Of Universities And Their Collapse

Briefly, I would like to discuss Allan Bloom’s anticipations, from his excellent essay on the collapse of the university. But first, let me give you an excerpt from it:

Democracy, or the egalitarian regime, must (…) perforce have utility as its primary motive: it is founded on the rule of all, and the vital desires and the fear of death are shared by all – as opposed to the desires for glory and pure knowledge which are rare. This devotion to utility is particularly true of modern democracies, the theory of which was precisely to encourage the self, regarding passions as a sure means to political consensus. Disinterested love of the truth is particularly threatened in democracy… In modern democracies the universities have… attempted to provide a basis for the cultivation of the theoretical life which finds only thin soil elsewhere in the society. The university, to the extent it represented the theoretical life, is more a memory than a reality… One need only look at academic philosophy and the social sciences to see how irrelevant the tradition has become to them. They suppose they have found new methods in the light of which the older teachings appear primitive.

In the 1960s, universities all over the world experienced protests directed against traditional forms of education. The state, accused of authoritarianism and of hindering intellectual freedoms, had completely surrendered the system of higher education. It had, literally, abandoned the University and fled. For some time, the University belonged to no one. Yet, this situation couldn’t last long, because an abandoned object, especially when it presents a significant value, quickly finds a new owner and is taken over. Thus, the University fell into the hands of business and administration, that have provided it with a new purpose: utility.

This hostile take-over of the University by the market was accompanied by a bureaucratization of academic life, its – so to speak – “Americanization;” for the American model assumes that scholars are a bit like children, who don’t know what managing a corporation means, are not aware that teaching is business as good as any other, or even better than others, especially when you consider that everyone has to finish one school or another. In this way, at European universities, where administration used to play a rather marginal role, “America” had been discovered. The University could finally begin to lay down golden eggs. In April 1968, almost 2000 German professors protested against this sort of “Americanization” of the University, as well as against the increasing role of students’ bodies and academicians with lower degrees. With no results. Decisions had been made and the battle for the University was lost. Let’s see, what this change really meant.

The change meant an alteration of a definition of the University, as well as of the institution itself, which aimed at transforming it into a corporation. Anyone, who has difficulty with composing a senseless syllabus, who struggles with filling out an 11th evaluation questionnaire this year, who opposes blackmail by troglodyte students understands this perfectly. An “Americanization” of the contemporary University is about subduing it to the administration and allowing a corporate system to shape academic structures.

Ernst H. Kantorowicz in his brilliant and humorous essay about how pre-Nazi, German universities functioned proved that limiting the University’s freedom, a bureaucratization of even the simplest tasks, such as, grading a student, is just a prelude to totalitarian solutions on a much broader scale. That is why we have to move out from the University, at least for a while, and go beyond the stiff institutional framework. I can do at the University, whatever it expects me to do. I will fill out forms, give reports, apply for grants, write in English and Chinese (No, I won’t write in Chinese!) – but I will go elsewhere to think. I am not offended. I simply accept the rule, according to which I receive my paycheck for different things, than thinking. This is the new deal, which I accept, since it has been forced upon me.

Well, I have been doing this for more than a decade now anyway. With my colleagues I run a foundation, which publishes important, though usually unprofitable books. We organize conferences, give scholarships to young academicians. We move philosophy to the opera-house and into media. We show that thinking is sexy. And you don’t need big money to do that. Big money is necessary in sciences.

The thing is that the humanities, broadly taken, is no science. It is a craft, which allows the building up of national culture. Elements of graph theory, or research on non-linear optics – this is science, and it would be good to combine it somehow with new technologies, because it is here, on the free market, where it can display its efficiency. It is different with culture. It seems too fragile to be able to hold its place in the free market, without the help of the state.

I could suggest here a number of solutions, which would support such aims of the University, for example, freeing the humanities from the obligation of parametrization, which is used to measure progress in natural sciences. Yet, instead, I will formulate a more general postulate: let’s return the University to the state. Let’s make it an element of the system of state institutions responsible for culture and national heritage.


Piotr Nowak is Professor of Philosophy at the Bialystok University in Poland, deputy editor‐in‐chief of the annual Kronos. Philosophical Journal. He is the author most recently of The Ancients and Shakespeare on Time: Some Remarks on the War of Generations. He has published, among others, in Philosophy and Literature. He is also the host of TV shows.


The featured image shows, “Lorenzo Tornabuoni Presented by Grammar to Prudentia and the other Liberal Arts,” by Sandro Botticelli, painted ca. 1483–1486.

Panajotis Kondylis: A Skeptical Philosopher Of The Enlightenment

Falk Horst, the admirer of the socio-political thinker Panajotis Kondylis (1943-1998), published a substantial anthology a few months ago, entitled, Panajotis Kondylis und die Metamorphosen der Gesellschaft (Panajotis Kondylis and the Metamorphoses of Society).

Characteristic of the work of the late Greek scholar, who spent a large part of his life in Heidelberg and who mostly carried out his conceptual drafts in German, was his interpretative starting point based on claims to power. In contrast to other historians of ideas and social affairs, who are inclined to moralize, Kondylis never fought for the “good.” Although influenced by the Enlightenment, his editor, Falk Horst, is right when he speaks of a philosopher of the Enlightenment without a mission.

