arts or Manga, Anime or literature, movies or games, you don’t really have to argue against other people. You just create what you feel is beautiful or great – whatever.
So, because Japanese culture basically avoids discussions or arguments against each other, the Japanese are more inclined to create something like visual arts. That’s why I believe Japanese manga or anime has been very popular also among Europeans. Probably including yourself, right? I’m sure you’ve played video games from Japan.
You mentioned Hiroyuki Sanada. He’s one of the most famous action movie stars, a Tom Cruise type. So, I understand what you mean. And the other thing is – it’s pretty much the same. In the Edo period, about 300 years ago, there was a type of fine art called, ukiyo-e. These paintings and prints were sold to the public. And the French impressionists in the 19th century were, as far as I know, very attracted to the ukiyo-e and they got some inspiration from them, how to draw the lighting or nature itself.
So, I do believe that Japanese people are probably genetically talented to some degree. I would dare to say they’re talented in the visual arts. But it does not mean that they are talented in science. These activities are totally different, which gives me a very interesting sort of contrast.
GC: In intergroup competition, the Empire of Japan was highly successful militarily – until the 1945 nuclear bombing, obviously. How would you account for this success?
KK: A German soldier was a very effective soldier, even compared with Americans or Swedes. So, I believe it’s very similar in the case of Japan. The Japanese tend to be tightly connected to each other, which gives them a very high advantage in military activity. That’s why they first tried to really dominate the whole of Asia, and, eventually, they had a war against the US in order to sort of get the whole of the Chinese mainland. And, of course, Japan was defeated.
But Japan is not so much endowed with natural resources like oil or coal, and so forth. In some sense, we’re very strong in military acts. That’s true. So, it’s very similar to the story that the Chinese are probably more inclined to study and learn original things like Confucius or the old stuff, in order to show how intelligent they are; whereas the Japanese tend to be more war-prone, more warmongers. They think more seriously and put more emphasis on military actions than the Chinese or Koreans.
So, that’s why Japan, in the last century, first invaded Korea, and then, moved into the Chinese mainland and defeated the Chinese army. That’s just how I understand it. It’s very similar to German history.
GC: Democracy is commonly thought to allow for an “open society” in which every opinion can be discussed – and in which ideological conflict can be settled through exclusively peaceful, electoral means, without the slightest drop of blood. Does the democratic regime in Japan since 1947 corroborate that vision?
KK: You’re right. Exactly. You are French, so you have a serious understanding of how people can revolt against the ruling class because of the French Revolution, which is the most famous revolution in human history. So, you have a serious understanding of the existence of conflict; and that the product of this conflict may be fruitful, good for all human beings. But, unfortunately, Asia does not have that sort of culture; that if you say something true and then have a serious conflict of opinions about it, it may turn out to have a fruitful result. That’s very Western to me.
GC: Thank you for your time. Would you like to add a few concluding words?
KK: I’ve probably said pretty much everything in a scattered manner, but let me emphasize one thing – usually, for any kind of European person, the Chinese, Koreans and Japanese look very similar or the same; but genetically, we are probably somewhat different, much as, for example, Slavic language people and the Germanic language group. So, there might be some kind of microdifference of this kind which may, especially in the future, explain the dynamics of history. That is what I want to know and what I try to understand.
Some recent publications of Dr. Kura:
Kura, K. “Japanese north-south gradient in IQ predicts stature, skin color, income, and homicide rate”, (2013), Intelligence, 41, 512-516. doi10.1016/j.intell.2013.07.001
Kura, K., Armstrog, E. & Templer, D. “The cognitive functions among the Ainu people”, (2014) Intelligence, 44, p149-154.
te Nejenhuis, J., Kura, K. & Hur, Y.M. “The correlation between g loadings and heritability in Japan: A meta-analysis” (2014) Intelligence, 44, p. 275-282. doi: 10.1016/j.intell.2014.07.008
Kura, K., te Nijenhuis J. & Dutton, E. “Why do Northeast Asian Win so Few Nobel Prize?” (2015), Comprehensive Psychology, 4, 15. doi: 10.2466/04.17.CP.4.15
te Nijenhuis, J. Kura, K. &Dutton, E. “Spearman’s Hypothesis Tested Comparing 47 Regions of Japan Using a Sample of 18 Million Children”, (2019) Psych 2019, 1(1), 26-34. doi:10.3390/Psychology1010002
Kirkegaard, E. Lasker, J. & Kura, K. “The Intelligence of Biracial Children of U.S. Servicemen in Northeast Asia: Results from Japan” Psych 2019, 1(1), 132-138.
The featured image shows, “Sudden Shower over Shin-Ōhashi bridge and Atake,” a print by Utagawa Hiroshige, 1857.
It is a high honor indeed to publish the first English version of this interview with Professor Ryszard Legutko, which he gave to the Polish newspaper, Dziennik Polski, on Friday, July 30, 2021. Professor Legutko, of course, needs no introduction, being the author of the well-known works, the Demon in Democracy and The Cunning of Freedom. The journalists interviewing Professor Legutko are Wojciech Mucha and Marcin Mamon.
Dziennik Polski (DP): In your appeal to the Rector of the Jagiellonian University, you write about the “academic ethos.” How do you define it? Does setting up an office that has as its banner the equal treatment of all students undermine this ethos?
Ryszard Legutko (RL): We’ve had a problem with the academic community for as long as I can remember, that is, since the beginning of my work at the Jagiellonian University. We used to explain to ourselves that it was the fault of communism, people’s fear of the Party, because you can’t play games with the regime. Academics were not the bravest of professional groups. When the regime became a thing of the past and Poland became free, we thought that the ethos would be rebuilt. But it didn’t happen. This ethos is based on trust, application of the rules of impartiality, objectivity, fair-play. If the ethos is strong enough, then no additional regulations are needed. I imagined that since the communist system collapsed, a “live and let live” approach would prevail.
DP: Are you saying, they don’t let you live?
RL: I was defending the Jagiellonian University when I had an unpleasant experience at one of the American institutions when a student group and professors there, fighting – of course – for openness and pluralism, had my lecture cancelled. Later, in an article published in America, I wrote that such a thing would not have happened at my Almae Matris. But even then, it wasn’t entirely true, because several speakers, whose views were questionable, had already been denied entry.
DP: In your letter to the rector of the Jagiellonian University, Professor Jacek Popiel, you criticized the Office that is supposed to deal with equal treatment of the whole community of undergraduate and doctoral students at the University. What is it that you don’t like?
RL: Yes, I was very concerned. One of the things that has changed in universities is certainly the corruption of language. There are supposedly warm, friendly words, but they actually turn out to be sinister. When we hear about the “Equality Office,” it is clear that it is about tracking down dissidents. Pluralism? It’s nothing more than maintaining a monopoly of power. In all the places I know, all such structures work the same way. For example, at the American university I visited, it was demanded that any candidate for a guest lecture be approved by two “equality” bodies: one student and one faculty.
DP: These are global trends. We assume, they won’t change.
RL: Polish academics love authority figures, so I refer you to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of July 22nd and the article, entitled, “The University as a Risk Zone.” According to it, universities are becoming a place where all kinds of unorthodox ideas are tracked down. The danger does not come from politicians. It’s the professors and students themselves who do it — even though no one is forcing them. No one forced the Jagiellonian University to ape bad practices and introduce structures that work the same everywhere and are a disaster. Mimicry is a terrible affliction of our universities.
DP: Professor Popiel, the Rector of the Jagiellonian University, claims that you and Barbara Nowak, the school superintendent of Małopolska region, do not realize the importance of the problems in Polish education. According to him, we are facing increasing discrimination based on gender, religious or political identity. As he said in the pages of our newspaper: “However, we can’t compare the reality of 20 years ago to today; the consciousness of three or two decades ago to the sensitivity and needs of the younger generation.” Or maybe you just don’t see these changes, you don’t know that we have to move with the spirit of the times?
RL: Indeed, something has changed, but for the worse. The mania to track discrimination with tools to invent discrimination in every sphere – this is one of the problems. Genderism was created several decades ago. Before that, it did not exist. For the past decade or so, it has become the ideological orthodoxy of the entire Western world: the media, corporations, international institutions, governments, and, of course, universities. It is utterly improbable that a single theory, and one of dubious quality, has gained such reach and power. It generates social engineering, changes culture, and revolutionizes social structures. And yet it is only a novelty. Universities should keep distant from such things, treating them with the skepticism typical of a scientific attitude.
DP: Are you implying that the Jagiellonian University is no longer skeptical?
RL: Universities were the first to start incorporating new trends, instead of discussing their pros and cons. I would say that they do it with fanaticism. With this attitude, it is clear that “discriminations” will always be tracked down, identified, and then condemned. There are even countries, like Canada, where the wrong use of a pronoun is punishable by imprisonment. And the threat of ostracism or losing one’s job is virtually everywhere. The Jagiellonian University, in its passion for imitation, has already created a complete set of instruments to follow the same practices. Now we have to wait for the sad results.
DP: Poland is trying to catch up with this revolutionary progress. But we don’t want to believe that this is already a common thing, that the steamroller will level everything…. So where to look for normality?
