Beauty against Force: Simone Weil’s Venice Saved

The tragedy Venise sauvée (Venice Saved) is Simone Weil’s only literary works. She began writing it in 1940, and continued to work on it until her early death interrupted its completion in 1943. The action takes place in a Venice threatened by a plot, but saved by one of the conspirators who, seized by its beauty, cannot bring himself to take it by force. Although, like many of Weil’s writings, it is rarely read due to its incompleteness, the play offers a synthesis of the philosopher’s views on ethics, politics and even ontology.

Inspired by the Conjuration des Espagnols contre la République de Venise en l’Année MDCXVIII (1820), by the Abbé de Saint-Réal, the action takes place in 1618 against the backdrop of a conspiracy to overthrow the Serenissima Republic of Venice and place it under the control of the Spanish Empire. A group of mercenaries, led by the characters Renaud, an old French lord, and Pierre and Jaffier, two privateers from Provence, plan to seize the city on Ascension night, just as the Venetians are celebrating their sea betrothal, a sort of national holiday during which the Doge boards his ceremonial galley to cast a golden ring into the sea, symbolizing his city’s domination over the sea. From the outset, we see the antagonism between two typical political ideals: the city and the empire.

Empire: The Archetype of Strength

First and foremost, the Spanish empire of the House of Habsburg. Its hegemonic aspirations is expressed by Renaud in a speech to his troops:

Thanks to you, the whole of Europe will be united under the Habsburg dynasty, and the ships of a united Europe, sailing the seas, will conquer, civilize and convert to Christianity the entire globe, just as Spain did for America. And it will all be thanks to you…. The House of Austria is very close to universal domination; if it lets it slip, bloody, long and ruinous struggles will ensue all around (Venise sauvée, I, 2).

Here, the empire appears to be driven by a movement of expansion, which will only end in universal domination. However, this expansion is presented here as subordinate to two aims: the verb “to conquer” is followed by “to civilize, to convert to Christianity.” Yet it is hard to give real substance to these aims, given that the hegemony of the House of Austria, which reigned over Spain at the time, immediately comes to the fore in Renaud’s discourse. If these manifestly cosmetic ends make the strengthening of the empire seem like a means, it appears here as its own end: the empire serves its strength as much as it serves itself. Indeed, Weil seems to place the Habsburg empire in a filiation that runs through Western history: that of Rome, the hegemony drunk with conquest. This Roman spirit, devoid of any real spirituality, conquering and dominating, would run through the history of Europe right up to Hitler at the time of her writing, via the colonial empires of the 15th to 19th centuries. This is what she suggests in La Personne et le sacré when she writes: “The Romans, who understood, as Hitler did, that force is only fully effective when it is clothed in a few ideas, used the notion of right for this purpose.”

Here, we find a relationship to the notion of right, analogous to that which the conspirators have with civilization or religion, which are summoned only to clothe force. Simone Weil’s notion of force is the subject of particular elaboration, notably in L’Iliade ou le poème de la force, where she characterizes it as a mechanism that acts on bodies and minds, reducing them to the status of things. Indeed, she sees force as the main subject of The Iliad, which perfectly depicts its effects on its characters, singing with equal melancholy of the loss of Greek and Trojan heroes. Force is at work, for example, when, in the hands of Achilles, it reduces a begging Hector to a thing, or when it intoxicates the victorious Achaeans, who find themselves submissive to its impulse and go on to the total destruction of Ilion:

The victorious soldier is like a scourge of nature; possessed by war, he is as much a thing as the slave, though in a very different way, and words have no power over him as over matter…. Such is the nature of force. The power it possesses to transform men into things is twofold and is exercised from two sides; it petrifies equally the souls of those who suffer it and those who wield it (L’Iliade ou le poème de la force)

Through the Spanish conquests, the mechanics of force are at work, making both the conqueror and the conquered their own. Rome, Habsburg Spain, Hitler, the empire is thus the collective at its most dangerous, the vessel through which force crushes individuals, the allegory of the Big Animal with its random movements used by Plato (Republic, 493d) to imitate the inertia of collective opinion that drags souls along.

The City: Archetype of Harmony

Facing the empire, the city. The lexicon of the city refers almost systematically to beauty. This beauty is crystallized in the betrothal festival at sea that is about to take place, as seen in the joy it brings to the character of Violetta, the daughter of a Venetian nobleman:

Oh, how I wish I could be there tomorrow! Have you never seen the Venice festival? There’s nothing like it in the world; you’ll see tomorrow! What a joy for me, tomorrow, to show you my city in its most perfect splendor! There will be such beautiful music… (Venise sauvée, II, 3).

The beauty of the feast seems to culminate in music. Given the centrality of reading Plato in Weilian thought, it is hard not to see an echo of the role he attributes to it in Books IV and VII of The Republic. Like gymnastics for the body, music is described as the cultivation of harmony in the soul. Here, Venice appears on the side of Western Hellenic heritage. In contrast to Rome, Greece represents the rooted civilization par excellence, a community that, rather than crushing individuals, nurtures them by allowing them a “real, active and natural participation in the existence of a community that keeps alive certain treasures of the past and certain presentiments of the future,” so as to “receive almost the totality of its moral, intellectual and spiritual life through the intermediary of the environments of which [the individual] is naturally a part” (L’Enracinement). This moment of Venetian communion in the beauty of one of their traditions is precisely the one chosen by the Spaniards to subdue the Venetians by uprooting them by force, as Renaud explains to Jaffier, in charge of executing the plan: “Tonight and tomorrow, the people here must feel that they are only toys, that they are lost. The ground must suddenly and forever give way from under their feet, and they must be able to find equilibrium only by obeying you” (Venice Saved, II, 6). Thus, by uprooting it—that is, by destroying the beauty and harmony that the city cultivates—the empire seeks to throw it into the arms of the force that drives it, in order to subjugate it.

A City Saved by its Beauty

The action concludes with Jaffier’s denunciation of the conspiracy, resulting in the arrest of his companions and his banishment from the city, hated by the Venetians who see him as a traitor to the Republic as well as to his own people. Haunted by the guilt of having delivered his companions to their death, he finally takes his own life. His decision to betray the conspirators seems to come from a sort of revelation of the city’s beauty during a discussion with a Venetian nobleman and his daughter Violetta: “No man can do such a thing as Venice. Only God. The greatest thing a man can do, which brings him closer to God, is, since he cannot create such wonders, to preserve those that exist.” The effect of beauty on Jaffier’s soul cannot be summed up here as a form of seduction that would divert him from his mission. It is to be understood in the context of the ontology that Simone Weil developed in various writings at the end of her life, consisting mainly of a rather original exegesis of Plato.

According to Fernando Rey Puente, this exegesis postulates a profound internal unity in Plato’s work, set in the context of a Greek civilization whose spirituality was centered around the idea of mediation between divine eternity on the one hand, and human misery on the other. Thus, Plato’s thought consists of the articulation of pairs of antagonistic notions: “identity and diversity, unity and multiplicity, absolute and relative, pure good and good mixed with evil, spiritual and sensible, supernatural and natural” in two relationships: contradiction and analogy. This confrontation of opposites, from which the intermediary between them emerges, is then understood by Weil as the driving force behind Platonic dialectics, described in The Republic as the means by which the soul tears itself away from appearances and rises to the contemplation of the intelligible.

In the ontological domain, this structuring duality is the relationship between Good and Necessity, understood as the chain of causes and effects that conditions the becoming of all things here below. At first glance, it appears as an antagonism, particularly in the Weilian reading of The Iliad, which shows the world inside the Cave, deprived of good, where necessity is embodied in the force at play with characters struggling, passive in the face of it. Plato’s work then consists precisely in thinking the intermediary and the passage from this reality to the good. In this respect, The Republic must be seen in relation to other dialogues, as she points out in her Cahiers (“February 1942-June 1942”):

“An Aborted Iliad”

Basically, there is only one path to salvation in Plato; the various dialogues indicate different parts of the path. The Republic does not say what first does violence to the chained captive to remove the chains and compel the unfortunate. We will have to look for that in The Phaedrus. It is beauty, by means of love (every value that appears in the sensible world is beauty). It is the contemplation of beauty in the order of the world, conceived a priori. Next comes beauty as an attribute of God, and then the Good. Then the return to the cave; this is The Timaeus.

Indeed, The Timaeus depicts the sensible world in terms of the Demiurge’s will: “He (the Demiurge) was good, and in that which is good there is no jealousy of anyone. Without jealousy, he wished all things to become like him” (29e). From this perspective, necessity, which orders the becoming of the sensible world, is an imitation of the Good emanating from the Demiurge. This perspective clarifies what, in The Republic, appeared to be an abrupt dualism between the intelligible, good world, and the sensible, marked by necessity. Indeed, in The Timaeus, becoming is beautiful insofar as it bears the imprint of the Good. The Symposium and The Phaedrus make this intermediary role of beauty explicit, showing how it is the sensible presence of the Good in things, correlated with the love personified by Eros, the daemon who comes to possess souls in the form of madness, to carry them towards it.

Thus, when Jaffier pays attention to the beauty of Venice, he is literally seized with love for this city, which, as Weil writes of art, “is an attempt to transport in a finite quantity of matter shaped by man an image of the infinite beauty of the entire universe” (Formes de l’Amour implicite de Dieu). The emergence of this beauty in his soul subtracts it from the inertia of force and imbues it with a movement of love, which translates into a renunciation of the need to destroy the object of love. In the words of Léo Tixier in the preface to the Payot et Rivages edition, Venise sauvée is “like an aborted Iliad,” in that Jaffier prevents another sack of Troy. Paradoxically, through the beauty of the city of the Doges and his attention to it, Jaffier also saves himself through his sacrifice.

This state of grace gives it full life in a final gesture of love, in contrast to the state of inertia in which force holds man under its sway. This double salvation by beauty, of a city and a man, illustrates how, far from being superfluous and ornamental, beauty is a need of the soul just as fundamental as food is to the body, as Weil herself writes in L’Enracinement: “The point of view of aesthetes is sacrilegious, not only in matters of religion, but even in matters of art. It consists in having fun with beauty by manipulating it and looking at it. Beauty is something to be eaten; it is food.”

Mattis Jambon writes from the Sorbonne. This articles appears through the kind courtesy of PHILITT.

Featured: The Bucintore Returning to the Molo on Ascension Day, by Canaletto; painted ca. 1727-1729.

Péguy in the Afternoon

As the light fades in the epilogue of this afternoon, I approach one of the shelves of my library. There sleep, crowded, a legion of French authors. Those of us who live possessed by a bibliophile passion usually ask ourselves: are we the ones who seek out books or are they the ones who come to meet us? Are we surrounded by fossils that receive the vital pneuma when we take them in our hands? Or is that the books let themselves be annihilated by the dust of the years, as the skin of their pages silently oxidizes? Have we ever found ourselves in this enigmatic and peculiar way of living, surrounded by a chorus of absent voices that emanate from the walls of our house?

Among the names, I read one: Charles Péguy. The title sounds irrefutably Pascalian: Pensamientos (Thoughts). The book gathers a series of brief meditations, in the form of aphorisms that do not reach the level of greguerías because they lack that principality of images and metaphors, so typical of Ramón; but they have plenty of depth, rebelliousness and seriousness.

Péguy’s work compiles a bunch of quotations taken from the original version of his Cahiers de la Quinzaine, notes of the French writer between 1900 and 1914. In fact, in an entry dated April 1914, we read the following: “There are as few painters who look as there are philosophers who think.” And that sentence is enough to light the flame of a new article.

Art and philosophy have an urgent task that cannot be postponed: to learn to look. Art, because it has lost its way in the subjectivism that turns into inconsequence; philosophy, because it has accepted its descent from queen to vassal and has lost its dignity: without a metaphysical horizon, in this invention of “post-truth” it is reduced to an ancilla of the ideologies of the moment.

It is necessary that the painter does not forget to look, or better yet, to see properly in what he looks at. Atahualpa Yupanqui wrote it in a milonga of my land: “For the one who looks without seeing, the land is just land, the pampa, the stream or the willow grove say nothing to him.” The painter must have the vocation of a demiurge; that is to say, to capture that which he has first contemplated. In an article published by the newspaper El País on September 4, 1987, Paco Umbral praised the work of the painter Antonio López in these terms:

Antonio looks for the same thing in Madrid that he looked for in his landscapes of Tomelloso: a last or first glimmer; that way of behaving that reality has, a sun wound in the glass chest of a viewpoint. Life, in short, that his pupil distributes in jewels.

It is almost an Augustinian itinerary, from the outside in and from the inside up: co-creators with the Word; art as a vocation of fidelity to the real. Antonio López’s painting is a prayer arising from things, from the flesh of a quince, from a cracked wall, from an ignored refrigerator, from the bathroom mirror or from La Gran Vía in Madrid when the morning dawns. Antonio knows how to look.

And what is the task of the philosopher, you may ask? To answer this question, it is first necessary to make a distinction of the circles: it is one thing to be a professor of philosophy, another to be a teacher of philosophy, and a last, more arduous and higher vocation is to be a philosopher.

A professor of philosophy is one who carries in his head the ideas of others. It is a necessary vocation to make the essentials of this subject accessible to others. A good professor of philosophy tries to expose each thinker by putting on his shoes; the critical task comes later. Here is the first circle.

A teacher in philosophy is one who fulfills the principle established by Thomas Aquinas: “Contemplata allis trader;” that is to say, to transmit what is contemplated. As one senses, it is a higher degree than the mere expositor of the ideas of others. The teacher in philosophy not only expounds, shows, reveals, carries to the end the heart of a philosophical doctrine, but also opens windows towards autonomous thought. If philosophizing is “to go on the way”—as Karl Jaspers said—while the philosophy teacher tells us about the forest, the teacher points out its paths, showing us the clearings as revelations.

