Come, Light

Something extraordinary happened one morning in December 2020.

When he got up the night was still lingering in the sky. London plane trees, so doleful in the rain, were still dripping. The ground below was piled thick with soggy leaves, and a dull foreboding hung in the air.

Shards of streetlights shone on the wet asphalt. It looked as though the rain was about to end.

The day before Christmas in London in the year of the pandemic, Shifa thought to himself. The year of sorrow and dejection. The preceding few days things had gotten even gloomier. Every now and then an ambulance would dart through the deserted streets with sirens wailing. Hospitals were over-stretched, the news said, and the city cemeteries were just about full.

He had been reading Daniel Defoe’s account of the bubonic plague that scourged the city in 1665. About cartloads of dead being dumped into mass graves and about some, still alive, screaming and clawing out of the shallow pits. A brutal record of the fright, the deaths, the stench, the greed, and of the evil lurking in men as the pestilence ravaged the city.

A gnawing awareness of a similar agony—of having seen the horror and of a solemnity of being still alive—rippled through’s Shifa’s mind. The old plague lay mingled with the spectre of the present.

The weather too had been miserable. For weeks torrents of rain whipped up by gusty winds had been blighting the country, causing severe flooding in places. The lockdown had made everyone forget that a year consisted of four seasons. That there were nights and days of varying lengths and temperatures. That the once familiar outdoor still displayed facets of beauty and changing vistas.

Sickness, convalescence, separation across continents. Misery had struck his family too as it had so many others. There would be no Christmas celebration this year.

It was Thursday, the day of luminous mysteries. Shifa took out his rosary and sat down facing the charcoal sky. Slowly his eyelids closed.

By the time he finished the third decade Shifa had sunk into a rhythm of repetition. Praying the rosary for him sometimes turned into an unconscious and vague ritual. This morning, however, he was curiously alert as he came to the fourth decade. The mystery of the transfiguration. With blinkered eyes he tried to imagine how the illumined face of the teacher might have looked like to the apostles assembled on the bald mountain that night.

It was then that he was shaken by the irony. To meditate on a body made up of blood, flesh, and bones transforming itself into light—on a day like this? How could one contemplate light when the earth was awash in blinding darkness?

With eyes shut he whispered all this to himself. Drowned earth. Denuded trees, barren gardens, empty streets. Overhead a pouring sky. Wake up. Shed off your stupor.

Fingers still clasping the beads Shifa opened his eyes, and an unearthly beauty greeted him. The sun had pierced through the clouds, and a pale golden hue lay diffuse in the glistening air. Bewitched, he watched a curtain of liquid, diaphanous gold silently settling on grey, red, and beige buildings.

The leafless skeleton of the majestic tree of paradise across the window stood sheathed in a preternatural luster.

This was transfiguration, it occurred to him. Light had entered the darkness, gently spreading its silken luminosity. As it increased in brightness, the glow turned the earth itself into its glory. It appeared as though the world was being consecrated by an act of benediction promising the return of hope to a saddened world.

Ezekiel had once encountered the glory of God. “As the appearance of the rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day,” said the prophet, “so was the appearance of the surrounding radiance.” And he continued, “Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face.” (Ezekiel 1:28).

What a mystery light is!

“It is a universal, firmly-held opinion, the very voice of nature,” wrote Marsilio Ficino in 1493, “that nothing is more beautiful to behold, nothing more lovable, nothing more astonishing than light.”

Scientists say about 80% of our experiences are visual. The eye’s response to light constitutes our external reality and thus determines our interactions with the world. Yet “What is light?” never elicits a simple answer, writes Glenn Stark in the Encyclopedia Britannica, because light is “experienced, explored, and exploited” in so many contexts that its literal meaning is inextricable from the metaphorical.

The English language is especially rich with its nuances. The sun lets us see the world and helps us know it. The mind enlightens us with understanding. Visions and inspiration help us gain insight.

Even a scientist, while observing light’s nature (its impacts and interactions with objects), must walk a tightrope between the opposite properties of light: particles and waves. Others – theologians, poets, philosophers – often imagine light in paradoxes.

In art, two painters rarely approach it from similar angles, even though what they paint mostly is light. Renaissance master Vincenzo Catena (“Saint Jerome in his study”) painted it coming directly from its source, the sun, illuminating the world as it did the saint in his study. For both the saint and the painter, the direct trajectory of light, increasing in brightness until it attained the perfect brilliance and clarity, emanated from God, its true origin. For George Seurat, on the other hand, the interplay of tiny contrasting strokes of colours (or particles) nearly invisible to the naked eye, made up the lustrous domain of light that enwrapped objects and things. The source of light for him was in the environs.

So, what is light?

The illumination we encounter as visible light is the effect on our environment of the sun’s radiation, or electromagnetic spectrum, as science calls it. This spectrum is made up of waves of energy the star dissipates over the universe continuously. On one end of the spectrum pulsate immensely destructive gamma rays with less than an atom of space between waves; on the other undulate radio waves that have thousands of miles of distance between crests.

All this radiation is hostile to life. Yet somewhere near the middle of its length is a tiny portion (less than 1%) of the spectrum that becomes supremely benign.

It is bizarre why this minuscule segment of deadly radiation should soften itself, but it does. As it enters the earth’s atmosphere the electromagnetic spectrum attains the wavelength of the extremely narrow range of 0.3 to 14 microns (a micron is a millionth of a meter). This range, writes author and scientist James Le Fanu in “Here comes the all-powerful sun,” is so narrow within the entire spectrum that, by analogy, it takes up just “a few seconds” in a timespan 100 million times longer than the 4.6 billion years since the Big Bang, or the beginning of our solar system.

As our planet wakes up to greet the sun in the morning, an incredibly small amount of radiation is extracted, as if by some invisible hands, from the massive body of deadly destruction and turned gently into life-generating munificence.

Michelangelo’s “Separation of Light from Darkness” in the Sistine Chapel celebrates this drama as narrated in Genesis 1:2-3. We see a colossal God separating swirling white gases from surrounding darkness with his enormous, sinewy hands, thus initiating creation. It brings to memory Isaiah’s words: it is God who “forms the light and creates darkness” (45:7).

From this moment on, a new story more breathtaking than an Arabian tale begins to take shape.

During those few seconds that it touches the sleepy earth, the radiation turns itself into visible light and its companion heat, setting off the cycle of life. Working in tandem with the earth’s orbit, its daily turning on the axis, and the planet’s tilt towards the sun, light creates a unique orchestra by arranging time’s endless permutations of varying lengths of night and day.

Fecundity follows. Light translates time into seasons of tilling, growing, and harvesting. Into seasons of courtship, nesting, and raising fledglings. Light makes life possible and ensures that the mystery continues. For the sake of the princess Scheherazade and the king inside the palace as well as for the ladybug in the garden.

The farmer casts the seed in the ground, the gospel tells us, but “knows not how the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.” (Mark 4:28). It is the benevolent hand of light that waves the magic wand.

The spectacle carries on. The beam that descends on treetops, mountain peaks, oceans and rivers also lights up fireworks in our brains. Electrical nerve impulses generated by the reflected light tell our brains how to detect objects, colours, shapes, dimensions, and textures. We acknowledge, differentiate, classify, and interpret images by comparing them with old images stored in our memories.

As the light creates sparkles and ripples on a stream or paints the wings of a butterfly it is only the human eye that can capture this panorama. Through the lenses of our eyes, only we can witness the rainbow of the seven hues.

There is more.

Light keeps time and measures distance in the universe. Whether fathoming the vastness of space or reading the faces of our digital devices, we return to light to get our bearing. Scientists measure the distance of galaxies, from us and among themselves, by the speed of light. And when an object acquires the speed of light, they say, it becomes infinite.

There is an instructive episode in the Venerable Bede’s history of English kings and churches.

A courtier in the Anglo-Saxon king Edwin’s castle compares the life of a man to the swift flight of a sparrow through the king’s banquet hall on a winter night. The king sits at supper with friends and family while the fire blazes and the storms rage abroad. The sparrow flies in at one door and immediately out at another. While the bird is within the warm hall, he is safe from the wintry tempest, but then he vanishes out of everybody’s sight, passing from winter to winter again.

“Such is the life of man,” says the courtier to the king, “appearing for a little while in the well-lit and warm banquet hall, but what follows or what went before we know nothing at all.”

Like Bede’s sparrow flitting through the warm hall on a wintry night, light, traveling at a speed of 300,000 km a second takes a little over eight minutes to traverse ninety-two million miles before reaching the earth, the banquet hall of life.

Unlike the sparrow, however, this radiant visitor quickens life, clothes nature, replenishes granaries and then leaves everything behind. Back into the vast endlessness. Whence it comes we know but where it goes in the end, we do not.

The first act of God narrated in the Bible was the creation of light. “Let there be light’ said God, ‘and there was light” (Genesis 1:3).

This light, created “when the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while the Spirit of God swept over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2), became the icon of divinity in human imagination. This surreal picture of the beginning has been the enduring anchor for our physical and moral understanding of the world as well as of our relationships with it.

Following the gospels, apostolic narratives and patristic traditions, Christian theology has from its inception understood the transfiguration of Jesus to be the revelation of the glory of God. The accounts appearing in Matthew, Mark and Luke are remarkable: “There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.” “There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them,” and “As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.” Later, Peter spoke of having been an eyewitness of Christ’s “magnificence” (2 Peter 1: 16-18). In his gospel as well as in the first epistle, John described God as light.

The significance of these accounts lies primarily in the transcendental impact of light. The apostles do not merely refer to their visual susceptibility; they allude to the event’s transformative impact. St Paul articulates this transformation most eloquently in his letter to the Ephesians: “But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light” (5:13).

One of the earliest Church fathers, Saint Irenaeus, also described the transfiguration by establishing a correspondence between the glory of God, the vision of God and the life of man. “[T]he glory of God is a live human being, and a truly human life is the vision of God.”

Light perceived in this way can lead to a sea-change in the heart of a man. It may rekindle a novel awareness of God; it may even lead to an experience comparable to Saul’s on the road to Damascus. After all, he was blinded by intense light.

Life transcendent. Is that not what transfiguration is? What else can turn an inert possibility into a living luminescence, if not light?


Pius Manutius is a husband, father, and traveler.


Featured image , “The Penitent Magdalen,” by Georges de La Tour, painted ca. 1640.

Ever More Fractures

Without being pessimistic, we all feel that we are living in a new and difficult period, with serious threats on the horizon that create a climate of uncertainty and anxiety. And if the health crisis contributes to this climate, it is neither the origin nor the main reason. Rather, it seems to me, this reason is rather to be sought in the worrying fact that everywhere divisions increase, fractures grow; to the point that what constitutes the nation, a community welded by a history, a religion, a culture and values—fruit of a long civilization—is bursting apart under the blows of an individualism which managed to erase the very notion of the good (so that each one must be free to determine “his” good) and thus necessarily of the common good.

Four Major Fractures

Without being exhaustive, I would cite four major fractures to illustrate my point, all of which contribute in one way or another to the atmosphere of existential insecurity that is developing.

1. The social fractures that draw two very unequal France: The one that benefits from globalization—the “France of the top” or the Anywhere which shamelessly sells off the sovereignty of the nation; and the one that suffers from it—the “peripheral France” or the Somewhere, which has formed the large battalions of the Yellow Vests, and bolsters one part of the “anti-vaccine passport” movement.

2. The anthropological fractures that have proliferated ever since the modern philosophies of deconstruction ousted the classical vision of man as a created being endowed with a nature of his own that cannot be denied or violated without serious damage, with a clear limit set by natural law. The first step was the separation between fertility and sexuality, brought about by the pill, which contributed to putting all forms of sexuality on the same level and allowed, afterwards, to think of fertility outside sexuality. In this deadly logic, after having trivialized abortion, we have come to legitimize “marriage” between people of the same sex, then to deny sexual difference and to allow the manufacture of children as simple products, and this is far from over.

3. The demographic divide, resulting from a drop in the birth rate, in France as in all Western countries, compensated in the early 1970s by labor immigration, which quickly turned into a massive immigration that was never controlled, bringing in large Muslim minorities and a number of insurmountable problems of assimilation, education, social distress, delinquency, etc. Islam has thus formed expanding communitarian zones—the “lost territories of the Republic”—where French law no longer penetrates.

4. The ecological divide: Not a week goes by without the announcement of “climate chaos,” as if the coming “catastrophe” were real. That there is an ecological emergency is obvious. But is it by infantilizing the population, by playing on fear with binary and guilt-inducing speeches that we are really going to move things forward?

Division Everywhere

Oppositions and divisions have always existed and are even consubstantial to the functioning of a democracy. In the past, during the “Cold War,” these were not small when they concerned the “choice of society” between a Marxist left-leaning towards the Soviet Union and a liberal right close to the United States. However, the differences remained mainly confined to political aspects. Today, they have invaded all areas. There is nothing that cannot be contested and questioned: Everything has become a reason for quarrelling; almost nothing is stable and acquired anymore. There is no longer a common basis for a peaceful life in society. History, religion, culture, the principles that forged our Christian civilization and more particularly the nation of France with its vision of man, all this is questioned, rejected or dismissed (by “wokism,” for example), remnants of an obscurantist past that must be quickly forgotten.

From such a basis, divisions and fractures are inevitable and are bound to multiply. The logical outcome of such an evolution is either civil war or the establishment of a directive regime determined to impose its views by marginalizing or silencing the recalcitrant.

Is this not the path we are already on? Denouncing abortion or “marriage for all,” crucial “societal” subjects that should be at the heart of the debate of ideas, is more and more akin to the crime of opinion, as we saw in August with the showing of the film Unplanned. It is the same for all the “advances” that methodically deconstruct man. Thus, the field of freedom of expression is gradually being restricted as society disintegrates, a harbinger of a disturbing evolution.

In this serious context, Christians have a primordial role to play, certainly made difficult by the deep dechristianization and their own divisions, but facilitated by the supernatural hope that they carry within them.


Christophe Geffroy publishes the journal La Nef, through whose kind assistance we are publishing this article.


The featured image shows an oil on panel portrait by Nadine Callebaut.

Long Live the Dead!

The dead, like old coins, are the currency that are out of circulation. Cemeteries, the places where graves enshrine their bones, are the sack of Hades. By the rules of nature inscribed in biology, the dead are replaced by new generations which, one day, will themselves be replaced by a new series, minted by future generations.

This biological rule was applied to the life of human societies by Edmund Burke who, in his Reflections on the Revolution in France, defined society as a contract between the dead, the living and the unborn – “a clause in the great primaeval contract of eternal society, linking the lower with the higher natures, connecting the visible and the invisible world, according to a fixed compact sanctioned by the inviolable oath which holds all physical and all moral natures.” By saying that the goal of historical writing is to preserve great human deeds from falling into oblivion, the Greek historian Thucydides gave us another insight – memory is the glue with which the past and future are held together. T.S. Eliot was not far from Burke when he wrote:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.
Other echoes
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?
Hans (Jan) Collaert, Christ and the Robbers, ca. 1570.

To conservatives, the dead are very much alive. Conservatives carry the memory of the dead and their achievements. It is a memory filled with words and ideas of writers, poets, thinkers; with images created by sculptors and painters; and with sounds from composers of music. The words and ideas of the dead are never rendered obsolete or superseded. To the conservative, they resound in the present with the same vitality they had when they were first uttered decades or centuries ago. Homer, Sappho, Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides, Virgil, Dante, and others are as much our contemporaries as they were the contemporaries of those who knew them personally.

Burial sites are a great proof of this; and what they look like is also a reflection of who we were and are. The Pere Lachaise and Montmartre cemeteries in Paris are probably the most famous necropoleis of the Western world. But first and foremost, they are monuments of France’s national history and French greatness. You find there many famous French cultural figures you’ve heard of, or have studied in school. Alfred de Musset, Balzac, Molière, Racine, Abelard and Héloise, several of Napoleon’s marshals, or foreigners, such as Oscar Wilde and Chopin. (On November 1st, lovers of Chopin’s music place a boombox on his grave which plays his compositions.) And, of course, Jim Morrison!

It may sound strange that Italians, who outnumber all Western nations in artistic genius, do not have a cemetery like Pere Lachaise. The reason is of historical – the lack of a central government (which came about only in 19th century with the unification by Garibaldi), and the fact that no single Italian city came to fully dominate others, like Paris did in France – which explains why the bones of famous Italians are scattered all over the country, with several in the Church of Santa Croce and in the cloister in Florence. Dante is in Ravenna. Rafael and the late 17th-century music composer Corelli are in Rome, in the Pantheon with the kings of Italy. Boccaccio is buried in the small Tuscan town of Certaldo. Petrarch lies in the town of Arquà, not far from Padua. Verdi is in Milan; and Garibaldi on the island of Caprera. The dictator Mussolini is in the small town of Predappio, where he was born. Finally, even though the tomb of Julius Caesar does not exist, contemporary Romans lay flowers by his statue in Rome.

Germany, too, consisted of principalities, and the fate of the German dead is like that of the Italians. One would look in vain for a cemetery in Berlin for famous Germans. However, if you are a student of philosophy, you can place a lit candle on the grave of Hegel and his wife, which is right next to Fichte and his wife. Literature students can do the same on Bertolt Brecht’s grave.

Betrand Defehrt, after Andreas Versalius, Anatomical Study – Skeleton. Hand-colored Engraving, ca; 1770.