RL: Certainly not in this formula of a university “with a risk zone,” to use the title of the aforementioned article. There are various centers and lecturers who have preserved the academic ethos, but it must be admitted that there are not many of them. The Left with its strategy of constant social engineering is currently on the prowl, also thanks to international institutions.
DP: This wave is overtaking the scholars themselves, and it is hard not to see them becoming part of it. Not many dissenting voices are heard. They say about you – he’s eccentric.
RL: There are very disturbing cases at our universities – suffice it to mention Professor Ewa Budzyńska from Katowice. Could anyone of us have thought 10 years ago that a Polish professor would be repressed for saying that the family is based on a union between a man and a woman? And this is exactly what is happening. I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong, but have you heard about any protest of any faculty council or university senate concerning said issue? Rectors of Polish universities have several times criticized Archbishop Marek Jędraszewski’s homilies for wrong words about genderism, but not once have they defended Professor Budzyńska, or condemned the students’ aggression against members of the Constitutional Court.
DP: In Poland, however, someone will at least write a letter. Open letter or otherwise…
RL: We have to act, because the situation is getting more and more dangerous. My former Faculty Council wrote that I do not fit into the “university consensus.” What kind of word is that anyway? Consensus at a university? Who saw that coming! That’s a straight path to conformity. It’s amazing that in this day and age, when everyone talks about pluralism and diversity, so many ideologies are embraced by consensus – not just genderism, but in other aspects as well: immigration, climate, energy, education, so-called women’s rights. And since there is a consensus, there is no reason to discuss and argue. But those who do not fit into the consensus should be condemned and maybe even punished.
DP: Douglas Murray, in his book, The Madness of Crowds, wrote that with the end of grand narratives – religion, nation, philosophy – people are looking for, and plunging into, new battles, such as, gender, race or identity. Could it be that we are about to wake up in a world with no fixed rules, because everything will be questionable with multiple narratives?
RL: In my opinion, we are not dealing with a multiplicity of narratives, but with a mono-ideology, analogous to the communist times; only that, on the other hand, there is a great arbitrariness in it. During the communist era there was also talk about the “only right ideology;” but let us remember that everything could change depending on who was in power: on Monday Gomułka was the great Secretary of the Polish Socialist Party, and a few days later, he was the greatest pest of the system. Today it is similar – the new ideology is revolutionary but it is also progressive; so it breaks its own rules in the name of progress.
DP: It’s true. Hilary Clinton in the 1990s supported her husband’s “Defense of Marriage Act” to prevent gay marriage. Today she is in the forefront of the fight for so-called LGBT rights.
RL: Yes, because ideology is advancing. Once there was talk of civil unions as an insurmountable limit of freedom; today it is already an obligation to demand same-sex marriage and adoption of children; and whoever does not do it discriminates and is a dangerous homophobe. Not only has discrimination been multiplied in this way, but also the number of sins, thoughtcrimes and enemies. Paradoxically, there are many more of them today than during the communist era. Today the Left is in power, and the Left has always specialized in tracking down enemies and thoughtcrimes – so now it has gone wild. The more it fights for tolerance, the greater the range of enemies, and the more difficult it is to say something without risking condemnation.
DP: Why is this so?
RL: Modern man is becoming dumber and dumber, because ideology has detached him from European culture, which he does not know and does not understand. When I talk to European politicians, supposedly educated people, I see that the world before 1968 does not exist for them. They live only in today’s idiom and contemporary patterns. A man, as he was described by classical philosophy, great literature, and Christianity, does not exist for them either. That is why they are so arrogant – because they try everything on this primitive creation, created by their primitive ideology. That is why they think that it is possible to interfere in everything, to deconstruct and construct everything – the family, human sensitivity, national identity, history, etc. They have no respect for human beings, for the output of human thought and experience. In this they also resemble the communists who despised culture and created new ones by political means.
DP: You are talking about elites. Let us give you an example. Dziennik Polski was successfully published on paper 20 years ago, and today probably 80 percent of our readers choose the digital version on their smartphones. It is easy to imagine, that in a flood of other content, an interview with you or an earlier one with the rector of the Jagiellonian University are less digestible than a gallery of pictures you can scroll through with your finger. The same is true of the entire conservative formula and, more broadly, of in-depth content in general. The professor himself says that we are getting dumber, so why bother with elites.
RL: We are becoming dumber because we have lost the ability to learn from others and from the past. We know everything and can only make pronouncements. It is best not to read Polish Nobel Laurate Henryk Sienkiewicz’s In Desert and Wilderness because it’s a wrong book, drenched in the sin of racism. His Trilogy? Also wrong, because it is nationalistic, xenophobic, sexist, etc. Under communism, literature, art, and history were used to justify current views. The same is true today. Besides, it is symptomatic that former communists feel perfectly comfortable in today’s world and have smoothly entered the so-called mainstream, where they feel among their own people. And let’s not forget that education is constantly changing in the West, because ideological subjects enter schools. Not yet in Poland, but this is what the biggest international institutions demand, with the approval of some of our compatriots and politicians.
DP: Today’s young people are not particularly concerned about the past or the future. All that matters to them is the present because it seems most attractive. Why should they waste their time reading? The Left says openly that school cannot be “history, religion and damned soldiers.”
RL: That’s much better than the Left’s “gender, LGBT, abortion and safe sex” educational agenda. As far as young people are concerned, of course, there are new challenges. It’s important to remember that ultimately everything, or a great deal, depends on the teacher and the parents. If there is a good teacher and he puts in the effort, if the parents do let go of their laziness and convenience to mold their children, then maybe this monster won’t turn out to be so threatening. Attitudes must be changed. We must not accept the dogma that we are governed by some historical necessity, that the world is developing inexorably toward universal stupidity, and so my children must also be stupid. Rather, we should adopt an attitude of a kind of serfdom toward the world, and reject the attitude of a slave. We may not have influence on the world, but we do have influence on our immediate environment. And we should take advantage of that, regardless of what various “wise men” tell us.
DP: What is to be done?
RL:Shto diełat (laughs). I don’t have a detailed agenda. I have never liked adjusting to reality. Maybe this is not a very good tactic from the perspective of a politician, but I have also never managed a newspaper company like you do – which affects people’s lives in a way – where adaptation is often necessary. I’ll use the analogy again. I remember a time when everyone thought that communism was self-assured and not because there were Russian tanks, but it was said that this system was characterized by historical necessity. Let us reject such thinking today, even if we are sometimes overcome by despair. Can one be a conservative while reading on a smartphone and not on paper? Obviously, a smartphone cannot dictate to me who I am and who my loved ones should be.
DP: And the conservative counterrevolution that offers hope for ordering the world is nowhere in sight….
RL: Conservative parties are still successful, though not in many places. In England, the formations are theoretically conservative, but not really in practice. That’s why so many people in the West look at Poland and Hungary with hope. It is possible that the right will be strengthened in Western Europe by the entry of conservatives into government. Maybe eastern Europe will also hold on. Politically it is extremely important to break the current monopoly of the mainstream, which has taken over the EU and most of its institutions. Can it be done? If I thought it couldn’t be done, I would withdraw from politics.
DP: But, at the same time, as you yourself said, in our reality: “the Polish-Polish war makes everything more difficult.” How to end such a war and realize community goals? Is it at all possible?
RL: For the time being there is no such possibility, which I say with great sadness. The European Union fuels this war and will not rest until it liquidates all dissident governments and movements. That is why it is so important to balance the forces in Europe and introduce guarantees of pluralism. Perhaps this would calm the dispute in Poland. But the dispute that is taking place in Poland has a long and unfortunate tradition. For several centuries, sovereignty-independence forces have clashed with forces seeking the protection of a stronger protector. Unfortunately, it often ended in victory for the latter. If they were to win this time again, we will lose our sovereignty again and we will dream of Independence, as so many times in the past. The words of Jan Kochanowski, the Polish Renaissance poet, that a Pole “is stupid before the loss and stupid after the loss” will be confirmed.
The featured image shows, “The Destruction of Pharaoh’s Army,” by Philip James de Loutherbourg, painted in 1792.
This month, we are so very delighted to present this unique interview with Nikita Krivoshein who was born in Paris, in 1934. His family of Russian noblemen, fled communism during the First Wave of emigrants. His grandfather, Alexander Vasilievich Krivoshein, was Minister of Agriculture in the Russian Empire and Prime Minister of the Government of Southern Russia, under General Wrangel. His father and uncle were decorated fighters in the French Resistance during World War II. His father was arrested by the Nazis and sent to Buchenwald and then Dachau.
Nikita, along with his father and mother, returned to the Soviet Union, in 1948, thinking that they were going back home to peace and security. Instead, his father was soon arrested and sent into the Gulag.
Nikita himself was arrested in August 1957 by the KGB for an unsigned article in Le Monde about the Soviet invasion of Hungary. He was convicted and sent into Mordovian political camps (the Gulag), where he worked at a sawmill, as a loader. After his release from prison, he worked as a translator and simultaneous interpreter, from 1960 to 1970. He was able to return to France in 1971. His parents also returned to France in 1974. He lives in Paris. He has just published a book about his Gulag experiences.
Nikita Krivoshein is interviewed by Christophe Geffroy of La Nef.