And on the highest rung, the philosopher. Philosophizing is a vocation marked by a yearning for the ultimate possible reality. Another Frenchman, Etienne Gilson, saw this very clearly when, in Vademecum of the Beginner Realist, he taught that, while the philosopher speaks of things, the professor of philosophy speaks of philosophy. Philosopher is he who can coin in a peculiar synthesis a thought of his own. “Own” here means “personal,” which has nothing to do with extravagance, with intellectual pose or with the eroticism of mere novelty. True philosophy requires two spheres: one intra nos, that which we macerate in intimate solitude, an inhabited solitude that will never be a cloistered monologue. Its raison d’être is given by listening to the real. At the beginning of our life, were we not listeners before we spoke? The other sphere is given inter nos, “between us,” for the philosopher can never renounce community. Every philosopher, as a being-in-the-world, is traversed by a language, by a spiritual imprint, by an inalienable cultural ethos.

Péguy takes the floor again to complete our intuition:

A great philosopher is a man who has discovered, who has made explicit some new aspect, some—new—reality of eternal reality; he is a man who, with his own voice, enters in his turn into the eternal concert.

Péguy has things of Plotinus and Augustine, of Thomas and Pascal, of Kierkegaard and Bergson; I believe that they converse at night, wall to wall, in this house full of books.

Diego Chiaramoni is Professor of Philosophy at the Instituto A.M. Sáenz and holds a degree in Philosophy from the UNSTA, in addition to having studied Psychology at the USAL.

War as an Object of Study in French Political Philosophy


Hopes for a peaceful development of mankind in the 21st century have not come true, and the predictions of polemologists led by Gaston Bouthoul have largely become the reality of today. In this regard, theories that have not recently had a wide reception, as they chose war as the object of research, are now coming to the fore. Among them we should mention the area of the “philosophy of war,” which has found numerous proponents among French political philosophers.

Continuing the French tradition of viewing war through the prism of philosophy, a study by the renowned French philosopher Henri-Paul Hude, A Philosophy of War, was published in France, in November 2022, and in English in 2023. In it, Hude poses the problem of the emergence and the possibility of eliminating war from the life of mankind in our time. On April 11, 2023, at the Department of Philosophy of Politics and Law, Faculty of Philosophy, Lomonosov Moscow State University, a discussion of this book was held online with the participation of the author of the book. The event included a fruitful dialogue on the causal links between war and politics. The French professor presented his point of view on the importance of penetrating into the essence of war through its philosophical interpretation. Obviously, his views are based on a solid foundation created by French political philosophers and thinkers over several centuries, which I would like to describe in this article.

Philosophical Understanding of War: The Emergence of the Term, “Philosophy of War”

Since ancient times, philosophers have tried to understand the meaning of war and the reasons for its emergence. The philosophical approach fundamentally differed from other forms of understanding this phenomenon: mythological, religious, historical. Rational comprehension of this phenomenon allowed us to identify its essential features and thereby understand the cause-and-effect relationship between the factors that give rise to it and the coming consequences. We find such attempts in European antiquity in Heraclitus, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero and others. War as an essential part of the life of society was reflected in the works of military leaders, thinkers, philosophers, but for a long time there was no separation of the field of knowledge about war into a separate branch.

One of the first to speak of a “philosophy of war” was Marquis Georges de Chambray, a participant in the Russian campaign of 1812. In the preface to his work called Philosophie de la guerre (Philosophy of War), (first published in 1827, then continuously reprinted), he explains in what sense he treats the concept of “philosophy,” which he connects with the concept of “war” to penetrate into the essence of this phenomenon:

As the word “Philosophy” has several meanings, I feel I must make known the one I have given it in the title of this work.
There are four stages in the exercise of human intelligence: 1. Craft; 2. Art; 3. Science; 4. Philosophy. Craft is a routine or skill acquired through practice, without knowledge of principles and rules; art is subject to rules or principles; science is a system of knowledge about a useful object; philosophy is the background, the positive, the essence or even the generalities of a science.
I have used the word Philosophy in this sense: (a) Linné, (b) Voltaire, (c) Fourcroy, (d) Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire and many other authors have used it in the same sense (Philosophie de la guerre, pp. v-vi).

It should be noted that the Marquis de Chambray’s book was published several years earlier than Carl von Clausewitz’s work, On War, in which the Prussian military thinker did not use this term. Of course, this does not indicate that his work had no philosophical significance. Clausewitz is rightly written about as a representative of the philosophy of war, but the priority in the creation of the term does not belong to him.

Formation of the Field of the “Philosophy of War”

It is noteworthy that at the initial stage of the emergence of the philosophy of war, a significant contribution to the formation of this field was made by professional military men (von Clausewitz, de Chambray). The continuator of this tradition was the French author, Captain R. Henry, who wrote another book on the philosophy of war. It is not by chance that his work is referred to by the Russian and Soviet military commander Andrei E. Snesarev, who created a training course on the philosophy of war for officers-in-training at the Military Academy of the Red Army, of which he was the head from 1919 to 1921.

On the eve of the 19th century, pacifist sentiments prevailed in European philosophical and socio-political thought. In France, as in other European countries, there were illusions among intellectuals that war would be replaced by a new system of relations between states, when wars would become unnecessary because an adequate substitute would be found. In this case, war becomes pointless, as it is replaced by other ways of conflict resolution: diplomatic, economic, expansion of cultural contacts, etc. Among those who did not share optimism about the peaceful development of mankind was the French philosopher and sociologist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who doubted that war could be done away with. In his two-volume study, War and Peace (La guerre et la paix), he comes to the conclusion that war is inseparable from the life of society and that it is a necessary condition for its existence:

In my own view, it is plain that war has deep roots, scarcely discernible, in the religious, juridical, aesthetic and moral sentiments of peoples. It might even be argued that it has its abstract formula in dialectics. War is our history, our life, our very soul; it is legislation, politics, State, homeland, social hierarchy, the rights of people, poetry, theology; it is, once again, everything. We hear talk of doing away with war, as if it were some sort of toll or tariff. And there is no appreciation that if we discount war and its
associated ideas, nothing, absolutely nothing remains of humanity’s past and not a single atom upon which to build its future. Oh, I may well say to these clumsy peace-mongers, as I myself was once told in respect of property: How do you envision society, with war abolished? What ideas, what beliefs are you offering? What literature, what poetry, what art? What would you make of man, that intelligent, religious, justice-dispensing, free, individual and, for all of those very reasons, a warring creature? What would you make of the nation, that independent, outgoing, autonomous collective? What becomes of the human race in its eternal repose?

Proudhon was not satisfied with the superficial reasons by which wars are usually explained; he wanted to penetrate into the essence of the phenomenon. Another French author, François-Odysse Barot, reflecting on the philosophical problems of history, in particular on the paradoxes of war, noted:

Above all these numerous species of animals is man, whose destructive hand does not spare anything living. He kills to feed.He kills to clothe.He kills to dress up.He kills to attack.He kills to defend.He kills to educate.He kills to have fun.He kills to kill. An arrogant and formidable king, he needs everything, and nothing resists him. However, what creature would destroy the one who destroys them all?He himself?. It is upon man that the killing of man is entrusted.

In doing so, he points to the cause of wars, which lies in man himself. The illusions inspired by optimistic authors were not justified. The First World War, which the French called the Great War (La grande guerre), was a severe test for the participating countries, showing the depth of contradictions that became the real cause of the cataclysm, and gave food for more realistic assessments of this phenomenon.

Teilhard de Chardin, who participated in this war as a medic, in his free time from duty kept notes, which were later included in a collection under the general title, Writings in Times of War. In them, musings on various topics are interspersed with thoughts about the war. Life on the front line gave, strangely enough, rich food for philosophical reflections on war and peace. And it is quite natural, as it is difficult to separate one from the other. It is noteworthy that the observations of an eyewitness, a participant in the events and at the same time a thinker and philosopher give this collection a special value. In one of the essays in this collection, entitled, “Nostalgia of the Front,” he writes:

And so, when the desired peace of the nations (and of me first of all) comes, something like a light will suddenly be extinguished on earth. War had torn through the crust of banalities and conventions. A “window” had opened onto the secret mechanisms and deep layers of human becoming. A region had opened up where men could breathe air charged with heaven. With peace, all things will be covered by the veil of monotony and ancient pettiness.

He contrasts this with war, which reveals to the participants a superhuman reality:

Happy, perhaps, those whom death will have taken in the very act and atmosphere of war, when they are driven, animated by a responsibility, a conscience, a freedom greater than their own, when they are exalted to the very edge of the world—very close to God!

Thus, war becomes for him an encounter with the Absolute.

Henri Bergson, a representative of intuitionism and philosophy of life, published a text in November 1914 in the Bulletin des armées de la République, in support of France and its soldiers. In the first line, he declares that the end of battle is beyond doubt: Germany will fall. This is not really a foresight; it seems like a prophecy. Jean-Philippe Cazier evaluates this short address to the French soldier:

Thus, Bergson’s text carries out a series of shifts from the very beginning: history and politics overlap there with metaphysics, chance is shifted to a higher necessity, the singular is placed in the category of the political and the moral, as well as the vital, which embraces the individual and the subject, defined as the means of this order. The soldier becomes a kind of antique hero, and France becomes both a mythical and metaphysical figure.

The theme of war, although not explicitly expressed, is also constantly present in Bergson’s work, The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, published in 1932. We find elements of nihilism and mysticism in the conceptualization of war Georges Bataille’s works Inner Experience, The Limit of the Useful. The theme of war in Marcel Proust acquires a real philosophical resonance in his work In Search of Time Lost. Philippe Mengue argues that Proust has two types of understanding of war: orthodox, integrated into the state apparatus, and the second, original, anticipating the views of Gilles Deleuze, showing the existence of “war machines,” independent and external to the state. The war also influenced the work of Jean-Paul Sartre, who participated in the Second World War. The period at the beginning of German hostilities against France was called the Phoney War (in French, “Funny” or “Strange War”). During this time, the French philosopher served as a private at a surveying station in the Vosges. There he had the opportunity to devote his leisure time to writing diaries in which he described the events around him. These entries were later published under the title, War Diaries: Notebooks from a Phoney War, 1939-40. The war was a turning point in Sartre’s destiny: a break with pacifism and a transition to active citizenship.The time spent in captivity and participation in the Resistance also played an important role in his philosophical formation. His diaries have a syncretic character. They contain observations, reasoning and inferences of a socio-philosophical nature. In War Diaries, Sartre applied the experience of his philosophical novel, Nausea (1938), where he had already used the genre of diary entries kept by the protagonist Antoine Roquentin. The influence of previous philosophical works is also evident. His observations on the “world of war” are not yet philosophy, but they are no longer mere eyewitness notes:

Man—I want to say, the enlisted herd? The messiness of war and the ambiguity of the warrior’s nature stem from the fact that man is treated simultaneously as a machine and as a psychic being sensitive to ceremony.
1) Like a machine. Like the worker, the soldier provides work. But it is unproductive work. Its ultimate purpose is to destroy, and when it is not actually destroying, it is nothing more than a simulacrum—firing blanks, big maneuvers, endless drills. So, you cannot rob him of his labor, because his labor doesnot provide value, in the Marxist sense. It is a naked effort. A soldier is not exploited, but even more than the worker, we maintain him like a machine.
2) Like a ceremonial being. Yesterday’s gathering emphasized “the high significance of saluting.” We see the conservative thinking process: the salute as ceremony. Then there is the search for a higher meaning. This is the thinking of Maistre and Bonald. We are bound by ceremonies and dances; we are captives of military politeness. The men of Verdun were forced to exercise during their rest periods, to “keep them well in hand.” Here, Alain’s analysis is perfectly accurate. It is obvious, however, that he is far from complete. The ambiguity is that command, in its representation of the enlisted herd, cascades endlessly from the material to the ceremonial and from the ceremonial to the material. And, of course, following the command in his representation of himself, the man himself jumps?

In his Dairies, Sartre’s reasoning about freedom, democracy, fascism, civilization, values is close to political philosophy:

One should not confuse the origins of this war, which may be clear to the historian, with the motivations that drive us to fight, which, as I indicated above, are unclear. Indeed, one should try to think of this war as an event, as a meaningful reality and as a value. It is precisely the value of this single war that is elusive.

The widespread assertion that the phenomenon of war is a common theme for twentieth-century intellectuals is well-founded. Many French writers, politicians, and thinkers wrote about this phenomenon. Among the famous names is Raymond Aron, Sartre’s friend at the École Normale Supérieure, who later became his opponent and ideological adversary. Aron’s versatile oeuvre did not ignore the fundamental theme of modernity—war. As a prominent theorist of international relations, Aron paid great attention to the phenomenon of war.

Among Aron’s significant works in this regard are, The Century of Total War (Les guerres en chaîne), Peace and War (Paix et guerre entre les nations), and Clausewitz: Philosopher of War (Penser la guerre, Clausewitz). In The Century of Total War, Aron emphasizes the idea of the ratio of quantity and quality in the process of creating a “critical mass.” Wars can reach it, thus creating the conditions for the emergence of a “chain reaction.” Thus, the First World War developed into the Second, and has the possibility of moving into the Third. Another of his works, Peace and War, published in 1962, is devoted to the justification of the theory of international relations. In an extensive article on the publication of this book, the French historian and political scientist Jean-Baptiste Duroselle elaborated on the contribution made by Aron to the development of the theory of international relations:

This abstract theory, which consists in conceptualization, presupposes, naturally, a second part: the search for determinants. Theory suggests what elements are to be analyzed; sociology influences these elements. The sociologist’s task “lies between that of the theorist and that of the historian.”The historian interprets the totality of the particular, the singular. The sociologist looks for judgments of “some universality.” So, there are two categories of possible determinants. One is physical or material: space, population, resources; the other is of a social nature: the nation and its regime; “civilization,” a phenomenon of the future whose relatively stable features (regularities) and transformations must be comprehended; and, finally, humanity, that is, a regularity related to the essence of human nature. The great problem relating to the last concept is to know whether man is aggressive by nature, whether there is biological aggressiveness or whether war is a consequence of the social condition. “The difficulty of peace refers rather to the human essence than to the animal beginning of man.”

In our opinion, this part of the task belongs not only, and not so much, to the competence of a historian or sociologist, but to the competence of a philosopher. Therefore, it is quite appropriate to talk about Aron’s contribution to the philosophy of war, but not only. At the same time, in his work he tries to reflect on the future of humanity. To an even greater extent, Aron reveals himself as a proponent of the philosophy of war in one of his later works, Clausewitz: Philosopher of War. André Glucksmann, who was influenced by his teacher during his tenure as an assistant to Aron, published his first book, Le discours de la guerre (A Discourse of War), in December 1967, which he characterized twenty years later as a mixture of philosophy, military strategy, nuclear deterrence and game theory. Nevertheless, it determined his interest in military issues, conflicts, the problem of violence, and terrorism.