There are also special cemeteries for kings, such as, the St. Denis Abbey near Paris, or Wawel cathedral in Krakow. Other nations have similar places. And, of course, the Vatican, where the Popes rest.
Yet politics (the existence or non-existence of central government and the dominance of one city over the rest) is not the only factor that has had influence on what, where, and how the dead rest. Walking through cemeteries, we realize how different they are.

The characteristic thing about most American cemeteries is that they look like grass fields with vertical tombstones, between which the maintenance man drives a lawnmower, making it look “good.” Such design goes beyond what we might suspect is a matter of American efficiency that makes maintenance of cemeteries easier. Just like in all aspects of visual arts, there is a significant difference between the Catholic and Protestant mentalities and their respective sense of aesthetics. While simple tombstones reflect Protestant austerity, Neo-Gothic or Classical Greco-Roman styled temples are characteristic of Catholic cemeteries – though Lafayette Cemetery in New Orleans (a former French colony), Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia, and a few others, mainly in LA and San Francisco, speak the language of Catholic aesthetics in Protestant America.

Here is another detail which one should not bypass. Walking through the cities and towns of Protestant countries, especially in the US, we notice small cemeteries near churches, close to the main streets, something you hardly ever see in Europe, unless you happen to be in the UK. The reason is simple – these churches are or used to be denominational – Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Anglican, Lutheran, Adventist, etc. – and no single cemetery was supposed to belonged to the whole population united by the same confession. The exception to this rule in Catholic countries was the split between the Christian and the Jews who had their own burial places, which since the beginning of the 19th century were situated outside the city limits. As the cities grew and expanded, today they are within the city proper, but still form separate enclaves.

Over a decade ago, my daughter and I flew from Baltimore to Krakow where I was born. We stayed with my friends who happened to live near a cemetery. Each day we would walk through it. What was unusual for us — visitors from the New World — was that there were lots of flowers. It was May and I could not think of any holiday. “Daddy,” my daughter, who was in seventh grade at the time, said, “your people love the dead.”

Rakowicki Cemetery, Krakow, Poland.

“My people” sounded strange, but she was right. We visited several cemeteries in Baltimore as part of her art history education, looking at designs on tombstones, but we did not see any flowers or candles. “My people” love the dead, but it is not just a Polish predilection; and visiting loved ones who passed away is very much alive in other Catholic countries as well. All Saints’ Day is exceptional and most festive. According to historians, the first celebrations of All Saints’ Day took place in the fourth century, around the Feast of the Lemures on May 13th. November 1st, the day we celebrate now, goes back to the seventh century, when Pope Gregory III founded a repository for the relics of all the apostles, martyrs, and saints.

All Saints’ Day is not merely a celebration of the memory of great men and saints. First and foremost, it is a day when we face the dead members of our own families. As we stand by the grave, we experience their painful absence in our lives. The quiet that fills our minds, as we stand there, is their voice that reminds us that we are mortal; that we too, one day, will rest there. We can only hope that we will not be entirely forgotten by our own family; and that at least once a year, someone will visit us to light a candle and lay a chrysanthemum (the flower associated with this day) in memory of us.

Those of us who happen to live in the New World, optimistic and future-oriented, are often oblivious to what cemeteries remind us of – death and the connection to the past. Most cemeteries in big American cities and towns look like they have been deserted for decades. The tombstones stand higgledy-piggledy like scarecrows; the epitaphs badly eroded. It is real-estate, whose inhabitants have no identify. Not many people have visited them for a long time; and over time they have deteriorated. The reason for this is, partly, the mobility of American society; probably unprecedented in world history. In Europe, it is still the case that you die in the same place where you were born; and if you happen to live in a different city, you are close enough to travel to see the family graves.

There is another reason, however. All Saints’ Day, November 1st, like a name day, is part of the Catholic calendar, and because 365 days could not include all the names of the saints, one needed to establish one day to honor them. The practice originated in the Middle Ages, to commemorate the martyrs; and each saint falls on one day of the year. If your name happens to be Patrick, your name day is March 17th. The lavishly celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in the US is one of those Catholic imports to Protestant America. However, as the Reformation did away with the cult of the saints, the name day and All Saints’ Day ceased to be celebrated in most Protestant countries as well.

Now that religious differences between Protestant denominations on the one hand and Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox on the other are, at best, a matter of the past, and being Jewish or Christian matters less than ever before, it is not religious zeal that makes cemeteries look different. It is our perception of life and death. In his essay “Modernity on Endless Trial,” Leszek Kolakowski put his finger on the problem in a way characteristic of his style of thinking:

“The taboo regarding respect for the bodies of the dead seems to be a candidate for extinction, and although the technique of transplanting organs has saved many lives and will doubtlessly save many more, I find it difficult not to feel sympathy for people who anticipate with horror a world in which dead bodies will be no more than a store of parts for the living or raw material for various industrial purposes; perhaps respect for the dead and for the living –and for life itself – are inseparable. Various traditional human bonds which make communal life possible, and without which our existence would be regarded only by greed and fear, are not likely to survive without a taboo system, and it is perhaps better to believe in the validity of even apparently silly taboos than to let them vanish.”

An organized mafia of medical oligarchs trading human organs is not difficult to imagine; and we should not exclude the possibility that as the world becomes more and more rational, some will get sacrificed for others. Two films, Coma (1979) with Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas, and Extreme Measures (1997), with Hugh Grant and Gene Hackman, explore this issue. The desire to prolong life, even at the expense of the living who have parts necessary for the survival of others, is a way of abolishing life. In such a world, I no longer see you as you, but as a walking store of parts necessary for my own survival.

Rakowicki Cemetery, Krakow, Poland.

But there is another scenario, perhaps even more morbid. Why not to give the poor the opportunity to improve their living conditions for a certain number of years, provided they sell their parts in advance. Such a scenario does not involve coercion or the abduction of people, as the two above-mentioned movies suggest, let alone the existence of a medical mafia. All that is needed is a voluntary act on the part of the seller. The argument that says that it is better to live a shorter life than a longer one in poverty is perfectly rational, and thus would have to be considered perfectly legal. Pacta sunt servanda – it would be difficult to question the validity of such a decision. It could even be called “the Faustus clause,” or “the Faustus New Deal,” with a modern-day Mephistopheles. In such a world, cemeteries will no longer be what they were – a place where we venerate the dead or ponder our place in society and the world – but a vast area filled with incomplete human remains.

All scenarios are possible; but something else should worry us too. The dead can become an object of attacks by those who are alive. Recent cases of desecration of Jewish graves in the US, France and Germany show the irrationality of hatred. The “woke” ideology’s onslaught on the Dead White European Males which led wild crowds to tear down monuments of famous people can make them to go after the graves of the famous dead. History knows many cases of grave desecration, and we should not exclude that something like that can happen. It most likely will.


Zbigniew Janowski is the author of Cartesian Theodicy: Descartes’ Quest for Certitude, Index Augustino-CartésienAgamemnon’s Tomb: Polish Oresteia (with Catherine O’Neil), How To Read Descartes’ Meditations. He also is the editor of Leszek Kolakowski’s My Correct Views on EverythingThe Two Eyes of Spinoza and Other Essays on PhilosophersJohn Stuart Mill: On Democracy, Freedom and Government & Other Selected Writings. His new book is Homo Americanus: Rise of Democratic Totalitarianism in America.


The featured image shows, “The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs,” likely by Fran Angelico; painted ca. 1420.

Sir Roger Scruton: A Platonic Tribute

Sir Roger Scruton—professor of aesthetics, author, political thinker, composer, theorist of music, ecologist, wine connoisseur, publicist and gadfly at large—passed away on January 12, 2020. As the sad news broke out, a global outpouring of tributes began, testifying to the magnitude of Scruton’s achievement and provoking questions about its meaning. Among the first, Timothy Garton Ash tweeted his sadness for the loss of a “provocative, sometimes outrageous Conservative thinker that a truly liberal society should be glad to have challenging it.”

Sir Roger’s passing is of special significance to my instution Bard College Berlin, which hosted him on two memorable occasions. It is also of personal significance to me. Though I was never a student of his, I had the privilege of knowing Professor Scruton since 1993, when a chance encounter proved to be a turning point in my intellectual path.

The Encounter

I first met Scruton in Krakow, at a conference on national stereotypes. At the time I was a student of psychology at the Jagiellonian University, gearing up to write a master’s thesis on the subject of how and why different nations perceive each other. Poland in those post-Cold War years was in the grip of regime change and a far-reaching cultural transition. Although many aspects of that transition were as contested then as they are now, there seemed to be a broad consensus: in the wake of the Soviet empire’s collapse, rejoining Europe and returning to the West where, as was said, Poland rightfully belonged was the most important political and civilizational objective. And rejoining the West meant embracing liberalism—as a political creed, economic program, and self-critical spirit.

The conference, which took place in Krakow’s newly renovated Theater Academy was imbued with this spirit. Paper after paper denounced cultural stereotypes and brought forward new examples, from the early Disney films to the latest political contests, to evidence and critique of the pervasive presence of prejudice in Western culture. With the message so monotonous, it was difficult to stay attentive.

Then came Roger Scruton. His lecture on Edmund Burke’s defense of prejudice as a distillation of collective experience sought to explain why we should not simply dismiss a phenomenon that might be constitutive of social life. Before rushing to repudiate prejudice, we had better examine its psychological origins and seek to understand its social function. Nor would repudiation help. If stereotypes are indeed necessary, repudiation would do little more than replace old prejudices with new ones.

Roger Scruton speaking at the European College of Liberal Arts, now Bard College Berlin, in 2011 (Photo Credit: Irina Stelea).

Decades later, I still recall the sensation of hearing Scruton’s talk and the shockwaves it sent through the room. Everyone seemed to be sitting on edge, riveted by incomprehension. If the conference was a current that tended in one direction, Scruton swam against it, carried by the sheer force of his eloquent arguments delivered with a generous dose of dry wit.

Did he persuade? No, not even me, thrilled though I was to hear intellectual controversy enter the sleepy conference room, and amazed by his courage to face disapproval. Besides the many points I did not understand (my English was rudimentary back then), I could not grasp how a philosopher could seek to vindicate prejudice, whether in the age of Enlightenment or our own. And this left me with two thinkers—Scruton and Burke—to reckon with. Actually three, for Socrates soon came along to lend an interpretive lens.

After the conference, Professor Scruton and I stayed in touch in the only way practicable back then: by exchanging letters. Two years later, after receiving a stack of philosophy books that I was not in a position to read, I got an invitation to visit him in England while finishing my master’s thesis. Elated, if ill prepared for what to expect, I booked a ticket for a coach that took me across Europe to Calais, then on a ferry to Dover, and onwards to London. From London, Scruton and I continued by train to Kemble—a little town in Wiltshire, where a decrepit-looking car, stocked with books (some, to my surprise, in Arabic) waited to take us on the last stretch to Sunday Hill Farm.

Roger’s home was a stone-walled cottage surrounded by swaths of green. Three or four horses chewed quietly in an enclosure. Sheep like specks of light were scattered in the distance. Little in the picture suggested which century we were in. The cottage itself, though visibly old, was no less discrete. Offering all the modern comforts, its rooms were furnished with objects reclaimed from the ages, each playing its part in a harmonious whole. Here, I sensed, was an alternate universe where time had come to a pause, and past and present gathered to commune and peacefully cohabit. The largest space in the two-story structure was a dusky room with book-lined walls. One of these was all green with small identical-looking volumes that, years later, I would recognize as the Loeb Classical Library. Two pianos balanced the space and sealed its image as a temple of the muses.

As soon as we arrived things fell into a calm, work-focused routine—from the morning tea, to lunch, often prefaced by a horse-ride in the adjacent fields, through the solitary afternoons, to dinner-time when guests showed up and long conversations took place over choice wine and enchanted meals Roger himself cooked. It is at one of those dinners that I first met Sophie, Roger’s wife to be, and also Christina, a high-school student and the oldest daughter of a Rumanian immigrant family that Roger had practically adopted. Though long and hardworking, the days at Sunday Hill Farm did not feel that way. This was because every hour had its special purpose. Roger would take time off writing to attend to a small garden, feed the horses, bake bread, or work on whatever it was he was composing. And my presence seemed to fit seamlessly into this schedule.

A few days into my visit, Roger departed for London, leaving me alone on the farm. Having recently arrived in a country whose ways—driving on the wrong side of the road, for instance—appeared eminently strange to me, I was less than eager to be left on my own. Yet this proved an opportunity to explore the vicinity, venturing to nearby Malmesbury—a small, medieval town which (I would later discover) was the birthplace of Thomas Hobbes and a bloody playground of the wars of religion that had scarred its historic abbey.

Roaming the cottage in Roger’s absence, I was trying to peek into the mindset of this person who would invite a stranger from across the continent and give her trust and welcome. It is only then that I could take a closer look at the small study that hosted Roger’s writing desk and another piano with hand-written scores piled up on it—his first opera. The shelves in the study were occupied mostly with the books—quite a few of them!—Roger had authored on such disparate subjects as music, architecture, politics or modern philosophy. There were also a few novels. At that moment, I came to realize that I was in the presence of something extraordinary, a beautiful vista I had hitherto no experience of: a life dedicated to books and music.

Well, and horses too.

The Gadfly

In Plato’s Apology, Socrates calls himself a gadfly and describes his mission as bearing witness to uncomfortable truths. His community, the polis, he likens to a large horse, strong and well-bred, if a bit dull and sleepy, going mindlessly about its horsey business. To prick the city and his fellow citizens, shake them from their moral slumber, to summon their intellects and awaken their conscience—this, according to Plato’s Socrates, is philosophy’s calling. This calling, however, requires that its votary put himself on the line: not hide behind technical subjects or language only a few understand but enter the fray and speak about the great questions of human life in a manner that is clear and accessible (needless to add, prickly) to the community at large. It also requires the courage to face disagreement and, in Socrates’ case, even death.

Scruton’s life and death were overshadowed by controversies of one kind or another—from his work as the founding editor of the Salisbury Review that, dissenting from the mainstream at home, supported dissidents in Eastern Europe; through his spirited defense of fox-hunting; to the Brexit debates and his involvement in a Tory government commission, whose work he did not live to see in print.

Roger Scruton with Petr Uhl and Vaclav Havel on the occasion of Scruton’s being awarded the Czech Republic Medal of Merit, First Class in 1998.

In the decades that spanned our friendship, and across many embroilments, I came to understand Roger’s philosophical stance and rhetorical gestures as the work of a Socratic gadfly. Understanding, however, was not the same as accepting. And I often questioned the need for these embroilments, resenting them at times, because they seemed to muffle his message and weaken its intellectual and moral authority.

“Why alienate people?” I’d ask. “Why disturb cherished views and call forth public anger? Is this not the lesson Plato drew from Socrates’ death—that philosophy and politics do not truly mesh because the one longs for truth and the other needs lies, more or less noble? Truth, when graspable, is convoluted and complex. Reduced to a plain message, injected into the public space, it becomes lopsided and polemical, an ideology more than wisdom.”

Roger would acknowledge my passionate opinions with a gentle nod. A philosophical modernist, he had made Platonic philosophy, and Socrates as its presumed spokesman, a fertile ground for theoretical disagreement—a disagreement perhaps nowhere more visible than in his recurrent wrestling with the question of love. In practice, however, for Scruton as for Socrates, philosophy to be true to its mission demanded public engagement with all of its existential commitments and costs. The philosopher is not accidentally but essentially a gadfly; all the more so in a society that claims to be open and free. And this, as both understood, was a quest fraught with perilous paradoxes.

In Plato’s account, Socrates was sentenced to death by the people of Athens on a triple charge—of corrupting the youth, not believing in the gods of the city, and making the weaker argument the stronger. If the accusations of corruption and heresy seem clear, the last bit is puzzling. To make the weaker argument the stronger is usually interpreted as insincere sophistry: thanks to rhetorical skills and facility for crafting arguments, the sophist can make any claim prevail, no matter its inherent strength. Like a modern-day debater, he aims at victory not truth, and any argument that wins the jury’s favor has validity enough.

But there is another way to understand the indictment against Socrates that comes to light with the help of Aristotle’s ethics. For Aristotle, virtue is not the opposite to vice, but the mean between two vices. Courage, on that view, is not simply contrary to cowardice. Equally opposed to rashness and timidity, it is a kind of fine-tuning that balances the pull of two extremes. However, if virtue is a mean, it is rarely found in the middle, for each of us has particular tendencies that propel us in one direction more than the other. And so, if one person is prone to temerity while another to fear, in each case courage would look a bit different, and lie closer to one or the other pole.

If we assume that each society or historical moment has its own tendencies and ruling passions that make certain opinions more acceptable than others, to balance these, one would need to champion the weaker view—weaker not in the sense of inherently less valid, but in the sense of less popular. And this because truth, like virtue, is rarely in the extreme; and justice too would require that we weigh all sides of the argument. These sides, Burke famously argued, include not only the living but also the long dead and the yet-to-be-born. In this reading, wherever the culture is going, the philosopher’s mission is to pull the other way, and to side with propositions that, whether forgotten, or not fully realized, tend to be underestimated or ignored—and, in that sense, weaker.