Christophe Geffroy (CG): You have had an unimaginable journey. Birth in France, then departure for the USSR where you came to experience the gulag and return to France. Could you summarize it for us?
Nikita Krivochein (NK): Heaven was merciful and generous. I was able to return to France, to reintegrate myself, to bring my parents back, to found a home. Among the young emigrants taken to the USSR after the war, those who had this chance can be counted on the fingers of one hand. From Paris, I was able to see the collapse of the communist regime, and this without bloodshed! A great wave of murderous settlements of accounts was more than likely. We survived in the USSR physically as well as in our faith, our vision. But how many “repatriates” preferred to make themselves invisible, to depersonalize themselves to survive. My return to France was, and remains, a great happiness!
CG: Why did your parents return with you to the USSR in 1948, when the totalitarianism of Soviet communism was manifest?
NK: In the immediate post-war period, the totalitarianism was muted and less obvious. From 1943 onwards, Stalin had noticed that the Russians were not very keen on being killed by the Wehrmacht in the “name of communism, the radiant future of all mankind,” so he changed his tune and started to invoke “Great Russia,” its military, its culture, and reopened the churches. He changed the national anthem and renounced the motto, “Proletarians of all countries, unite,” revived the officer corps. In 1946, he returned to the repression of the Church. In 1949, he launched a very dire wave of arrests (including that of my father). But during the war the illusion of a renunciation of communism worked.
CG: What was the most important thing about your life in the USSR and your time in the camps?
NK: I have intimately felt and internalized that Hope is a great virtue. It would have been enough to stop living it, even for a moment, to sink into the great nothingness of “homo sovieticus.”
Our family was one of the few in the Russian diaspora in Paris who did not live in misery. Until the outbreak of the Second World War, my early childhood was happy. With my parents, we lived in a large three-room apartment on the banks of the Seine, opposite the Eiffel Tower. We lived in a comfort that was rare at the time, especially in the families of Russian emigrants. My father had studied at the Sorbonne and had become a specialist in household appliances. When I was born, he was chief engineer at Lemercier Frères. My father owned a black Citroën, and with my mother they traveled a lot. I was an only child, born late.
In June 1946, Stalin organized a vast propaganda campaign – amnesty was proposed to all former white emigrants in France, with the delivery of a Soviet passport and the possibility of returning to their homeland. Pravda came out with a new, flashy slogan: “For our Soviet homeland!” – instead of “Proletarians of all countries, unite!” And the radio no longer played The International but Powerful Russia… The Russians thought that “debolshevization” was indeed launched.
I found myself in the USSR in 1948 and then for many years I was obsessed with the idea of running away. Our ship, which left from Marseille, docked in the port of Odessa. It had on board many Russians who wanted to return to the country. The next day was May 1st. We were waiting. A soldier in a NKVD uniform entered our cabin, asked my mother to open her purse and confiscated three fashion magazines. “This is forbidden!”
We were told – you are going to Lüstdorf, an old German town near Odessa. On the landing pier, trucks were waiting for us, driven by soldiers. We were taken to a real camp, with watchtowers, dogs, barbed wire and barracks! We were transferred to Ulyanovsk in a wagon (40 men, 8 horses, 12 days trip). In 1949 my father was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in the camps for “collaboration with the international bourgeoisie.” My happy childhood was over. I relate all this in my book.
CG: In your book, you warmly evoke the beautiful figure of Canon Stanislas Kiskis, a Lithuanian Catholic priest. What place did religion have in the Gulag and what relationship did it fashion among Orthodox and other Christians?
NK: This question would require a whole study. In 1958, when I arrived at the camp in Mordovia, an old deportee said to me in French: “Allow me to introduce you to Canon Stanislav Kiskis.” That meeting marked my entire stay in deportation. Our friendship continued after our release. He was a short, stocky man. His face, his head, what a presence! One could immediately sense that he was a strong person in every respect. A week had hardly passed when Kiskis was transferred to our team to load trucks. There were about ten of us, almost all from the countryside, war criminals, quite a few Ukrainians and Belorussians, all of them certainly not ordinary fellows.
Kiskis had chosen the method of Socrates’ maieutics for his mission. I guess he had practiced his speech in previous camps. On the subject of the “nature of property,” for example, without addressing anyone in particular, Father Stanislav would ask, “And this pile of stones, who owns it? What about the land on which the pile is located?” The answers were obvious. “To no one.” Or, “to those stupid communists and Chekists!” Or, “We don’t know.”
Stanislav and I used to analyze Roman dogmas such as the Immaculate Conception, the rational proof of God’s existence and papal infallibility. We did this exclusively from an analytical and historical point of view. The canon-psychotherapist had to express himself in a more delicate and confused way than when he was dealing with property, but he succeeded in demonstrating what distinguishes work as a punishment inflicted on Adam from that which is the principal sign of our likeness to God. He even succeeded in establishing a quality, a usefulness and a saving side to certain aspects of forced camp labor. On his return to Lithuania, he was warmly welcomed by the Catholic hierarchy.
CG: You knew Solzhenitsyn. What do you remember about the man and, more than twelve years after his death, what can we say today about the historical role he played?
NK: My father was in the First Circle camp at the same time as Solzhenitsyn. It was a lifelong friendship between them. When I left the former USSR, Alexandr Issaevich honored me by coming to say goodbye and encouraging my decision to emigrate.
CG: More generally, what was the influence of the dissidents in the USSR? In what way are they an example for us today?
NK: It is certain that the resistance fighters in the USSR (preferable to “dissidents”), by their actions, hastened the collapse of the system. They are an example because, according to Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov, they did not accept to “live in a lie.” But the Communists continue to hate and vilify them.
CG: When we read in your book, the amount of suffering that you and your parents had to face, haven’t we in the West lost the tragic sense of life?
NK: It is enough to be aware of mortality. One can very well do without the Gulag to be aware of the tragedy of existence.
CG: How do you analyze the current situation in Russia? Has the page of communism definitively been turned?
NK: Alas, no! As long as the “stuffed man,” as we used to call the tenant of the mausoleum, remains in his quarters, nothing is irreversible. Stalin worshippers remain numerous, and monuments to this criminal are even erected clandestinely here and there.
CG: While Nazism was unanimously rejected, the same cannot be said of Communism, whose crimes do not arouse the same repulsion (statues of Lenin can still be found in Russia). Why such a difference? And why should Russia not engage in an “examination of conscience” about Communism? NK: National Socialism never promised anyone a happy life. Communism, on the other hand, has managed to gain acceptance as the “bright future of all mankind.” When a genuine Nuremberg-style decommunization takes place, I will celebrate it wholeheartedly. But the utopia of the earthly paradise has the gift of not setting free its followers.
CG: You are a believer. How do you see the future of our societies, which are moving further and further away from God? And how do you see the future of relations between Orthodox and Catholics?
NK: Five generations of believers have lived under a deicidal regime. The martyrs cannot be counted. The Christian revival was felt in Russia long before 1991. The period of agnosticism that we went through is coming to an end. Man cannot live on bread alone for too long a time. A new generation, not genetically infected with “homo sovieticus,” has appeared. The parishes are full of young people.
This articles appears through the kind courtesy of La Nef.
The featured image shows, “Rehabilitated,” by Nikolai Getman, ca. 1980s.
It truly is a great delight and honor to bring to our readers this insightful and wise conversation with Paul Gottfried, one of the foremost thinkers in America today. He is the author of well over fifteen books and innumerable articles, all of which carry the mark of his great scholarship that is the perfect cicerone upon the high road of wisdom. He edits the prestigious journal, Chronicles. Professor Gottfried is here interviewed by Zbigniew Janowski.
Zbigniew Janowski (ZJ): You are American, but unlike most Americans – I do not mean ordinary people who never left the country, who are hardly aware of the outside world – you are critical of America. In many respects, you remind me of someone you wrote about, namely, Robert Nisbet, a towering figure in American sociology, who was also critical of America and her egalitarian tendencies. From our private conversations, I get the impression that you perceive the present-day America to be a danger to itself and the rest of the Western world. Am I correct?
Paul Gottfried (PG): I’m not really hostile to the US, and in fact I value my friendship with my neighbors in the small Pennsylvania town in which I reside. They remind me of the people I grew up around in a Connecticut rust-belt city in the 1950s. I also admire the founders of the American republic and their obvious civic-mindedness and skill in creating a form of government that provided for ordered liberty. Where I become more ambivalent and even suspicious is seeing how American “liberal democracy” has developed in the twentieth century and even more in the last twenty years. The combination of triumphalism in international relations (which is pushed by our bogus conservatives) and LGBT madness as a crusading American political religion will likely sow harm beyond this country’s borders. Since the US is hardly a minor player on the world stage, our influence is felt in other “liberal democracies,” particularly in the Anglosphere. I can easily understand why the Russian government, which is situated on the nationalist Right, would present itself as the defender of whatever normal behavior the American government now identifies with “prejudice.”