Kondylis dissected successive world views based on the Middle Ages; but he undertook his task as impartially as possible. He called this approach “descriptive decisionism,” which he differentiated from value-based understandings of human decisions and claims. And he called the scientific approach, which he pursued in his mature works, as “social ontology.”

First and Foremost A Social Being

Kondylis starts from the basic assumption that the human being cannot be separated from a certain social relationship. From his point of view, man is primarily a social being, whose relationship to fellow human beings and to the world outside must be taken into account through his position in a given hierarchy.

First and foremost, one takes care of self-preservation, which requires the cooperation of others, and then of defending one’s niche against opponents. In his small volume, Macht und Entscheidung Die Herausbildung der Weltbilder und die Wertfrage (The Formation of World Views and the Question of Value [1984]), Kondylis focuses on the combative and power-striving side of interpersonal interactions.

Moralism or Nihilism

Fundamental to his lengthy books on the Enlightenment, classical conservatism and the age of world politics is his use of a power-oriented perspective of interpretation. Even with scholarly disputes and strictly developed theoretical work, a fighting spirit that shapes all concerns can be discerned. The scientist sets his thesis against that of his opponent.

The Enlightenment thinkers set out to assert nature and sensuality against a medieval way of thinking. But the former participants went their separate ways when the question arose whether the struggle against the rejected metaphysics should result in a normative morality or in a nihilism that decomposes everything. The Enlightenment thinkers, the advocates of a rational morality like Kant and Voltaire, and nihilistic materialists like Holbach and La Mettrie, split into two opposing groups of thought.

The bourgeois society, which upheld the cultural world of the Enlightenment, had to wage a two-front war against conservatism, which wanted to reassert the ideals of a premodern social order, and against mass democracy, which advocates the equality and exchangeability of the crowd. Without considering this dialectical, militant thrust, Kondylis believes, successive ruling classes and leading ideologies can hardly be understood. Only with regard to a counterpart does the individual develop collectively, as being-like and abstract.

A Synthesis of Marx And Carl Schmitt?

Kondylis’ social ontology and anthropology is usually interpreted as an imaginative amalgamation of the thought of Marx and Carl Schmitt. It may be astonishing that Kondylis recognized Marx, but far less Schmitt, as a pioneer. He also generously admitted as influences in his world of ideas both Reinhart Koselleck, with whom he had a long-term correspondence, and his doctoral supervisor from Heidelberg, Werner Conze. He also mentioned Spinoza, whose theological and political treatise helped shape his concept of power.

But why did Kondylis treat Schmitt, whose friend-foe thinking he shares, almost neglectfully? It may be that Kondylis wanted to emphasize the originality of his terms. Just as relevant, as Horst’s anthology makes clear, Kondylis was radicalized in his youth when he had protested against the Junta of the colonels in his Greek homeland.

The Marxist character can be traced back to these youthful years, even if the mature thinker could hardly be classified as a Marxist or as a leftist. The focus on the course of history and socially determined major cultures point back to a Marxist-inspired focus. It is clear, however, that Kondylis like Koselleck and other leading German historians of ideas from the second half of the last century, was influenced by Schmitt.

The fact that Kondylis handled a single-track or overly simplistic view of the world is a common criticism of his anthropological and political perspective, which revolves around self-preservation and striving for power of the socially settled individual. But that presupposes that the social researcher Kondylis wanted to provide an overall picture of political, community and ideological action. Instead, his ideas can be used to shed light on human behavior and to provide insight into human motivation in individual situations.

Not An Optimist

For all his devotion to the Enlightenment and the associated insights, Kondylis by no means represented the optimistic view of the future which shaped eighteenth-century rationalism. He belonged to the group that Zeev Sternhell and Isaiah Berlin characterized as “les Contre-lumières,” and which were supposedly up to no good. These brooders used the critical approach of the Enlightenment to question and even devalue their final vision.

In other words: Kondylis understood his teaching assignment differently than the moralists he mocked. Apart from the decision-making of socially located and motivated individuals and groups, who act in the area of conflict, with other similarly determined beings, Kondylis cannot offer us a world-picture or a vision of the future. To his credit, he warns against those whitewashers who want to abolish our freedom and our sobriety.

Paul Gottfried, Ph.D., is the Raffensperger Professor Emeritus of Humanities at Elizabethtown College (PA) and a Guggenheim recipient. He is the author of numerous articles and 15 books, including, Antifascism: Course of a Crusade (forthcoming), Revisions and DissentsFascism: The Career of a ConceptWar and DemocracyLeo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in AmericaEncounters: My Life with Nixon, Marcuse, and Other Friends and TeachersConservatism in America: Making Sense of the American Right, The Strange Death of Marxism: The European Left in the New Millennium, Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt: Towards A Secular Theocracy, and After Liberalism: Mass Democracy in the Managerial State. Last year he edited an anthology of essays, The Vanishing Tradition, which treats critically the present American conservative movement.

The image shows, “Phidias Showing the Frieze of the Parthenon to his Friends,” by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, painted in 1868.