At this time in the study of the phenomenon of war was developed polemology—”a new science of war”—in the words of creator Gaston Bouthoul. This field aroused interest in scientific and political circles in France. The French Institute of Polemology in Paris (Institut français de polémologie) has been under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of National Education and the Ministry of State for Scientific Research. Although Bouthoul believed that polemology was the sociology of war, this field was characterized by interdisciplinarity in the study of the phenomenon “war-peace.” Polemologists widely used heuristic possibilities of related disciplines. The fundamental works of the founder of polemology often contain reasoning that is philosophical in nature. This is noted by Alexis Philonenko in his Essais sur la philosophie de la guerre (Essay on the Philosophy of War), identifying the philosophy of war and polemology. He highlights the philosophical orientation of the reflections in the works of Bouthoul, who felt the urgent need to move away from the sociologism of his theory andtoward generalizations of a philosophical nature. A similar idea is formulated by the Romanian author Vasile Secăreş: “The ideas of the father of polemology, which are controversial, no doubt returning unexpectedly for our days to Durkheim’s sociologism, nevertheless have the merit of emphasizing the need for a holistic view of man and his past.”

Philosophical Paradigm for the Study of War

Since the emergence of the “philosophy of war,” its representatives have sought to consider war within the philosophical paradigm. Thus, the above-mentioned R. Henry in his essay tried to depart from the established standards of considering war from the point of view of military science. He wanted to give his study a philosophical character. His book in structure and style resembles the work of Carl von Clausewitz, On War. Henry combined philosophical and political reasoning about the phenomenon of war with military-strategic inferences. In a number of instances, he managed to find a connection between war and other areas of human activity. He points out that war “…is linked to politics and social science by its causes and results; it combines all the knowledge accumulated by mathematics, physics, and the natural sciences to increase man’s strength a hundredfold and to raise the intensity of his collective action.Finally, it gives rise to a real philosophy through the consideration of simple principles and natural laws with which the thinker can relate all the social, moral, and technical questions put at stake by these conflicts, in which the mind and vitality of the human race are periodically tempered.”

The Dutch ethnologist and sociologist,Sebald Rudolf Steinmetz, writing on the eve of the First World War, devoted his work (Die Philosophie des Krieges) to a philosophical consideration of war as a phenomenon inherent in the human race.In it, he analyzed the causes, consequences and trends of this phenomenon. Relying on a solid base of sources, he paid tribute to the contribution of researchers who devoted their research to the study of war. Among them he mentioned the names of French colleagues: Gustave Lagneau, Charles Létourneau, Ernest Lavisse, Alfred Nicolas Rambaud, Jean Lagorgette, Maurice Loir. Later, Emile Ollivier devoted his work to this problem. Following Loir’s example, he analyzed the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 in his book, Philosophie d’une guerre: 1870 (The Philosophy of One War: 1870). In the context of sociology’s offensive against philosophy, the position of the philosophy of war was weakened. However, the outbreak of the First World War brought philosophy of war to the fore. Paul-Louis Landsberg published an article entitled, “Réflexions pour une philosophie de la guerre et de la paix” (“Reflections on the Philosophy of War and Peace”) in the October 1939 issue of Esprit, a journal aimed at French-speaking intellectuals. He writes at the very beginning of the article: “…philosophical thought must remain clear and pose problems in its own way.”

A great contribution to the formation of the philosophy of war was made by Charles de Gaulle. His political and philosophical thought covered the most diverse aspects of the development of the French state and nation. Military and national security issues were not the least important. His concept of “defense in all directions” was influenced by the French philosophers Jean Bodin and Montesquieu, who attached great importance to the geographical and psychological factors in the political development of nations. The concepts of “nation” and “national interest” became the axis of the policy pursued by de Gaulle during his presidency. French military policy became a derivative of these determinants. The problem of national interest remains very important to this day, although it is interpreted differently by some theorists (Raymond Aron, Jean-Baptiste Duroselle, Régis Debray, Thierry de Montbrial). The realistic approach of a number of French political thinkers, philosophers and sociologists to the interpretation of the concept of “universal values,” which under certain circumstances can cause conflict situations at different levels, deserves attention. The position of the famous French polemologist Julien Freund, who warned about the danger of fighting for mythical “universal values,” which he perceived as an acceptance of political dependence, is interesting in this regard.

Philosophy of War and Modernity

Years and centuries pass, but the relevance of the philosophy of war does not diminish. The French philosophical community has reacted vividly to the military conflicts and wars that periodically arise in various corners of our planet. Publications devoted to this problem are multiplying. Alexis Philonenko’s work, Essais sur la philosophie de la guerre is a large-scale work on the coverage of problems and personalities. The author refers to the concepts of such thinkers and philosophers as Machiavelli, Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Saint-Just, Clausewitz, Proudhon, Tolstoy, and de Gaulle. The comparison of Tolstoy’s and Clausewitz’s views on war is certainly unexpected.

Philonenko’s reflections on the correlation between language and war, logic and strategy, respectively, are interesting. The philosophical tradition in discussing the phenomenon of war continues in the socio-political and professional philosophical thought of France, and the 21st century has convincingly proved it. The debate involves members of the public and professional philosophers. Lecture-debates such as those organized by the Philosophical Society of Nantes in 2003-2004 around the theme of “Philosophy in the Face of War” demonstrated the interest in the philosophical treatment of the phenomenon of war in relation to modernity. During the debate, presentations were made by well-known French philosophers J. Gobert, Thierry Ménissier, B. Benoit, and P. Hassner. In addition to the already mentioned experts on this problem, we should name P. Gallois, J. Guitton, D. David, Régis Debray, A. Joxe, Roger Caillois, E. Murez, P. Lelouch, C. Le Borgne, D. Herrmann and others. The philosophy of war has attracted the attention of many French philosophers. In particular, the work of Clausewitz was the subject of research both by Raymond Aron and René Girard.

The views of the French philosopher and political scientist Jean-Baptiste Jeangène Vilmer on the problems of modern wars are of interest. In his book, La guerre au nom de l’humanité (War in the Name of Humanity), he considers a whole set of problems affecting the basics of understanding the phenomenon of war. His multifaceted education (philosophy, law, political science) allows him to consider war in a political-philosophical way with the knowledge of legal issues. Former French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine, in the “Introduction” to this book, notes his commitment to realism, a sense of proportion, balance, without any theoretical excesses or dogmatic simplifications. Early 2019 saw the publication of a book by the French engineer, philosopher Jean-Pierre Dupuy, La guerre qui ne peut pas avoir lieu: Essai de métaphysique nucléaire (The War That Cannot Happen: An Essay in Nuclear Metaphysics). It would seem to be a return to the old theme of the inadmissibility of nuclear war. One recalls the statements of progressive scientists who put forward pessimistic predictions of the fate of humanity after nuclear war, about the possibility of a “nuclear winter.” Dupuy is concerned that the world has come even closer to the brink of nuclear war than during the Cold War, but most people ignore the danger. He discusses the possibility of war breaking out uncontrollably regardless of the will of politicians, because of the triggering by “apocalyptic machines.” He raises in a new way the problem of the effectiveness and morality of nuclear weapons.


Given the presence of competing approaches to the cognition of war, there have been and are different points of view on the way to penetrate to the essence of this phenomenon. At the present stage, we can say that none of the paradigms has clearly proved its superiority in the realization of the epistemological goals set by the supporters of one or another direction. Apparently, mutual complementarity remains the fundamental principle of truth comprehension. In this respect, there are proposals to create a “new science of war.” Here, however, conceptual questions arise. One of them is the question of what a “new science” is. For example, the Russian military scientist Nikolai N. Golovin meant by this “the sociology of war,” as Gaston Bouthoul later did (though with significant inclusions of philosophy). Andrei E. Snesarev called the “philosophy of war” a universal tool for understanding the phenomenon of war. Gustave Le Bon considered war from the standpoint of psychology. The need in our time to create a “new science of war” requires combining different approaches, which can give a positive effect of understanding this phenomenon and the influence upon it.

This is all the more relevant now, since terrorism is gaining such a scale that a number of authors consider it as a kind of war. In the complex of methodological approaches to the study of wars and military conflicts, philosophy occupies an important place, as it perceives and conceptualizes this phenomenon in the most general way, which allows us to get close to its essence and find methods and means of counteraction. It is philosophy that can answer the following questions: what is war? What are the causes of wars? What is the relationship between human nature and war? Are there just wars, etc.?

The Department of the Philosophy of Politics and Law, in the Faculty of Philosophy, at the Lomonosov Moscow State University does a lot to study the phenomenon of war in keeping with the times: special courses devoted to this problem are offered, such as “The Philosophy of War” (since 2009), “Fundamentals of Polemology” (since 2016); numerous articles devoted to polemological problems have been published; members of the department have participated in various conferences on the problems of wars and military conflicts. One of the features of the departmental approach to the study of the phenomenon of war is the focus on the comparison of different points of view on this problem. As a result, we have formed the opinion that the concepts of French philosophers writing about war, in the paradigm of the “philosophy of war,” are characterized by originality and deserve careful study in the context of the dominance of Anglo-American theories.

Complete references are found in the Russian original.

Alexei V. Soloviev is Associate Professor in the Department of the Philosophy of Politics and Law, Faculty of Philosophy, Lomonosov, Moscow.

Featured: Le siège de Paris (The Siege of Paris), by Jean Louis Ernest Meissonier; painted in 1870.

Do You Know René Girard?

On April 16, 1978, the famous French weekly, Le Nouvel Observateur, published an article by Michel Serres, philosopher and historian of science, with the now legendary title, “Do you know René Girard?” In it, the author presented Violence and the Sacred, the latest book published by a hitherto little-known French literary critic and university professor based in the United States. It was, according to Serres, a work called to illuminate the unfathomable abyss that surrounds the mystery of the foundation of human cultures. All of them are tombs and “Girard has long endeavored to decipher their tombstones.” Cain and Abel, Romulus and Remus, cities are created by men with their hands stained with innocent blood. Blood of brothers and also of strangers, those scapegoats whom myths and rites remember in the life-giving commemoration of the founding murder.

Violence is at the root of all institutions, but it is veiled, disguised by culture. By all cultures, except for one: “One culture, just one, is the exception and starts to uncover the secret. It starts to say that the victim of these murders is not responsible for all the evils. It starts shouting the innocence of Abel and Joseph. It is the Jewish culture…. The prophets are the first ethnologists. Girard dares to reopen Scripture, at the very moment when it is most forgotten, at the hour when to do so seems scandalous…. Read this clear, luminous, sacrilegious, calm book. You will have the impression of having changed your skin. You will crave, you will need peace…. With Darwin’s fire, remember, the old assemblages collapsed, everything was directed towards time, towards the general time of evolution, by means of operators of an unexpected simplicity. The same thing happens with Girard’s fire. We had not had a Darwin on the side of the human sciences. Here we have one.”

Isaiah Berlin, inspired by a proverb attributed to the Greek poet Archilochus, reminded us that there are two kinds of people: foxes and hedgehogs. The fox knows many things, while the hedgehog knows only one. December 25, 2023 will mark a century since the birth of one of the greatest hedgehogs of all time and perhaps the most significant of the 20th century. But Girard was a fascinating and uncomfortable hedgehog. Scorned by the intellectual clergy mimetically subjected to the fashions and jargons of the moment, whether those of existentialism or poststructuralism, ignored by the French academic establishment, he eventually came to be admired and repudiated for the same reason: for having had the audacity to propose an encompassing theory (from desire to religion to violence) at a time when every conception of the world of universal scope was deconstructed and destroyed by the sorcerers of suspicion. But Girard’s suspicion was even greater than the gregarious prejudice disguised as skepticism that came to proliferate among the buffoons of postmodernism.

As Xabier Pikaza has written, “Girard accepts and in a certain sense develops the anti-religious critique of the 19th-20th centuries: not only does he assume the attitude of the masters of suspicion, but he can take it to the end, without the risk of anthropological dissolution.” With Girard sounded the hour in which disbelieving reason dares to overcome the clichés and axioms of narrow rationalism and rigid positivism. The negation of Marx, Nietzsche and Freud was always partial, an intellectual epiphenomenon of the threatened bourgeois conscience, while Girard revolutionized our understanding of violence and built a new anthropological defense of Christianity. New because he began to listen anew to what many others only heard without paying real attention: what Girard once called “the ill-known voice of the real.” A voice silenced among myths and primitive rites but that resounds like a distant echo in the murmur of the Scriptures. It is the voice that changed the world forever.

There are thinkers who acquire the category of event because, as Francesc Torralba has written, after them the way of thinking is radically transformed. René Girard falls into this category. Jean-Marie Domenech called him the “Hegel of Christianity.” Pierre Chaunu called him the “Albert Einstein of the human sciences,” and Paul Ricoeur said of him that he would be as important for the 21st century as Marx or Freud were for the 20th. A sort of Guelph among the Ghibellines and Ghibelline among the Guelphs, Girard felt himself to be a disciple of Durkheim without renouncing the lineage of Pascal. An untenable position if ever there was one, but fertile as few others.

The Logos of Heraclitus versus the Logos of St. John, the violent message of the myths versus the love of the Gospel, the city of men versus the Civitas Dei. In Girard’s work, the same dynamism emerges, the same search is manifested, the same spiritual breath beats that beats in the heart of the doctor of Hippo. In any case, the Christianocentric turn of Girard’s work was the last scandal of a thought that developed book after book over five decades. It was a thought that reached the very Apocalypse along the path marked by the great classics of modern literature and anthropology. An unparalleled theoretical itinerary. “When I want to know the latest news, I read the Apocalypse.” Léon Bloy said it, but it was René Girard who took this sentence to the extreme of its theoretical possibilities in his work.