You are right to assume from reading Revisions and Dissents that I learned a great deal from Robert Nisbet, who figures large in my autobiography, Encounters. There were two sides to Bob: an America-affirming perspective that is reflected in the occasionally hopeful things that he said about the country (this was especially evident during his friendship with the neoconservatives), and the very dark perspective that can be seen in Quest for Community and Twilight of Authority. Clearly, I was more influenced by this second Nisbetian perspective. Nisbet was also among the few American social thinkers who valued the European counterrevolutionaries for laying the groundwork for the study of social theory. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on Louis de Bonald.
ZJ: In your view, is what we call Corporate America, American free-market capitalism, part of the problem as well?
PG: I’m not sure that our corporate capitalists represent the free-market system that our libertarians praise and which they sometimes imagine exists in this country. Corporations now support the totalitarian Left and are quite happy pushing vast redistribution schemes that the government is urged to carry out, at the expense of the middle and working classes. The corporate board members and the tech giants won’t have to worry about their earnings being redistributed, since they wield vast power on the political Left and in any case have tax attorneys to protect their profits. It is our corporate capitalists who provided most of the billion or more dollars that went to Black Lives Matter and Antifa last year to wreak havoc in our city streets and to shoot policemen. Employees of our corporations are drowned in Critical Race Theory and LGBT slogans. By the way, I am not against a “free market economy.” What I oppose is a socially and morally destructive capitalist class, which seems to be making war on the white Christian population of Western countries. They also seem more than willing to fund the assassins of black and Asian business owners and policemen.
ZJ: Let me touch upon PC ideology, something you devoted a few of your books to. When people ask me, when PC started, I tell them: probably around 1987 – the date of the publication of The Closing of the American Mind. In this book, Allan Bloom captured the cultural trends that morphed, very quickly, into what gave expression to PC in the early 1990s. PC started with something that appears very insignificant, but which is of paramount importance – the changes in language (the use of personal pronouns). You belong to the generation that learned that the personal pronoun “he” refers universally to all of mankind. At the beginning of the 1990s, a number of academic institutions would send around “guidelines” on how to use masculine and feminine pronouns, so as not to exclude women. Ever since then, we talk about “inclusive” language. Now we are told that there is more to us than just men and women. Hence the need to create even more inclusive language.
I am invoking this because what started as something that few people had objected to 30 years ago, became a battlefield on which the fate of Western civilization is being played out. Commonsense, as Orwell’s Winston came to understand, is a heresy. It can get you killed. Several years ago, Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson refused to use the “new” inclusive language. His colleagues signed the petition to have him fired because of that. To a normal person, it sounds silly, childish. On the other hand, as we know from the history of totalitarianism and Orwell’s 1984, without a new language, or New-speak, totalitarian reality is impossible. Language can be a prison, and totalitarian reality is just that: It is a realm where there are no free people, only prisoners. Would you agree that unless we create an alternative, non-PC language, we will persevere in our absurd reality.
PG: I have never thought highly of The Closing of the American Mind, because of Bloom’s exaltation of America as a global democracy with a universal rights mission and because of his unproved claim that Heidegger, Nietzsche and other German thinkers had corrupted college students. The American disease that I have witnessed infecting the Western world has not been “the German connection.” It is the fixation on equality, and then the search for ever-new ways to apply this dangerous concept to the human situation. At a certain point, it became obvious that we were not going to apply that concept and its implications to economics, because capitalists were part of the ruling class and because Americans were not going to adopt the economic practices of impoverished socialist societies. So, we looked for other new ways to push our poisonous obsession with equality, which would not be incompatible with the pleasures of a consumer society. Given the modest position to which I was reduced professionally by both the Left and the conservative establishment, I have never had to worry about giving offense by using gender specific pronouns. I do it all the time, with impunity.
I think much of what Orwell wrote in his description of Newspeak and thought control in a future totalitarian state is already happening. What clearly separates our therapeutic regime from what Orwell depicted in his writing is the absence of a warrior ethic. In Nineteen Eighty Four there seems to be a lot of fascist settings and rhetoric left over from the Second World War. In our version of mind control, we find a purer, egalitarian Left in power, and well-orchestrated indoctrination, making physical coercion of secondary importance, if not totally unnecessary. Unlike the world of Nineteen Eighty Four, we also hold ritualized elections but also make it hard for anyone but PC leftists to win. The media and the rest of the political class relentlessly smear any challengers as fascists or neo-Nazis.
ZJ: Even if you are right that Bloom’s diagnosis is not satisfactory, he was viciously attacked by the academic establishment just before academia turned PC. Is it a coincidence? Bloom must have said something that touched the nerve of the academic establishment.
PG: Bloom was not really addressing PC. What he was attacking was the development of the Hippie culture and to some extent the New Left, which emerged in the 1960s. He targets some of the familiar villains of the Straussians, value relativism, insufficient faith in liberal democracy, and a lack of appreciation for the classics, as taught by Bloom and other students of Strauss. Bloom also goes into a long tear against certain German philosophers, whom he manages to blame for both Nazism and the breakdown of discipline in American universities.
ZJ: I find your explanation persuasive. However, there is one point which, I think Bloom was right about: His discussion of the impact of psychology on America. Until recently, the big divide between the US and Europe was psychology. To be sure, Europeans would not deny the validity of psychology as a discipline, man’s psychological problems, and they go to psychologists too, but not en-masse, not to seek solutions to their daily problems; whereas Americans made psychology a national sport. Everyone has a shrink. How do you account for it? In my mind, this has detrimental effects on society. A shrink is like crutches without which Americans can’t walk. We are a society with thousands of experts trying to help us find solution to our problems, most of which are banal. Schools, colleges, corporations employ them full-time. They are a disease. As Bloom said, a hundred years ago, people would have claimed they were sinners; today, they seek various explanations pertaining to the Self.
The American Self is weak; and the weaker it gets, the more problems it creates. Part of the PC movement is the protection of a weak individual against old social norms and institutions, which are fundamental for the maintenance of a healthy and strong society.
PG: My book, Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt, explores this aspect of Bloom’s work much more thoroughly than he does. Sam Francis does the same in numerous essays for Chronicles. What may be different in Bloom’s case is that the neocons and the conservative establishment in general pushed his book to the top of the bestsellers list because he was also getting across their views on American Exceptionalism, the evils of German thought, and the harm that the hippies were inflicting on the Academy. Unlike the Old Right, Bloom has only kind words to say about American foreign policy and the “liberal democratic” state.
ZJ: You wrote the book, Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement. It is, as the subtitle says, a critical appraisal. You said that what you find objectionable in Bloom is his faith in liberal democracy. Now, as liberal democracy shows its threatening face, one can indeed be skeptical of Bloom’s diagnosis. Was the Bloomian defense of liberal democracy of his own making, or did he learn it from his Master, Leo Strauss, as did his other students, such as Harry Jaffa? Strauss was a refugee from Nazi Germany, and, like most of his generation, he could see totalitarian Nazism and Communism to be a threat to freedom; whereas liberal democracy was perceived as a paradise, a place where individual freedoms and the free market could flourish. Not long after Bloom published his book, his student, Francis Fukuyama, wrote an influential piece in the early 1990s, after the collapse of Communism, in which he claimed that History ended. It was a triumphalist piece.
PG: As I have argued repeatedly (perhaps to no avail), it is impossible to understand Straussianism as a school of thought without noticing its explicit political thrust. Although that thrust can already be found in the Master, it has been far more operative in most of his prominent disciples. If you are asking me whether Bloom’s livre de succès was not an event that Straussians and their neoconservative allies planned for political effect, allow me to respond unequivocally in the affirmative. They and their media allies pulled out all stops to promote Bloom’s book, as a statement of their ideas about an American mission, their academic grievances, and other assorted complaints.
ZJ: Bloom told me once that American political science was the creation of the Germans – Strauss, Hannah Arendt and Eric Voegelin (he was Austrian, but in this context, it may not matter). To what extent, according to you, did they influence how American academic political science establishment thinks of politics? Now, there is a world of difference between Strauss, Arendt and Voegelin, but one thing that they shared was the reading of the classics, especially the Greeks and the Romans. This last point makes me think that their insistence on deriving the principles of politics from the ancient sources is in keeping with the American tradition of Great Books that goes back, if I am not mistaken, to the 1920s and 1930s, but also to the Founding Fathers, who, like Jefferson and Adams, were very well versed in the classical tradition.
PG: What I argue in my book is that certain themes and concerns in Strauss’s writings take on added importance among disciples like Bloom. The cult of Anglo-American liberal democracy, Zionism, suspicion of the “German connection,” and an aggressively liberal internationalist foreign policy can all certainly be found in Strauss’s remarks and observations focusing on current events. But they became even more pronounced among his epigones, who may have gravitated toward the master at least partly because of these shared causes and concerns. This would apply to disciples who were not Jewish, like Walter Berns, Thomas Pangle, and Harvey Mansfield, as well as to the very self-consciously Jewish Bloom.
Of course, there have also been people influenced by Strauss’s scholarship (e.g., Stanley Rosen) who did not show the characteristic (not to mix words) idiosyncrasies. Strauss was indeed well-versed in classical languages and scholarship, much more so (I would guess from reading her) than Hannah Arendt. Voegelin was probably Strauss’s equal as a scholar; and although I am much more attracted to his interpretation of Plato than I am to Strauss’s and believe that he is correct about the religious elements in modern ideology (which Strauss mostly ignores), I think Strauss was the more original thinker. As a scholar of German thought, I recognize all the stuff that Voegelin borrowed from Carl Schmitt, Hans Jonas and even that philosophical popularizer Karl Jaspers. Strauss creates his own school of thought with his own ideas. Although I disagree with his premises about the dangers of relativism and historicism, his rationalistic approach to the classics, and his sometimes-strained efforts to uncover the secret intent of political thinkers, I regard Strauss as a serious scholar.