Courtesy Blaue Narzisse. The German version translated by N. Dass.

Christmas Blues

No Eric Morecambe to watch on the box,
No muscatels and no liqueur chocs,
No brandy butter (it makes me feel ill)
No chirping robin on my window sill.
No invitations to go out for sherry,
No inclinations to feel at all merry,
No need to dress up, got nowhere to go,
No-one to kiss me, got no mistletoe.
No goodwill or cheer will I share with the poor
And no pesky carols are sung at my door.
No shepherds, no mangers, no angels that sing,
No Baby Jesus, no Elvis, nor Bing.
Too numb to snarl at Her Majesty’s smile,
Too dumb to polish one’s literary style.

The image shows, “Mechanical Aid for Christmas,” by William Heath Robinson.

Why Is The Sacré-Coeur Basilica Hated?

The Sacré-Coeur, that is, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, is one of the most emblematic places in Paris and in all of France. It is the second most visited monument each year in the French capital with more than 10 million visitors. But this historical monument was never officially regarded as a historical monument, despite the fact that it was erected more than a century ago.

On October 13, the Ministry of Culture and the regional commission for heritage and architecture of Ile- de-France, the region that includes Paris, finally decided to register this church as a historical monument. It was begun in 1875, completed in 1923 and dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Sacré Coeur Paris, interior.

The reactions to this administrative decision have not been long in coming. And the furious criticisms of this decision to protect this well-known church, in fact, hide an important anti-Catholic component, especially from the Masonic and Communist sectors.

A Church Of Atonement

The deep animosity that this basilica arouses among these sectors is because of what it represents: An expiatory church in the face of the defeat by Prussia. Months later, the Paris Commune arose in 1871, which caused thousands of deaths and was responsible for the murder of dozens of people, including many clergymen and Catholics. With these painful events, the expiation of so many crimes also had its place among those who wished to build this church.

[The Paris “Commune” and its proposed method of government, namely, the dictatorship of the proletariat, gave rise to the terms, “communism” and “communist”].

Thereafter, and for decades, the Sacré-Coeur has been a target; and as recently as 2017 a popular initiative registered a petition in the Paris City Council with the aim of demolishing this church that “insults the memory of the Paris Commune.” Obviously, the petition went nowhere, but it did show the hatred that the Left and Freemasonry both have towards a church that crowns Paris on Montmartre and where the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament has not been interrupted for a second in 135 years, neither in times of war nor of epidemics.

According to the Ministry of Culture, it is because of “a misreading of history” that the Church of the Sacred Heart had not yet been declared a historical monument. And according to its critics there is a reason why that had not been done.

Attacks By Freemasons, Communists and Socialists

Philippe Foussier, former Grand Master of the Grand Orient de France, protested on Twitter against the classification of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Montmartre as a historical monument, calling for a “discrediting.” In his opinion, this decision is “an insult to the 30,000 dead of the commune.”

This violent revolutionary process is an icon and a reference point for Communists, as it already was for Marx himself. And to this day it remains a symbol for the French and international Left.

Ian Brossat, leader of the Paris Communists, has sworn, on several occasions, to dismantle the Sacré Coeur and replace it with a “space of solidarity.”

Further, the socialist Lionel Jospin, former prime minister of France and former presidential candidate, when asked in 2017, which monument would he destroy if it had the power to do so, answered without hesitation – the Sacred Heart of Paris, as he said it is a symbol of “obscurantism, bad taste and the reactionary.”

Father Jacques Benoist, one of the leading experts on the Montmartre basilica, explains that the accusation of “reactionary” that is thrown at the Basilica comes from the Communist Party. And this is confirmed by the Communist senator Pierre Ouzoulias, who affirms that the Sacre Coeur “is not a monument like any other,” but created to “expiate the crimes of the Commune.”

The Reasons For This Hatred

For the religious, the official text of the consecration, engraved on a marble plaque placed in the corridor of the Sacred Heart around 1914, bears witness to these crimes. Here one cam read phrases, such as, “amend our sins,” “obtain the infinite mercy of the Lord,” “forgive our faults,” or “put an end to the misfortunes of France.” The Communards are not mentioned, although this event was certainly in the minds of the builders of the church – however, its construction had been decided upon six months before the Communard revolts.

The crimes themselves are indisputable. In fact, the church was erected in the same place where on May 26, 1871, 49 hostages were massacred, including 10 clergymen, by an angry mob. And this act was not isolated. Then came the government repression at the hands of Adolphe Thiers, which ended the commune. “The communists have not forgotten this, who, under the influence of Marx and then Lenin, integrated this event, turned it into a myth, in their collective memory”, explains Father Jacques Benoist. Thus, speaking of expiation for the crimes of the Commune is something that quickly inflames the French Communists.

As for the accusation that the Sacred Heart of Paris is a symbol of “obscurantism,” Father Benoist is surprised by the declarations of the Masonic leader because “those who were in charge of France, from the beginning of the 1870s, were really your [Masonic] spiritual ancestors. There were two types of Republicans: the Blues and the Reds. The Blues, Thiers and Gambetta. Where the Masonic influence was powerful was the bourgeois republic, which feared the Reds, the extreme Left. In 1871, the first massacred the second.”