Benoït Chantre presides the Association des Recherches Mimétiques, a French research center dedicated to promote and disseminate studies related to the anthropological and social theory of René Girard. He is also the author of the first complete biography dedicated to the great French-American theorist (René Girard, Biographie. Grasset, 2023). It has been published, not by chance, in the year of the centenary of his birth. Because the task of writing the life of this singular thinker was long pending. An intellectual biography of almost twelve hundred pages that is supported by numerous unpublished texts and a rich correspondence. In them we discover the man behind the imposing mimetic theory, a theory he elaborated with the handwriting of Cervantes, Stendhal, Flaubert, James George Frazer, Durkheim, the prophets, St. John, St. Paul and Clausewitz. Between science and faith, the existential and intellectual journey of this authentic meteorite of Western thought who dared to bring together everything old and new in the long history of knowledge and learning.

Life of Girard

René Noël Théophile Girard was born in Avignon on Christmas Day, 1923. At a very young age, he passed the entrance exam to the Chartes School in 1942. Student in Paris during the Occupation, witness in Avignon of the American bombing of the city, the war left a deep mark on him. He was only 23 years old when he crossed the Atlantic. It was 1947 and he was unaware at the time that he would spend an entire academic career in the United States, a career that ended at the prestigious Stanford University. Girard, writes Chantre, lived on American campuses “like Hölderlin in his tower.” This exile to the American university, where researchers enjoy (or enjoyed) exceptional working conditions, was the opportunity of a lifetime. He did not miss it.

At the age of 38, he returned to the Christian faith, which he had lost during his adolescence. He had not set foot in a church since then. It was, as he often said, a conversion fruit of a grace mysteriously linked to his intellectual work. In his monumental Diccionario de pensadores cristianos (Dictionary of Christian Thinkers), Pikaza refers to Girard as “perhaps the most significant of the Christian converts of the 20th century.” For Hans Urs von Balthasar, one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century, “Girard’s project is certainly the one that today is presented to us with the greatest drama in soteriology and, in general, in theology itself.”

Much later, in 2005, in his eighties, Girard took Bossuet’s place at the Académie Française. The “fille aînée de l’Église” welcomed as an immortal of French letters the man who, in the words of the writer Roberto Calasso, should be described as “the last Father of the Church.” John Paul II, during his trip to France in 1980, asked the question: “France, first-born daughter of the Church, are you faithful to your baptism?” With Girard’s election to Chair 37 a discreet “yes” was heard within the old walls of the venerable institution founded by Cardinal Richelieu. However, Girard remained on the sidelines of the sterile ecclesiastical debates between progressives and conservatives, an epochal trifecta resulting from the globalization of the Church. The Avignon-born anthropologist could have agreed with Ernesto Sábato, who recalled this maxim of Schopenhauer: “Sometimes progress is reactionary and reaction is progressive.” This allowed Girard to place himself in a personal and singular way before the great themes of modernity and to cross the sinister century of ideologies and political religions, with their mental ties and their odious fanaticism, without paying any toll. For Michel Serres, Girard’s wager represented “the most fruitful hypothesis of the century.” His thought even inspired the homilies of Father Rainier Cantalamessa, preacher of the Pontifical Household since 1980, who recalled something that should not be forgotten regarding his work: “Many, unfortunately, continue to cite René Girard as the one who denounced the alliance between the sacred and violence, but they do not say a single word about the Girard who pointed out in the paschal mystery of Christ, the total and definitive rupture of that alliance.”

May this Christmas season more than any other bring us, with his first one hundred years of life, René Girard (1923-2015), always young and returning to us—for the work of this giant of the 20th century sealed forever that which his compatriot Georges Bernanos wrote: “It is not the Gospel that is old. It is we who are old.”

Domingo González Hernández holds a PhD in political philosophy from the Complutense University of Madrid. He is a professor at the University of Murcia. His recent book is René Girard, maestro cristiano de la sospecha (René Girard, Christian Teacher of Suspicion) He is also the Director of the podcast “La Caverna de Platón” for the newspaper La Razón. He has explored the political possibilities of Girardian mimetic theory in more than twenty studies and academic papers. His latest publication is “La monarquía sagrada y el origen de lo político: una hipótesis farmacológica” (“Sacred monarchy and the origin of politics: a pharmacological hypothesis”), Xiphias Gladius, 2020. This article appears through the kind courteesy of El Debate.

Why Does Capitalism Now Prefer the Left?

The old bourgeois capitalism, in the dialectical phase, preferred the culture of the Right, with its nationalism, its disciplinary authoritarianism, its patriarchy, its alliance with the altar and its values, at that time functional to the reproduction of the mode of production.

Today, the post-bourgeois turbo-capital of globalization, of the free market and free desire, in the absolute-totalitarian phase, prefers the culture of the Left, with its celebration of anthropological deregulation and of the unlimited openness of the imaginary and of real borders, with its dogmatics of the de-sovereignization of the States and the falsely rebellious deconstruction of the old bourgeois norms. Therein lies—in Preve’s words—the “profound affinity between leftist culture and the fact of globalization.”

Right-wing capitalism, of nationalism, discipline, patriarchy, religion and compulsory military service, gives way to the new leftist capitalism—that is, to progressive neoliberalism—of cosmopolitanism, consumerist permissiveness, post-family individualism and ERASMUS as the new “compulsory military service” for the education of the new generations in the values of precariousness and nomadism, of openness and deregulated enjoyment.

The order of the hegemonic discourse managed by the heralds of the culture of the champagne-Left, on the one hand, celebrates globalization as a natural and intrinsically good reality. On the other hand, with a symmetrical movement, it delegitimizes as dangerous ethnic and religious, nationalist and regressive reactions; everything that in various ways calls it into question. However, as Preve has suggested, it would be enough to “gesturally reorient” the gaze to gain a different perspective, from below and for those from below. Instead of “globalization,” we should speak of American-centric capitalist imperialism without borders. And instead of ethnic and religious, nationalist and regressive reactions, we should speak of legitimate national and cultural resistance to the falsely humanitarian violence of capitalist globalization of misery and homologation.

It is what Nancy Fraser has called “progressive neoliberalism,” synthesizing well the honeymoon between the class fanaticism of the market economy and the liberal-libertarian instances of the “artistic critique” of the new Left referent in struggle against any figure of tradition and limit, of community and identity, of people and transcendence. The 1960s substitution of the Marxian revolutionary, who fights against capital, for the Nietzschean hooligan rebel, who transvalues the old bourgeois values, provokes this inclined plane that leads to the paradoxical present condition: “the right to reefer” and the “surrogate womb” are conceived by the neo-Left as more important and emancipatory than any act of transformation of the world, or of taking a stand against the neoliberal exploitation of labor, colonial exterminations and imperialist wars hypocritically presented as “peace missions.”

Herein lies the deception of “civil rights,” a noble title used entirely improperly by progressive neoliberalism to: a) divert attention from the social issue and labor rights; and b) lead the Left and the dominated classes to the assumption of neoliberal points of view, for which the only struggles worth fighting are those for the individualistic liberalization of customs and consumption (we repeat, “civil rights” liberal Newspeak calls them), along with the necessary export, by missile, of those rights to areas of the planet not yet subsumed under the free market and its progressive neoliberalism.

Particularly in philosophy, the relativistic and anti-metaphysical nihilism of postmodernist “weak thought” is presented idealiter as the pinnacle of anti-conformism, when in reality it is the ideal Weltanschauung to justify the foundationless society of the liberal-nihilistic globalization of the relativistic fundamentalism of the commodity form. The individualistic liberalization of lifestyles is based on the philosophy of postmodern relativism, thanks to which values and “the immutable”—to say it with Emanuele Severino—are dissolved, and everything becomes “relative,” that is, in exclusive relation to the desires of consumption of the desiring subject.

Nihilistic relativism and anti-veritative utilitarianism are the ideal forma mentis for the liberal-market cosmos, since they imply that all representations can be equally useful, as long as they do not conflict with the market and, in this way, favor it. The postmodernist Left finds its clearest expression in the philosophical work of Richard Rorty—convinced that leftist thought is based on the “ironic” deconstruction of absolutes and metaphysical foundations—and in the apparently very different thought of Slavoj Žižek, a bizarre example of “postmodern Marxism” that, in addition to transforming Marx and Hegel into trash phenomena, ends up delegitimizing resistance to Atlanticist globalization as totalitarian and terrorist.

Gianni Vattimo’s “weak thought” itself, regardless of its ultimate objectives in an anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist sense—otherwise in contradiction with its basic philosophical presuppositions—owes its success not least to its high degree of compatibility with the new liquid and post-metaphysical structure of capitalism. Theorizing the “weakening” of the fundamental metaphysical and truthful structures, Vattimo outlined, back in the 1980s of the “short century,” the new ideological frame of reference of absolute-totalitarian commercialism, effectively confirming Jameson’s thesis about the nature of postmodernism as the cultural logic of late capitalism.

Turbo-capitalist society is no longer based on supposed transcendent truths (Christian religion) or on correspondence with human nature (Greek philosophy). It is based, on the contrary, solely on the verification of the correct capitalist reproduction actually given. For this reason, the turbo-capitalism of the global market society expresses itself economically in utilitarianism and philosophically in relativistic nihilism. As foreshadowed by Preve and as we ourselves emphasized in Difendere chi siamo (2020), the turbo-capitalist society needs homines vacui and post-identitarians, consumers without identity and without critical spirit. And it is the leftism of sinistrash that zealously produces the ideal anthropological profile for capitalist globalization, the postmodern and “open-minded” homo neoliberalis, that is, “empty” of all content and ready to receive whatever the production system wants from time to time to “fill” it with.

In fact, post-metaphysical turbo-capitalism knows no moral, religious or anthropological limits to oppose to the integral advent of exchange value as the only accepted value: the ideal subject of turbo-capitalism—homo neoliberalis—is, then, the left-wing individual, engaged in rainbow battles for the whims of consumption and disinterested in social battles for work and against imperialism; in a word, he is the post-bourgeois, post-proletarian and ultra-capitalist Nietzschean Superman, bearer of an unlimited will of consumerist power, economically right-wing, culturally left-wing and politically center-wing. It is, to stay in the lexicon of philosophy, the realization of the “protagoric man,” whose subject—understood as a desiring individual is—πάντων χρημάτων μέτρον—”measure of all things.” Thus, politics itself becomes, for the new Left, a struggle against all the limits that in various ways hinder the realization of the subjective desires of that protagoric man.

Moreover, the Left oriented individual is the ideal subject of turbo-capital, since tendentially—let us think mainly of the generation of 1968ers—he is a figure disappointed by the proletarian and communist “illusions.” And, eo ipso, he provides a depressive psychological basis in the name of “disenchantment” (Entzauberung); almost as if he were an ideal “figure” of the Phenomenology of Spirit, historicist disenchantment; that is to say, the loss of faith in the advent of the redeemed society is dialectically invested in the acceptance—depressive or euphoric—of the planetary reification of the neoliberal order. The post-modern can rightly be understood as the fundamental figure of the rationalization of disenchantment and reconciliation with the nihilism of capital elevated to the only possible world, with the addition of the definitive decline of belief in emancipatory “grand narratives.”

For this reason, the liberal new Left also presents itself as a “postmodern Left,” the guardian of relativistic nihilism and the disenchantment of the end of faith in the great narratives of overcoming capitalism: the “strong thought,” veritative and still radically metaphysical of Hegel and Marx, is abandoned by the new Left in favor of the “weak thought” of a Nietzsche reinterpreted in a postmodern key as a sulphurous “hammerer” of values and of the very idea of truth, and as a theorist of the Superman with an unlimited consumerist will to power.

As for relativistic nihilism, which the neo-Nietzschean Left celebrates as “emancipatory” with respect to the metaphysical and veritative pretensions of the Absolutes, this is precisely the foundation of capitalist disempowerment, which turns everything relative to the nihil of the commodity form and, neutralizing the very idea of truth, annihilates the basis of the critique of falsehood and of the insurrection against injustice. Nihilism does not lead to the emancipation of the multiplicity of lifestyles, as Vattimo believes, but rather leads to the disenchanted acceptance of the steel cage of techno-capitalism, within which differences proliferate in the very act with which they are reduced to articulations of the commodity form. From this point of view, Foucault also tends to be “normalized” and assimilated by the neo-Left, which has elevated him to the category of postmodern critic of the inevitable nexus between truth and authoritarian power. And, thus, they make liberation coincide with the abandonment of any pretension to truth.

As for disenchantment, it coincides with the profile of the “last man” thematized by Nietzsche. Der lezte Mensch, “the last man,” becomes aware of the “death of God” and the impossibility of the redemption in which he had also believed, and reconciles himself with meaninglessness, judging it as an irredeemable destiny. This anthropological and cultural profile finds timely confirmation in the existential adventure of the “generation of 1968” and of Lyotard himself, the theorist of the Postmodern Condition. He lost his original faith in socialism (he was a militant of the Marxist group Socialisme ou Barbarie) and reconverted to capitalist nihilism, lived as an inescapable steel cage but with consented spaces of individual freedom (in a rigorously alienated and marketized form, ça va sans dire). For all these reasons, postmodernism remains a philosophy of the rationalization of disenchantment and, at the same time, of the conversion to the acceptance of techno-capitalist nihilism understood as an emancipatory opportunity.

Diego Fusaro is professor of the History of Philosophy at the IASSP in Milan (Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies) where he is also scientific director. He is a scholar of the Philosophy of History, specializing in the thought of Fichte, Hegel, and Marx. His interest is oriented towards German idealism, its precursors (Spinoza) and its followers (Marx), with a particular emphasis on Italian thought (Gramsci or Gentile, among others). he is the author of many books, including Fichte and the Vocation of the IntellectualThe Place of Possibility: Toward a New Philosophy of Praxis, and Marx, again!: The Spectre ReturnsThis article appears courtesy of Posmodernia.

Featured: Cut with the Kitchen Knife, collage by Hannah Höch (1889-1978); created in 1919.

The French Légionnaire Who Taught Philosophy

There, in front of me, sits a fat folio, made up of four large Clairefontaine notebooks, covers stapled back-to-back. The title, typed on the homemade red plastic binding, evoked the beginnings of an apprentice philosopher discovering the nervous power of words: “Phénomènes des cours de philosophie de Charles Cambe—Année 1971-1972” (“Notes from Charles Cambe’s Philosophy Course—Year 1971-1972). Charles Cambe was my philosophy teacher at Lycée Théophile-Gautier in Tarbes, France. He was a colonel in the Foreign Legion.