“If I were born in an aristocratic century,” writes Tocqueville, “amid a nation in which the hereditary wealth of some and the irremediable poverty of others held souls as if benumbed in the contemplation of another world, I would want it to be possible for me to stimulate the sentiment of needs … and try to excite the human mind in the pursuit of well-being. Legislators of democracies have other concerns… It is necessary that all those who are interested in the future of democratic societies unite, and that all in concert make continual efforts to spread within these societies the taste for the infinite, the sentiment for the grand, and the love for non-material pleasures.”

To be a gadfly, then, would mean to raise troubling questions, and to point out aspects of social life and our humanity—the need for prejudice, for instance—that risk being overlooked or trampled on by the ideological élan for a particular opinion. It is to caution that not every change is for the better (consider climate); and what may seem like progress today—e.g., moving away from traditional forms of subjection—could yet prove to be an oppression much greater tomorrow (consider totalitarianism). It is to warn that in our hopeful enthusiasm for righting wrongs, by improving one thing we are likely to spoil another; and that, in the great complexity of human affairs, unless fully understood and carefully administered, the cure often proves worse than the disease.

Truth so discerned is bound to offend because it resists our preferences and collective instincts—precisely our prejudice. At the same time, this offense, if earnestly delivered and thoughtfully received, is what propels us toward thinking. It challenges us to consider aspects we may be prone to disregard, and to account for what and why we believe in. Only by listening to those who question our certitudes, Mill argued in On Liberty, can ideology be countered and dead dogma quickened into vital truth. So much so that if liberal society did not have an earnest opponent and conscientious dissenter—its own Socrates—it had better invent him.

Mounting a well-argued opposition to just about every progressive creed—multiculturalism, individualism, atheism, globalism—Scruton was no less a gadfly to the conservatives with whom he otherwise identified. His vision of conservatism, centered on conservation and green politics, was as much a rebuke to Thatcherism as to the Blairite consensus that replaced it. He did not shy away from instructing US Republicans on the good of government. And his vision of the university challenged the anti-establishment zeal of the established professoriat as well as the technocratic Cameron reforms that collapsed the ministry of Education under Business. Whatever his audience, Scruton sought to stir thinking, not applause.

And yet another paradox lurks here. If philosophy’s role is to serve as counterweight for political and intellectuals fads, is the philosopher then necessarily a contrarian – one, whose mission is to dispute whatever most people happen to agree on, so a creature of the crowd after all? A different way to pose the question: is the thinker’s role to play the sceptic and critique popular opinions; or should he also strive to put something fuller and more coherent in their place? If the former, he’d be forever a debunker, always against but never for anything (other than his own importance). And if the latter, is he not in danger, while contesting the dogmas of others, of becoming a dogmatist himself?

Well-aware of these tensions, Scruton deemed them unavoidable. While playfulness and irony, alongside other literary tropes, offered partial solutions, his main recourse was, once again, Socratic—to live his life as an example and seek to practice what he preached. This informed both his decision to leave academia and embrace country life, and the autobiographical turn his books took in the late 1990s. While his chief philosophical purpose was to recover what he called the soul of the world, Scruton recognized that this can only be done in living out his commitments and bearing personal witness to the propositions he put forward. It required that he become, in the original sense of the word, a martyr.

μᾰ́ρτῠς • (mártus) m or f (gen. μᾰ́ρτῠρος) — A.Gr. witness.

Going Home

Among the more puzzling of Plato’s works is a short dialogue called Crito. Set in the eve of Socrates’ execution, it opens as the eponymous Crito, an elderly gentleman of means, comes in the dark before dawn to visit Socrates in prison. He has made all the preparations: bribed the guard, gathered resources, and arranged for a boat to steal his unjustly convicted friend away from his doom.

The conversation that ensues is Socrates’ attempt to reason with his childhood buddy and persuade him (and possibly himself, as well) that submitting to the judgment of the Athenian people is the right course of action; and so that dying as a citizen is preferable to living as an exile. In the course of the conversation, Socrates impersonates the Laws of Athens to deliver arguments that sound patriotic to the point of chauvinism. Invoking his young sons, his plea on behalf of the Laws recalls his own decision, made in advanced age, to become husband and father.

The conversation that ensues is Socrates’ attempt to reason with his childhood friend and persuade him (and possibly himself, as well) that submitting to the judgment of the Athenian people is the right course of action; and so that dying as a citizen is preferable to living as an exile. In the course of the conversation, Socrates impersonates the Laws of Athens to deliver arguments that sound patriotic to the point of chauvinism. Invoking his young sons, his plea on behalf of the Laws recalls his own decision, made in advanced age, to become husband and father.

Sir Roger Scruton’s home in England.

Socrates’ declared allegiance to country and family stands in some tension with the project of philosophy, to which he pledged his life. No respecter of countries or borders, philosophy’s object is to interrogate all human laws and attachments—love itself—in light of a universal standard. Nor does Plato’s Socrates usually come across as a devoted father. More than his biological children, his conversational companions, indeed conversing itself, seem to be the focus of his affection. Is a philosophical life compatible with being a patriotic citizen or responsible paterfamilias, Crito prompts us to ask. How can one be committed to universal truth, or to probing every kind of social convention, and, at the same time, stay true to a particular community and faithfully observe its flawed laws, questionable practices, and harmful judgments, even unto death?

After his talk at that fateful 1993 conference, I came up to Prof. Scruton and we exchanged a few words. “I want you to meet a student of mine” he said and introduced me to Joanna, a Polish woman my age who grew up in the US, where her family was exiled in the aftermath of the 1981 military crackdown on the dissident Solidarity movement. One of Scruton’s best students at Boston University where he taught at the time, Joanna had come along to the conference as a first opportunity to revisit her country of origin. Though at this point she had spent more than half her life in America, the journey to Poland was a homecoming—a charged and meaningful moment that Scruton took as seriously as she did, and which first announced what would become a recurrent theme of our interactions.

Over the decades that followed, Roger did all he could to support my philosophical wanderings; from proofreading my first essays in English and writing letters of recommendation, to patiently enduring my own attempts at playing the gadfly, usually directed at him. Scattered across time and space, and whatever their occasion, our conversations would often end on the same note—the importance of home, and the duties of homecoming, a message that became all the more troubling as my English waxed and my native tongues waned. “You should go home,” he repeated whenever and wherever we met. “Remember to go home.” “What is home?” I’d reply, as it were, Socratically. “Is it a place or a principle, or a figure of speech? Why can’t the world be our home?”

Surely, for Scruton too this had been a question. And he was far from believing that one’s home is, in any simple sense, the place or circumstances of one’s birth. In his own wanderings, he had moved light years away from his lower middle-class origins and his father’s socialist convictions, as he later did from the urban pieties of the academic elite to which he belonged by learning and habits.

Roger deeply loved French culture, and was intellectually at home in Germany. He taught for years in the US where he considered emigrating at some point. He had a soft spot for the countries of Eastern Europe which haunted his novels, and whose decorated hero he had become; and he had a special bond to Lebanon where he first learned Arabic and witnessed civil war as a young man. Like his Englishness, Scruton’s endorsement of rural ways was qualified by profound erudition and cosmopolitan tastes. Nor could any party claim him—or wish to claim him—without reservation. If he had one strong identification, it was with being an outcast and heretic.

And yet, the first law of Scruton’s ethics was the imperative to settle down—espouse an ethos, assume one’s station, and honor one’s roots, despite the estrangement and ironic distance one might feel about the whole thing. Without settling-down, thus acknowledging that one’s view is necessarily a view “from somewhere,” one is a free-floating, ineffectual person and, in an intellectual sense, a dishonest man. At the same time, without the distance and estrangement that thinking stimulates, one’s home would not be a reasoned perspective or self-aware choice, but an unreflective product of accident and custom.

As for Plato’s Socrates, the philosophic quest as Scruton understood it, was not to deconstruct one’s love for family and country, but to give a full account of, and thereby deepen, that love. Indeed, the more difficult it is to define and maintain a notion of home in the modern world, the more important it becomes to insist upon it. This holding on—the capacity and courage to own up to one’s particular commitments, despite or perhaps because of all the reservations one can feel about them—is what truly distinguished the philosopher from the rootless sophist, whose only standing commitment is to unbounded love of power, however obtained.

In Scruton’s diagnosis, most originally delivered as an homage to French viniculture and philosophy, our age is drunk on universalisms demanding that the same principles, analogous practices and mass-produced tastes apply equally everywhere, with no regard to differences of place, history, social conditions, and even species. If universalistic creeds are like strong distillates that—stripped of specificity or local flavor, and detached from communal context—aim for immediate inebriation, Scruton’s proposed remedy was not abstinence or anti-intellectualism, but thoughtful connoisseurship of drinks and ideas.

Such a connoisseurship must begin with the recognition that, if the desire for universality is a heroic aspiration and philosophy’s very raison d’être, it is also a dangerous temptation. While this desire may expand our intellectual horizons, ennoble the arts, and elevate civic sentiments, it cannot be our home. For it demands that, in the name of disembodied abstractions, we abjure the attachment to particular persons or peoples, and repudiate everything we may consider our own—the ways and devotions that distinguish our form of life, and define who we are, individually and collectively.

The weaker argument Scruton made it his life-long mission to uphold was the importance of loving one’s home and protecting the environment, both natural and human, spiritual and physical that sustains it. He shared with many on the left a poignant sense of the destruction wrought by globalized capitalism. Yet he challenged the self-serving mantra of globalized elites that the only effective response is the ever-greater outsourcing of civic agency and decision-making to supranational structures unmoored from any organized community of citizens that can hold them to account.

More soberly, Scruton insisted on the need to revive allegiance to local traditions and to common practices, which alone lend meaning to high-sounding words and abstract ideals. Only by coming together and by drawing on shared modes of thinking and feeling can freedoms be substantiated, the environment protected, and effective solidarities fostered. This insistence went together with a vision of England as a community bound by law and sense of accountability—less a physical location than a spiritual landscape marked by distinctive virtues and sense of beauty. It is to the task of protecting this beauty that his last efforts were dedicated.

“We should recognize,” states the posthumously published report Scruton drafted for the government commission on Building Better, Building Beautiful, “that the pursuit of beauty is an attempt to work with our neighbours, not to impose our views on them. As Kant argued in his great Critique of Judgment, in the judgment of beauty we are ‘suitors for agreement,’ and even if that judgment begins in subjective sentiment, it leads of its own accord to the search for consensus.”

*

My last meeting with Scruton in October 2019 was a lesson in dying, the preparation for which, Plato’s Socrates claimed, was philosophy’s special task. Roger spoke about his mysterious illness and the pains that had become his constant companion—but much more about the gratitude he felt for his life and for those who helped shape it.

“It is clear” he mused serenely, as though considering some abstract matter “that things cannot go on forever. I have said all I had to say, wrote all the books I wanted to write. I’m ready, I suppose.” As if casually, he added: “But life is so sweet…”

He died at home.

Sir Roger Scruton’s home in Virginia, USA (Photo Credit: Christopher Kramer).

Ewa Atanassow is professor at Bard College Berlin. Her area of expertise is the history of social and political thought, especially Tocqueville, as well as questions of nationhood and democratic citizenship. She is the co-editor of Tocqueville and the Frontiers of Democracy, and Liberal Moments: Reading Liberal Texts; and the author of Liberal Dilemmas: Tocqueville on Sovereignty, Nationhood, and Globalization, forthcoming from Princeton University Press.


The featured image shows, “Portrait of Sir Roger Scruton,” by Vernice Satinata; painted in 2020.

The Importance Of Being Monarchical, or How To Temper Democracy

In the mid-1980s, the middle-aged English philosopher, editor of The Salisbury Review, wrote a column in the London Times, in which he noticed that the Austrian throne is empty and pointed to Otto von Habsburg who could fill the void. To some readers, even if they happened to be British subjects, his idea, I suspect, must have appeared facetious. However, Roger Scruton, the author of the column, who was knighted by Prince Charles in 2016, was a serious man. What others thought could be a joke, to Sir Roger was a serious matter. He spent his life defending and giving fresh meaning to what the progressives consider outrageous only because it is old or appears obsolete.

To be sure, the defense of monarchy in an environment in which democracy is thought of as divine, sounds like a sign of madness. Yet nowadays when democracy is performing very poorly and almost every week provides more and more evidence that discredits it, perhaps it is time to rethink our uncritical attitude to it.

On October 9, this year, the Austrian Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, announced that he would resign, after prosecutors began an investigation into allegations that he used public money to pay off pollsters and journalists for favorable coverage. Eight days earlier, on October 1st, the premier of Australia’s New South Wales, Gladys Berejiklian, “stepped down over a probe into her secret relationship with a lawmaker who is being investigated for corruption.” And on September 30th, former French President, Nikolas Sarkozy, was sentenced to one year for illegal campaign financing. All three scandals happened within less than two weeks.

This is not all. Remember the arch-popular Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva? In July 2017, he was convicted on corruption charges to 10 years in prison. In 2016, the world learned about the so-called “Panama papers.” It was discovered that over one hundred world leaders had offshore accounts to evade paying taxes.

Among them was Oxford-educated “philosopher king,” Abdullah II, of Jordan, who purchased three Malibu properties with the help of offshore companies for $68 million, in the years after the Arab Spring, when his subjects protested against corruption. But kings are kings and have always been in the habit of ripping-off their subjects – something which partisans of the popular government promised democracy would put an end to. Apparently, one does not have to be a king; enough to be a democratic head of state to do what corrupt kings do. The Panama papers include two British Prime ministers – Tony Blair and David Cameron – the Premier of the Czech Republic, several people associated with the Clinton Foundation, and many more.

The USA – the bedrock of democracy – is not a place to look for honest politicians, either. In fact, the US is infested with dishonest politicians, many of whom rot in prison, put there by their electors. In Baltimore, where I resided for almost 15 years, all three mayors during my residence there had to step down on corruption charges. In 2014, Bob McDonnell, the governor of the neighboring state of Virginia, and his wife, Maureen, were indicted on federal corruption charges; so was the governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich (who was sentenced to 14 years in prison), as well as three other governors of the same State.

If you still believe that democracy is a solution to the problem of corrupt government, you’d better read Plato’s Republic or Gorgias, or buy a lantern and, like Diogenes in Athens who tried to find an honest man, look for an honest civil servant who puts the good of those who elected him before self-interest. Many of those who believe democracy to be the best confuse commitment to democracy with commitment to simple human honesty and decency. Unfortunately, when it comes to honesty, democracy does not score higher than other regimes and is likely to continue being the source of frustration to those who put their faith in the people.

The list of corrupted democratic politicians will continue to grow in; and this is not a question of probability but certainty. Democracy, it needs to be stressed, provides more transparency than any other system; it may have eliminated the arbitrary brutal use of physical violence by the politicians, which means that we no longer need to be afraid of living under autocrats like generals Pinochet or Franco and shah Reza Pahlavi, or African political gangsters, like Paul Biya of Cameroon, president since 1982, who exploit and abuse their people. However, as thirst for blood among democratic leaders goes unsatisfied, they instead turn filling their pockets and deceive the naïve public that they serve. That is why the system is not working very well.

An army of naïve political scientists and commentators write books for the believers in popular government on “how to save democracy.” The journalists of the Washington Post lie to the public that “democracy dies in darkness,” while supporting corrupt Left-wing politicians. Social activists, on the other hand, scream louder and louder that the only way to save democracy is to expand it even further. The last suggestion is the surest way to corrupt even more people. Absolute power may corrupt absolutely, but any amount of power will also corrupt – which means that allowing more people to govern will also corrupt a greater number of them. In recent decades democracy started looking like a place where everyone could enrich himself. The careless get caught; others get away; and ordinary people get no share in the big pie.

Thomas Jefferson was an idealist who, as we learn from his letter to J. Langdon, 1810, thought that hereditary monarchs were “all body and no mind,” who can do nothing but mischief. But he was also a realist who knew that the only way to make democracy work is, as he explained it John Adams in a letter of October 28, 1813, to find natural aristocrats to rule over the rest: “The natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society… May we not even say that that form of government is the best which provides the most effectually for a pure selection of these natural aristoi into the offices of government.”

That was two hundred and eight years ago. Today we can say that Jefferson was mistaken. The democratic environment, which tends to grow and destroy non-democratic elements around it, is fundamentally hostile to creating conditions in which aristocratic virtues can grow. Rather, the opposite is the case – under the influence of democracy even royals succumb to the democratic malaise. It happened to Prince Harry who has recently left the confines of Windsor Castle to settle down in democratic America. So far, the news for the lovers of monarchy is not good. Instead of transplanting aristocratic virtues to America, Prince Harry has become a celebrity. He began his life in the New World by whining on Oprah Winfrey’s show how miserable it is to be a royal and how nasty other royals can be. If you are emotional, you can even feel sorry for him – he is presented as a man who suffered greatly under the heavy yoke of the aristocratic code.

We should not be surprised, however, why democracy suffers from malaise. The political consequence of the decline of aristocratic order was described by the English poet and literary critic, Matthew Arnold. In his essay “On Democracy” (1879), Arnold saw what Jefferson (most likely because his dislike for hereditary aristocracy deprived him of objectivity) missed. He points out that there where aristocracy does not exist, ordinary people are deprived of the ideal that can ennoble them. Where are the Washingtons, Hamiltons and Madisons today? Arnold exclaims in his essay, pointing to the fact that American democracy is unable to regrow the greatness which one found in the generation raised when America was part of the British Crown. What grew instead was the power of the State.