The Real Origin Of The Basilica

It must be borne in mind that according to the history of Montmartre, the hill where the Sacré Coeur was built, was always a religious place. It was first a druidic place; later, the Romans erected a temple dedicated to Mars and Mercury; and, later, numerous Christian buildings were built there. Moreover, the very name of Montmartre derives from “Mount of Martyrdoms.”

In 1559, a fire destroyed a Benedictine abbey located on top of this Parisian hill, but the religious presence remained. And in 1794, the last abbess, Mother Marie-Louise Montmorency-Laval, bravely climbed the steps of the guillotine. The link, therefore, between Atonement, National Vow, and Mount of Martyrdom was clear.

And so, in order to offer a public penance, to atone for the historical sins of France and to counteract the impending apostasy, the great desire of Alexandre Legentil and Hubert Rohault de Fleury was the construction of a church on the hill, to illuminate Paris and act as a point of reference for the distracted and indifferent citizens of the 19th century metropolis.

Translated from the original Spanish version by N. Dass.

The image shows the Sacré Coeur Basilica.

The Failure Of Woke Morality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Conversation With Pierre Bergé

Pierre Bergé (PB) was born on November 14, 1930, and he passed away on September 8, 2017. He was a French award-winning industrialist and patron. He co-founded the fashion label Yves Saint Laurent, and was a longtime business partner of the designer.

A supporter and personal friend of François Mitterrand, Bergé was often described as a social liberal. Bergé participated in all the campaign rallies of François Mitterrand (except in 1981, when he did not vote for Mitterrand). Bergé later served as President of the Association of the Friends of the Institut François-Mitterrand.

A longtime fan and patron of opera, Mitterrand appointed Bergé president of Opéra Bastille on 31 August 1988. He retired from the post in 1994, becoming honorary president of the Paris National Opera. Bergé was also president of the Comité Jean Cocteau, and the exclusive owner of all the moral rights of all of Jean Cocteau’s works. In 2010, he bought a stake in Le Monde newspaper, along with investors Matthieu Pigasse and Xavier Niel.

Bergé was also the author of several essays devoted to Yves Saint Laurent, as well as to freedom and republican values. He published a book in 2010, Lettres à Yves, which was translated into English as Yves Saint Laurent: A Moroccan Passion, in 2014.

The following conversation with independent scholar Grégoire Canlorbe (GC) was conducted in January 2017, in Paris. It was initially published in French in the March 2017 issue of the French journal, Revue Arguments. The Postil is very pleased to release the first English version of this interview.

GC: “A woman,” writes Yukio Mishima in Forbidden Colors, “is never as exhilarated with happiness as when she discovers desire in the eyes of a man.” As a fine connoisseur of the feminine soul, do you hold this remark as insightful?

PB: This Mishima’s quotation echoes what Yves Saint Laurent said about the beauty of a woman in love. “The most beautiful clothes that can dress a woman are the arms of the man she loves.” Do not think I am bringing everything back to Saint Laurent, I am not so candid! But you will agree that the resemblance of his intuition with that of Mishima is striking. What Saint Laurent had in mind, with this statement, is that a woman does not need clothes to be happy, because the essential lies elsewhere.

You describe me as a fine connoisseur of the feminine soul. This may be true, but I nonetheless think I am more aware of the male soul. As to whether I agree with Mishima, it seems to me that he is somewhat reductive in his statement. I believe that it is every human being who is never so happy as when he discovers sexual attraction or admiration in the eyes of another human being, whether the latter is a man or a woman.

GC: It is not uncommon, among conservative circles, to deplore what they perceive as a pronounced disdain for the military and religious functions – the warrior and the priest – in post-1789 society, while “merchants,” i.e., entrepreneurs and capitalists, are excessively valued in the nation. Would you say that the captains of industry are precisely the warriors of the capitalist era, the samurai of modern times, by virtue of their conquering character, their sense of abnegation, and their competitive spirit?

PB: Georges Clémenceau said, of the French Revolution, it is to take “en bloc.” In other words, if one adheres to the values of the Revolution, one must also accept the bloodbaths that accompanied the promotion of the ideals of 1789; and what the Revolution has brought to the world is too great and too decisive for us to be entitled to deny it in the name of the atrocities committed during the Terror. I regret it obviously, but the Revolution is to be taken in its entirety, with its good and its bad sides.

Your question is interesting. Unfortunately, your idealist portrait of businessmen is far from reality. I am often taken aback when I hear a politician, such as those who present themselves during this campaign period, claiming to be concerned exclusively with the fate of France. The truth is that a politician cares, in the first place, for his own interests – and only secondly for France. But those you call captains of industry, for their part, have no ounce of patriotic consideration. They care so little about the interests of France that they do not hesitate to relocate their production sites or to settle in tax havens.

I may surprise you, but I am not admiring the business company. I remember talking about it with President Mitterrand, who had somewhat let himself be distracted at the end of his first seven-year term. “You would make a mistake,” I told him in essence, “if you thought the company was there to create jobs.” He was visibly intrigued by my remark. “In reality,” I continued, “the company is there to create profits; and the day it can make a profit without creating a job, it does it.” This is all the more true at the moment. Like the assembly line a century ago, the robotization is about to allow the companies to do without a considerable part of manpower; and this is what the company is there for.