ZJ: You have been writing a lot about our current problems. Do you have an explanation as to what happened in the last 30 years or so? Or, were we doomed to be where we are? What I mean by this, is that certain theoretical assumptions about politics were bound to create problems we now deal with, and from which we no longer know how to extricate ourselves. From what you said about Bloom, you do not see the problem to have its sources in Hippie culture, relativism, and the so-called “culture wars” of the 1990s. You imply that the problem lies deeper; that it is democracy itself which is a problem. In this respect, forgive me for saying so, you sound like a heretic. I spent the last 36 years in America and can be forgiven for not having much faith in democracy on account of being foreign born. You, on the other hand, are duty-bound to praise the system. I cannot think of a single TV anchor, politician, policy-maker who would express doubts about “the people,” popular government, the founding principles of America, the glorious breakaway from the British Crown. In the minds of most Americans, including serious historians, these points are like the theological dogma you must believe. Disbelief is heretical. You, on the other hand, openly question the American belief in democracy and equality.
PG: I am very much in agreement with you and Professor Legutko about the demon in liberal democracy, as a modern political invention that has been used to radicalize society. Mind you, I am not against the kind of Volksdemokratie that exists in Poland, Hungary or Japan, providing the current political culture and “Umwertung aller Werte” (although not in Nietzsche’s sense) that is pouring out of “the democratic West” is kept away. What has happened is that the religion of equality has corrupted all human institutions in the West, although the result has not been to create a society without classes. Instead, we are burdened with our present anti-Western, anti-white elites that claim to be helping us to overcome “prejudice” and “discrimination.” This rule does not at all clash with the spread of corporate capitalism because within it there are busily-at-work multinational corporations, Big Tech, and international finance. Managerialism and Deep States also belong to this system of control, which justifies itself as means of making us all more equal and more resistant to “prejudice,” however tendentiously that term is defined.
ZJ: The language of “prejudice” and “discrimination,” which you referred to, is the expression of the egalitarian spirit. Without it, the whole PC edifice would collapse. I am convinced that if we retain a blind faith in equality, we will continue being prisoners of the current predicament and the situation will only get worse. Do you see much sense in applying this term anywhere else than in administration of justice?
Secondly, you said about “overcoming of ‘prejudice’ and ‘discrimination.'” This sounds familiar to every student of Marxism. In Marx it was called “false consciousness,” and socialism was a state where all forms of discrimination (or alienation, as Marxists would have it) were to disappear. Religion, arts, justice, family, morality, law, science were to Marx forms of the so-called “false consciousness;” they are like prison-cells which we must liberate ourselves from before we can view the world objectively. The American justice system has been attacked as racist many times (it serves either the dominant White class, or the class of heterosexuals; you can hear that science is an expression of the White mind (therefore minorities are not doing well in science classes), marriage and family (man and woman) is problematic, and so on and so forth. You wrote about Marxism; so the topic is familiar to you. Do you see the American fight against “prejudice” and “discrimination” as something that the American Left borrowed from the communist tradition?
PG: I fully agree that the reckless war against “prejudice,” in which the majority white male population stands under judgment, issues from the “liberal democratic’ obsession with equality. This lunatic project, as I argue in my forthcoming book on antifascism, is kept going by the practice of linking all still permitted inequalities to fascism and eventually to Hitler’s Final Solution. Even the concept of freedom, as interpreted by most libertarians, can only be understood through the prism of equality. Everyone on the planet is meant to enjoy the same abstract freedoms, which are hubristically or imaginatively raised to universal applicability.
The only political freedom that makes sense to me comes out of and must be justified by long-standing historical experience. What Edmund Burke wrote about this topic struck me as self-evident, even when I was an undergraduate sixty years ago. Except for the Hobbesian axiom that subjects only owe allegiance to a state that protects them, I avoid speaking about universal “rights” and “freedoms.” Provoking wars to spread or impose these inventions, which is an American progressive-neoconservative temptation, may become a real international danger. Our state department has begun to treat LGBT demands as a foundation for international relations. What idiocy comes next in order to implement “equal rights” more perfectly everywhere in the world?
The rhetoric and concepts wielded by our Left and Conservatism Inc. (to make a difference without a real distinction) sounds like a variation on what the Communists used to say. I’m not sure this comes from direct borrowing as much from the fact that Communism, Intersectionality and American Exceptionalism share a leftist point of origin. To a certain extent, all leftists think alike.
ZJ: It would be difficult to disagree with what you said about LGBTQ demands as the foundation for American international politics. One can say the same thing about the European Union. The conflict within the EU over Poland and Hungary’s stance – both countries strongly oppose the imposition of EU regulations in this regard – is very telling. In both countries, there are conservative governments; and one can be certain that as long as they stay in power, it is unlikely that they will yield to these kinds of demands. The UK, France, Spain, Germany capitulated to the new ideology. If you add to it the immigration policy in those countries, the situation is dire. What do you expect the near future to bring, and is there a way out of this situation?
PG: I just began writing about this for an American Greatness column. I don’t expect anything good to come out of any of this demographic and cultural change. Central and Eastern Europe (if we exclude the robotized Germans) seem to be largely immune to the disease of wokeness and (not coincidentally) resistant to American media and cultural influence. Unfortunately, residents of the former Soviet bloc are going to be affected by what happens in the Anglosphere and Western Europe, given the pervasiveness of American power and our ubiquitous cultural industry. As someone influenced by Carl Schmitt, I believe that friend/enemy relations form an essential part of human society as well as political life. Once the “liberal democracies” finish their war against themselves and their ancestors, their less civilized or less decadent successors will fall out among themselves. I don’t see any way the Western world can recover from the devastation caused by its struggle against “prejudice,” which has now taken the pernicious form of a war against gender distinctions and national identity.
ZJ: How far, in your opinion, can we extend equality?
PG: The quest for further equality (which itself suggests madness) has empowered a vicious, totalitarian elite, which may no longer be removable. There is a tiny hope that the Deplorables and the rest of the populist Right will succeed in wresting power from the woke elites and the Deep State. I sometimes focus on this possibility in my commentaries and make it appear that resistance can win. It may be too late for a genuine revolution (the woke elites representing the ruling class in all the liberal democracies). But I have no doubt that the black nationalists, corporate executives, High Tech giants, gays, feminists, Muslim Fundamentalists, and other members of the leftist coalition will fight over the spoils once they’ve destroyed what remains of a normal society. Their combined rule over the rubble won’t last very long.
ZJ: This sounds very much like a Leninist scenario, at least from the 1905 Revolution to the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917. Then you had another episode, after Lenin’s death: the infighting between Stalin, Trotsky, and Zinoviev over succession. In both cases, only the most radical element won. The Bolsheviks were more radical than any of the socialist factions; and Stalin was more radical than the two other competitors. The winner takes all – all the spoils.
PG: I’m not sure the Soviet example works very well, because the Bolsheviks were more rational than the current intersectional Left. The battle that Russian Communist leaders engaged in for power after Lenin’s death involved contending leaders, often with differing visions of where the Bolshevik Revolution should lead. The present leftist actions approaches sheer madness. Antifa and LGBT mobs, warriors against fixed gender identities, and black racialists are unleashing their anger on normal Americans, who are mostly trying to stay out of the line of fire. Meanwhile the Deep State, the tech giants, and corporate executives, all of whom are promoting the lunge toward the cultural Left, are trying to manipulate the activists, naturally for their own ends (I can’t really figure out their end game). My own question is whether these powers will be able to control the Bedlam they’ve unleashed.
ZJ: You know the chapter from my Homo Americanus: “The Dissidents’ Rights and Wrongs.” I wrote it because I was troubled by the fact that there are no “dissidents” in the sense that we talk about dissidents under Communism. Without them one can hardly imagine the collapse of Communism. They were a voice of conscience. They rebelled against injustice, enslavement, moral corruption that socialist ideology created. Dissidents, if they happen to emerge in a democracy, have no (or extraordinarily little) public support. And if someone says something that sounds like a voice of conscience, he is condemned within minutes and apologizes. This is a phenomenon that Tocqueville observed and which Zamyatin explored in his We. Having different views from the rest is to place oneself outside the great collective, it is to be sick, like Zamyatin’s protagonist or Orwell’s Winston. There is no room for moral and intellectual independence in a democracy.
Would you agree that democracy is highly successful in suppressing conscience? My experience in teaching young Americans tells me that only religious students, mostly Catholic, have a sense, intuition, that something is not quite right with American reality. My explanation is that most secular students, students who had no religious upbringing, derive their sense of morality from schools, from the media. Their morality is social; it is imposed from above; it tells you how to be a member of a collective; what the rules of engagement are – but tell you nothing how to form a moral bond with other individuals. Without a moral bond, we cannot build a community. At best, it will be a legalistic society with a growing mountain of rules and regulations.