Arnold, it seems, was right, which is testified by the language used in democratic countries. “The most powerful man in the world,” and “the most powerful woman in the world” (as Americans refer to the President and the First Lady); or “the most powerful country in the world” – all are part of everyday journalistic vocabulary in America. (Even the presence of the omnipotent Xi Jing Ping at the same dinner table is unable to change this democratic perception).

It would be wrong to think that such expressions mean that Americans are self-obsessed. Rather, they point to what Matthew Arnold predicted must happen. When a country lost its highest class which “dictated the tone for the nation,” the nation tended to augment the power of the State to see it as dignified and great. However, this democratic jive is not peculiar to America. It can be found in France, another country in which democracy, too, took very deep roots. The President of the Republic acts and looks (especially during the swearing in ceremony) like a secular king, anointed by the people. His residence, the Presidential Palace, just like the White House, reminds you of royal residence.

This is not so in Great Britain. 10 Downing Street looks like an unpretentious townhouse which you see all over London or Baltimore; and it was so even at the end of the 19th century when the British ruled over one fourth of the globe. British Prime Ministers behave like “civil servants.” The reason is simple: Prime ministers in a constitutional monarchy have someone above them, which is a reminder that the power of the people has limits. Whatever a Prime Minister may think of his great talents, the existence of the monarch, even if only symbolic, has a tempering effect on the Prime Minister’s ego. That is why we can’t imagine someone like Donald Trump as British Prime Minister. Were it to happen, I suspect that the British would likely choose to live under a real, not symbolic, monarchy.

Monarchies are a common heritage of all those who look for the cultural roots of Europe. The British monarchy is not the only one in Europe. Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxemburg, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Monaco and Norway are monarchies, too (the Bulgarian king Simeon lives in Spain). But the British monarchy is the most visible and its well-being should matter to everyone. It is the most powerful symbol of the old order which is obsolete only to those who put faith in a system that is far from being ideal. For this defective system to work for the common good we need to be very vigilant. The proclivity for corruption of the managers of this system is (or should be) all too obvious and given the fact how often these managers of democracy are charged with financial impropriety, one may wonder whether any constitutional monarch would survive if he was so often implicated in corruption scandals.

However, what should worry us more than financial scandals are the totalitarian tendencies which democracies developed in the last several decades. Monarchy is a place where a nation finds the continuity of its tradition while totalitarian regimes erase all traces of the past. Democracies today are in the process of doing just that. Changes in the language so that it mirrors an egalitarian worldview, destruction of monuments, changes in educational curricula, forcing us to accept the idea that sex is a matter of choice are the most visible signs of the break with tradition. However, why that is the case should not surprise us. The past and human relationships tell us that reality is hierarchical. Hierarchy is what the progressive egalitarians are against. The past stands in their way to claim absolute power.

There is only one other institution which is like monarchy: it is the Papacy in which the Catholics, regardless of their nationality, find the continuity of their tradition. In one respect, the Papacy is an even more powerful symbol than monarchy – it is older than any single dynasty, and it includes our Greek and Roman heritage, while the monarchy is national. To be sure, not all popes were saints. Only a few of them lived a life which would lead anyone to heaven. But saintliness of life applies to individuals, while tradition is group behavior. When it is based on high ideals, tradition translates into noble behavior of a group, which we call a nation. The function of tradition is to provide us with signs that lead us in this life. Without clear signs on how to behave, nations are lost. They become demoralized and are in danger of indulging in monstrous behavior.

The monarchy will last as long as the royals behave like royals. This is what they owe us — ordinary people. We do not need royals who act like celebrities; we need the aristocracy to ennoble us, take us to a higher level. Once royals act like the commons, the monarchy will vanish; and when that happens, the future will likely, once again, belong to nationalist democracies turned totalitarian. As 20th century experience teaches us, democracies tend to collapse in times of crises and generate hard-core dictatorships, outside of which there is no source of values except ideology.

Mr. Trump acted like those mad kings described by Thomas Jefferson in his letter. But the problem with Jefferson’s argument against monarchy, which is the only one he formulated, is that one can always dethrone a mad ruler and replace him with a sane one. However, it is impossible to dethrone a population seized by egalitarian madness, enticed by populist demagogues who speak like Mussolini or Hitler. Seeing Greta Thunberg on the throne of Sweden would be something truly terrifying. We can only hope that the Swedish king, Carl Gustaf, will continue to rule with dignity, as he has done for many decades, and that monarchies will survive to save us from mad populists and democratic egalitarians.


Zbigniew Janowski is the author of several books on 17th century philosophy, as well as, Homo Americanus: The Rise of Totalitarian Democracy in America and is the editor of John Stuart Mill’s writings.


The featured image shows, “The Coronation of Queen Victoria in Westminster Abbey 28 June 1838,” by Sir George Hayter; painted in 1838.

The Fall Of A Nation

History records again and again that many world leaders think they and their kingdoms will last forever. They think in some cases that their armies will rule the world indefinitely for they are the greatest of all humans. Their nation will outlive and outperform all others.

But what is it that builds a nation? What are the ingredients that build a nation to be kind, generous, strong, and looking after the people that inhabit it? And what are the ingredients that destroy a nation? Second Chronicles 32 & 33 offers us a little insight into these important questions.
Manasseh was born 700 years before Christ and came to the throne at the age of just 12. His father Hezekiah was a good king, in that he built up the kingdom of Judah in the ways of God. We are told that “he did what was right in the eyes of God.” Hezekiah had woven into the fabric of Judean life the standards and values of Almighty God including the Ten Commandments. And because of this God was with him.

Manasseh, his son, was brought up in the faith from birth. He would have known the ways of God, the Scriptures and the Ten Commandments. But instead of following in the ways of his father, he followed in the wicked ways of his grandfather, Ahaz. Isn’t it profoundly sad when a son, or for that matter a daughter, chooses to abandon, and turn away from the faith of their parents? All those years of setting an example, bringing them to church, Sunday School, and praying for them, seemingly come to nothing.

Manasseh, during his wicked and godless reign of 55 years, successfully carried out three things to good effect. Number one, he obliterated the godly principles on which the nation was founded. Second, he encouraged and accelerated the growth of heathenism by allowing any form of godlessness to grow and prosper; Third, he instituted the persecution of the prophets; they were muted or killed. These are the things that destroy a nation.
Is it possible for one person to lead millions into untold evils? Yes, it is. Just one person, armed with an ideology can lead millions into untold evil. Manasseh did it. And he did it for a very long time. Of course, we don’t need to go back as far as Manasseh to see the evidence and outworking of systemic godlessness.

Josef Stalin was once a young man preparing for the Russian Orthodox Ministry. During training as a priest, he abandoned his faith to lead Russia on a purge where his Marxist regime slaughtered upwards of 20 million of its own people. To slaughter 20 million in the biggest country in the world, you need a lot of people to believe and implement your idealogy.

It was a Marxist philosophy with the core belief that there is “no God.” Stalin’s regime told the people a lie and brutally reinforced the lie. He and his regime lied and suppressed the truth. He and his cohorts denied people the truth. He systematically replaced the traditional orthodox belief by instituting Marxism. Marxism or the state would provide for and look after the people, from the cradle to the grave; Not God. God played no part in a person’s life or the state’s life.

On his death bed in 1953; as he lay dying, he raised a defiant clinched fist towards heaven. He died unrepentant. How did one person manage to lead millions into untold evil? Well, in days gone by, when many of the masses were illiterate and uneducated, people did not know how to think for themselves. In many ways they were easily led. The serfs or peasants were unable to think with logic and reason. Chairman Mao leader of the Communist Party in China had a similar approach as Stalin only he managed to murder around 50 million of his own people during the 1950 and 1960 purges.

It was Adolf Hitler, another tyrant in the same mould who said, “if you repeat a lie often enough it eventually becomes thought of as truth.” He started off by blaming the Jews for all of Germany’s woes and then justified it by gassing 12,000 a day.

Brainwashing people with ideologies is nothing new. Many influential people today clamour and exert pressure for the removal of any boundaries, any restraints, for a decent society to exist and any moral absolutes. Moral absolutes are seen as restrictive and abhorrent. The prevailing culture, mainly through education systems, are systematically brainwashing young, impressionable people into believing a lie – that there is no God. There is no such thing as sin or judgement, therefore, there is no need for salvation.

In the very beginning, God placed Adam in the garden of Eden and told him, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” There was a restraint, a prohibition placed upon him. If you disobey, there will be consequences.
GK Chesterton said, “Before you tear down a fence, you need to ask first, why is the fence there in the first place?”

One of the ways a nation’s morality can be measured is by how it treats the weak and vulnerable, particularly the elderly and children. How are we treating the elderly in care homes and those isolated in various communities? Is it a level playing field compared with younger sick patients in hospital?

How are we treating our children? What are we doing to the lives of thousands of unborn children killed in the womb for no other reason than that in the vast majority of cases it is inconvenient for the woman? No thought is given to a perfectly healthy child. The NSPCC reports 1 in 5 children in Britain have suffered some form of severe maltreatment, which includes all sorts of serious abuse.

Manasseh destroyed the godly principles on which the nation of Israel was founded – God’s law. He actively encouraged the growth of heathenism, allowing all godless beliefs to flourish; and he brought about the persecution of the prophets. He shut the prophets down. It was a three-pronged attack with the sole aim of removing any trace of God from society. Manasseh worshipped Molloch, who required new born babies as living sacrifices. As the babies cried out the priests beat their drums louder to drown out the cries. Disposing of babies as a commodity to be killed marked where the nation was. It can’t go much lower.

Where a nation is encouraged to live life without any restraints, where there are no boundaries, no absolutes, no sense of personal responsibility – everyone suffers. In particular the innocent, the unborn, and the vulnerable.

The depravity reached a new low when Manasseh even offered his own sons in the fire of Gehenna outside Jerusalem. Once you begin tearing down the things of God, you build up the things not of God, because the void has to be filled by something. As GK Chesterton reminds us, “When men stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything.” With all sin, wrong doing gives way to further wrong doing. It gets to a point where a person loses any sense of identity and sacredness.

Anthony Bourdain was a 61-year-old celebrity chef, who had it all. Money, fame, and food. In fact, he described it as the greatest job in the world. Yet in June 2018 his body was found in a Paris hotel room; he had tragically taken his own life. It was disclosed that he had been a heavy drinker and a heroin/cocaine addict most of his life.

A couple of years before his death, a member of the audience in one of his many TV shows asked him, “How could I get your job?” He replied; “Drop out of college, don’t concentrate, and do a lot of cocaine and heroin.” That was the helpful answer he gave to a young fan. Bourdain also said that he used his body as a play thing over the years.

In contrast, we have comments of the Apostle Paul on how we use our bodies: “Flee from sexuality immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually, sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you?”
Two very different thoughts on how we use our bodies.

If a person violates the laws of God, he violates himself; and, sadly, the world actively encourages you to do just that. It’s all a bit morbid, isn’t it? But it’s happening all around us. Look at the evidence. There is no Utopia, as many idealists think, round the corner. Man has dreamed of this since the debacle of building the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). Let’s ditch the negative and concentrate on what are the things that build a nation to be kind, generous, just and protecting of its people and others.

In fact, a lawyer in Luke 10 knew the answer. He told Jesus, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.” Whatever we do and however we live our lives in any nation, it must begin and end with God. We give him our all; we live for him. The impact of this will greatly affect for the good how we see, understand and relate to others who live alongside us and beyond. When God brought the Israelites out from slavery in Egypt, he made it abundantly clear to them that when they obeyed his commands and precepts, he would be with them and things would work out well for them. The new nation would be a peaceful, wealthy and prosperous one.

But once they disobeyed him and chased after the idols and gods of other nations, they lost God’s special protection and blessing. Much of Deuteronomy speaks of God’s dealings with this new “nation.” The American film actor Denzil Washington recently released a video where he speaks about his faith in God and “Putting God First.” Something he says he has sought to do for most of his life. Life is relational. The strength and stability of any nation depends on our understanding of God as revealed in his word to all people.

In it, God tells us how to stop and prevent wars, how to solve problems, how to deal with sin and wrong-doing, how to avoid wrong choices, and be reconciled to others. How to deal with things we are drawn to we know are wrong.

How strange it is that the majority of people try to live their lives without the Bible. They wonder why their marriages fail, their bodies are in trouble, their minds are in turmoil, why they move from one mess to another mess, why they keep on making bad choices. And society suffers as a result.
William Wilberforce, Mother Teresa, John Newton, Martin Luther King Junior, Florence Nightingale, Michael Faraday, Billy Graham, Isaac Newton – like Abraham were friends of God who understood him as revealed through Scripture. All influenced the lives of many for good and thus the peace and prosperity of the nation.

What about this wicked man Manasseh? What happened to him? God often allows a nation to hit rock bottom morally and spiritually before He acts. And before God acts, He always warns. That’s why He sent the prophets time and again to Israel to warn them. In His great mercy He gives people a chance to turn away from their sin, and turn towards Him. When we see the lawlessness, the contempt for God abounds today; God is very much aware of what is happening. He is not blind or incapacitated to do something about it. It’s just a matter of His time before He acts. And act He will.

It was the same with Israel and its people. We are told, “The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention.” The nation had become so God-resistant they did not want to know, they weren’t interested. God brings judgement on the nation because, He has a right to do so; He has the right to bring judgement on any nation on this planet; because “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.”
God brings a foreign army, the Assyrians, against Israel. Manasseh is captured, shackled and brought to the Assyrian capital Babylon, where he is held as a prisoner. Manasseh gets a touch of his own medicine, being led about with a hook in his nose, and the people laughing at him. If we are honest with ourselves, we are probably thinking and hoping that God will destroy this wicked man in much the same way he destroyed the lives of countless others.

Be amazed to know that Manasseh repented of his wickedness and turned to God. What an amazing turnaround. Is this the same man? How could a perverted, worthless, evil, individual comparable to the likes of Stalin come to believe in God? The answer is through God’s grace. Grace is undeserved merit. No human being deserves God’s grace but through his mercy his grace is freely given to all, including someone like Manasseh. Despite what he did, the terrible crimes he committed, the killing of little children, God through His grace and love for this wretched individual still gave him an opportunity to turn from his wicked ways; which he did. Manasseh had sunk so low; he knew that he needed God more than anything else. God not only forgave him, He gave him a new heart, a new purpose, and a new life.

Tragically the damage was done to a nation after 55 years of systematically destroying any remnant of what was sacred and encouraging the growth of paganism, and persecuting the godly. Judah would not recover. It would take someone else to come and lead the nation in the ways of God. And God had already a young Josiah in place. Josiah would lead the nation back to where it should be. It just takes one person to lead a nation into untold evil; or, lead it to receive God’s blessing.


Alan Wilson is a retired Presbyterian minister, who lives in Northern Ireland.


The featured image shows, “King Manasseh in exile,” by Maerten de Vos; painted ca. 1550-1603.

On The dignity Of Man: The Idea Of The Good And Knowledge Of Essences. Part I.

Here I intend not only to return to topics such as essence, apodicticity, and the impossibility to deduce material existence from concept—but to address and (positively) evaluate Giovanni Pico della Mirandola’s take on the “dignity of man.” Let us start with reminding the reader that, in my approach to God, the latter is an infinite field of ideational singular models (with generic and unique properties) for singular entities (with generic and unique properties), which finds itself in presence of a (strictly) vertical time (i.e., in which past, present, and future are (strictly) simultaneous); and which finds itself unified, encompassed, traversed, and driven by a sorting, actualizing pulse that is itself ideational and which (in a strictly atemporal mode, i.e., in presence of a strictly vertical time) selects which ideational singular models are to see their correspondent hypothetical material entities being materialized at which point of the universe.

While the operation of that pulse is strictly ideational and strictly atemporal, the universe in which the ideational field incarnates itself is strictly material and strictly temporal (i.e., in presence of a strictly horizontal time, in which past, present, and future are successive rather than simultaneous). While incarnating itself wholly into the material, temporal realm, the one of the universe, God remains wholly ideational, atemporal—and wholly external to the material, temporal realm. While endeavoring to engender increasingly higher order and complexity in the universe, God is capable of mistakes in that task—mistakes which man is expected to repair in complete submission to the order that God established within the universe. Also, the atemporal operation of the sorting, actualizing pulse is completely improvisational, what leaves the universe without any predecided, prefixed direction.

The Dignity Of Man

The Mirandolian affirmation that the “dignity of man,” in essence, consists of his finding himself constrained and able to become what he freely decides to become, “like a statuary who receives the charge and the honor of sculpting [his] own person,” is not to be taken in the sense that the human being is a strictly formless, quality-less, matter who can become absolutely whatever pleases him. It is not to be understood either as the negation of the objectively beneficial or harmful character (for the accomplishment of the human being as a human) of certain things and actions.

In the Mirandolian conception of the human, the latter, instead of being completely formless, quality-less, is so only to the extent that he finds himself torn between the beast and the divine. Instead of his freedom being that of becoming absolutely whatever he wishes to become, it boils down to the one to “regress towards lower beings in becoming a brute, or to rise in accessing higher, divine things.” Instead of nothing being objectively good or bad for the fulfillment of the human as a human, certain things and actions—including temperance, the golden mean, free mind, obedience to the divine law, knowledge of the cosmic order, white magic, or literary, artistic creation—elevate him towards humanity (and thus towards a so-called “divine” character in the sense of the character of being like-divine, of being made in the image of the divine); others are degrading and change (or maintain) him into a beast, separating him altogether from his virtual humanity.