The company is there to produce, sell, negotiate, and optimize; and all the rest, I tell you straight away, is bullshit. If you ask big business leaders, you will certainly hear them claiming great principles, such as, the fight against unemployment, the economic influence of France, or its leadership in technological innovation. No doubt they will agree that they are the samurai of modern times. But let them perpetuate the custom of seppuku, if they really want to walk in the footsteps of the samurai of old! I fear very much that you will not find many who have the courage to give themselves a “beautiful death,” or even to renounce some juicy profit, to do honor to France.

GC: Feminist sociologists are generally inclined to denounce all kinds of voluntary female behavior, particularly with regard to sexual preferences or dress habits, on the grounds that these behaviors reflect “symbolic violence” from males. Yet the veil often escapes their warnings, and they even see in it a mark of feminine dignity and resistance to the diktats of male lust. How do you explain this apparent complacency on the part of feminists towards Islam?

PB: Your ascertainment surprises me. It seems to me that it is a minority of feminists, not the majority of them, who make this complacent speech vis-à-vis Islam. You do well, however, to draw attention to the possible straying of today’s feminism. Our society, imbued with gender theory, wants to make women and men equal. But equality is a dreadful word. Men and women are certainly equal before the law; they are not equal in anything else.

We evoked above the Revolution of 1789. As beautiful as the triptych on the pediment of the French Republic is, the choice of the term equality was a regrettable error. The word justice would have suited our motto “freedom, equality, fraternity” better. No human being, male or female, is equal to another, except that everyone has the right to freedom and to the pursuit of happiness. Men and women are certainly unequal; it does not follow that women are inferior to men in dignity and freedom; they are simply different.

My friend Louise de Vilmorin used to say, in essence, that if men and women were not there to perpetuate the human race, if they had no sexual attraction, a woman would walk next to a man like a rabbit next to a hat. Women and men belong to two different worlds. I have many female friends, whom I respect; and I spent my life defending women. But in wanting to make women absolutely equal to men, one ends up preaching total nonsense. The search for parity is one such nonsense. Hiring a woman on the pretext that she is a woman cancels the exercise of judgment on her objective skills, and prevents a sincere appreciation of her work and her talents.

That said, that women are rarely at the level of men in working life, and there are persistent inequalities in treatment. I will not dispute it. After centuries of female oppression by religion and the law, society is marked by old power struggles; and one cannot seriously expect the gap between men and women in business, and elsewhere, to be leveled overnight. There is no denying injustice. But denouncing this state of affairs is not an alibi to promote the egalitarian feminism on which I have just expressed myself.

As concerns, more particularly, the Islamic veil, there is undoubtedly an attempt to standardize the hijab, even the full veil, in our Western lands. I obviously denounce this trend, because I see the Islamic veil for what it is: a perfect instrument of legal and religious oppression, which is out of place in a lawful society. No coherent defender of the freedom and dignity of women can rejoice at the trivialization of this dress custom in public space and in homes.

The contemporary complacency with regard to the Islamic veil takes on a paradoxical allure, when we know to what extent the emancipatory ideals of feminism, indisputably incompatible with traditional Islam, have moreover conquered our era, not without some excesses which I have spoken of above. In your question, you do well to suggest this tension. But it is much less the feminist intellectuals and activists, rather the previously mentioned “merchants,” who advocate a spirit of misguided tolerance. I recently spoke in the media to denounce the “Islamic fashion” that several major clothing brands adopted.

When the sense of priorities is reversed to the point that the spirit of profit prevails over the values of the Republic, one can effectively claim that the City is corrupted by an excessive valuation of the market function. I told you that I do not admire, personally, the business company. I admire art and creation; that’s true. But I hate commerce and marketing. In addition, I have always felt that a fashion designer was there to embellish women, to encourage them on their path of freedom, and not to be the accomplice of misogynistic manners that are hostile to the liberal principles which are theoretically those of Westerners and, in particular, of the French since the Revolution.

GC: “A very common error… consists in believing,” Konrad Lorenz tell us in his 1972 essay, Behind the Mirror, “that feelings of love and respect cannot be associated together… I have the absolute certainty to have never loved and respected a friend more deeply than the undisputed leader of our group of children of Altenberg, four years my elder… Even those of my age whom I would classify… as inferior to me, always had some something in themselves that impressed me and in what I felt them to be superior to me… I don’t think that one can truly love someone whom one looks down on, from all point of view.” In regard to your own experience, do you subscribe to this analysis of love?

PB: All those I have loved in my life were also people I admired. I endorse Konrad Lorenz’s wording: I do not believe either that one can truly love someone that one looks down on, from all points of view. It is true that one can have a very strong sexual attraction towards someone whom one despises. One can even get on remarkably well with him in the bedroom. But if one does not admire him, one may well be subject to his animal charm, sensitive to his dangerous side, but it will not be love – even if this means deluding oneself about the tenor of feelings that one experiences towards him.