PG: Allow me to try to answer your last several questions in one unifying response. It seems to me that religious Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant, will resist the antiwhite, anti-biblical egalitarian rot that is being forced down their throats by public institutions and the media throughout the “liberal democracies.” But there is an openness of both religious groups to the Left. Their leaders have increasingly sold out to the power elites to avoid marginalization, and in European countries, defunding. In the US, Catholics still generally tend toward the Left, because they view the Right as dominated by nativist Protestants (this of course is vastly exaggerated), or because American Catholics have parents and grandparents who came out of the “labor movement.” Protestants who gravitate toward the Left (and they move in that direction in somewhat fewer numbers than Catholics) seem to be hung up on “racism” and the continued persecution of gays. Antiracism has become dominant issue, truly an idée fixe, in American Protestantism; and this is true for the Evangelicals as well as the de-Christianized leftist denominations like the Methodists and Episcopalians).
I agree that a right-wing proletariat without leadership may not offer the most effective resistance against our leftist rulers, but that deficient resistance is still better than having no resistance at all. What would make our opposition (or what there is of one) more useful is a serious Right rather than the silly clowns whom I see on Fox news and who keep telling us that the Democrats are the real racists, antifeminists and homophobes. Massive boycotts of large commercial enterprises that support black terrorists should be taking place. The Right should adopt all the same tactics as the Left in order to show that it will not be pushed over. Unfortunately, our bogus conservatives want to dialogue with the Left (and perhaps be invited to write for the New York Times) rather than deal with a determined totalitarian enemy. I always compare our authorized conservatives to the Blockflötenparteien in the DDR, which were called into existence to offer fake opposition to the communist regime. Merkel and other German “liberal democratic” politicians came out of that system.
ZJ: In your answer you touched upon the social differences between the Catholics and the Protestants. This may certainly be one difference, but don’t the cultural differences between them stem also from older theological difference, histories of their respective churches. Let me give you one example that illustrates this difference. We live in what i called in my book a great age of democratic apologies. We apologize for trespassing against our 7 deadly sins. Our apologies remind me of Protestant confession of sins; it is a group behavior, Calvin’s Geneva. You prostrate yourself before the community of the faithful, not in the privacy of the confessional. Protestantism was always more “democratic,” and the PC movement is almost an exclusive property of the Protestant countries. The extent to which it exists elsewhere, it is a borrowing from America and the Anglosphere. You know Protestant culture all too well. Do you see this the way I see it? Sins are public, not just private. They are not just offensive against the Almighty but against the community and its set of values, a community claims you to be its member. Thus, dissent is more difficult.
PG: This is what happens to Catholic countries when they decay internally. My commentary will be posted on American Greatness. Onetime Catholic Ireland may be becoming even more decadent than what is no longer Lutheran Sweden.
You may have read my book, Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt in which I make most of your points. But it seems to me that one should distinguish between historical Calvinist churches (some of which have been very conservative) and the way Protestantism has manifested itself in the US as a force that nurtures both American Exceptionalism and Political Correctness. These tendencies may have more to do, as I argue in my book, with a peculiarly American synthesis of politics and religion than Protestant theology as such. What is however true is that Protestantism has been generally more malleable to political ends than the Catholic Church, which has maintained an authority structure, and which is overseen by an international magisterium. There are of course certain characteristically Calvinist (but not Lutheran or Anglican) beliefs and attitudes that have manifested themselves with suitable adaptations in the religion of wokeness and white guilt. Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt goes through all of them all in detail.
ZJ: I would like to make the following comment. You seem to be fond of Poland and Hungary; the current socio-political situation there. For many decades, under Communism, Poles and Hungarians were looking up to the West, especially America; longed for civilized existence and democracy as it was practiced there. Now, three decades after the collapse of Communism, some of the comments you have made make me think that Americans like you long for “la democracie a la polonaise.’ A paradox?
PG: It’s not that we on the American intellectual Right want the US to turn into something it is not, namely, a European country. But we notice that countries that were in the Soviet bloc have been spared or been able to resist the latest wave of modernity, the effect of which has been to destroy human society and the civilization that preserved it. I would also note that these countries have been less poisoned by the antifascist ideology (which is a lethal variation on the Communist formulation) that has gravely infected Western “liberal democracies.” Curiously in the German case, American “reeducation” of what was a supposedly Nazified country has resulted in a Nazi-like adherence to Political Correctness among German anti-Nazis. The most tolerant Germans I encounter are the German nationalists, who among Germans seem least to resemble our received stereotypes about authoritarian German personalities.
ZJ: Given your comment, I would agree that today (I am not sure for how long) democracy in Poland may be less “demoralized” than in the US or Western Europe because, as you pointed out, “modernity” there developed more slowly, given Communism. In the meantime, the countries on the Western side of the Iron Curtain embraced modernity or progressivism more fully, much faster, which destroyed culture that had kept democracy alive and well for several decades.
Here are a few thoughts that I would like you to comment on. It would be consistent with what you said to argue that, for a healthy democracy to operate well, we need strong culture. You destroy culture and democracy will collapse. However, one could also argue that democracy is bound to disintegrate for the reason Plato gave us in The Republic, Bk. 8: namely, equality dissolves authority. Expansion of equality is the real problem; and the last several decades saw historically unprecedented expansion of equality. (All we hear about is “more rights,” “more equality”). When no one yields authority over another, Plato says, we prepare ground for anarchy.
Even in democracy we need authority to preserve democracy. But this does not seem possible – democracy’s twin sister is equality, which wants to appropriate more and more for itself, and the more equality you get the weaker authority becomes. Democracy in Athens collapsed not because “modernity” corrupted Athens’ “cultural” foundations; it collapsed because the expansion of equality created the situation which led to lawlessness. We observe the same process on American streets and in other Western countries, college campuses, at home where parents can’t discipline their children, and so on.
PG: I fully agree with your observation that sooner or later democracies show their true character as egalitarian enterprises, in which other goods are subordinated to the demand for a more perfect equality. That is why popular government has to be tempered with nondemocratic and even aristocratic features to prevent this derailment (parekbasis tes politeas) from occurring. Thus, Aristotle, and other wise political thinkers after him, insisted on the need for “mixed regimes” that could rein in the passion for equality and contain the danger they saw as inherent in democratic government.
But with modern “liberal democracies” there is another problem that ancient and medieval thinkers did not foresee – the role of public administration, and more recently, the media in shaping popular beliefs. This is not something that Aristotle, Aquinas, Kant or even Tocqueville could have imagined in those bygone ages in which they lived. These developments occasion the question of whether what calls itself democratic in Western countries reflects a popular will or merely expresses the will of powerful elites. They also cause someone like myself who is critical of democracy to rally faute de mieux to the populist banner because what the populists are fighting seems so much worse. In the US, we are confronting a counterrevolution by leftist occupants of high political and media positions, as well as by corporate capitalists. They are making war on poor and middle-class white Christians, by inciting racial riots and radicalizing the culture. The ruling class is hypocritically claiming the egalitarian high ground, while trampling on those below them.
ZJ: You alluded to Legutko’s The Demon in Democracy and my Homo Americanus. Do you think it is a coincidence that the two books, which are unabashedly critical of democracy and equality, were written by foreigners? (I should add, however, that I left Poland for America 36 years ago); or, should I say, the former denizens of the egalitarian paradise who for this very reason happen to dislike equality? One should also mention here Leszek Kolakowski, another Pole, and his magisterial critical study Main Currents of Marxism, which deals with another egalitarian utopia.
PG: I don’t think it’s surprising that two incisive critical works on American egalitarian “democratism” should come from Eastern Europeans. You and Professor Legutko stand outside the milieu of democratic-human rights zealotry. You are writing as informed observers looking at our American obsession from outside. Because of my quasi-European background, I too have looked at this all-enveloping ideology with wonder and sometimes horror. I became persona non grata to the American conservative movement, when I dared to notice how its celebrities made all the same curious noises as the Left that it claimed to be opposing. The sad truth is our conservative establishment trades in the leftist platitudes of five or ten years ago about democracy, equality, progress, and human rights. It can never leave the leftist conceptual and programmatic framework that you and Professor Legutko call attention to. By now this foolishness may be an identifiably American thing passed on to our satellites.
ZJ: You are editor of a very prestigious and influential magazine: Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, founded by the Rockford Institute, edited in the late 1970s and 1980s by a Polish émigré, Leopold Tyrmand. His name is still well-known in Poland, especially for his Diary 1954 (1954- Dziennik), which is a fantastic record of life in Stalinist Poland. You knew Tyrmand very well. There is no question that as editor of Chronicles, Tyrmand shaped the “ideological line” of it. Did he exert influence on you as well?
PG: Leopold Tyrmand gave the magazine a direction that it has clung to over the years, although it may be a case of taking a provisional strategy for a long-term orientation. He conceived of Chronicles as the voice of the American heartland, which represented a more cohesive and more pristine concept of the American people, than urban publications, particularly those based in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, or even Chicago. Although Leopold always hoped for a reconciliation and possibly alliance with the neoconservatives, he continued to promote the heartland theme until such a plan could be worked out. He even tried to create a Rockford Institute in New York, which turned out badly (after his death) and led to more bitterness between paleoconservatives and their more advantageously placed neoconservative adversaries.