One cannot but notice the similitude with what is part of Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche’s message when he says of the human being that he is “a rope stretched between the beast and the superman;” and that such is what makes him “great.” The conception of the human according to Pico della Mirandola, that of a tightrope walker between the beast and the human-as-divine, is not less similar to what will be the one according to Konrad Zacharias Lorenz and Robert Ardrey when they say of the human, in essence, that he is free to give in to the chaotic, suffocating voice of his instincts or to impose a creative discipline on himself with the help of civilization and of knowledge.

The Mirandolian approach to the human, in which the human’s “nature” lies in its “intermediate position” between the beast and the human-as-divine, and in which the human accomplishes himself, notably, through exerting, developing his ability to think in an independent, critical mode, has nothing to do with Sartrian “existentialism,” in which the human’s “nature” lies in its absence of the slightest “nature;” and in which, nonetheless, the human accomplishes himself, notably, through complete servitude (including intellectual) in an economically communist society. It has nothing to do either with Heideggerian “existentialism,” in which the human’s “nature” notably lies in a virtual role as “shepherd of the Being” that is (according to Heidegger) as much foreign to the crowning of the cosmos through knowledge or through technique as incompatible with any high level of technical development; and in which the human is called to accomplish himself, not as the “lord of the beings” (either in a cognitive sense or in the sense of technical mastery), but as the one who muses over the mystery of the presence of those things that are.

The human’s self-accomplishment does not occur through technique stricto sensu in the Mirandolian approach to the human (which, indeed, doesn’t really address the topic of technique—to my knowledge); but it genuinely occurs, for instance, through mastery over nature in a cognitive sense (i.e., through that kind of mastery over nature that is the knowledge of nature), while said mastery is thought in Martin Heidegger to bring absolutely nothing to the human’s self-accomplishment.

In the Heideggerian approach to the human, the latter indeed occurs, notably, through meditating over the mystery that there is “something rather than nothing;” but neither through crowning the beings with knowledge nor through crowning them with high technique, which Heidegger even envisions as indissociable from the “forgetfulness of the Being.” The Being is here not to be taken in the sense of an uncreated entity that can neither escape existence (in the general sense of being) nor escape existence in an eternal mode; but in the sense of what allows for existence in existent entities (whether they’re material entities, i.e., materially existent entities) without being itself an entity. The essay will resort itself to that definition when speaking of the “Being.”

How the Being is actually articulated with the sorting, actualizing ideational pulse is a topic I intend to address elsewhere; but, in that the ideational realm incarnates itself into the material realm (to which it however remains external), the presence of the Being as a background for the ideational realm incarnates itself into the presence of the Being as a background for the material realm (while remaining external to its presence as a background for the material realm). While a property is what is characteristic of an existent or hypothetical entity at some point (whether time is horizontal or vertical), a quality is a property of a non-existential kind, i.e., a property unrelated to the entity’s existence.

A certain modality of the theory of evolution has this negative characteristic (for the spiritual elevation of the human) that it reduces the challenges of the human existence, either individual or collective, to sexual reproduction (and the transmission of genes), thus evacuating the challenge for the individual that is the preparation of oneself for the life of the soul after the death of the body.

Another negative characteristic at the level of spiritual elevation is that the modality in question reduces nature to an axiologically neutral battlefield: a land that confronts us with fierce, ruthless physical struggle for the transmission of genes (either individual or collective); but which, remaining rigorously indifferent to human existence and suffering, no more assigns to humans some end to pursue, some model of life to endorse, than it mourns their earthly misfortunes or rejoices in it. The classic axiological ideal of the pursuit is accordingly evacuated—both at the group and individual level—of a life of moderation in accordance with what is allegedly nature’s expectations: the ideal of the pursuit of the golden mean both in the individual exercise of the mental and bodily faculties—and in the group’s organization and conduct.

A golden mean that nature allegedly assigns to us, the transgression of which is allegedly at the origin of most of our earthly ills. The ideal offered in return is that of savagery and excessiveness in the “struggle for survival” and for reproduction, whether it is those of the individual or of the group: Arthur Keith noting in that regard that the “German Führer” was actually an “evolutionist,” who strove to render “the practices of Germany conform to the theory of evolution.”

That said, not any modality of the theory of evolution is actually incompatible with the classic ethics of the golden mean—in that a modality (rightly) envisioning the group’s axiological valorization, expectation, of the pursuit of the golden mean both on the individual’s part (in his individual life) and on the group’s part (in its conduct and organization) as an inescapable ingredient to the group’s success in intergroup competition for survival is actually at work, to some extent, in the considerations of “eminent evolutionists” such as Ardrey and Lorenz.

The obvious failure of Nazi Germany in the collective struggle for survival is a testimony to the degree to which a group’s imperilment expands as the group deviates from the golden mean. As for the issue of knowing whether the idea of the universe as an axiologically positioned place, i.e., one ascribing us some duties (and some proscriptions), is incompatible with any possible modality of the theory of evolution, I believe my approach to God allows to think of the universe as a place both completely positioned axiologically and—as claimed in the theory of evolution—completely neutral axiologically.

In my approach, indeed, the universe is, on the one hand, completely neutral axiologically in its existence considered independently of the spiritual realm incarnating itself completely into the universe; on the other hand, completely positioned axiologically in its existence considered as an incarnation of the spiritual realm remaining completely external to the universe. What the universe (when considered as a divine incarnation) is axiologically about is, notably, creation; and the fulfillment of creation through the human being, notably, as the latter is made “in the image of God.”

It is worth specifying that human creation (in an intellective, mental sense) occurs as much, for instance, at the level of cognition (in a broad sense covering as much art and literature as physics, mathematics, philosophy, magic, etc.) as at the level of technique; just like it is worth specifying that human creation is never so great as when it occurs in the mode of an exploit. What is here called “exploit” is a successful deed that is both exceptionally original, creative, and exceptionally risky, jeopardizing (for one’s individual material subsistence), and which is intended to bring eternal individual glory to its individual perpetrator, whether the exploit occurs on the properly military battlefield or on the battlefield between poets, the one between entrepreneurs, the one between magicians, etc.

Properly understood heroism is not about readiness to die anonymously for something “greater than oneself;” but about readiness, instead, to self-singularize and self-immortalize oneself through holding an eternally remembered life of exploit despising comfort and the fear of death. Though Pico della Mirandola rightly conceives of cognitive creation (and independence) and of the golden mean as both constitutive of the human kind’s elevation, thus reminding his reader of those ancient aphorisms that are “Nothing too much,” which “duly prescribes a measure and rule for all the virtues through the concept of the “Mean” of which moral philosophy treats,” and “Know thyself,” which “invites and exhorts us to the [independent, creative] study of the whole nature of which the nature of man is the connecting link and the “mixed potion”,” he didn’t make it clear, sadly, that the human life is never so creative, independent mentally, never so held in accordance with the golden mean, as when it is a life of exploit.

It should be added that, when it comes to the pursuit of exploit (especially in the warlike, political fields), a man’s mental creativeness, independence, his inner equilibrium, self-discipline, are never so great as in the one who, quoting Macchiavelli, knows “how to avail himself of the beast and the man” depending on the circumstances, something that “has been figuratively taught to princes by ancient writers, who describe how Achilles and many other princes of old were given to the Centaur Chiron to nurse, who brought them up in his discipline.”

To put it in another way, when it comes to war and political fight, a man is never so distanced from the beast that stands at the other end of the rope towards the superhuman as when he finds himself oscillating between the beast and the man with complete flexibility and self-mastery; a point that is regrettably absent in the Mirandolian Oration on the Dignity of Man (but, fortunately, explicit in Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli’s The Prince).

Again, Nietzsche’s message doesn’t fail to present some similitude with Florentine thinking when (in his Posthumous Fragments) he says that “at each growth of man in greatness and in elevation, he does not fail to grow downwards and towards the monster.” Whether one speaks of “transhumanism” in the notion’s general sense (i.e., in the sense of the promotion of the human being’s “overcoming” through genetic, bio-robotic engineerings), the one I will refer to in the present article (unless specified otherwise), or in the specific sense of an “overcoming” through genetic, bio-robotic engineerings that is specifically intended to emasculate the human being instinctually and mentally, the transhumanist project is obviously incompatible with the Mirandolian, Machiavellian approaches to the human (just like it is with the Nietzschean approach—on another note).

Both Pico della Mirandola and Machiavelli (but also Nietzsche) were fully attached to an ethics of exploit with which transhumanism is fully incompatible (a fortiori in the case of the above-evoked specific modality of transhumanism, which I especially addressed in a previous article); just like both (though not Nietzsche) were fully aware that the human was God-established as a worthy master of the cosmos himself put under God’s aegis, an intermediary rank that transhumanism fiercely rejects in its rebellion against the cosmic order.

Though the human is God-mandated to crown the beings with knowledge and technique, he is also God-mandated to perform his creativity in the respect of the God-implemented order and laws in the cosmos; in other words, God-mandated to accept himself as being “made in the image of God” (rather than made divine stricto sensu) and to act accordingly. None of the God-implemented laws in the cosmos can be actually transgressed; but attempt to transgress them is, for its part, not only possible but an actual cause of many misfortunes for the human.

A plane or bird can no more afford to disdain gravity (if it is to fly) than a human society (if it is to be functional) can afford to dismiss, for instance, the law of the inescapability of genetic inequality in any sexually reproducing species; the law of the instrumental necessity in any vertebrate species of “equal opportunity” for the purpose of the group’s success (in intergroup competition for survival); the law of the impossibility of (rational) central economic-planning; the law of the impossibility of (rational) central eugenics-planning; the law that what can be measured in intelligence is only part of intelligence; the law of the impossibility for the human mind to progress in knowledge (or in any field) without making use of an independent, creative mode of thinking (which is neither measured by the “QI” nor measurable); the law of the impossibility for the human mind (as it has been made by—and positioned within—the cosmos) to do any correct, precise prediction on the consequences of genome-editing; the law of the impossibility for the human mind to gather all the information required for the purpose of eugenics planning (or semi-planning) or economic planning (or semi-planning); the law of the unavoidable perverse-effects of any state-eugenics measure of a coercive, negative, or engineering kind; the law of the impossibility for the human being to master nature (to the extent possible) without submitting himself to nature; the law of the impossibility for the human being’s suprasensible grasp not to be approximative at best; or the law of the impossibility for the human being to reach some knowledge of the cosmos (or of the ideational realm) other than conjectural.

It cannot be denied that transhumanism and the afore-addressed modality of the “theory of evolution”—along with other memetic edifices of the so-called Modernity such as Marxism, Keynesianism, Heideggerianism, or Auguste Comte’s “positivism”—are part of the spiteful ideological mutations that got involved in the human’s corruption over the course of the three last centuries. Almost no longer any “positivist” dares, admittedly, to support or take seriously the notion dear to the earliest positivists, from the time of Auguste Comte, that “science,” far from requesting the slightest imagination, boils down to conducting observations (of regular causal relations) and to inducing them within theories constructed in accordance with “the” laws of formal logic; and that science provides objective certainties instead of being actually conjectural and corroborated.

The other articles of the original positivist creed—just as illusory—nevertheless remain deeply engraved in contemporary “neo-positivists.” Just as the so-called positivist spirit represents to itself that nothing exists but what is knowable (under the guise of claiming to restrict itself to knowing what is within the reach of human knowledge), it represents to itself that nothing is knowable but what is completely observable and completely quantifiable, entirely subject to a perfect and necessary regularity (at least, when identical circumstances are repeated over time) and to the identity, non-contradiction, and exclusion of the third middle (at least, in a certain respect at a certain moment). In that, “positivism” is not only unsuited to the (irremediably conjectural) knowledge of the human being, a creature subject (to a certain point) to free will, in whom everything by far is not quantifiable (or completely quantifiable); it is just as much to the (not less irremediably conjectural) knowledge of atomic and subatomic creatures, which, while behaving in a completely quantifiable mode, nonetheless remain free from the exclusion of the third middle (as highlighted by Stéphane Lupasco), perhaps even subject to their own free will to some extent (if one believes Freeman Dyson, Stuart Kauffman, John Conway, Simon Kochen, or Howard Bloom).

Positivism is equally mistaken in its conception of science as an undertaking systemically distinct from metaphysics—and in its conception of science as the key to a total human mastery with regard to nature and to an infinite liberation of his creative and exploitative powers. Just as those theories in astrophysics which relate to the beginning of the universe (including the theory of the “Big Bang”) actually tackle, in that, the issue of the “first causes,” the interest that “science” has in the allegedly necessary regularities in the causal relations between material entities (in a broad sense including atoms), what is commonly called “laws of nature,” is never more than a modality of the interest in “essences” which occupies a part of ontology.

To say of material entities that they follow a perfectly necessary regularity in all or part of their causal relations which is inherent in what they are actually falls within the discourse on “essences.” As for the mastery over the universe that science is able to bring to man, it is no more total than science is able to provide objectively certain theories. Far from science being able to render the human a god, it can only render him “as master and possessor” of nature: render him as-divine within the limits assigned to science and to the human by the order inherent in the cosmos, an order to which human submission is necessary condition for the liberation (to the extent possible) of his own creative and exploitative powers.

A scientific statement is never objectively certain nor a strict description of the sensible datum; but is instead a conjectured, corroborated statement. Precisely, what defines a scientific statement is not its object—but the fact it is conjectured, corroborated, and the way it is conjectured, corroborated (namely that is panoramically conjectured, corroborated). A claim or concept is conjectured when it is guessed from something which objectively doesn’t prove it.

A claim or concept conjectured at an empirical level (what is tantamount to saying: a claim or concept conjectured in an empirical sense) means a claim or concept conjectured from sensible experience; just like a claim or concept conjectured in a panoramic sense (what is tantamount to saying: a claim or concept conjectured at a panoramic level) means a claim or concept conjectured as much from sensible experience as from some logical laws as from hypothetical sensible impression (i.e., from sensible impression perhaps) as from hypothetical suprasensible impression (i.e., from suprasensible impression perhaps) as from hypothetical conjectures from sensible experience as from hypothetical ones from sensible impression (i.e., from ones perhaps from sensible impression) as from hypothetical ones from suprasensible impression as from hypothetical ones from hypothetical other conjectures from sensible experience, hypothetical other ones from some logical laws, hypothetical other ones from suprasensible impression, and hypothetical other ones from sensible impression, whether those hypothetical other conjectures are one’s conjectures or borrowed to someone else.

A claim or concept is corroborated when it is backed in a way that (objectively) doesn’t confirm it nonetheless. Corroboration at an empirical level (what is tantamount to saying: corroboration in an empirical sense) for a concept or claim means its corroboration through sensible experience; just like corroboration in a panoramic sense (what is tantamount to saying: corroboration at a panoramic level) for a concept or claim means its corroboration as much through sensible experience as through some logical laws as through hypothetical sensible impression (i.e., through sensible impression perhaps) as through hypothetical suprasensible impression (i.e., through suprasensible impression perhaps) as through hypothetical conjectures from sensible experience as through hypothetical ones from sensible impression (i.e., through ones perhaps from sensible impression) as through hypothetical ones from suprasensible impression as through hypothetical ones from hypothetical other conjectures from sensible experience, hypothetical other ones from some logical laws, hypothetical other ones from suprasensible impression, and hypothetical other ones from sensible impression, whether those hypothetical other conjectures are one’s conjectures or borrowed to someone else.

The logical laws used, trusted, in one’s mind are completely interdependent with the universe such as empirically conjectured in one’s mind or represented in one’s sensible impression, such as represented in one’s hypothetical suprasensible impression, such as conjectured from one’s logical laws, and such as represented in one’s hypothetical conjecturing from one’s sensible experience, in one’s hypothetical conjecturing from one’s (hypothetical) sensible impressions, in one’s hypothetical conjecturing from one’s (hypothetical) suprasensible impressions, and in one’s hypothetical conjecturing from hypothetical other conjectures from sensible experience and from hypothetical other ones from suprasensible impression and from hypothetical other ones from sensible impression (whether those hypothetical other conjectures are one’s conjectures or borrowed to someone else).

The scientific claims and concepts (what is tantamount to saying: the scientific theories and concepts) sometimes think of themselves as being conjectured only from the sensible datum and corroborated only from the latter; but they’re actually claims and concepts panoramically conjectured (including from the sensible datum) and panoramically corroborated (including from the sensible datum). As for the metaphysical claims and concepts, they’re neither systemically conjectured in a panoramic mode nor systemically corroborated in a panoramic mode; but, when they’re empirically corroborated, they’re also panoramically corroborated (and panoramically conjectured).

Any scientific claim or concept is panoramically conjectured, corroborated; but not any panoramically conjectured, corroborated, claim or concept is scientific. A scientific claim or concept is a modality of a panoramically conjectured, corroborated, claim or concept that not only allows for not-trivial quantitative positive predictions expected to be repeatedly verified under the repetition of some specific circumstances; but sees itself doomed to get empirically disproved in the hypothetical case where all or part of those predictions would be empirically refuted at some point.