I would add that one can love and admire someone who is self-destructing before one’s eyes. It happened to me; and it was with a heavy heart that I had to bring myself to leave Yves Saint Laurent in the 1970s. Addiction is a disease just like cancer or depression. Would you stop admiring and cherishing someone because he has a tumor?

GC: It is not uncommon to hear that a “deregulated” market economy necessarily leads to growing income inequalities which state intervention is fortunately able to correct. Opposed to this first approach is notably that which estimates that, whatever the economic system considered, communism or capitalism, the market economy left to its own devices or accompanied by a redistributive system, the state of affairs is such that 20% of the population holds 80% of the national income. Which of these two opinions do you prefer?

PB: The second option that you evoke seems to me to present what has actually happened so far. All economic systems have experienced a highly unequal distribution of wealth. I do not know whether one should see in it the manifestation of an eternal law of human affairs, inscribed in the natural order of things. But as a man of the Left, I would prefer, of course, that it be possible to correct this tenacious tendency for the majority of national income to be concentrated in the hands of a minority of the population. That said, I am no longer fifteen; and I am no longer under the spell of communist or Proudhonian ideals. I will not tell you, like a François Hollande, that finance is my “enemy.” But I keep being shocked, in the age of globalization, by the indecent distribution of wealth and the dubious practices of certain companies.

GC: Which one, between Putin’s Russia, religiously Orthodox, and militant Islam, do you currently see as the greatest threat to the freedom of women and minorities?

PB: Both seem to me to be dangerous, beyond the shadow of a doubt; but the greatest danger assuredly comes from militant Islam. I am aware that the Orthodox Church is close to power and that the Patriarch of Moscow is making an authoritarian speech on social issues. Even though homosexuality was decriminalized in the aftermath of the fall of the USSR, the government expressly talks about fighting “homosexual propaganda,” in other words, the political and social demands by the LGBT community.

The fact remains that the terrorist acts which strike France and other countries in the world are concretely coming from the Muslim community. It is easy to notice that it is not the Orthodox who provoke a crash, besiege an embassy, assassinate journalists and caricaturists, take hostages in a supermarket, commit assaults in a performance hall, the street or a Christmas market, and enslave men and women.

GC: A fashionable assertion is that Western societies have secularized to the point of giving rise to a spiritual void unprecedented in human history. In the opinion of Vilfredo Pareto, in his 1917 treatise. The Mind and Society, the Christian religion has only given way to the democratic religion.

“The acts of worship of the Christian religion,” he writes, “have diminished among modern civilized peoples, but have been partially replaced by acts of the worship of socialist saints, humanitarian saints, and especially of the worship of the State and of the god, People… The Catholic processions have almost disappeared, but have been replaced by ‘processions’ and by political and social ‘demonstrations’… For many of those who deviate from the Christian religion, Christian enthusiasm has changed to ‘social,’ or ‘humanitarian,’ or ‘patriotic,’ or ‘nationalist’ enthusiasm; there is something for every taste.”

Do you subscribe to Vilfredo Pareto’s iconoclastic thesis, or to the common opinion that we have indeed come out of religion in the West?

PB: This analysis that you cite is perhaps iconoclastic, but it does not hold water. To begin with, it is wrong that the Christian religion is on the decline in the world. We mentioned earlier the Orthodoxy that is rising from the ashes. Furthermore, it is excessive to present democracy as a substitute for the Christian religion. In fact, democracy is simply not a religion. But it is quite true that the leftists regrettably tend to classify all Catholics as reactionary rightists.

I like to say that leftists, to whom the Republic very much owes its existence, have emptied the churches to fill the museums. I totally agree with it. But we certainly have not replaced Catholic worship with socialist worship. It is foolishness to pretend that we would worship a “State god” or a “People god.” The state does have a significant weight in society; and the ambient discourse is indeed articulated around the values of assistantship, secularism and the nation. But none of this has ever taken on nor could have ever taken on a religious character.

I fail to see how Christian practices and beliefs would have diminished on the grounds that democratic institutions were gaining ground. They have certainly decreased, at least in France, but if they have done so, it is certainly not in the context of a competition with the values and customs of the Republic. The reason for this relative decline of Christianity, more particularly Catholicism, is to be found in the obsolete side of its beliefs and practices. After having been in the spotlight for two thousand years, not without the support of force, to the extent that the Church burned heretics, they are simply going out of fashion.

In the end, what has changed with the secular Republic is not that a new official cult has tried to supplant Catholic worship, but that religious affairs have been relegated to the private sphere. This was not the case before. Let us not forget that the Catholic Church has persecuted the Protestant community from which I come. Even if religion now belongs to the intimate sphere, and no longer to the political sphere, the religious beliefs of Catholic citizens have of course an impact on their electoral preferences and on their positions about a given subject in society or a given draft law.

As evidenced by a recent survey, relayed last week by an article in Le Monde, it is however a biased perception that every Catholic is opposed to marriage for all or to surrogacy. In reality, there are multiple scenarios among Catholic voters. A number of them are politically right-wing, when it comes to the economy, and yet sensitive to left-wing concerns about so-called social issues. I think, therefore, that we have to take a step back from the overly obvious prejudices that we leftwing men commonly share about Catholics.