Philosophy notes, 1971-1972.

Shaven-headed, calm and sharp-tongued, he had a way with the dunces (I was no longer one of them) who frequented the bars in this garrison town, still home to the first and oldest Hussars regiment in Europe: Tarbes is the birthplace of Marshal Foch, Generalissimo of the Great War, and romantic writer Théophile Gautier; poets Comte de Lautréamont and Jules Laforgue sat on the same benches as I did listening to the Colonel. Lourdes is nearby .

The Colonel was sarcastic with the good students in Terminale A1, “la philo 1,” (I was not one of them), whom he knew would stop pretending to think, once they had passed the baccalaureate. He arrived in class, on the day of military ceremonies in front of the 1939-1945 war memorial, engraved with lapidary eloquence—NI HAINE NI OUBLI (Neither Hatred nor Forgetfulness)—wearing his unique and prestigious sand-colored uniform; he placed his glorious white kepi on the desk itself slightly raised on a platform. He looked at us, all boys, called the roll and began in a steady, poised voice, without a trace of picturesque accent, as befits a monk of the one and indivisible Republic, a voice full and frank—”dynamic” would be the right word.

In Terminale A2, the class of the lesser students, the teacher was a late graduate of May 1968, who puffed on his fag, sometimes taught on the paving stones of the school yard, was on first-name terms with his pupils and, if he had had the courage of his “make love not war” convictions, would have made hootchie-kootchie-koo with them and their girlfriends. But it was all a game of appearances, because on the one occasion when our Colonel had to leave to pay tribute to one of his men and raise a glass with the toast, “for the dust,” the A2 hippy took over the legionnaire’s course exactly at the point where the Colonel had dropped his voice to go and deliver his eulogy, and this resumption was seamless. They had divided up the roles. They rode in pairs, like Templars. Never trust appearances or clothing, be it sand or hippy, which does not a philosopher make.

I opened the first notebook and began reading Chapter I (my homemade folio contains 41 chapters), dated September 16, 1971. I had understood immediately that I owed it to philosophy to transcribe the viva voce: “stupid” said the good people in class, but amazed in the divine sense of the word stupor, that impression which strikes the mind in the face of an unheard-of event. I got into the habit of taking notes verbatim and in extenso, a profoundly rhetorical memory technique, I would later learn. It is a habit I have kept, and one that still brings back to me Barthes’s enveloping words, or Levinas’s desultory remarks.

My large folio repeated, without my having guessed it because I was ignorant, the ancient technique of phrase books and books of quotations, sources of invention among the great rhetors, from Antiquity to the Counter-Reformation, and of the transmission of knowledge by word of mouth, since the first mythical act when Apollo, god of speech, spat into the mouth of his first soothsayer.

Here is how my first philosophy class began, when I was sixteen: “Sensitivity. Sensible knowledge is knowledge acquired through the senses. The philosophical attitude consists in stopping in front of facts that are apparently self-evident— to the common man. Sense and organ should not be confused: a sense is the power to experience a certain category of sensations; an organ is a set of ‘terminal’ nerve cells (and here I remember a brief glint from behind his thin gold-rimmed glasses: the colonel loved irony), sensitive to certain phenomena.” That is how, at sixteen, long-haired and a virgin, I entered philosophy. I never left (philosophy, that is). It was love at first sight for the philosophical word, the eloquence of the mind: For a year, Colonel Charles Cambe led me, in 41 stages, along a path of initiation whose great models are, in Antiquity, the Tablet of Cebes and, in the French Classical Age, Desmarets de Saint-Sorlin’s Délices de l’Esprit (Delights of the Spirit), when a master philosophizes and leads a young man from place of intelligence to place of meditation, stimulating the desire to know more by the spur of his words alone, and makes him discover a new wonder of the intellect at every door he passes through, so that when he leaves the halls of knowledge and self-discovery, the young man knows “how to lead his life well.” His eloquence thus led me to perceive what I was destined to become.

It is hard to imagine, now that everything is conspiring to destroy the critical spirit of high school students, now that the cult of the keyword reigns among adults, it is hard to imagine the life lessons those philosophy classes were, those of the Colonel, like those of the hippie of Terminale A2: we were taught to ride restive steeds and wild stallions. Outside, as I write these lines, I hear the sound of their hooves, a horde of horses being brought to the stables of the Imperial Stud, not far from the same high school. Under the influence of this philosophical word, every day, for several hours, at the most exact timing of the morning, when we were awake in the most virginal and seminal state of our sixteen years, the Colonel wanted to turn us into horsemen and stallions.

The course itself was a lesson in the formative power of philosophy, placed at the pinnacle of our education at the very moment when, as the State separated from the Church, ten years before the Great War, the Republic abolished rhetoric and replaced it with philosophy. Simply put, a higher form of eloquence replaced one that had become too literary. How eloquent and handsome our philosophy teachers were! They had donned the mantle of the great preachers, to educate, truly educate, the apprentices of citizenship, and manhood.

I will give you the outline of Colonel Cambe’s course: majestically, making our way to the top of the mountain, as in the Tablet of Cebes, we passed from sensible knowledge to the unconscious, then to memory (ah! the passage on “acted recognition, emotional recognition and thought recognition;” if only one weighed these simple definitions in politics), and to imagination, then to language and signs. Two months passed. Autumn and Advent. Another notebook. In November, as the Pyrenees turned gray and rainy, a notch, a step, a progress to break the melancholy: here, blow by blow, were concept, judgment, reasoning, scientific knowledge, mathematics, experimental sciences, applied mathematics, biological sciences, history and historical becoming (I noted: “a document is either a vestige or a testimony”… yes, as simple as that, but it took him many pages of notes, the Colonel, his kepi on his desk, to make us perceive the value of this distinction), sociological fact and, almost at the top of the mountain, the shining door, the one of pearl and ivory as I think Homer used to say: Truth. I had gone so far as to capitalize it, as we were due to resume classes at Epiphany time.

Until Easter, he spoke to us of habit, will, pleasure and pain, emotion, passion (I read: a passion is either “dominant, or dominating or exclusive”: quite a program!), followed by an almost Barthesian slide, unexpected from a legionnaire, on “the life of a passion.” The Terminale A1, when the chestnut trees were greening up, listened to Colonel Cambe discuss morality, duty, responsibility and sanctions, followed by the ancient schools of morality, Kant, utilitarianism and “the philosophers of life,” followed by Nietzsche: ” You shall not beget!” “What is great about a man is that he is a bridge and not an arrival point.” “To be a man is to overcome.” Finally, Bergson, Sartre and Marx: “To re-establish the DIGNITY of man is to destroy the alienation of labor”—here, I dared to capitalize a whole word, because the Colonel had to take off his gold-rimmed glasses, put them on the table, and accentuated the term.

Then, as the end of classes approached, and Pentecost too, came three surprises, for after a year of daily attendance, we had all formed an idea of who was the Colonel-Philosopher. False ideas: the dunces assured us they had seen him at the brothel. The good ones said he never smoked (astonishing in those days). Others spoke in hushed tones about his wife (one of those Dominique Sanda-like beauties from the colonies, whom I only met once). He threw three quick, luminous lessons in our faces, like the gauntlet of an old-fashioned challenge, because by then we were seasoned and he thought we were ready to go at full throttle.

First, two lessons on beauty and God. Him—talking to us about beauty and God? We had to be thrown off our guard. On beauty, I noted: “Beautiful comes from bellus, diminutive of bonus. Bellus is a colloquial term and was used to refer to women and children, while “lovely,” addressed to a man, was very, very pejorative, if you know what I mean; for a man, the word was pulcher.” The Colonel, having brightened us up, then moved on to serious matters, point by point, and having lifted our souls to the aesthetic, he would, systematically, as if maneuvering—we were at Pentecost after all—put before our minds’ eyes all the proofs of God’s existence, deployed a priori and a posteriori.

Face to face, on the chessboard of life that opened up before us, here was the strongest dilemma facing a man who had to “overcome” himself, and achieve true pulchritude: by the senses, or by transcendence? As if to say: everything I have taught you is now to be tested against this double possibility. Weigh it up! Think! Because to “overcome” is to be free. And guess what his farewell lesson to arms was, the last surprise of the legionnaire-philosopher, finger on the seam of his pants? Freedom. “You are free to judge.” A fine piece of work!

I remember visiting him at home twice. The first was before the baccalaureate exams. I asked him to sign my big handmade tome. He signed it, on June 8, 1972, without saying a word. He only asked me how my father was. I saw him a second time, when I entered the rue d’Ulm (the École normale supérieure), in July 1975. I went to thank him for having taught me, confessing to him that, often, at Louis-le-Grand, I would reopen my big notebook to find the right path, rectitude, even the joy of thinking. He said to me: “Salazar, you should have gone to Saint-Cyr” (the foremost military academy of France).

Colonel Cambe’s signature.

Charles Cambe, colonel, legionnaire, philosopher, died in July 2005. The 2006 class of the Special Reserve General Staff School (ESORSEM), at the French War College, bears his name. As long as the Republic (not this republic, a mere ghost) keeps up with these teachers, even the hippy of Terminale A2, and keeps up with this teaching, this eloquence, the Republic will have “values.” Where is the source of the Republic’s crisis and decline? As we have seen, the republican school calendar silently follows the liturgical calendar. Old habits die hard. The Republic is sometimes capable of overcoming herself, and now and, then, even reach pulchritude.

The last word, I hand over to the colonel, and this is the last sentence in my big notebook: “This notion of fundamental freedom that is the freedom to will is most often just a word. Generally speaking, for the non-philosophers, their idea of ‘real’ freedom, the freedom that makes sense to them, is just their freedom to act as they please.” Has the Republic become just that: a sum of freedoms to act, with its strident claim to be the only valid “ethics,” from head of state down to ordinary citizen? When shall we finally “overcome” ourselves?

Colonel Cambe in operation.

French philosopher and essayist Philippe-Joseph Salazar writes on rhetoric as philosophy of power. Laureate of the Prix Bristol des Lumières in 2015 for his book on jihad (translated as, Words are Weapons. Inside ISIS’s Rhetoric of Terror, Yale UP). In 2022, the international community of rhetoricians honoured him with a Festschrift, The Incomprehensible: The Critical Rhetoric of Philippe-Joseph Salazar. He holds a Distinguished Professorship in Rhetoric and Humane Letters in the Law Faculty of the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

Dostoevsky’s Heroes in the Philosophical Jurisprudence of Carl Schmitt and Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy

Exactly 100 years ago, in 1923, Carl Schmitt, a German lawyer whose controversial talent for brilliantly formulating political concepts continues to attract a great deal of attention from researchers to this day, published Roman Catholicism and Political Form. This book made him a prominent figure among German Catholic intellectuals in the Weimar Republic. Out of all the plethora of ideas in the 1923 essay, we would like to analyse Schmitt’s attitude to the Russian writer Dostoevsky, with whom he continuously polemicises not only throughout the essay, but it could be argued throughout his entire life. It would be of particular interest to us to compare Schmitt’s attitude to Dostoevsky and his heroes with the views of his contemporary and colleague, another German legal scholar Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy. Although these two authors took opposite stances in Germany in 1933 (support for the Nazi party and criticism of it from emigration), nonetheless they are united by the fact that, although they were jurists, they wrote about the Church, thus making them stand out from the general secular tendency of the social sciences of their era. As will be shown below, the Russian Orthodox author appears in the texts of these thinkers not so much in his capacity as a political-legal journalist, as in that of a vivid artistic symbol of a critical attitude to law and to the whole area of juridical thought and practice. Referring “to Dostoevsky” allows these philosopher-jurists to give their own diagnosis of the period following the First World War. This example makes it possible for us to trace the evolution of their own teachings, and their ideas on Russian culture and its place in world history.


Emphasizing that non-Catholic authors are often motivated by “anti-Roman temper,” (Roman Catholicism and Political Form, 1996, p. 3) Carl Schmitt cites Dostoevsky as an example of this “temper” and his main opponent. He remarks that in the first centuries of the Reformation, the Protestants were the most striking bearers of this “temper,” but from the 18th century onwards Protestant political authors become increasingly rational in their anti-Roman argumentation. From Cromwell to Bismarck and the French secularists of the end of the 19th century a whole epoch passes; Catholic-Protestant polemic loses its emotional expressivity, and the sole exception to increasing political rationalism Schmitt finds in the Russian-Orthodox Dostoyevsky’s “portrayal of the Grand Inquisitor,” which allows: “the anti-Roman dread [to] appear once again as a secular force” (Ibid.).

Several pages later, Dostoevsky is once again mentioned by the German jurist in a typological group containing a paradoxically broad spectrum of political views: people who see in the Roman-Catholic Church the heir of the universalist program of the Roman Empire.

The Roman Catholic Church as an historical complex and administrative apparatus has perpetuated the universalism of the Roman Empire. French nationalists like Charles Maurras, German racial theorists like H[ouston] Stewart Chamberlain, German professors of liberal provenance like Max Weber, a Pan-Slavic poet and seer like Dostoyevsky—all base their interpretations on this continuity of the Catholic Church and the Roman Empire (5).

The principle of precedent in the evolution of law inspires Schmitt to an apology for the Roman Catholic Church as the bearer of a particular political and juridical mentality that has placed its seal on the juridical development of the peoples of continental Europe. The German jurist not only expresses his approval of Catholic political thought (where for him the most important author is the Spaniard Donoso Cortés), but also of the canon law which had adopted the ideas of dogmatic development of the First Vatican Council. Describing papal dogma in Max Weber’s categories of the juxtaposition of charisma and office, he sees in unilateral church authority the removal of the contradictions of parliamentarism in the ecclesial complexion oppositorum. The pope has a representative role or function as Vicar of Christ. The papacy is both institutional and personal, yet “independent of charisma” (Ibid., 14).