Tyrmand balked at the idea of making me editor of the magazine, while he tended to other matters, because of my firm belief that a war with the neocons was inevitable and that we should give up any notion that we could deal with them as equals. I also differed with Leopold (although we became close friends) on his optimistic view of America. Unlike him, I thought we were headed for a moral and cultural crisis because of an irremovable leftist hegemony. But even I failed to understand how bad the looming crisis would become.
ZJ: Your rather unexpected answer made me think of something: Tyrmand was an émigré from socialism who became editor of a very American journal, located in Illinois – the heartland of conservative America; back then, the place was much more conservative than it is today. How well, in your opinion, did he understand the States, its culture and American conservatism? From our private conversations, I would say that your understanding of America – its religious and political traditions and history – is exceptional. Even if Tyrmand was wrong about you (as you said, he balked at the prospect of you taking Chronicles over), would you say that the history of the last 30 years vindicated you and disproved Tyrmand? On the other hand, he was not blind to the shortcomings of the American system. If there is one thing that he should be remembered for is his piece “The Media Shangri-La.” As far as I know, it was a piece that caused commotion and made him visible.
PG: I think my forebodings turned out to be justified, while Leopold misjudged the gravity of the political and cultural situation we were facing even in the 1980s. What underlies “The Media Shangri-La” is the assumption that the media are a self-contained negative force that inhabit their own zweite Realität (to use Voegelin’s phrase, borrowed from Heimito von Doderer). Actually, the media constitute (in my phrase) the “priesthood of the ruling class” here and throughout the Western world. They are not an isolated band of eccentrics. They are a power elite, who determine what the masses of people are allowed to believe and to say. As far as I can tell, Podhoretz and other neocons thought that Tyrmand was a “conservative Polish Catholic.” Needless to say, this false idea could be the kiss of death in their circles. Kolakowski was more acceptable, since he was not viewed as a Polish nationalist; nor was his Catholicism thought to be a powerful influence on him. I would never credit neocons however with being worldly thinkers. They came out of an exceedingly narrow cultural world and inherited lots of unfortunate prejudices. Those factors make their triumph seem even more remarkable.
ZJ: You are described as a paleoconservative, the category less known today, but something that was very well known in the 1970s and 1980s, just like the traditional conservatism of Russell Kirk, the author of The Conservative Mind. Both were often contrasted with neo-conservatism. What does the term paleoconservatism mean? What are the basic suppositions of your version of conservatism?
PG: I am inclined to give you the long introduction to an anthology of essays on paleoconservatism that Cornell University will soon be bringing out. But I shall resist that impulse. Paleoconservatism has been ruthlessly canceled by the conservative establishment (which is a slightly recycled version of neoconservatism plus GOP boosterism). No one associated with our movement is now allowed to publish in any conservative magazine (other than Chronicles); and even The American Conservative, which started out with paleo leanings, now belongs to the conservative establishment. The main difference between the paleos and their despisers in the continually updated conservative movement is that we dare to say “No” to all the accommodations of the Zeitgeist that Conservatism, Inc. engages in to make itself agreeable to its leftist talking partners. We have no leftist talking partners, and certainly not in the “LGBT community” or among those who believe that the US before the civil rights and immigration reforms of the 1960s was an “unjust” country. In this case the reforms proved more disastrous than the injustices they were supposed to address. Paleos represent the only American Right, because we alone – of all American political positions – do not worship the idol of equality, and in fact view it as the enemy of all traditional social institutions. Americans and their satellites are going to have to live with hierarchy in the end; and that form of it, provided by the media, “educational institutions,” and public administration may be the pernicious example of that arrangement.
ZJ: You authored some fifteen books, and you edited a magazine. You know that ideas matter and that reading good authors and good magazines is essential for a healthy life of a society. Today, students read bad authors and their dreadful books. The effect is the society in which we live. From your own books, I would choose Revisions and Dissents, which is a wonderful and beautifully written little collection of essays. There is a chapter on Robert Nisbet, a towering figure in the field of sociology, whom I read passionately in the 1980s, and forgot. If you were to advise a young student what 10 contemporary authors, in the field of sociology, psychology religion, political theory – people of Nisbet’s generation and older – and 5 magazines he should turn to, what would you recommend?
PG: Of all the book that I have published, the one that seems the most zeit-relevant is The Strange Death of Marxism. The other book that seems made for the time is the work on antifascism that Cornell will be bringing out this summer. By the way, the conservative press and most conservative magazines in this country have a policy of never mentioning my books or even my name, except to remind their readers that I’m paranoid and should not be brought into polite conversation. I doubt that my efforts to distinguish the current Left from classical Marxism or even from what used to be called “socialism” will meet any approval from “conservatives” who blame everything now on a “return to Communism.”
Nisbet may be among the last social theorists, chronologically, whom I would recommend to the young, although there are some French and German social critics who impress me. The only American magazine that I’m reading these days is my own, which requires a lot of editorial work from a dedicated staff.
I should mention Chantal Delsol as a contemporary social thinker whose French books I have been avidly devouring. I also published last year a long German essay in Neue Ordnung (an illustrious Austrian conservative magazine) on Rolf Peter Sieferle, the author of Finis Germania. Sieferle was an environment-conscious man of the Right, who committed suicide out of despair for the future of his country and the West. These days I read (as well as help edit) my own journal; I also pay attention to First Things and The American Conservative, which the editors graciously send me gratis and which cover some of the themes that we address.
ZJ: Thank you so very much for this insightful and delightful conversation.
Through the generosity of La Nef, we are greatly privileged to present this interview with Rod Dreher, the well-known Orthodox journalist and writer, who is the author, most recently, of Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents – and Mathieu Bock-Côté, the Quebec sociologist, thinker and writer, whose new book is La Révolution racialiste, et autres virus idéologiques. The interview is conducted by Christophe Geffroy.
La Nef (LN): How would you summarize the main dangers threatening our Western democracies and do you consider that there is a serious risk of drifting towards a form of totalitarianism?
Mathieu Bock-Côté (MBC): Whatever those who do not want to see anything say, the diversity-regime everywhere imposes increasingly severe ideological control of populations, as if it was necessary to transform Western societies into a vast ideological re-education camp. Whether we are talking about the situation in universities, in the media, or in private enterprise, Wokism is normalizing and turning into the Inquisition. Through it, political correctness becomes fanatical.
At the heart of this ideological dynamic is the demonization of the so-called white man who must kneel down, self-criticize and even self-destruct, in order for the world to be reborn, under the sign of diverse revelation. All Western societies are structured around white supremacy, and they must tear themselves away from it. It is only in this way that “systemic racism” will collapse, which however requires a complete reconstruction of all social relations and a permanent control of public speech, to prevent remarks transgressing the “inclusive” and diverse orthodoxy. Western historical majorities have taken up the baton from the Vendée and the Kulaks in the narrative of the scapegoat – they are treated like the dead wood of humanity.
So, to answer your question, I believe, yes, that we are faced with a totalitarian temptation – the resistance of peoples is extreme right-wing; dissent is assimilated to hatred; the laws to combat the latter are increasingly coercive; phobization of the political opponent becomes the norm; and through this, we dream of making a new, New Man, forever renouncing his Western filiation to be reborn purged of his past. History is accelerating – the woke inquisition represents the 1793 of the diversitarian regime.
Rod Dreher (RD): We are already in what I call “soft totalitarianism.” I call it “soft” for several reasons. Firstly, since it does not look like the Soviet version, with the gulags, it is more difficult to detect. Second, it makes people believe that it is full of compassion towards the victims. Yet it is still totalitarianism! Twenty years ago, René Girard understood this. He said: “The current process of spiritual demagoguery and rhetorical escalation has transformed concern for the victims into totalitarian command and permanent inquisition. “
A totalitarian order is an order in which there is only one acceptable political point of view, an order in which all of life is politicized. This order is conquering the institutions of life in the Anglosphere with astonishing speed. What is soft today will become hard.
Solzhenitsyn said that communism conquered Russia because “men had forgotten God.” This is also true for us, in our time and in our country. We have turned our backs on God and find that it is impossible to build a life-giving civilization without Him. Michel Houellebecq is a great diagnostician of the fatal malaise of the West. When the transcendent dimension of life has been forgotten, or denied, people try to fill the void of God within themselves through sex, shopping, and hedonism. And when that doesn’t work, they turn to political pseudo-religion.
Hannah Arendt’s book, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), studied how Germany and Russia fell into totalitarianism. All of the major signs identified by Arendt are present today, in particular our deep sense of social atomization, our love of transgression and our contempt for the truth.
LN: The new tyranny is exercised by a police force of thought which has acquired an exorbitant power. How do you explain this hold on people’s minds, and especially the fact that it affects subjects unanimously rejected not long ago (the new “racialism,” “marriage” between people of the same sex, surrogacy, euthanasia, etc.)?
RD: Eminent American sociologist James Davison Hunter argues that almost all cultural revolutions begin with the elites, who disseminate their ideas through their networks and then to the masses. In the United States, this highly ideological way of thinking first won over the elites in the universities. Most of their ideas were so extreme that one didn’t worry about their spreading. But when these ideas hit the media, the propaganda never stopped.