From White And Black Magic To White And Black Technique

Technique is here taken in the sense of any apparatus intended to increase the human’s transformative or exploitive powers—whether it is through extending, sophisticating the social division of labor or through devising, deploying new technologies or through organizing society in a certain way aimed at increasing said powers. Most opponents to technique claim that they have something only against preferring technique over meditation on the Being, i.e., meditation on the mystery of the existence of things; or that they have something only against after preferring technique over the moderation of sensitive, material appetites, or over “heroism” understood as the capacity to die for one’s community or for something greater than oneself. Precisely, an error on their part lies in their more or less implicit assertion that a high level of technical development (i.e., a high level of development in all or part of the aforementioned modalities of technique) is necessarily incompatible with the meditation on the Being, the mastery of the sensitive, material appetites, or the sense of self-sacrifice—as if there were a choice to do between high technique (i.e., high technical development) and one or the other of those things.

Another error on their part lies in their more or less explicit approach to Being, the glade of existence, as a closed, complete glade, which only asks the human to meditate on the fact that there is something rather than nothing, that there is a glade rather than the night. Actually, the Being is open, incomplete, waiting for the human to pursue what exists prior to the human and to make himself the brush-cutter and arranger of the glade. Technique is no more external to the opening of the human to the Being than a high level of technical development necessarily breaks said opening. Heidegger simply failed to notice that the technique opens us as much to the Being as does meditation of the fact of existence; and that the human fulfills his role of “shepherd of the Being” as much in the astonished consideration of the presence of things as in the cognitive, technical completion of the present things. Meditative astonishment at the mystery of existence is not doomed to disappear as knowledge and technique are boarding (and prolonging) what exists; but its vocation in “the history of the Being” is to stand at the side of technical development as asked by the Being itself.

Two things, at least, should be clarified. Namely that, on the one hand, the axiological, organizational hegemony of the market (which can only be majorly at work, not completely) doesn’t lead to the axiological, organizational promotion (either complete or major) of intemperance in society; and that, on the other hand, not all technique is good technic from the joint angle of the Being, of the divine order, and of the “human dignity.” (What is bad technique from the angle of the Being is also bad technique from those two other angles. Ditto for what is bad technique from the angle of the divine order—and bad technique from the angle of the “human dignity.”)

A society that is strictly industrious in its foundations, i.e., where the industrious activity (instead of the military one) is the dominant activity in the organization and the foundational code of expectations, is not systemically a society that notably values, expects, intemperance and which articulates its industrious activity around it notably. Such society is instead a modality of the industrious society. With regard to the modality where the market is largely liberated and largely hegemonic at the organizational and axiological levels, that hegemony of a largely liberated market not only does not imply that a complete or high intemperance is valued in the foundational expectations or put at the core of social organization; but, besides, is simply incompatible with such an organizational or axiological hegemony of intemperance.

A largely liberated market notably requires (as would be the case of a perfectly liberated market) for its proper functioning the presence of (quantitatively) numerous and profitable outlets, what notably requires the presence of a virtuous circle where high levels of savings obtained notably through high or perfect temperance create—notably through a correct entrepreneurial anticipation of the respective consumption and investment demands—high levels of entrepreneurial and capital income, themselves reinjected in part into savings and in part into consumption. The modality of an industrious society where the market is largely hegemonic at organizational and axiological levels (in other words, the modality of an industrious society that is the majorly bourgeois society) is therefore a modality whose code of expectations condemns the slightest intemperance (instead of encouraging or tolerating it) and whose organization is based on high or full temperance (rather than high or moderate intemperance).

What one may call the Keynesian modality of an industrious society, where the economic system is largely based on economic policy measures whose interference with the market intentionally encourages high levels of consumption (to the detriment of levels of savings which be high or moderate), is actually a modality that axiologically praises high intemperance notably and which notably relies on it in the organization; but that modality, precisely, is neither one where the market is majorly (or completely) liberated nor one where it is majorly (or completely) hegemonic in values.

It is true that a society where the market is majorly hegemonic (both organizationally and axiologically) is a society where the valued, expected code of conduct in the foundations of said society includes—apart from self-sacrifice on the battlefield in intergroup warfare—concern for pursuing as a priority, placing above all else, a perfectly temperate and perfectly responsible subsistence, which be so long as possible and which avoid danger as much as possible; but intemperance, whether high, complete, low, or moderate, is just as incompatible with such code of conduct as (strictly) high or complete temperance is indispensable to the organization of a society where a largely liberated market is largely hegemonic.

Just as the bourgeois code of conduct and indulgence with regard to such-or-such level of intemperance (were it the lowest) are wholly distinct (and even wholly incompatible) things, a (completely) Keynesian market and a widely liberated market are wholly distinct (and even wholly incompatible) things. Just as a largely liberated and largely hegemonic (axiologically and organizationally) market requires quantitatively numerous and profitable outlets for its proper functioning, it requires qualitatively numerous and profitable outlets: in other words, profitable outlets that are “diverse and varied” (rather than homogeneous). It is not only false that a largely liberated and largely hegemonic (axiologically and organizationally) market requires for its proper functioning a (strictly) complete or high intemperance; it is just as much false that a largely liberated and largely hegemonic (axiologically and organizationally) market requires standardized outlets for its proper functioning.

Whatever the level of liberalization of the national or global market, a double cause-and-effect relationship that is at work both in the national and global market is effectively the following. Namely that the more the profitable outlets are qualitatively numerous (i.e., diversified at the level of their respective attributes), the more they are quantitatively numerous; the less they are qualitatively numerous, the less they are quantitatively numerous. The highly standardized character of goods and services in the contemporary global market is precisely a dysfunctional pattern in the globalized market; and that dysfunctional motive is itself the consequence of the fact that, however globalized it may be, the globalized market is largely hampered juridically—and hampered for the benefit of a narrow number of companies and banks enjoying fiscal and legal advantages that are such that those companies and banks are largely sheltered from competition. Both at the national-market level and at the global-market level: the more competition is juridically locked, the less the profitable outlets are qualitatively, quantitatively numerous; the less it is, the more they are.

Just like a society that majorly prefers technique over exploit, i.e., which majorly disdains exploit for the benefit of technique, is majorly detrimental to the human’s elevation towards the superhuman, a society that completely prefers technique over exploit (as is the case of a majorly bourgeois society—and as would be the case of a completely bourgeois chimerical society) is completely detrimental to the human’s elevation towards the superhuman. Technique is not more to be preferred (completely or majorly) over exploit than the latter is to be preferred (completely or majorly) over the former. Both are compatible and should go hand in hand (as is the case in some modalities of a society completely warlike foundationally). Yet the opponents to technique err not only in their amalgamating disdain for heroism with disdain for temperance; but in their understanding heroism as a conduct incompatible with (high) technique—and as a conduct turned towards self-erasure and self-sacrifice through anonymous death (even while heroism is really about self-singularization and self-immortalization through exploit such as defined above).

What’s more, they fail to notice that the problem with technique is not only to be aware not to prefer technique over that to which it should remain not-preferred; but to be aware not to indulge into what can be called black technique or bad technique (in comparison with that kind of magic that can be called black or bad). Precisely, the distinction that Pico della Mirandola takes up (and clarifies) between two kinds of magic, the one which “entirely falls within the action and authority of demons” and the one which instead consists of “the perfect fulfillment of natural philosophy,” must extend to technique. Namely that, while the good, white technique is the one which is only the crowning of the natural order, the completion of the Being, the bad, black technique is the one which (were it unwittingly) works to transgress the natural order, subvert the Being. The former contributes to fulfilling the human as a being-as-divine, but the latter, working (were it unwittingly) to render the human divine, contributes to corrupting him and handing him over to the demons. The former really institutes the human as a fortunate co-creator alongside the divine, but the latter, indulging in the chimerical project of escaping the cosmic order and equaling the divine, only makes to condemn the human and his work to misfortune.

Just as bad magic, to quote Pico, is, rightly, “condemned and cursed not only by the Christian religion [of the type of Catholicism of Pico’s time], but by all laws, by every well ordered state,” the bad technique must be legally, politically, religiously condemned unambiguously. The transhumanist, so to speak, must be led to the stake just like the Keynesian. From engineering on the genome of embryos to those neuro-robotic implants undermining free will, from genetic planning to any coercive, negative, or engineering state-eugenics measure, from economic planning to any economic-policy measure undermining such things as inheritance, free competition, saving, or the freedom itself to do saving, demonic-type technique must be banned in its entirety; but good technique, the one which elevates us towards God and the superhuman, must be authorized.


Grégoire Canlorbe is an independent scholar, based in Paris. Besides conducting a series of academic interviews with social scientists, physicists, and cultural figures, he has authored a number of metapolitical and philosophical articles. He also worked on a (currently finalized) conversation book with the philosopher, Howard Bloom. See his website: gregoirecanlorbe.com.


The featured image shows, “Herod’s Banquet,” by Filippo Lippi; painted ca. 1452 and 1465.

Nicholas Capaldi: Liberalism And The West

In this wide-ranging interview, Nicholas Capaldi, shares his ideas on liberalism and its many “fruits.” This is a riveting discussion of the current state of the world – and more importantly what can be done about it. Leading the discussion is Harrison Koehli.



The featured image shows, “Feestvierende boeren (Celebrating farmers),” by Adriaen Brouwer; painted ca. ca.1605-1638.

How To Reverse The Widespread, Nonsensical Principles Of Utopianism. Part 1.

Some Preliminary Remarks About The Commonsense Need To Avoid Small Mistakes

Toward the start of his treatise entitled, On the Heavens (Book 1, chapter 5), the great ancient Greek philosopher, tutor of Alexander the Great, and master of commonsense and commonsense philosophy, Aristotle, sagely cautioned students that small mistakes in the beginning of a study tend greatly to multiply as the investigation continues. By this he meant that every human investigation naturally grows out of a commonsense knowledge of proximate first principles, starting points, of knowing – something an investigator should know best (his principles of understanding), from which reasoning then proceeds. Today, physical scientists often call these evident commonsense, first principles “assumptions.”

As a master of commonsense, evident to Aristotle was that to reason, become educated (educe by analysis or synthesis) about how some composite-whole organization is put together or can be taken apart, we must first understand, immediately induce, precisely what the organizational whole, or subject/genus, is that we chiefly want to study (are interested in), and about which we are wondering, talking, and reasoning. For we can only reasonably wonder, talk, and reason about what we know, not about what we do not know.

For example, competent engineers, those with commonsense, who want to build a bridge, do not start by mistaking the principles of grammar for those of engineering. They do not think that applying principles of grammar to some multitude of material can possibly cause that material to become a structurally-strong bridge. They understand, assume, that a bridge is a general and specific kind of organizational whole (real genus) that essentially demands application of principles of mathematics and physics to construct. And really professional engineers (people actually interested in studying engineering) reasonably consider any so-called engineer who understands otherwise to lack commonsense, and be a fool, a fake.

Aristotle’s observation tells us is that worse than bad reasoning, in helping (educing) someone to become educed, or educated, is not to understand precisely:

1) The subject (genus/organizational whole) about which we are wondering, talking, reasoning; and
2) What actually can or cannot cause it to come to exist as an organizational unity and operate the way it does.

In addition, Aristotle realized that an organizational whole (genus) considered simply as an organizational whole (genus) and considered as a subject demanding analysis or synthesis (one that interests us, that we psychologically wonder about, at this or that moment) immediately becomes somewhat of a qualitatively different kind of subject for us than, strictly speaking, it is considered in itself.

For example, considered as organizational wholes (genera), a human being, married man, father, car driver, firefighter, and a bowler are essentially and qualitatively different, real organizational wholes, or subjects/real genera. John Smith the married human person is essentially, qualitatively, different relationally and psychologically from John Smith the human being, husband, father, automobile driver, firefighter, and bowler – a being with essentially, qualitatively differently related, specific organizational parts, such as, physical and psychological faculties, capabilities, and talents.

Failure to recognize these distinctions on a daily, even moment-to-moment, basis will cause John Smith and others all sorts of personal and professional problems. Analogously, it will cause all sorts of difficulties for any educator trying to analyze or alter John Smith’s behavior in this or that situation or set of circumstances.

When an educator, or any knower, studies a subject genus (organizational whole), an educator or knower does so as a qualitatively different knower of a qualitatively different subject-known. Considered as a studied-subject (a subject of study), psychological examination (examination by the human psyche) is not identical with, and is specifically and qualitatively different from, a subject considered simply as a subject.

For example, in a way, both a biologist and a heart surgeon study and do not study the human heart. Generically considered, both study the human heart. But specifically considered, the biologist does so as a life-scientist, chiefly intellectually and volitionally (psychologically) interested in the human heart as life-generating; while the heart surgeon does so, medically, as someone specifically, intellectually (psychologically), wanting to know about the human heart as health-generating.

While really existing, as organizational wholes, independently of a knower, considered as specifically-known-and-understood educational subjects, and psychological subjects of interest, these organizational wholes are always situationally, circumstantially, interest-considered subjects. According to Aristotle and St. Thomas:

1) Situations, circumstances, always enter into the specification of an act;
2) And a real genus, organizational whole, essentially exists in and grows out of, is generated by, the harmonious unity of relationships of the specific actions of its many, hierarchically-ordered, qualitatively, more-or-less perfect, specific parts that constitute its real, not logical, proximate principles/causes.

For example, the habit of music considered as a real genus is not a logical premise. It is a real proximate principle/cause that exists only in and through specifically different individual actions of habits of qualitatively, unequal, more-or-less individually-talented musicians (like classical, jazz, orchestral, and so on), as more or less perfect ways of relating sounds into organizationally-pleasing wholes—pleasing sounds more or less beautiful to, and fostering, healthy human hearing in human beings.

Every operational, organizational whole (which is all that a real genus is), exists in and through the harmonious unity of its principles: Its specific and individual parts. As a result, a totally unharmonious organization is no organization at all, and is no more conceivable as such than is the concept of a square circle.

Consequently, educational subjects (genera, species, and individuals existing within genera and species) are, and can only be, subjects of this or that specific and individual human, psychological interest: Subjects that interest this or that person as a psychological subject of wonder, in this or that way (circumstantially, situationally), as concretely existing at this or that time, or considered as abstractly existing apart from any time or place like the genera, species, and individuals that interest logicians.

The truth of what I am saying becomes glaringly evident, if we analyze the difference between John Smith, the day-to-day firefighter, and John Smith, the weekend-bowler. If John Smith the firefighter goes out on the weekend with fellow firefighters and a fire breaks out at the bowling alley, the behavior of these individuals in this situation would not likely be to throw bowling balls at the fire.

Sane, adult human beings, investigators, with commonsense, would consider such behavior in this situation (set of circumstances) to be irrational, out of touch with reality, lacking in commonsense. To make sense out of, make intelligible, understand, anyone’s behavior at this or that time, or apart from any specific and individual place and time, requires that anyone with commonsense consider who or what (efficient cause) is doing what (formal cause); to what (material cause), with what (instrumental cause); where (place), why (final cause), when (time), and how (quality): The specific parts of what Aristotle and St. Thomas considered to be essential parts of an individual human act.

As both Aristotle and Aquinas rightly recognized, as completely as possible understanding any specific and individual act essentially demands recognizing at work, Aristotle’s famous “four causes,” the intrinsic property of quality, and the external conditions and opportunity of time and place—all of which, considered as a whole, specify and individualize an act within a real genus, or organizational whole.

The nonsensical psychological disposition of Utopian Socialists/Marxists and their topsy-turvy understanding of human beings and education as essentially lacking concrete/real commonsense

I raise the above points at the start of considering the nature of the nonsensical principles of Utopians, Socialism and Marxism, and how to reverse their influence, to drive home to readers an essential difference between the abstract way in which, like logicians and ideologues, a Marxist, considered as a species of utopian socialist (Enlightenment intellectual), someone sorely lacking in concrete (real) commonsense, tends to look at education. He or she does not tend to do so in the concrete, commonsense fashion I have described above in which, better-, or evidently-understood truths must first be known before reasoning happens and science can be achieved.

A Marxist does so in the contrary opposite way; and consistent application of this topsy-turvy manner of viewing human beings and human education is the chief cause that turns healthy children into little Marxists and older adults into big ones. As a political ideologue devoid of real commonsense, but driven by an intense desire to be logically consistent (abstractly commonsensical), through use of a fairytale history he or she borrows from Jean-Jacques Rousseau‘s educational treatise, Émile, or “Abstract Man,” he or she transforms the real, concrete nature and history of human education into an abstract, fictional, imaginary epic, similar to Homer’s Odyssey.

In this fictional tale, consciousness in the form of the god “Humanity” emerges in a systematically-logical fashion from a backward state of individual, emotional selfishness, rooted in a pre-logical, pre-cultural, and prehistoric state of awareness. In this prehistoric, pre-cultural, and pre-logical state, “Humanity” shows no sign of having a conscience, logic, or social consciousness. He is a greedy, uncultured, barbaric, anti-social, unscientific, insincere, intolerant, bad-willed individual who fights other such individuals in pursuit of possession of private property; not the historic, cultured, systematically-logical and enlightened sincerely-selfless, property-less, tolerant, Social-scientific Good Will into which he seeks to emerge.

According to this fairytale theological epic (metaphysical and moral educational history), once upon a time there lived a prehistoric god named, “Humanity” who would someday emerge from being a train of logically-blind, selfish, individualistic, warring emotions into the systematically-logical idea of human freedom creating human history as the grand narrative, autobiography, of the poetic spirit of free creation of the human imagination. He is poetic free spirit (Absolute Spirit/”Humanity”), emerging from a state of backward religious consciousness (Subjective Spirit) in prehistoric and later, backward, different cultural times and geographical locations, finally to become, at the end of human history, progressive, scientific self-awareness of himself as Perfect Social-scientific Good Will.