GC: Thank you for your time. Would you like to add a few words?

PB: You did well to request this interview. Now I would like it if you tell me about yourself.

Sir Roger Scruton And Conservative Views

The death of Roger Scruton, following swiftly on that of Norman Stone, provides an opportunity to reflect on the state of British Conservatism. Scruton did not greatly contribute to political philosophy in a conventional sense, but he did offer a powerful engagement with aesthetics as a means of assessing and advancing values. He was by no means the only conservative to do so and, in particular, David Watkin (1941-2018), a Cambridge architectural historian, offers a powerful critique of modernism, not least in Morality and Architecture Revisited (2001) and Radical Classicism: The Architecture of Quinlan Terry (2006). In practice, indeed, Scruton was significant in part because he tapped into, indeed helped articulate, a broader current of concern. So also with his interest in past lifestyles, notably hunting. If Scruton took this far further than most who held a commitment to continuity, nevertheless he was able to be more than merely an eccentric precisely because there was a wider concern.

Linking the two, and providing an ideological ballast, was the search for a vision of conservatism that was not simply that of the free market. Indeed, Scruton, like others, felt that the latter represented a form of Liberalism that he distinguished from a Conservatism of cultural weight which, he argued, derived from value and continuity, and not from advantage in the economic (or other) contingencies of the moment.

This approach appears stronger as a result of the growing salience of ‘culture wars’ in the 2010s, notably the late 2010s, and, indeed, Scruton can be seen as an early protagonist in defining an English conservative aspect in this struggle. In that respect, Scruton was different to Stone as the latter was more cosmopolitan in his conservatism, both in terms of his early engagement with Eastern Europe and later with his interest also in Turkey. Scruton also had a strong interest in Eastern Europe, but he was less grounded in its culture than Stone. Both, however, understood that the culture wars in England/Britain took on meaning not only with reference to the trans-Atlantic perspective and context that was so important during the 1980s, not least because of the Thatcher/Reagan relationship, but also against the background of a European culture that had been sundered by totalitarianism and compromised by Modernism and Socialism. Scruton, however, showed almost no interest in history, which was somewhat of a limitation for someone whose mindset was rooted in tradition and continuity.

It is reasonable to ask how far this is helpful at present. To return to the insular, does the future of the British Conservatives depend on their success in handling Brexit (with similar economic issues for Continental states), or will elections at least in part register new political alignments arising from cultural concerns and issues? The Labour Party’s focus in its leadership election of 2020 on the transgender issue suggests the latter, which raises the possibility that Muslim voters, hitherto reluctant to vote Conservative, might do so for cultural reasons in 2024 when the next general election is due.

Certainly, the cultural agenda has an institutional ambit, notably in terms of the BBC and the universities. Although both can be seen as middle-class producer lobbies financed from regressive taxation (licence fee and general taxation respectively) as opposed to user fees, there are clearly politicised dimensions, as discussed, for example, in Robin Aitken’s The Noble Liar: How and Why the BBC Distorts the News to Promote a Liberal Agenda (2018). The BBC’s favourite minority is certainly the London progressive middle class and it is easily manipulated accordingly by vested interests that play well with it. In contrast, the majority who fund it are poorly represented, a point made abundantly clear in the treatment of Conservatives. Over 40% of the voters who voted in the last two general elections did so for them but you would find that hard to appreciate if following the BBC or university curricula. There is a loop back to Scruton with the limited commitment of the BBC to programming higher culture in primetime. The BBC has always had a liberal bias, but we are now in a ‘culture war’ and it quite visibly favours one side over the other, both in storylines and in tone.

Ironically, however, there is an approach that Scruton, with his concern about market mechanisms and ‘majoritarian’ views would have been cautious about adopting: the insulation from market discipline registered via consumer preferences that other media organisations must live or die by means that, as viewing habits have changed, the BBC looks outdated in terms of its output, claims, financing and delivery mechanism. A similar debate could be held about universities. If Johnson is unwilling to wage the culture war with vigour, especially within key institutions, and in pushing bac against those who wish to hunt for heretics, it may be too late ten years hence.

Clearly conservatism relates to more than consideration of rivals, but the nature and character the public debate is significant. On the personal level, I feel that there is a contrast between an English/British conservatism able and willing to engage with a changing society, and a more ‘ultra approach.’ The former ranges (and this is a far from complete list) from support for Catholic Emancipation in the early nineteenth, via ‘Villa Toryism’ later that century, to the ‘Bolt from Empire’ and the Thatcherite engagement with the ‘C2s’ in the twentieth, and the more recent determination in the 2010s variously to offer a Broad Church social vision, a Conservatism that can breach the ‘Red Wall,’ and an engagement with Patriotic continuities. These are not merely political expedients or rhetorical devices, but, instead, representations of the complex varieties of Conservative thought and politics. As a result, it is not particularly helpful to seek an ‘ur’ or fundamental conservatism, and that is even less pertinent if the diverse national and chronological context is to be considered. This makes it difficult to move beyond a national context.