Six years ago, large corporations got heavily involved in promoting progressive cultural policies – pro-LGBT, pro-Black Lives Matter, etc. – perhaps to prevent the Left from asking too many questions about their business practices.
Today, what is called “woke capitalism” is perhaps the most effective force in American society that drives these progressive follies. At the heart of the problem is that its followers now control all points of entry into the middle class and career success. This is now the ideology of those who want to succeed professionally, and of the young generation heavily indoctrinated by social media.
MBC: I absolutely agree with Rod Dreher about the revolutionary power of woke capitalism. Having said that, you will allow me to sort out the subjects you raise and not to condemn or accept them as a whole; but I understand the meaning of your question. The peculiarity of the “diversitarian” regime is precisely to normalize the claims from “minorities,” and to pathologize what was until recently called common sense, by reducing it to an aged stock of prejudices and stereotypes. It appropriates the reference to democracy in order to reverse its meaning – which now boils down to the extension of the rights of “minorities” and the de-substantialization of the historical people. It has the administrative apparatus of the social state, converted into a therapeutic state, to modify social behavior.
Thus, it suffices for a movement claiming to be for “minorities” to formulate a demand for it to be immediately translated into a fundamental right which it therefore becomes scandalous to oppose. Whoever confesses the slightest reservation will be designated for public revenge, as we have seen with the fate reserved for J.K. Rowling, who had the nerve to recall that a man is not a woman, and to contest the transformation of identity fluidity as a new anthropological norm in Western societies. It is not without reason that gender theory takes place so much in our public life – if we manage to make a society accept that men and women do not exist and are only arbitrary social constructions, then we can make society accept everything. At the heart of the diversitarian regime, we find a constructivist fantasy – that of the integral plasticity of the social order. We also see it in what is called “inclusive writing.” Everything, everything, everything, must be ideologized.
LN: Are not all these drifts, which gradually reduce our freedoms, due, in particular, to the fact that, like children too spoiled by a long period of prosperity without major hardships, Western people have lost the love of freedom. We have seen with the Covid-19 pandemic that most prefer “health security” to their freedoms?
RD: I don’t know if it’s correct to say that the problem is a loss of our love of freedom. I cannot speak about the situation in France, which has experienced a much more severe health lockdown than in the United States. But in America, I saw something different during the Covid. Many people thought that any attempt at coercion was intolerable. The idea of making a sacrifice for the common good struck them as bizarre and offensive.
My experience of speaking with Christian dissidents in the Soviet bloc has made me realize that, in addition to strong faith, the two things absolutely necessary to resist oppression are solidarity with others and consent to suffering. We don’t have that anymore. It feels like America is collapsing. I believe things will become clearer with the under 40s. They are much more anxious than previous generations. Many of them will willingly give up their political freedoms in exchange for a guarantee of personal enjoyment and security. They will not only accept soft totalitarianism, but demand it. A professor told me that he had stopped teaching Aldous Huxley’s novel Brave New World (1932) because none of his students recognized it was a dystopia; they all thought it looked like paradise.
MBC: The real issue lies elsewhere, I think. We underestimate the effect of the ideological conditioning of the last decades, which has delegitimized all common norms and which has sanctified the victim position. “I am a victim of the white man therefore I am.” This is how we now access public space. Our civilization is haunted by the fantasy of its own annihilation, as also evidenced by antispeciesist neurosis.
LN: In Europe, massive immigration has imported a major problem with Islam being now the majority in certain neighborhoods and impossible to assimilate, not to mention Islamism and the terror it blindly sows. What do you think? Do you think the dangers are the same in North America and Europe?
MBC: No society can be absolutely indifferent to the population that makes it up. A people is not just a legal, administrative or statistical abstraction. It would be wrong to underestimate the effect of massive immigration which is destroying the cultural and demographic balances of Western societies, especially as it goes far beyond their capacity for integration. This is also true in North America, which is not, however, a homogeneous bloc. The United States seems to me to have taken over from the USSR as the revolutionary power of our time and is now getting lost in an obsession with diversity that will ruin it. This country seems doomed to me to be lost in a spiral of regressive violence. I say it with sadness – I loved the United States.
Canada is a non-country. It has renounced its history to become the receptacle of the embodied diversity utopia, the place of radicalized multiculturalism. As a proclaimed post-national state, it believes it represents the next step in the history of mankind.
Allow me a few words on the situation of the people of Quebec, landlocked in a federation that denies its existence, and accuses it of ethnic supremacism every time it seeks to recall federation. The question of Quebec is inseparable from the old aspiration of the Quebecois people to assume their “vital difference” in America, and ultimately to establish themselves as an independent state. But massive immigration condemns French-speaking Quebecers to become a minority in their own country – in other words, to become foreigners at home, because populations of immigrant origin are Canadianizing and Anglicizing themselves much more than they are Quebecizing and francizing. We are witnessing the quiet erasure of a people in their own country, where it is gradually transformed into a residue of folklore. The question of small nations, to use the category forged by Milan Kundera, reminds us of one thing – it is important for what we will call a “historic people” to remain clearly in the majority at home. It is on this condition that they will succeed in integrating men and women from elsewhere into their culture.
RD: I would like to respond to Mathieu about the disintegration of the United States. I am living in Budapest for the summer months on a scholarship. It is utterly astonishing to me how clearly obvious America’s suicide appears from Europe. I’m not surprised that we Americans are destroying our country – that’s obvious to anyone with a brain. But stepping outside the borders of the United States makes you realize that it’s even worse than we thought. I have felt for the past few years that the best way to understand what lies ahead for America is to look at the history of the Spanish Civil War. Americans have a lot of guns, but it’s impossible for me to imagine that we’ll have a real civil war. I believe that the state will eventually impose a social credit system to control the population, because that is the only way to contain the violence of people who despise what the ruling ideologues do to them.
To come back to your question, I believe that Islam is first and foremost a European problem. In North America, Muslim immigrants assimilate more easily. It seems to me that you Europeans cannot face the problem because the Left will not let you speak frankly about it. God help you if this Anglo-Saxon cultural virus of racialist theory finds a way to infect Europe, and mutates into a pro-Islamic form. There will be no possible solution in that case.
We see in America that where this racialist ideology has prevailed, dialogue is utterly impossible; everything becomes a question of power. I don’t know if a peaceful solution is even possible now. This is why I believe more than ever in the “Benedictine Option.” There is no escape from what is to come – but with God’s help we can bear it.
LN: A purely procedural democracy like ours, emancipated from all limits, because having rejected the idea of a truth that goes beyond us, can only lead to the tyranny of the majority, or more precisely of organized minorities practicing a severe police force of thought to impose their views “democratically.” Is a democracy without God, that is to say without transcendence imposing limits on the human will – is such a democracy even viable?
MBC: In this regard, I am modern – modern democracy cannot be based on the assumption of God, even less in a world where his existence is no longer taken for granted. This does not mean, however, that the question of transcendence can be abolished. But the transcendence of the moderns is culture, knowing that we are rubbing shoulders with the abyss, and that the world can slip away under our feet. Hence the importance of transmission, of ensuring its duration, bequeathing the heritage of civilization, which is ours, while enriching it. Let me add that the Covid crisis has shown us how inhuman a ritualized, artificialized existence is. The abandonment of funeral rituals during the pandemic brought us, in the name of sanitary reason, to the threshold of barbarism. Likewise, it is not a question of denying the sacred, which is consubstantial with the political and historical order, and which has invested in the nation – are we not talking about the sacred love of the fatherland?
One thing is certain. The integral contractualism of existence pushes towards the dissolution of the world, insofar as it is reality itself which must dissolve under the weight of a tyrannical subjectivity, which comes to the conclusion that it is the non-existence of the world. The West, existentially pitted and reduced to a series of disembodied principles, no longer knows how to respond to Islam, which it wants to see as a spiritual preference among others, and no longer as a civilization; no more than before Islam. massive immigration. We need to rediscover a political philosophy allowing us to perceive and politically recapture anthropological permanence.
RD: This is an extremely important question. The short answer is no, it is not viable, for the reason given in your question. I think of the famous line of T.S. Eliot: “If you will not have God (and He is a jealous God) you should pay your respects to Hitler or Stalin.” Maybe I lack vision, but I don’t see how we can live in peace without God, except under tyranny. Most of us see clearly that liberalism is dying because it has been so successful in “freeing” the individual from God, from the community and from the past. No one can live like this forever. But what will replace it?
In North America, Mathieu and I live in pluralistic countries. If liberalism can no longer rule us, then what? In the United States, there are a few Catholic intellectuals who offer an integralist view, but it is a utopian dream. Catholics are a minority in America, and the number of them who would submit to a “full Christian state” would not fill a small town ballpark. They are looking for a political solution to a problem that is basically spiritual. And they are not alone. Both on the Left and on the Right, everyone is really looking for God – but a God compatible with their individual and liberal conceptions that they will not be able to find, so they create a world ready to accept the Antichrist.
Translated from the French by N. Dass.
The featured image shows, “Safe and Sanitized,” by Jordan Henderson; painted 2021.