Noting different aspects of criticism of Catholicism, Schmitt singles Dostoevsky out among a special section of critics taking a position of anti-legalism as “pious Christians.” In his interpretation, the Russian writer comes close to the Protestant jurist Rudolf Sohm, a German historian of law known for his theory of the “lawless church.” Dostoevsky is interpreted by Schmitt through the prism of Sohm’s antagonism between the juridical and spiritual principles of church organization. Both Sohm and Dostoevsky, according to Schmitt, juxtapose their Christianity to the “ethos of power” of the Roman church, which is amplified to an “ethos of glory.” Such “pious” anti-Roman attacks, writes Schmitt, are dangerous because they not only subject church law and authority to criticism, but the very principles of form and rule of law in society, and thereby feed the anarchic tendencies.

Schmitt does not cite any extensive quotations from Dostoevsky; it is enough for him that the writer created the image of the Grand Inquisitor. This image is interpreted by the German jurist literally, outside literary convention, outside the problem of polyphony and authorship within the novel, The Brothers Karamazov, where “the poem of the Inquisitor” is narrated by Ivan Karamazov and commented on from an anti-Roman perspective by Alyosha Karamazov. In the perception of the German jurist, the Grand Inquisitor is almost a historical character, one of the highest prelates of the Catholic Church, a Spaniard, like the writer who was politically closest to Schmitt, Donoso Cortés. The Inquisitor operates within the framework of the Church’s judicial legal system and procedure among the subjects of the Spanish monarchy. As a result, all these political institutions are condemned and their authority undermined at the moment when Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor admits that he has succumbed to the temptations of Satan.

Thus, although Schmitt does not undertake a literary analysis of the text, he perceives it in all the depth of its artistic content. He sees in the figure of the Inquisitor a realistic image that demands a reaction from him (which may be regarded as an indirect recognition of the talent of the Russian writer). The German jurist is sure that the Inquisitor is right in the political dispute; he deliberately aligns himself on the side of the Grand Inquisitor, in opposition to Dostoevsky. Towards the end of his life, Schmitt stated in a conversation with Jacob Taubes, anyone who failed to see that the Grand Inquisitor was right had grasped neither what a Church was for, nor what Dostoevsky, contrary to his own conviction, had really conveyed (Jacob Taubes, Ad Carl Schmitt. Gegenstrebige Fügung, 1987, p. 15). For Schmitt, the Russian writer’s error consists in the fact that he depicts the Spanish prelate as a losing figure; he is placed by the narrative in a scandalous and unseemly, and therefore, one might say, satirical situation (the sort of Dostoevskian satire that Mikhail Bakhtin would term menippeia), which gives the lie to the exaltedness of his position. Where, through the use of irony, the sublime authority of the Catholic Church is undermined, for Schmitt the authority of jurisprudence is also undermined: after all, the latter has its origins in political Catholicism.

Owing to its formal superiority, jurisprudence can easily assume a posture similar to Catholicism with respect to alternating political forms, in that it can positively align itself with various power complexes, provided there is a sufficient minimum of form “to establish order”…Once the new situation permits recognition of an authority, it provides the groundwork for jurisprudence—the concrete foundation for a substantive form (29-30).

Schmitt attributes “potential atheism” to Dostoevsky (as if the writer projects his own potential atheism onto the Roman Catholic Church), because he sees in him an “anarchic instinct.” For Schmitt, the anarchist is essentially atheistic, because he denies the possibility of authority. The romantic reader perceives the institutional coldness of Catholicism as evil, and the formless breadth of Dostoevsky as true Christianity; but this is a false contrast.

All this leads Schmitt to the conclusion that, for all the apparent differences between Dostoevsky and the Bolsheviks (the latter he initially conflates with “American financiers” in their rejection of classical jurisprudence), they represent a single stream of anarchist sentiment opposed to classical politics and the Western European legal tradition. And despite the phrase, “I know there may be more Christianity in the Russian hatred of Western European culture than in liberalism and German Marxism… I know this formlessness may contain the potential for a new form” (38), Schmitt’s condemnation of Dostoevsky remains in force: he is a symbol of the barbaric Russian threat to European forms, both cultural and legal. The German jurist interprets him anarchically in almost the same way that the French existentialists would later do, and it is this interpretation that he himself condemns as the threat of “potential atheism.” In the final part of the essay, where Schmitt retells the dispute between the Russian and Italian revolutionaries Mikhail Bakunin and Giuseppe Mazzini, the image of the Grand Inquisitor created by Dostoevsky must inevitably join the “Bakuninist” line of argument in the European revolutionary movement, as for Schmitt Russian thought is a priori anarchist.


The German-American jurist, historian, and social thinker Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy who was in contact with Carl Schmitt until 1933 wrote about Dostoevsky in the context of the Russian Revolution and its new order (Wayne Cristaudo, Religion, Redemption and Revolution: The New Speech Thinking of Franz Rosenzweig and Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, 2012). “Dostoevsky extricates the types of men who will become the standard bearers of the Revolution. To read Dostoevsky is to read the psychic history of the Russian Revolution” (Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Out of Revolution, 1938, p. 91).

Rosenstock-Huessy created his theory of revolution after the First World War. The son of a Berlin banker from a Jewish family, as a young man Eugen chose to be baptized into the Lutheran Church. In 1912, at the age of 24, he became Germany’s youngest associate professor as a teacher of constitutional law and legal history at the University of Leipzig, where he worked with Rudolf Sohm. During the war, Rosenstock-Huessy was an officer in the German army at Verdun, and after demobilization he returned to academic and social activities. During the war itself, he became one of the organizers of the Patmos Circle, a group of intellectuals who gathered to reflect on the catastrophe of the world war. The Patmos Circle included, in addition to Rosenstock-Huessy, such well-known intellectuals as Hans and Rudolf Ehrenberg, Werner Picht, Victor von Weizsäcker, Leo Weismantel, Karl Barth, Martin Buber, and Franz Rosenzweig, among others. From 1915 to 1923, due to the crisis of European culture, the founders of this circle felt themselves to be living in a kind of internal immigration “on Patmos” (hence the publishing house they founded in 1919 was named Patmos).

Rosenstock-Huessy saw the Russian Revolution as the last possible European revolution, completing a single 900-year period of humanity’s quest in the second millennium. This period begins with the revolution of the Roman Catholic Church under the authority of the papacy against the power of monarchs and feudal overlords. Subsequently, the “chain of revolutions” was continued by the Reformation in Germany, the Puritan Revolution in England, the American Revolution, the French Revolution and, finally, the Russian Revolution. As a result, the Russian Revolution is part of the autobiography of every European.

Returning to Dostoevsky, it must be said that Rosenstock-Huessy emphasizes his dual identity as both a Russian and a European writer, who so virtuoso-like masters the Western European form of the novel that he cannot in any way be a symbol of “formlessness.” Russian novels became part of European culture in a special political period.

In the sixties, after the emancipation of the peasants, when the split between official Czarism and the Intelligentsia had become final, when the revolutionary youth vanished from the surface and sank into the people, the soul of old Little Russia began to expire. But some poets caught the sigh. Through their voice and through the atmosphere created in their writings, Russia could still breathe between 1870 and 1914. This literature, by being highly representative in a revolutionized world, became the contribution of Russia to the rest of the world. Without Dostoevsky and Tolstoi, Western Europe would not know what man really is. These Russian writers, using the Western forms of the novel, gave back to the West a knowledge of the human soul which makes all French, English and German literature wither in comparison (91).

The people Dostoevsky describes are not the heroes of Romanticism, distinguished by their special talents; on the contrary, “they are as dirty, as weak and as horrible as humanity itself, but they are as highly explosive, too. The homeless soul is the hero of Dostoevsky, the nomadic soul” (Ibid.).

For Rosenstock-Huessy, however, the “dynamite man” of Dostoevsky’s novels is not only a destroyer of law and order, living in an atmosphere of permanent scandal, but also a potential figure of the future. This is exactly the type of figure needed in the new circumstances of the twentieth century, when economic disasters and wars have become part of everyday life. “The revolutionary element will become a daily neighbour of our life, just as dynamite, the explosive invention of Nobel, became a blessing to contractors and the mining industry” (93).

The world of Dostoevsky’s novels is a world in which human passions, “the reverse of all our creative power… are faced without the fury of the moralist, or the indifference of the anatomist, but with a glowing passion of solidarity in our short-comings. The revolutionary pure and simple is bodied forth in these novels as an eternal form of mankind” (Ibid.).

Thus, Rosenstock-Huessy notes in the political idea of the Russian Revolution, as reflected in nineteenth-century Russian literature, precisely what Schmitt denies to the “Russians”: form. The Russian Revolution not only criticized the system of law created by the previous epoch (primarily the French Revolution, which in its drawn-out century-long cycle found a modus vivendi with the Anglo-American world), but also critically cleared the space for a new phase of world history: the planetary international organization of humanity.

Rosenstock-Huessy takes the contribution of the Catholic Church to the legal tradition of Europe extremely seriously, and in this he coincides with Schmitt. However, the Catholic idea is not the only one at the origin of the Western tradition of law, according to the German-American jurist. To no lesser extent, this tradition is the result of another religious revolution—that of Martin Luther—and the entire Protestant Reformation that followed. Therefore, those in the ranks of Hitler’s supporters who try to idealize the “Roman form” in modern times deny the achievements of the Reformation, and the Führer becomes for them a kind of “false pope.” The Russian situation, in which Dostoevsky’s heroes find themselves, is certainly different. Rosenstock-Huessy notes that the Russians were the first non-Roman (in the ecclesiastical sense) nation to launch a revolution of world significance, and that the Russian Church stands apart from and outside the Catholic-Protestant clash.

In Russia the Church had never conquered its liberty from the Empire. It had been petrified for a thousand years. Nothing had moved within the Church since the famous monasteries of Mount Athos were founded during the tenth century… These traditions were well-preserved in Russia. The Russian church, it is true, kept all the joy and delightful cheerfulness of ancient Christianity, and since there was less struggle with popes or reformers or puritans, it upheld the old tradition much better than Western Christendom. The childlike joy and glee which the members of the Russian and Greek Church feel and express at Easter are strange for a Roman Catholic, to say nothing of a Protestant (42).

Behind these words of a loyal Lutheran is not so much praise as a statement of fact, a clarification of the details of a historical drama. The German-American social thinker believes that the Russian church, “having lost to the empire,” is under attack by the Bolsheviks not because it poses a threat to them as part of the old order, the “ancien régime,” like the Catholic Church during the French Revolution. On the contrary, from the Bolshevik point of view, it is to be destroyed because, as it stands, it is a symbol of weakness, a symbol of peasant Russia, “the Church of the ‘moujik.’”

To the Russian Moujik the church gave one special instrument of communication with the majestic world of God and his Saints, an instrument well adapted to a far-off village in the country. In the lowlands of the Volga, earth is expanding and the individual is quite lost. Man is, in Russia, but a blade of grass. To this powerless man the church presented the Ikons, the painted images of the Saints… The Saints visited the poor as witnesses of a united Christianity far away, and as sponsors of a stream’ of power and strength going on from time eternal (42-43).

The Soviets must be against the Ikons because these reflect village economy… that fight is connected with the industrialization of Russia (44).

Rosenstock-Huessy refers to the church tradition of the Russians not as national, but as the preserved universal tradition of the first millennium: “In Russia in 1914, and in Russia only, the Christian Church was still what it had been everywhere in 900” (44).

Nationalism is a concept that for Russians is not connected with the traditional church, but rather with their openness to Europe in the 19th century: “capitalism presented itself to their eyes in the form of fervent nationalism… Furthermore, all the western territories of the Empire, Poland, the Baltic provinces, were more national than Russia itself” (66).

Returning to Dostoevsky, we can say that his ideal, which he puts into the mouth of Elder Zosima (“the state having become the church”) is not anarchy, but form, order, structure—a “church-like order,” as Rosenstock-Huessy calls it. And to the extent that this ideal is ecclesiastical, it is at the same time culturally a conduit of the classical culture of Roman antiquity. Dostoevsky’s political ideal, expressed through Elder Zosima, is not related to the nation-building of the “Russians;” it is universal, and yet it is an ideal of social and political form, not anarchy. The form of social life that Dostoevsky would like to see is as distanced as possible both from political romanticism and romantic nationalism in the style of J. G. Herder. Romantics might be defined as those who, in the age of the Great Reforms, would have liked to see the liberation of the individual in judicial and peasant reforms or in the mechanical destruction of czarism, and it is their dreams that Dostoevsky dispels in his works.

Thus, Rosenstock-Huessy, unlike Schmitt, does not ascribe anarchist sympathies and “anti-Roman temper” to Dostoevsky (and Russians in general). The German-American thinker scrutinizes the cultural preconditions of the Russian Revolution and concludes that many aspects of the anti-legalism of Russian authors are a criticism of the liberal-bourgeois law of Western European countries. The question of how law and religion will be treated in post-Bolshevik Russia for Rosenstock-Huessy remains open.


Having considered the juridical ideas of Carl Schmitt and Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, which they expressed in the form of comments or references to Dostoevsky and the images of his heroes in the 1920s-30s, the following conclusions can be drawn. Dostoevsky’s heroes are certainly a symbol of anti-juridical existence, both for Carl Schmitt and Rosenstock-Huessy, but their interpretation of this symbolic space differs. Schmitt insists on the anarchism inherent in Russian culture, but his attitude towards the image of the Grand Inquisitor is complex. He solidarizes with him, writes about his political correctness, but at the same time he believes that Dostoevsky, due to his attitude as an Orthodox Christian towards a Roman Catholic, was fundamentally wrong and biased in depicting the Spanish prelate as an object of satire in a scandalous situation. As a result of this, the Inquisitor cannot symbolize a solution to the problem of the authority of law. The problem with this image, Schmitt suggests, is that it is written by an author for whom Christianity is infinitely broad and formless.

Rosenstock-Huessy argues that Dostoevsky anticipated and described the human type of the Russian revolutionary. While remaining critical of Marxism, and to an even greater extent of Bolshevism, the Protestant thinker notes in the political idea of the Russian Revolution the positive content of social justice reforms. Dostoevsky’s heroes have “explosive power” and criticize the social and legal order of previous epochs (the French and English revolutions). However, this criticism, even passing through tragic errors, clears the space for a new cooperation of Christian forces in the context of a new universal planetary phase of human history.