As the story goes, long, long ago in a far-off place in prehistoric/pre-cultural/pre-logical time, before logic and selfless, sincere, tolerant-of-all-difference (except intolerant, hateful difference) social-science and conscience had existed, supposedly an illogical, unenlightened human consciousness had existed as an irrational, selfish, greedy, insincere, intolerant, individualistic, train of hate-filled, conscience-less, anti-social, brute emotions that talked in hate-filled, anti-social, selfish ways. Somewhat like the ancient Israelites wandering in the desert and René Descartes wandering about Europe in search of a clear and distinct idea of himself and true science, “Humanity” (aka, “Abstract Man”) had roamed the Earth with no clear and distinct, concrete, scientific idea of who he truly was: The only real creator-god.

Wanting to get a perfect idea of himself, but not knowing that he was the only cause of everything, all differences, “Humanity” decided to create a logic, generated by the idea of progress, or development, that would give him a systematically-logical plan to enable him to emerge out of himself to hunt for perfect understanding of his true identity. Essentially, this logical plan consisted in a creating a fairytale, or fictional narrative in the form of a human history of himself as a backward, unenlightened, selfish will, or train of emotions, engaged in an odyssey of projecting his emotions in contradictory ways historically, qualitatively onward and upward more perfectly, in different geographical regions of the Earth at different times.

“Humanity” planned to do this to see whether he could recognize himself as the epic poetic idea of perfect freedom (the Spirit of Human Freedom as Scientific Will) always and everywhere progressing out of himself from a primitive, infantile, abstract, logically-unsystematic, train of emotions (abstract general ideas) into a concrete, adult, logically-systematic, train of ideas—the one and only social self and Scientific Will/god of metaphysical poetry that is the only real Creator of all Things: The One, True, god.

Every time he concretely did so, however, “Humanity” only saw some slight likeness of himself in those emotions. No one, or even a train, of them ever perfectly captured his likeness, clearly and distinctly with the thrilling, lively-enthusiastic, emotional clarity of a scientific likeness of the train of emotions, containing systematic logic within it, that he was convinced was identical with himself as a Perfect, Pure, Social-science Good Will containing all scientific understanding and real differences.

In their fantasy world (to which they often refer as a “narrative”), this is the way Marxists, as Enlightenment intellectuals and Utopian Socialists, look at human history. They claim that, prior to emerging into one single consciousness of oneself as systematic, logical, social-science will, the only thing that exists is a human consciousness as a weakly-connected train of thoughts in the form of atomic-like, discrete, feelings, rationally-blind, rationally-un-integrated, un-trained emotions.

Transformation from being atomized, rationally (logically) blind emotions, into being a logically systematic train of emotions that constitutes the nature of an enlightened, or social-science feeling (knowledge/perfect science as identical with Pure Social-science Good Will/god) only comes from a train of thought possessing a qualitatively higher form of social-political intelligence (what an ancient Greek would call higher gnosis). And they maintain, further, that this mysterious gift of qualitatively higher intellection is no act of intellect at all. Instead, it is an act of pure social/political, Sincere Good Will, or Socially-perfect Willpower.

In short, in contrast to the commonsense wisdom of Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, and most ordinary, intellectually-healthy human beings (who maintain that truth is a psychological activity located within the human faculty of human intellect and naturally-knowable even to young children), strictly speaking, Marxists think that the truth is actually a sociopolitical, construct caused to a train of thoughts by economic relations.

These economic relations, in turn, are supposedly caused by social-science relations that are only possessed by people (systematic trains of thought) of sincere/tolerant or insincere/intolerant feelings (good will [love]/or bad will [hate]): People like themselves, with sincere, socially-consciousness, healthy, tolerant, political feelings who, more than anything else, love humanity, or people like property-developer Donald Trump, who love petty-bourgeois-philistine-individualism-individualists, and selfish possession of personal property

As Gilbert Keith Chesterton once quipped about such individuals, these are people who tend to love humanity, but hate their next-door neighbor: People who psychologically inhabit a world to which Chesterton referred as “Topsy-turvydom,” one in which everything is upside down. As intellectual descendants of Georg Hegel (someone Chesterton had considered to be a madman), why Marxists should inhabit such a world is easily understandable. As Utopian Socialists, all Enlightenment thinkers inhabit this intellectual world in which emotions, feelings, have/cause people; people do not have/cause emotions.

Whether or not Hegel was actually mad, I do not know. That he lacked real commonsense, I do know. And that Marxists are even more lacking in real commonsense than was Hegel and Hegelians, I also know. While Marxists claim to stand Hegel on his head, they do not do so to get out of his nonsensical teachings. They do so more fully to imbibe them. Hegel, at least, pretended to make a distinction between matter and spirit. Marxists conflate the two with each other and with human consciousness: Humanity. Doing so is the chief cause of all their personal problems and all the problems they cause for those around them. Precisely how they got to be the way they are is an issue with which I will deal in a second essay related to the Topsy-turvy world of Marxism.


Peter Redpath was Professor of Philosophy at St. John’s University. He is the author/editor of 17 philosophical books and dozens of articles and book reviews. He has given over 200 invited guest lectures nationally and internationally, and headed many prestigious organizations. He is the only non-Polish scholar to hold the Laudatio Achievement Award for attainment of intellectual and organizational wisdom, from the Department of Philosophy, Culture, and Art at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, in Poland. More information is found at his website.


The featured image shows, “Kiss of Death,” by Bohumil Kubišta; painted in 1912.

American Anorexia: The Thin Mind Casts No Shadow

1.

There are at least two definitions for barbarism, neither sympathetic to the innate dignity of the human person. Barbarism is extreme cruelty or brutality, evoking mindless savagery, callous disregard for life, and a cold-blooded viciousness that brooks no mercy; where barbarism rules, culture and civilization will inevitably be corrupted and crushed. History is witness to this; barbarism has existed since God first created man. Whether it has been brother against brother, tribe against tribe, nation against nation, ruler against subjects, it is only the scale that differs, the results are always the same: civility and culture are early victims of decay, oppression, persecution, and inevitably, proscription.

Barbarism is the antithesis of civilization and the destroyer of culture, though contrary to what one might assume, while lacking in objective principles, it adopts pseudo-principles expressed as saccharine euphemisms to justify its brutal disregard. The most barbaric acts of oppression have always been justified through abstractions—utopian phantasms achievable only through the coarsest application of totalitarian diktat and force. In the post-modern world few are wont to believe there are barbarians and barbarism, except perhaps in the movies; but, to use the words of Thomas Sowell, “The barbarians are not at the gates. They are inside the gates—and have academic tenure, judicial appointments, government grants, and control of the movies, television, and other media.”

The twenty-year war, disastrously lost, in Afghanistan exemplifies what Eighteenth century Scottish philosopher David Hume claimed in A Treatise of Human Nature:

“When our own nation is at war with any other, we detest them under the character of cruel, perfidious, unjust and violent: but always esteem ourselves and allies equitable, moderate and merciful. If the general of our enemies be successful, ‘tis with difficulty we allow him the figure and character of a man. He is a sorcerer: he has a communication with daemons … he is bloody-minded and takes a pleasure in death and destruction. But if the success be on our side, our commander has all the opposite good qualities, and is a pattern of virtue, as well as of courage and conduct. His treachery we call policy: His cruelty is an evil inseparable from war. In short, every one of his faults we either endeavor to extenuate, or dignify it with the name of that virtue, which approaches it. ‘Tis evident that the same method of thinking runs thro’ common life.”

According to David Livingstone Smith, Less Than Human, Hume quite elegantly described what “present-day social psychologists call outgroup bias—the tendency to favor members of one’s own community and discriminate against outsiders (otherwise known as the ‘us and them’ mentality).” When things go badly for our group, tribe, etc., it is due to some perceived injustice—racism the current cri de coeur—but when the shoe is on the other foot, it is because the other brought it upon themselves, they deserved what they got.

“Hume takes the idea of outgroup bias even further by arguing that sometimes we are so strongly biased against others that we stop seeing them as human beings.” He described “three powerful sources of bias, arguing that we naturally favor people who resemble us, who are related to us, or who are nearby. The people who are ‘different’—who are another color, or who speak a different language, or who practice a different religion—people who are not our blood relations or who live far away, are unlikely to spontaneously arouse the same degree of concern in you as members of your family or immediate community.”

Or, one could add, those who differ ideologically, politically, religiously, or any of a myriad of social and cultural diversions.

Immanuel Kant, a German academic, saw things differently. He recognized the human tendency to regard people as means to an end, thus (though he never used the term) dehumanizing others, effectively categorizing them as subhuman creatures. He wrote, “man should not address other human beings in the same way as animals but should regard them as having an equal share in the gifts of nature.” “Equal share” sounds far too much like equity which proves no small comfort. When we regard people as a means, we suspend the moral obligation to treat them as fully human. This then grants free conscience to cancel, ostracize, or exterminate such subhuman creatures as we please.

What is it within the human psyche that permits such dehumanization? How can we objectively know that all people, no matter their superficial distinctiveness, are full members of homo sapiens? Smith writes, “Although we now know that all people are members of the same species, this awareness doesn’t run very deep, and we have a strong unconscious (‘automatic’) tendency to think of foreigners as subhuman creatures. This gut-level assessment often calls the shots for our feelings and behavior. We can bring ourselves to kill foreigners because, deep down, we don’t believe that they are human.”

Closer to home, dehumanization is starkly presented through distraction by abstraction: it is no longer your neighbor, it is not your friend, nor your brother or sister, son or daughter. No, it is the unvaccinated (show me your papers,) the undocumented (no papers required,) the insurrectionists, white supremacists, and domestic terrorists (who they might be is undocumented) that have become the focus, the individual is insignificant, it is the group, the tribe, the cult, the mob that must garner our undivided attention as the greatest existential threat to democracy or its victim.

Smith cites John T. MacCurdy, The Psychology of War (1918), who noted when tensions are high, “[t]he unconscious idea that the foreigner belongs to a rival species becomes a conscious belief that he is a pestiferous type of animal.” There are more than enough examples to prove MacCurdy’s point. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, for whom he dedicated it “to all those who did not live to tell it.” Mao Zedong’s cannibalistic “Cultural Revolution,“ resulting in 60-70 million deaths. The ongoing Islamic jihad against the infidel: “Surely the vilest of animals in Allah’s sight are those who disbelieve” (Koran 8:55).

Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, offers a deeply grim portrayal of dehumanization from his experiences in four concentration camps, including Auschwitz near Oświęcim, Poland. It is said that there were days in summer when it snowed in Oświęcim, so heavy were the ashes emitting from the furnaces cremating the dead.

And yet, Frankl survived and wrote what Harold S. Kushner described as one of the most religious sentences written in the twentieth century:

“We have come to know Man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.”

Tragically, history is replete with similar dehumanizing pathologies; nothing has changed, man’s barbaric nature continues, hellbent on destroying himself.

2.

According to Richard John Neuhaus, “Culture is the root of politics, and religion is the root of culture.” This proverb commands a hierarchy whose order of importance is much more than illusory. Politics is not the root of the cultural tree but its fruit, culture is not the root of religion but the moral product of reason and objective truth.

Thus, politics to be good and just must be rooted in a culture grounded in natural law and moral and ethical tradition. For the West, for more than a millennium, such tradition has been monotheistic, predominately Judeo-Christian, which philosopher Peter Kreeft, How to Destroy Western Civilization, notes, at its core has long professed that “[e]very man is an end in himself. Man is the only creature God created for his own sake. Cultures, civilizations, nations, and even religions exist for man, not man for them. And they are judged by how well they serve man, not by how well man serves them.”

This, of course, echoes Scripture: “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27) which by all indications modern man has either willfully forgotten, or as more likely, has narcissistically chosen to ignore. Yet, ever more so, a higher probability rests in man choosing a god more profane, one less intransigent, certainly less creative, willing to bend the truth to fit the progressive narrative.

Every country has a civic religion and America’s civic religion, since its founding, has been wedded to Natural Law and Judeo-Christian tradition—”the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” as written in the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. There are people who claim they are not religious, that belief in a transcendent being is superstitious nonsense. Thus, they will argue, faith expressed in the public square is prohibited by the First Amendment to the Constitution, which is fallacious on its face—but they know that as well as anyone. Those who insist on ramming the Bible and religious dogma down everyone’s throats are cultists, evangelical bigots, Bible thumpers, primitive deplorable fools.

The enlightened secular humanists say and act as if they have no faith, and yet, their ideology, now pervasive on the progressive left, is much more a zealous faith—a zealotry which tolerates no dissent. The secularists, for the moment, have won and their zealots (the Woke Cancel Culture mob) control the language, what can and cannot be said.

Former speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan said in an interview, “I remember when the gay marriage decision was handed down by the Supreme Court, the Harrisburg Patriot in Harrisburg, PA wrote an Op Ed saying, ‘We are no longer going to carry letters to the editor that oppose gay marriage because it is now hate speech.’ So, if you dissent from the orthodoxy of this secular (zealous) religion, you are a hater, a bigot, a racist—pick the term. And you are a bad person who must be silenced. And that proves my point, that their religious zealotry is a lot—talk about someone hammering a point of view down your throat—not only do they hammer it down your throat, but they also sew your mouth shut so you can’t say anything about it.”

Though they deny it, the left believes this, it is their orthodoxy, their religious faith: they are right, you are wrong, but, not only are you wrong, what you believe is hateful. Beliefs that have been around for millennia have become anathema and those who continue to believe are haters and must be silenced.

Cruelty is not limited to the barbarian. Any man, under parlous circumstances, can be cruel to other men. For the main, men are tempered by religion and a moral code, thus, such cruelty generally appears coincident with personal danger or tyranny. “And if anywhere in history masses of common and kindly men become cruel,”

Chesterton would argue, “it almost certainly does not mean that they are serving something in itself tyrannical (for why should they?). It almost certainly does mean that something that they rightly value is in peril, such as the food of their children, the chastity of their women, or the independence of their country. And when something is set before them that is not only enormously valuable, but also quite new, the sudden vision, the chance of winning it, the chance of losing it, drive them mad. It has the same effect in the moral world that the finding of gold has in the economic world. It upsets values, and creates a kind of cruel rush.”

Elsewhere, Chesterton wrote:

“When I was about seven years old I used to think the chief modern danger was a danger of over-civilisation. I am inclined to think now that the chief modern danger is that of a slow return towards barbarism…. Civilisation in the best sense merely means the full authority of the human spirit over all externals. Barbarism means the worship of those externals in their crude and unconquered state.”

As if he were writing these words in the here and now, Chesterton writes as if of the new barbarism:

“Whenever men begin to talk much and with great solemnity about the forces outside man, the note of it is barbaric. When men talk much about heredity and environment they are almost barbarians. The modern men of science are many of them almost barbarians…. For barbarians (especially the truly squalid and unhappy barbarians) are always talking about these scientific subjects from morning till night. That is why they remain squalid and unhappy; that is why they remain barbarians.”

CS Lewis wrote in The Abolition of Man, “We reduce things to mere nature in order that we may ‘conquer’ them” which serves to prove man’s desire for a profane god that can be controlled, or at the very least, modified to suit. The crisis of the West, according to Lewis, is really a crisis of reason, a crisis of reason’s ability to know nature, that at the origins of modern science, it was necessary to think of nature in quantitative—measurable and predictable—rather than qualitative terms in order to gain power over it.

“We are always conquering Nature because ‘Nature’ is the name for what we have, to some extent, conquered. The price of conquest is to treat a thing as mere Nature.” So, we reduce nature to quantity so we can control it, but whenever we do so, we lose some of nature’s quality. “Every conquest over Nature increases her domain. The stars do not become Nature till we can weigh and measure them: the soul does not become Nature till we can psychoanalyze her. The wresting of powers from Nature is also the surrendering of things to Nature.”

Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) in Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, is even more explicit, amplifying in many ways what Lewis had only imagined:

“Less visible, but not … less disturbing, are the possibilities of self-manipulation that man has acquired. He has investigated the farthest recesses of his being, he has deciphered the components of the human being, and now he is able, so to speak, to ‘construct’ man on his own. This means that man enters the world, no longer a gift of the Creator, but as the product of our activity—and a product that can be selected according to requirements that we ourselves stipulate. In this way, the splendor of the fact that he is the image of God—the source of his dignity and of his inviolability—no longer shines upon this man; his only splendor is the power of human capabilities. Man is nothing more now than the image of man—but of what man?”

“As long as this process stops short of the final stage,” Lewis wrote, “we may well hold that the gain outweighs the loss,” because it is true that the reduction has given us significant scientific benefits in medicine and technology.

“But as soon as we take the final step of reducing our own species to the level of mere Nature, the whole process is stultified, for this time the being who stood to gain and the being who has been sacrificed are one and the same. This is one of the many instances where to carry a principle to what seems its logical conclusion produces absurdity.… it is the magician’s bargain: give up our soul, get power in return. But once our souls, that is, ourselves, have been given up, the power thus conferred will not belong to us. We shall in fact be slaves and puppets of that to which we have given our souls.”