Irina Borshch is a historian of legal thought. She is also a doctoral researcher at the Waldensian Faculty of Theology (Rome) and a senior fellow in the Ecclesiatical Institutions Research Laboratory at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University (Moscow). She holds a Doctorate in Missiology from the Pontifical Urbaniana University.

Featured: Elder Zosima, by Ilya Glazunov; painted in 1982.

“Ye Shall have No Other Society but This One!”: Neoliberal Theology

The theological character of the new ordo oeconomicus is clearly shown in its imposition of itself as an irrefutable and irredeemable horizon, as an objectively given totality, insuperable even if only at the symbolic level. It turns us all into followers of a cult without dogma, of a fetishistic incantation and of an omnipresent religion in everyday life, whose dominion extends “on Earth as it does in Heaven.”

We are confronted with commodities, stock market values or the inscrutable will of the market, as if they were emanations of the only surviving divinity: the fetishized economy. The result is an unprecedented vision of the world, which is smuggled in as aseptic, secular, anodyne and purely economic, but which in reality is a position of the highest ideological and religious content. It “unites” (religat, according to the original etymology of religio) all men on the planet to the omnipotence of the market as the sole guiding principle of the totality of fetishized social relations, like the Deus Mortalis referred to in the words of the Book of Job (41:24): non est potestas super terram quae comparetur ei.

That the economy represents the logical and chronological successor of the traditional monotheistic divinity is evidenced not only by the fact that its laws cannot be questioned, since they constitute the inexplicable with which to explain every reality of the market cosmos; it is also deduced from the very self-foundation that the economy began to operate, at least starting from the dialectical phase. Capitalist exchange presents itself, in effect, as a causa sui, according to the most typical prerogative of monotheistic divinity. Not only does it not need external foundations, of a political or philosophical character, but it must neutralize them, promoting the rejection of traditional faith, of contractualism as the political establishment of the social order, or of natural law as truth pre-existent to the self-instituted ordo oeconomicus.

From its abstract phase, the capitalist animal kingdom of the spirit aspires to eliminate the historical and social traces of its genesis, that is, its own condition of product of human action. It must be thought of as prior to any communal substance pre-existent to the network of mercantile exchanges (this is the social-historical deduction of the Lockean critique of the idea of substance), as without cause (this explains, on the social and political level, the Humean destructuring of the idea of cause) and, again, as ahistorically founded on free-trade human nature (the Smithian “invisible hand”). Like the monotheistic divinity, the market economy is not created and is, at the same time, at the origin of the creatio ex nihilo of the socio-political cosmos that considers it dominant as summum ens and as ens entium.

Postmodern men, disenchanted and already indifferent to the great narratives that have paved the way for Modernity, have ceased to believe in everything except the blind and mysterious force of the market, the only surviving Absolute. The market itself acts in its turn as the author of disenchantment with respect to any other value not superimposable or, in any case, not reabsorbable in the pantheon of the market, composed of exchange, consumption and the tenacious faith in the inevitability of economic fundamentalism conceived as the fatality of destiny. The continuous struggles of the secularist front against the monotheisms of tradition reveal here, once again, its misery: it is capital itself that sets aside any traditional form of religion other than that of the market.

Monotheism and polytheism coexist dialectically in the mystical figure of the divinized market, according to the aforementioned form of monocratic absolutism, which harbors within itself the kaleidoscopic plurality of lifestyles and unified customs functional to the sacred fury of unlimited valorization. Even in the common lexicon, as well as in the increasingly stereotyped lexicon of politics, whose sole purpose is to guarantee the non-existence of alternatives, the ordo oeconomicus presents the market in a form that is either singularized or pluralized. The market is pluralized when it offers possibilities of development that should not be missed (the so-called “market opportunities”) or, simply, when they are limited to carrying their existence significantly suprasensible as autonomous and divine entities.

In this, markets reveal themselves to be similar to Epicurus’ gods. Projected in the cosmic space of the interworld, hidden from human gaze and action, they exist self-referentially, indifferent to our needs and sufferings. Compared to them, we, inhabitants of the time of the fractured social bond, are just as many atoms that accidentally aggregate to disintegrate again in the vacuum of the circulation of commodities. And yet the market is once again reordered in the singular, when it assumes the status of a punitive divinity that, like the God of the Old Testament, imposes its inscrutable and non-negotiable will, giving rise to the figure of the imperatives of the market, before which politics and, more generally, human life, are called upon to submit passively.

In an integral rehabilitation of what traditional religions had condemned without appeal as vices (greed, lust, etc.), economic theology expresses itself in an unprecedented religious form that is purely cultic (of worship). It is devoid of dogmatics and theoretical justification, in harmony with its intimately nihilistic nature, because it is based on the unconnected extension of the commodity form to all spheres. That capitalism is a faith is clear from the unshakable confidence that continues to be placed in the market, despite the catastrophes and calamities it generates daily on a planetary scale. It is presented as if it were a God whose goodness cannot be doubted, following the typical recourse of all theodicy and its guarantee that, in the end, evil will not triumph.

Having attained its degree of absoluteness, capital today assumes in fully realized form the status of the new God to which it secretly aspired from its auroral gaze: we thus return to the religious spirit of capitalism of Protestant origin studied by Weber. To corroborate the status of unconditional faith that permeates our connection with the Nomos of the economy and also, in our daily life, the fact that, more and more often, it is not we who choose, but we happily and frivolously trust in brands—that is, in the almost divine guarantee of the griffe (the now disused slogan “in God we trust” gives way to the postmodern “in brand we trust”)—we count on the complicit and increasingly invasive dictatorship of advertising. The latter millimetrically disciplines our desires according to the dual and synergistic movement of its ever-renewed urgency and its diversion to the market: it is not permissible to desire anything that is virtually external to the society of the spectacle. The totalitarian character of a production apparatus that not only determines the socially required roles and attitudes, but also itself informs the needs and aspirations, the dreams and innermost desires of individuals, emerges once again.

The phenomenon of the gadget, that is, the aberration transformed into a commodity, can also be understood from a not-too-distant perspective. Gadgets such as advertising key chains—Debord suggested—not only reveal the umpteenth mystical abandonment to the transcendence of the commodity form: their meticulous collection fulfills a function similar to the accumulation of indulgences, constituting the proof for the adept of the cult of the commodity form of his own condition as a faithful of the religion of planetary alienation and of the creed of truth in money.

As Benjamin anticipated, in his prescient considerations of 1921 on Kapitalismus als Religion, the commodity faith, which satisfies the concerns and anxieties to which in the past the traditional religions responded and which are now increasingly abandoned, is articulated in the form of a religion of permanent worship. It knows no holidays inaccessible to economic transactions or consumerist rituals. It is a religion of daily life that shapes, according to its logic and its liturgy, each of our actions and each of our thoughts: from the moment we sign a check to the moment we make a bank transfer or even the moments when we wander through the temples of merchandise (supermarkets, shopping malls, outlets, etc.).

The religion of capital—which could perhaps be called “capitalism”—is a Deus absconditus (Isaiah 45:15), as can be inferred as soon as we consider that the market corresponds to the first religion that tends to conceal its own God in the very act with which it spasmodically celebrates its cult. It segregates in its own image and likeness an ethic of sacrifice and guilt, periodically immolating peoples on the altar of the market and its unfathomable lex divina. Guilt declines, in the religion of capital, as debit: and this, according to that semantic convergence which is symptomatically made explicit in the German word Schuld—which encompasses both meanings—and shows its operative unity in the capitalist landscape (where debt is also guilt).

The political lexicon is always revealing, for in it is sedimented the spirit of the times. The rhetoric of sacrifice is condensed today in theologomena, so commonplace that it goes unnoticed (“it is necessary to make sacrifices”, “the market demands it of us”, “the debt must be paid off,” “it is the will of Europe,” etc.). It is typical of religious thought: it is always governed by the idea of a salvation which, in the last analysis, does not depend entirely on us and which can, at most, be brought about by sacrificial rites whose most hidden meaning escapes human reason. The only possible economy of salvation today seems to be that which preaches the salvation of the economy, in the two senses of the sacrifice of all reality for the sake of maintaining the ordo oeconomicus and the reabsorption of all soteriological perspective in the immanent dynamics of the market.

The transcendental historical change introduced by the advent of the religion of capital is also made evident by the fact that salvation from the anguish and pain of existence is no longer pursued through the path of traditional religions, as fuga mundi. The only possible salvation, in times of the economic apocalypse and the “universal flood” of global liquidity, becomes unbridled consumption and, therefore, the loss of oneself in the meaninglessness of the world. It provokes that enslavement of the subject to the absolute power of the object which, as we shall see, constitutes the culmination of the reified hellish scenario, determining the oblivion of praxis. The cunning of production consists in generating the illusion that possible salvation resides in the commodity-object and, at the same time, in ensuring that this is characterized by a structural emptiness of substance: the commodity-object dissolves quickly, in the very act with which it is consumed.

Thus, in the order of the religion of capital, the illusion of salvation is punctually frustrated in the emptiness of the object and, at the same time, always re-emerges as itself, in a macabre dance of commodities that are extinguished in consumption only to re-emerge again and again. It is in this perverse circuit that lies the secret of the consumerist liturgy, as a constant search for salvation in an object that continually disappears in consumption and always reappears in circulation. The commodity-object, instead of saving, continues to generate ex novo the disastrous circularity it promised to break. For this reason, the enjoyment proposed by the discourse of the capitalist is unsatisfactory. Its unlimited pursuit gives life to the hell of the compulsive search for the new, which is always equal to itself, typical of the Kierkegaardian aesthetic phase to which Oedipal capitalism condemns humanity. Herein lies, incidentally, the “metonymic character of desire” (Massimo Recalcati), that is, its frenetic drive, in a fluctuation without peace, that leads humanity from one object to another, in the promise of a worldly salvation that, according to the theology of the market, always refers to the next commodity. The condition of lack is not safeguarded as constitutive of existence, but is continually generated as a ruse aimed at the unlimited reproduction of an ephemeral jouissance that is always the same.

The cunning of production exploits to its own advantage this tragic condition of Western man: pretending to want to cure it, it always renews it from scratch, exploiting it with a view to the circuit of self-referential valorization. The dictatorship of advertising is its finishing touch. The latter, through the artifice of fashion, determines the programmed obsolescence of the object, relentlessly declaring the expiration of the merchandise it praised until yesterday. In the words of Debord’s Société du spectacle: “both Stalin and outmoded products are denounced by those who imposed them” (§ 70); and, in this way, the new advertising lie disproves the preceding lie so that it can, in turn, be challenged by the subsequent one.

Diego Fusaro is professor of the History of Philosophy at the IASSP in Milan (Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies) where he is also scientific director. He is a scholar of the Philosophy of History, specializing in the thought of Fichte, Hegel, and Marx. His interest is oriented towards German idealism, its precursors (Spinoza) and its followers (Marx), with a particular emphasis on Italian thought (Gramsci or Gentile, among others). he is the author of many books, including Fichte and the Vocation of the IntellectualThe Place of Possibility: Toward a New Philosophy of Praxis, and Marx, again!: The Spectre Returns[This article appears courtesy of Posmodernia].

Featured: Collins St., 5 pm, by John Brack; painted in 1955.

Land and Sea: Globalization as a Fluid Realm

Uncontrolled and uncontrollable, the sea is the realm of immoderation and universal transience, of pirate nomadism and uncontainable wandering: “in the sea it is not possible to sow or even to dig straight lines. The ships that sail the sea leave no trace behind them.” The trails that are drawn in the sea disappear almost instantaneously, without being transferred to the future. They are, precisely for this reason, the symbol of the universal transience of the global liquid society.

Unlike terrestrial spaces, regulated and subject to geographical differences, to natural roots and borders, to rooted and territorialized communities, the open space of the sea is literally uninhabitable. It is crossed without the possibility of being able to inhabit it stably. It is, by its essence, the space of free and perpetual omnidirectional circulation, devoid of barriers and borders, of norms and limitations.

To cross the thalassic surfaces implies the abandonment of terrestrial stability and the acceptance of the possible dangers linked to the absence of solid ground and the eventual encounter with pirates who, in the same way as those of finance and the banking system, carry out raids in the absence of laws to control and limit them.

Without land there is neither political power nor frontier. In a word, there is no νόμος; that is why the thalassic expanse appears as the natural place of deregulation and, consequently, of that falsely libertarian anarchy which in reality secretly coincides with the uncontrolled domination of the strongest, with their freedom to preserve without restrictions their own self-interest.

Marine expansion, like the financial market of planetary flexibility, knows only waves, ebbs and flows, sudden storms and unexpected turbulence. “The trembling of the sea” (Purgatory, I, v. 117) offers no protection and, instead, exposes to the permanent risk of storms, shipwrecks and pirate boardings.

Indeed, it has been the financialization of capitalism that has played a decisive role in its post-bourgeois metamorphosis, which has led it to transit from the solid to the liquid element: finance, in fact, is volatile and unpredictable, the enemy of stability and rootedness.

The sea thus becomes an absolute metaphor for flexible and post-telluric production, aeriform for its immateriality and thalassic for its liquid movement and freed from the political power of the νόμος.

This is true not only for the liquid condition characteristic of cosmo-marketing, but also for the convergent process of deterritorialization—to take up a notion dear to Deleuze and Guattari—that distinguishes the epoch of planetary uprooting, set in motion by the expansion of the globalized market: the sea is perennially unstable in its incessant becoming and, at the same time, prevents any stabilizing action from being implemented. It forces those who venture into it to the perpetual dynamism of navigation and displacement, of nomadism and instability. It is the place of wandering and vagrancy, not of citizenship and communal territoriality.

Hegel already, anticipating Schmitt, had contrasted terrestrial rootedness, centered on the idea of frontier, to maritime limitlessness, where barriers are lacking and the dimension of schlechte Unendlichkeit, the “bad infinitude” of permanent mobility, prevails:

“The sea is something indeterminate, unlimited, infinite, and man, feeling himself in the midst of this infinity, is challenged to cross the boundary. The sea invites man to conquest and rapine, but also to profit and gain. The dry land, the river plain, fixes man to the ground, from which multiple obstacles arise. On the contrary, the sea pushes him beyond these limited circles.”

In Hegel’s perspective, the oceanic extension, open and uncontainable, corresponds to the infinite evil of excessive growth, to the rage to transcend all limits: it is the emblem of Modernity which, forgetting the Greek value of the just limit and of the sacred measure, always ventures recklessly “beyond these limited circles.”

It is in this sense that, in Elements of the Philosophy of Right, as an anticipation of the dichotomy that will be at the center of Schmitt’s reflection, Hegel maintains that “a condition for the principle of family life (Familienlebens) is the earth, a foundation and a stable ground” (§ 247); in contrast, “for industry” (für die Industrie) the “natural element” (natürliches Element) is the sea that opens towards infinity.

The telluric stability of the “ethical roots,” with its solid and solidary dimension, which sinks deep into the earth, draws a space of permanent enmity against the vacillating flow of the thalassic extension of the “system of needs,” where everything is relentlessly subjected to the uprooting of trade and bargaining, of competition and exchange of one and all.

Ethical roots aspire to regulate the anarchic space of the system of needs, subjecting it to the νόμος of communal control. Such a space, for its part, aims at the opposite goal: that is, at its own integral liberation from the power of the νόμος connected with the ethical roots. Moreover, it explicitly tends to produce the uprooting and, therefore, the devitalization of those roots, so that the self in its interest, and with it every human relation, are redefined according to the thalassic logic of unsociable sociability and piratical deregulation.

From this point of view, turbo-chrematistics globalization could rightly be understood for all intents and purposes as the triumph of the thalassic principle over the telluric one and, therefore, as the successful destruction of all surviving ethical rootedness: from that of family life to that of ethics linked to the State form, passing through the intermediate bodies of the population (from schools to trade unions and public health).

We know that the Greeks feared the sea as a mobile space of limitlessness and as a very concrete place of infinite openness, before which Achilles, their most powerful hero, wept: “bursting into tears, he sat far from his own, apart, on the shore of the whitish sea, gazing at the infinite expanse” (apeiron) (Iliad, I, 349-350).

Let us note that in the Homeric poems it is commonplace to associate the sea with the term apeiron, which literally means “without border,” “without limit” and consequently, by extension, “infinite,” “unlimited,” “indeterminate.”

The uniform space of the thalassic immensity, with its structural absence of borders, appears as the opposite not only of the mainland, where roots and ethical communities distributed over the territory and different in culture and traditions prevail; additionally the increasingly unequal “financial integration of the world” is producing the destruction of the properly geographical element, i.e., of the plurality of differentiated and unequal locations, according to what has been defined as the end of geography.

Oceanic expansion is also presented as the antithesis of that sea, limited and perimetered by the land, that is the Mediterranean, where limitlessness is literally “contained,” delimited, because it is enclosed within precise confines that allow, at least to a certain extent, the control and management of the territory.

Unlike the infinity of the ocean, the Mare Nostrum comes to be defined as a figure of that politicized economy that constitutes the essence of the ethical life thematized by Hegel. The Mediterranean then stands as the living image of a sea regulated and subjected to the power of the νόμος, because it is surrounded by land and, to a certain extent, controlled by the latter and subordinated to its demands.

Absent in Hegel, the clear conceptual differentiation between the bounded sea and the borderless ocean-like sea is found in Kant’s work. In The Metaphysics of Morals (1797) he distinguishes between mare clausum and mare liberum.

The former is the sea close to the land, subject to the control of the latter and defensible “as far as the guns that guard the shore can reach.” It is, so to speak, a regulated and disciplined sea, subject to the jurisdiction of the continent and controllable by the political force that governs it.

Such is the essence, as we have recalled, of the Mediterranean, the closed and limited Mare Nostrum, open to plurality and difference, a fertile, pluralistic and multicultural space—as Braudel has exemplarily shown—of the origin and gestation of civilizations (Greeks and Romans, Christians and Muslims).

Thus, in Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, the mare clausum of the Mediterranean is celebrated as the axis of Weltgeschichte, as the space for the flowering of the greatest civilizations that have traversed the history of the human race:

“All the great states of ancient history rest around this navel of the Earth. It is here that Greece, the brightest point of history, is located. In Syria is Jerusalem, the center of Judaism and Christianity. To the southeast of it are Mecca and Medina, cradles of Islam. To the west lie Delphi and Athens, and further west Rome and Carthage; and so to the south Alexandria, which is even more central than Constantinople, where the spiritual fusion of East and West is completed. The Mediterranean is, then, the heart of the Old World, being its motor, its condition of life.”

The mare liberum, on the other hand, is the sea free of controls, indefensible and physiologically uninhabitable: as Kant points out, “no domicile is possible in the open sea” or, we would say, no citizenship. The denied territoriality is accompanied by the thalassic wandering, which turns the navigator into mobilis in mobili.

And also according to this hermeneutic key, which links illimited and mare liberum together, the story of Dante’s Odysseus can be understood: “I launched myself toward the open high seas,” Odysseus declares in the presence of the Florentine poet, confessing his own guilt, which is, in all evidence, a guilt of ὕβϱις, derived from the surpassing of the just limit.

It is not by chance that Dante’s Inferno imagines the death of Odysseus when he sets out “toward the high open sea,” venturing on a voyage impossible because it leads toward the limitless. The Dantesque is one of the possible readings, if we consider that, for example, Elias Canetti of The Tongue Set Free (1977) reads the character of Odysseus in the opposite key, that is, as a figure of diminution and measure, as could be deduced from the gesture with which the hero of Ithaca makes himself “nobody” (οὐδείς) in order to defeat the Cyclops.

Because of its uncontrolled and uncontrollable, unregulated and unregulable nature, the open sea of the oceanic type gives rise to a sort of bellum omnium contra omnes of the aquatic type: by virtue of the absence of political regulation, the open sea remains a space attributable to the logic of status naturae.

It is, therefore, the sign of post-telluric anomie, where only the anarchic logic of piracy can prevail, that is, the status naturae that the globalist animal kingdom of the Spirit has generated by dissolving the telluric framework of ius publicum europaeum.

On the maritime surface, just as on the horizon of the commercial anarchy of the de-sovereignized market, the logic of the strongest prevails once again: that is, the possibility for the latter to “compete” freely and without restrictions with the weaker, according to the rule of free trade in free seas. A quintessential expression of the anomic energy of thalassic extension, the maritime conflict is ab origine unlimited and exempted from legal obligations.

As Schmitt has specified, “the sea does not constitute a state territory,” it is subtracted from the legal order and from the jurisdictions guaranteed by the political: its extension is intrinsically depoliticized and open, and “is, therefore, free from any type of spatial authority of the State.” The thalassic extension appears, then, as the space taken away from state power and its fundamental functions, from law to citizenship.

“The maritime realm knows no borders, no obligations, no rights, no control. It is presented as the unregulated space par excellence, as the locus naturalis of pirates, corsairs and all those who recognize no law other than that of the strongest: precisely because ‘no law applies at sea,’ it is inaccessible to law and human order, forming the space for a free confrontation of forces.”

The boundless vastness of the open sea “constitutes a free zone of free predation. Here the privateer, the pirate, can exercise his evil trade with a good conscience” and, above all, without legal impediments. Perhaps it is also from this perspective that the text composed by Hugo Grotius in 1609, programmatically entitled, Mare liberum and directed against English monopolistic pretensions, can be explained.

Indeed, as we know, the capitalist economy, which begins to develop also in the Mediterranean capital of Genoa, arises mainly in the oceanic spaces of the “English ports” evoked by Bloch, where the thalassic dimension (mare clausum) is overcome and we venture into the oceanic (mare liberum) in search of an unlimited expansion of profits. In the words of Carl Schmitt in his Land and Sea:

“England became the queen of the sea, and around her maritime dominion over the entire globe she built a British empire spread over every continent. The English world thought in terms of footholds and lines of communication… The age of free trade was also the age of the free display of England’s industrial and economic superiority. Free seas and free world markets were united in an idea of freedom of which only England could be the bearer and the guardian.”

Like the navigator, at an unprecedented distance from the mainland and at the mercy of storms, the precarious man navigates “by eye” between drifts and shipwrecks, be they labor or existential, in what, with Guicciardini, we could rightly characterize as “a sea agitated by the winds.”
Uprooted and subjected to the gales that constantly batter the sea far from coastal protections, the cybernaut of thalassic globalization is projected into a dimension of constant insecurity and piratical competitiveness, which will strike at the very possibility of his existence. The latter does not adopt solid and stable forms, always fluctuating between the waves of the market, on which it has been transformed into a dependent variable.

In the framework of the “vulnerable society,” it is the markets, like the sea for the cybernaut, that decide the survival of the inhabitant of the thalassic late-modernity, deprived of any communal roots and of any frontier that could protect him and provide him with a certain stability in his daily life.

Diego Fusaro is professor of the History of Philosophy at the IASSP in Milan (Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies) where he is also scientific director. He is a scholar of the Philosophy of History, specializing in the thought of Fichte, Hegel, and Marx. His interest is oriented towards German idealism, its precursors (Spinoza) and its followers (Marx), with a particular emphasis on Italian thought (Gramsci or Gentile, among others). he is the author of many books, including Fichte and the Vocation of the IntellectualThe Place of Possibility: Toward a New Philosophy of Praxis, and Marx, again!: The Spectre Returns[This article appears courtesy of Posmodernia].

Featured: Sail through Rough Seas, by Henry Moore, no date.

Of Fictions and Lies

My dog—our dog, my wife’s and mine, although he is more hers than mine—besides being a dog has the misfortune of being called Claudio (and hereinafter Claudio). As I was saying, Claudio spends about seventeen or eighteen hours a day in a lethargic state, something normal in animals of his species, and he also dreams. We know this because from time to time he starts barking in his sleep, throwing urgent but muffled, half-drowned and rather high-pitched barks while slightly moving his front legs as if he were galloping or defending himself from dreamlike enemies. Then he wakes up and the bad time passes.

What is reasonable, I think, is to think that Claudio, in his psychological, mental and cerebral condition of a canine entity, does not distinguish the world of dreams from the realm of the real; for him, passing from dream to wakefulness is an inconsequential shift, like a blink of an eye or something, without further break in the only category of the factual perceptible that he knows and distinguishes. In fact, for him, as for many people, the perception of the environment supposes everything, it is integrated into his vital experience without distinctions of rank established by situational opposition; in short, what is dreamed is as real as what is lived; what is felt and integrated into his world of sapiential references during sleep is as important as the same elements developed in the waking state. This leads to two conclusions that I find disturbing. The first one: my wife and I are a small and non-determining part of Claudio’s life; and the second one: his main nucleus of knowledge is based on the improbable and vague sphere of dreaming. Thus, I can conclude and I conclude by affirming that the good Claudio, in his transit through the real shores of existence, lives a life founded on false learning, illusory experiences and misplaced knowledge. In spite of which he loves us very much, something to be thankful for.

Naturally, if we transfer these observations to human behavior, we will reach identical conclusions. We leave aside, of course, the descriptive erudition of those anthropologists who enlighten us about lost tribes in the Amazon whose members, aborigines in an adamic state, believe that the territory of dreams is the academy of the jungle and the great temple of truth in which the gods speak to them and dictate to them about what is good and what is bad, the future that suits them, the cosmic sense of the past and the joys and sorrows of their ancestors, who contemplate the tribe’s wanderings in this world and celebrate or grieve for them, as they go. All this we take for granted. It is necessary to look for another empire of the unreal that is not the oneiric to find those spheres of the fictitious that nourish solid ideologies in so many and so many people who live like the faithful Claudio—subject to the powerful law of the imaginary, the fiction turned into obligatory dictate and in a manual of use for daily conduct. These spheres cannot but be concentrated in the immense map of ideologies, the conceptions of the world structured on granite moral conceptions or, vice versa and with equal generating force, the systematic absence of categorizations on what is ethical or convenient—some call it relativism, as others might call it, the annihilation of the sense of reality. There are people who go through life “with the upfront,” that is, with their “principles” like Attila’s horse; and others who trust everything to karma, to “I’ll be seeing you” and to sit at the door of the house to watch the corpse of the enemy pass by, etc.

Bubble makes bubble. That is the question that almost always determines our positions with respect to measurable reality based on immediate perception. The facts themselves have a minor—relative—importance; what matters is, in the first place, to what extent they fit in our emotional acceptance system; then the interpretation we make of them prevails and how they are classified in our scale of what is acceptable, from the very adequate to the extraordinarily reprehensible. This filtering of the factual concludes with the relevance of our reaction, from indifference to outburst, passing of course through the demonstrated capacity of negotiation that we are capable of maintaining with ourselves to convince ourselves of the future goodness of the present displeasure, the lesser evil and other sentimental alibis with which we human beings conform and adapt to practically everything.

Of course, if everyone does the same thing and we all establish the same system of relating to the world “outside the bubble,” then any position taken on any controversy seems legitimate. Indeed, it is. Everyone has the right to err as they please and no one is entitled to deny others their free will in this regard. What is not valid is deceit. Claudius cannot pretend to sleep and bark while pretending to sleep; it is no good to say that we dreamt that we threw ourselves off a cliff into the sea and fell into the realm of the mermaids and, therefore, in the real world we have to be named king of the mermaids. It is not worth arguing that the same deception is, in itself, an inalienable right—the right to change one’s mind. It is not a question of rights or principles but of verisimilitude—if yesterday’s certainties must be changed because circumstances have changed, then those certainties were worthless; it is logical: ideas that only serve when nothing happens are not ideas properly speaking but figurations, more or less well-intentioned, more or less interested conjectures. That is to say—a useless reverie transposed to the world of truth remains ob-scene—outside the scene—outside dream and reality, in the sterile territory soaked with the emptiness of the lie. And the lie, however it is said and however it is painted, will serve for many things but it is worthless. The theorist said that a lie is “a fiction whose verisimilitude is bankrupt and which contributes nothing to reality;” on the contrary, it debases it. And in the end, for what but to end up in nothing. For nothing.

José Vicente Pascual is a writer and novelist, living in Madrid. La Hermandad de la Nieve (Brotherhood of the Snow) is his latest work of historical narrative. This articles appears through the kind courtesy of Posmodernia.

Featured: Bridge in London, by Mstislav Dobuzhinsky; painted in 1908.