The obvious questions one should ask are what prevents us from reducing ourselves to mere nature like the rest of things? What prevents us from reducing ourselves to mere quantity and not quality? The truth, readily available to eyes that wish to see, “if man chooses to treat himself as raw material, raw material he will be: not raw material to be manipulated, as he fondly imagined, by himself, but by mere appetite, that is, mere Nature, in the person of his de-humanized Conditioners.”

We have reduced modern man to mere quantity; no longer do we see man a rational being with an immortal soul. No more is man made in the image and likeness of his Creator, man has been quantitatively redefined, reconstituted into whatever image he desires—transgenderism and sexual orientation perhaps the most obvious— the inestimable quality of man thus reduced to subjective material value. And, sadly, that is not worth much. The elements in the human body are worth about $585. According to one source, 99% of the mass of the human body consists of six elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus, worth approximately $576; all the other elements taken together are worth only about $9 more.

“A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.” Ratzinger, in raising the alarm, noted how we are living in a period of great dangers, “During the past century, the possibilities available to man for dominion over matter have grown in a manner we may truly call unimaginable. But the fact that he has power over the world has also meant that man’s destructive power has reached dimensions that can sometimes make us shudder. Here, one thinks spontaneously of the threat of terrorism, this new war without national borders and without lines of battle.… this has induced even states under the rule of law to have recourse to internal systems of security similar to those that once existed only in dictatorships; and yet the feeling remains that all these precautions will never really be enough, since a completely global control is neither possible nor desirable.” He goes on to say that the truest and gravest danger at the present moment is the imbalance between technological possibilities and moral energy. “The security we all need as a presupposition of our freedom and dignity cannot ultimately be derived from technical systems of control. It can come only from the moral strength of man, and where this is lacking or insufficient, the power man has will be transformed more and more into a power of destruction.”

3.

The brutal dehumanization experienced under hard totalitarian regimes, however, is not the only form of barbarism, there is a softer, more insidious form, which—like cooking a frog by slowly turning up the heat—relies on the inattention of the masses to the soft tyranny inexorably imposed by those who would wield power over them. Zbigniew Janowski knows well from personal experience the brutality and death that comes from that particularly pernicious form of barbarism which he describes in Homo Americanus. But perhaps because of his own lived experience he also recognizes more than many in the West, especially in America, that liberal democracy can itself be as barbaric and cruel, especially without a strong moral compass to temper the powerful urges of those (Lewis’ Controllers) who would wield power.

“The absence of brutality and death in soft-totalitarianism makes it more difficult to perceive the evil of equality.” He notes that though the barbarism experienced under communism provided fertile ground for opposition and dissidents, “the other reason why dissent grew under communism was a strong sense of moral right and wrong taught by religion.” In Poland, “where the Church was strong, ideological opposition was unprecedented.”

Janowski believes the rapid decline in religiosity among Americans may be one reason why this country is well on its way to becoming a totalitarian state.

“Young Americans’ sense of right and wrong seems weak, and if it is strong, it is often limited to students who graduated from religious, predominantly Catholic, schools. One can add that the weak perception of evil may stem from the fact that Americans have not experienced the atrocities that other nations have; they don’t even know about them.”

Janowski’s point is important. Most young Americans have no clear recollection of barbarism on American soil, even worse, they have little or no understanding of it, thus, no comprehension of the barbaric underpinnings of either communism or liberal democracy. The twenty year “war” in Afghanistan has long lost any significance to those born in the twenty-first century. What precipitated it has long been forgotten, memory holed by those self-same tenured academics, judicial activists, leftist politicians, and the complicit media.

Many of those young Americans, if asked, have little awareness of or concern for the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001. Too many have been indoctrinated into believing that any mention of the radicalized Islamic terrorists who committed the heinous attacks is evidence of Islamophobia and overt racial bigotry—quite ignorant of the fact that Islam is neither race nor ethnicity, but rather, both a religion and a political system (Sharia). Islam is the name of a religion, just as Christianity, Judaism, or Buddhism; none favor or are peculiar to a particular race or ethnicity.

Josef Pieper, German Catholic philosopher, once reflecting upon the power of language, wrote, “Words convey reality” which is eminently true as far as such a brief aphorism can connote. However, precision and truth matter; words tossed carelessly together without thought convey nothing of substance.

Orwell, in his classic essay “Politics and the English Language” (1946) said as much when critiquing the dismal state of the English language. He wrote that quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities were common: staleness of imagery and a lack of precision. “The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not.”

I cannot help but add another, the writer intentionally writes in such a way as to obfuscate, confuse, deceive, or distort the message. Orwell decried the unthinking emptiness behind the rhetoric of the communist hacks of his day.

“This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.”

The West has gone soft and squishy. In a very real sense, the language has decayed so much it now quite completely contradicts Pieper’s otherwise sage proverb. Ideological gibberish has replaced precision in our language. Our language, as Ryszard Legutko recently wrote, has become extremely boring: a monotonous repetition of the same phrases and slogans. But, in fact, it is far worse than that, for our language has become foul, vulgar, mendacious nonsense borne out of vincible ignorance and sloth. Interestingly, as much as the tenured academics, power elites, corporate oligarchs, and propagandizing media would insist otherwise, such sins of omission and commission are not relegated solely to the unwashed, uneducated deplorables. A degree does not preclude vincible ignorance; any reasonable person could, based on encounters with teachers, students, and graduates, come to the somewhat droll conclusion that it positively guarantees it.

In recalling his years under communism, Legutko notes, “The purpose of the political language was mostly ritualistic. The language was a major tool in performing collective rituals whose aim was to build cohesion in the society and close it, both politically and mentally, within one ideological framework.”

And yet, perhaps it was Orwell who said it best, “modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug. The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy. It is easier—even quicker, once you have the habit—to say ‘In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that’ than to say ‘I think.’”

It has been said before but bears repeating, “Thinking is hard work.” As Andrew Younan, Thoughtful Theism: Redeeming Reason in an Irrational Age, explains:

“That’s why, if I can make a mean generalization, so few people do it. Believing is, in itself, pretty easy, though oftentimes the consequences of belief can be deeply challenging. Having an opinion is the easiest thing of all. Thinking is the process whereby our minds attempt to arrive at a true understanding of reality, which, if successful, leads to knowledge.” Arriving at the truth is a matter of thinking, not of feeling as so many are convinced. Younan adds, “thinking isn’t just hard work; it takes a lot of time and patience as well…. The truth of reality is not bound by your personal ability to argue or understand. Reality is what it is, independent of anyone’s competence, and the real goal, if you are an honest person, is not to win an argument but to understand the world.”

Of course, truth is, so few living today know how or bother much to think, it is far easier to sit back and leave the thinking to others. We have come to depend on experts, to trust the “science” without question. We forget or have forgotten to trust in our innate ability to reason, to think for ourselves.

“There’s a lot more to a human being than meets the eye, and someone can be brilliant in one area and make enormous mistakes in reasoning or leaps of logic in another area. This includes your parents, your pastor, and all of your teachers.”

Education (government/public) no longer educates, no longer trains minds to think and to reason, it indoctrinates, its purpose to produce compliant drones incapable of independent thought. Younan concludes with this advice to young students, “This has everything to do with you, and you have to trust that your own mind is capable of working through every side and of finding an answer if there is an answer that can be found” which, somewhat paradoxically, leads to a final thought: no one reads anymore. No one reads for the same reason they no longer think: reading requires thinking and both demand strenuous mental exercise. We have grown complacent and comfortable in our ignorance. They call it the boob tube for a reason. As long as we have three hots and a cot and a smartphone to play Candy Crush we are smugly satisfied.

There is a prevailing mythos with respect to higher education which presents degreed individuals as in the majority. This is, at best an enormous overstatement. According to 2019 census data, the percentage of individuals 25-44 years old having earned an undergraduate or post-graduate degree was 37.1 percent for the United States. Broken down by state or district, the indicators represent where college degree holders live, not where they were educated. As might be expected, the District of Columbia holds top spot with 70.4%, Mississippi takes the bottom spot at 22.7%. Thirty-one states are below the national average, East Coast states are among the highest, ranging between 40-52%.

There are three important takeaways from this: first, the preponderance, almost two-thirds, of those within the reported age group are not college educated and live for the most part somewhere between the two dense urban coasts; second, if the output of the academy is predominantly socialist cant, then what does that say for the ideological mindset of the denizens of the District of Columbia; and third, given the underwhelming product of the overwhelming majority of academic institutions in this country, one would be well within their rights to ask who is the more ignorant? Ask a farmer in flyover country who was the first president of the United States and odds are good his answer will be George Washington. Ask a student or a recent graduate the same question and the odds of a correct answer are no more than one in ten, if that. The truth is education has become a tool for inculcating the progressive ideology into the minds and hearts of our youth.

Orwell called it thoughtcrime: politically unorthodox thoughts, such as unspoken beliefs and doubts that contradict the tenets of the dominant ideology; thus, the government controlled the speech, the actions, and the thoughts of its citizens.

In Homo Americanus, Janowski provides further insight. “The danger of the new dialectical thinking is that we no longer operate in the realm of facts, physical reality, established social norms, shared moral and intellectual assumptions, or even a common understanding of the normal and abnormal, sane and insane, but we must operate in the realm of someone else’s mental universe, which we are forced to ‘respect.’ … My perception of the world and, therefore, my existence is a psychological onslaught of someone’s perception of the same world, and my crime lies in that I do not recognize that someone else feels differently.”

The Venerable Fulton J. Sheen wrote in Communism and the Conscience of the West (1948) of the decline of historical liberalism and the rise of the antireligious spirit:

“It is characteristic of any decaying civilization that the great masses of the people are unconscious of the tragedy. Humanity in a crisis is generally insensitive to the gravity of the times in which it lives. Men do not want to believe their own times are wicked, partly because it involves too much self-accusation and principally because they have no standards outside of themselves in which to measure their times. … The tragedy is not that the hairs of our civilization are gray; it is rather that we fail to see that they are.”

He went on, citing Reinhold Niebuhr, “Nothing is more calculated to deceive men in regard to the nature of life than a civilization whose cement of social cohesion consists of the means of production and consumption.”

Such calculated deception is now evident in most of the West. Nearly two decades earlier and ninety years in the past, Sheen observed in Old Errors and New Labels (1931), “[t]here has sprung up a disturbing indifference to truth, and a tendency to regard the useful as the true, and the impractical as the false. The man who can make up his mind when proofs are presented to him is looked upon as a bigot, and the man who ignores proofs and the search for truth is looked upon as broadminded and tolerant.”

4.

At its core, barbarism sees the world as through a carnival fun-house mirror—without the fun part, dark, distorted and ugly—much as O’Brien tells Winston in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four:

“The old civilizations claimed that they were founded on love and justice. Ours is founded upon hatred. In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph, and self-abasement. Everything we shall destroy—everything. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.”

The core of every totalitarian ideology, be it Marxism, socialism, communism, fascism, or any variant ism rests on the idea that there is no afterlife. As John Lennon so fatuously put it, “no hell, no heaven, no religion, too.” Without the promise of life everlasting, there can be no incentive to be obedient, to behave rationally or morally. Janowski, referring to Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler’s fictionalized account of the Stalinist trials and confessions, reinforces O’Brien’s declaration:

“Fear, and fear only, can make people obey in this life. If you rebel, you will be killed, but before we kill you, we will give you an option. You can make a sacrifice for the sake of others—let your death be a warning to others not to rebel. … Your confession and death may even be considered acts of sacrifice for the sake of humanity. Otherwise, you will die uselessly.”

This then is the true face, or the three faces of barbarism, of true evil. In Greek mythology, Cerberus, described most often as a three-headed dog with a serpent’s tail, guards the gates of hell. “Like the meanest junkyard dog imaginable, he lunges to devour anyone who tries to escape.” What do his three heads represent? Power, pride, and prejudice.

Power seems to be an integral part of our humanity. Dwight Longenecker, Immortal Combat: Confronting the Heart of Darkness, describes power as an innate characteristic of man’s free will.

“It is not just that I have power. It feels like I am power, and I assume that the exercise of my power is justified. This is a basic instinct. It is a key to survival. It is unquestioned. I, therefore, see nothing wrong with exercising my power to its greatest extent. To do as I please is as elementary as the need to breathe, eat, and drink, to procreate and live. It never once occurs to me that my will should be curtailed and my power limited in any way. Furthermore, because I have the power to choose, my choice must be the right choice. I must be right. There can be no other option.”

Rational minds can immediately see how such an instinctual human attribute can lead and has led to tragic, too often barbaric abuses of power.

“The total conviction that I am right is the heart of pride, and pride is the second head of the hell hound Cerberus.” Pride is not vanity or arrogance, these are only masks. “Real pride is the overwhelming, underlying, unshakeable, unchallenged, unquestioned, total, and complete conviction that I am right.… Pride is the total, complete, foundational assumption, before all else and above all else, that I am right, that my choices are right, that my beliefs are right, that my decisions are right, that everything I do is right. This complete conviction that I am right is deeply rooted in my character. … Furthermore, power and pride are so basic and deeply embedded in the foundations of who we are that we cannot see them. Power and pride seem like part of the genetic code.… They are deep down. They are invisible.”

“This invisibility of power and pride reveals the third head of Cerberus: prejudice. Prejudice is intertwined with pride and power. To have a prejudice is to prejudge. It means our perceptions are biased: we view the world through tinted glasses. We do not judge objectively, but rather, we approach life’s challenges with our ideas and opinions preloaded. Power allows us to choose, and pride assumes that our choice was the right choice. Therefore, everything in life, from the lunch menu to the news headlines, comes to us through our preexisting assumptions that we have chosen well, that we are right.”

Overweening power, pride, and prejudice are the hallmarks of tyrants, oligarchs, autocrats, and totalitarian regimes. Cerberus may have been a Greek myth, but his heads are with us still. We are living in barbaric times, where the leviathan state threatens to consume the West, including, most noticeably, America. Author Ayn Rand once warned, “We are fast approaching the stage of the ultimate inversion: the stage where the government is free to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission, which is the stage of the darkest periods of human history, the stage of rule by brute force.” That stage has arrived.

Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, famously quipped that “The most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’” The American people have forgotten his admonition. They have forgotten because they have become complacent in their abundance and the comfort such abundance affords them. They have been so comfortable for such a very long time that far too many no longer value liberty and freedom in the way Americans once did, rather, far too many of the American people give greater weight to safety and security, or at least the illusion of it, more than they value freedom and liberty. And the government has taken notice. Ask yourself, with every government overreach, every authoritarian diktat, every tyranny imposed, every right disposed, what is the government’s justification for it? The answer is ironically, for the greater good, for your health and safety, etc., etc.

One example will serve to illustrate the growing tyranny of the state. There is an alarming motion, put forth by the state media and public health experts, to identify and separate the unvaccinated from the vaccinated, to deny services and to isolate those who have chosen not be receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Some pundits have gone so far as to say the unvaccinated deserve to die. At the very least, the unvaccinated should be identified (Star of David?) and, I suppose, cry out “Unclean, unclean” whenever in public. Now, where have I seen that before…

“The leper who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean; he shall dwell alone in a habitation outside the camp” (Leviticus 13:45-46).

The founders of the American idea thought they had designed a limited government subservient to the will of the people. John Adams, the first vice-president and second president, famously wrote, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” The barbarians are inside the gates, and they are neither moral nor religious, they are greedy for power and will do what it takes to obtain and maintain their tyranny and control.

What is less clear to the American people is who is in control. One thing is becoming increasingly obvious: it is not the three branches enshrined in the Constitution. The true power resides in the administrative state, the uncontrollable, unaccountable, unelected bureaucratic ministries that have come to regulate every aspect of American life. And what largesse the bureaucrats provide, the bureaucrats will take away, or as Gerald R. Ford, the 40th vice-president and 38th president, admonished:

“A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.” But, it is the words of Benjamin Franklin, when asked what form of government the founders had created, which should be well remembered, “A republic… if you can keep it.”

Seventy-three years ago, Fulton Sheen saw America for what it was and what it was yet to be. “America, it is said, is suffering from intolerance. It is not. It is suffering from tolerance: tolerance of right and wrong, truth and error, virtue and evil, Christ and chaos. Our country is not nearly so much overrun with the bigoted as it is overrun with the broad-minded. The man who can make up his mind in an orderly way, as a man might make up his bed, is called a bigot; but a man who cannot make up his mind, any more than he can make up for lost time, is called tolerant and broad-minded.

“A bigoted man is one who refuses to accept a reason for anything; a broad-minded man is one who will accept anything for a reason — providing it is not a good reason. It is true that there is a demand for precision, exactness, and definiteness, but it is only for precision in scientific measurement, not in logic.”

Americans are suffering from the severest form of intellectual anorexia. We are told we are intellectually too fat; we are not, we are too thin. We have enslaved our minds, our hearts, and our spirits on a diet of free and easy. It was once said of America that its people cast a big shadow. No more. We have become too thin to cast any shadow at all. The worst of it is no one cares. And that is the surest sign of death and the onset of a new age of barbarism.


Deacon Chuck Lanham is a Catholic author, theologian and philosopher, a jack-of-all-trades like his father (though far from a master of anything) and a servant of God. He is the author of The Voices of God: Hearing God in the Silence, Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories, and four volumes of Collected Essays on religion, faith, morality, theology, and philosophy.


The featured image shows, “TV Sport,” by Pawel Kuczynski; painted in 2017.