In the case of Britain, the role of contingency is particularly apparent in the case of the changes arising from the Blair government. The ‘New Labour, New Britain’ theme was linked to an active hostility toward history. Kenneth Baker’s plan for a Museum for National History for which he had raised seed-corn money and for which I was a trustee, was killed stone-dead, as was Baker’s plan for a history section in the Millennium Dome. More serious was the constitutional revisionism pushed through with little thought of possible consequences and with scant attempt to ground it in any historical awareness. There was also an eagerness to apologise about the past.

Many of the consequences were to be seen in the 2010s, not least a curious ignorance about constitutionalism, and a lack on the part of many of any real interest in a concept of national interest, let alone a capacity to ground it in an historical perspective. In what passes for the educational work this had been related to a ‘decolonisation’ of the syllabus which in practice represents a faddish and rootless presentism that has made more History courses follow those of English Literature in being undeserving of serious attention. That, at the same time, there has been an interest in fluidity in all forms of categorisation, most controversially that of gender, is not axiomatically part of this politicised postmodernism but, in practice, overlaps with it.

Again, conservatism in part is active in this context in advancing concepts of humane scepticism against the determination of assert and enforce that in effect are new regulations on behaviour, speech, deportment, and, in addressing ‘bias,’ thought. This scepticism offers a way to advance a conservatism based, instead, on freedom, debate, pluralism, and an acceptance that the very concept of value should be ground in a relativist willingness to accept contrary views, interests and preferences. Both democracy and capitalism rest on those assumptions. So does a classic English/British conservatism. That this is different to other conservative traditions does not make it better or worse, but the difference underlines the problem with having any unitary concept of conservatism, its past or its future. Indeed, this pluralism is part of the very strength of conservatism, as it can more readily adapt to local circumstances.

Jeremy Black is a British historian, and a prolific author. His most recent books include, Military Strategy: A Global History, War and Its Causes, Introduction to Global Military History: 1775 to the Present Day, and Imperial Legacies. The British Empire Around the World.

The image shows a bust of Sir Roger Scruton by the Scottish sculptor, Alexander Stoddart.

Some of the articles that follow, on Sir Roger Scruton, were also published in the Polish magazine, Arcana, in an issue dedicated to him.

Roger Scruton, As I Knew Him

I knew Roger fairly well. We were the same age; we spent an almost identical five years at Cambridge University without knowing each other there. We met in Vienna in 1983; I brought him to Melbourne in 1984 to lecture, and again a few years later; he stayed with me. We met in London intermittently in following years, at the Athenaeum Club, looking at Poussin paintings at the National Gallery, at his place in Notting Hill for dinner, and so on.

It turns out that we both became politically conservative because of the same prompt, one experienced quite independently of each other: our reaction against the student movement of May 1968. It was distaste at our contemporary generation of spoilt rich kids, who had no understanding of the society of which they were privileged members, and no respect for it. Noblesse oblige and responsibility had given way to rebel tantrums.

From that moment onwards, Roger found himself living in a time in which the surrounding upper-middle-class culture, and especially that in universities and the arts, was almost entirely contre coeur. This forced him to think everything from scratch—history, philosophy, aesthetics, and sociology. He developed a comprehensive view of the world anchored in his deep love for England. To my mind, his books On Hunting, and England: An Elegy are his finest, and most intimately personal works. Always a man of action as well as principle, he put his ideas into practice by buying a farm and moving to the country. His deep insight into the old English way of life meant that its decline, as he saw it, caused a kind of ailing, and torment in his soul, prompting both lament and resistance.

Roger may have been a maverick and outsider in his own time, but he had a rich intellectual heritage to draw upon. Above all, there was Edmund Burke and his founding principles of conservatism: Burke’s belief in the good sense of the people and their prejudices; the cumulative wisdom of generations; the deep and necessary bonds and obligations between those living in the present and those who came before, and those still to be born; and above all the foolish hubris of those who think they can rationally plan a better society. Indeed, Roger faced, in his own radical contemporaries, the same self-styled progressive force Burke had opposed in the French Revolution, the croaking midgets of the passing hour. Roger’s conservatism also had affinities with that of Dr Johnson, Jane Austen, and some of George Orwell’s late essays.

Roger Scruton was the most driven person I have ever known; and the most mentally curious across a vast frontier. Everything got examined, interpreted, and integrated into his vision of life. It then got turned into a commentary and a sermon. His demeanour was that of an austere Puritan preacher from much earlier times, mellowed by some very down-to-earth passions—hunting, farming, food, and wine. He was equally a modern Don Quixote charging across a barren cultural landscape, vizor lowered, lance in hand, aiming for his chosen targets—the ventriloquist dolls of cultural and national self-hatred, the destroyers of the world he cherished.

John Carroll is Professor Emeritus of Sociology, La Trobe University, Melbourne. His books include The Wreck of Western Culture: Humanism Revisited and The Existential Jesus.

The image shows, “The Great Court of Trinity College Cambridge,” by Joseph Murray Ince, painted in 1848.

Conservatism And Conservation In The Dead-Ends Of Modernity

Roger Scruton drew attention to a fundamental truth when he argued that “conservatism and conservation are two aspects of a single long-term policy, which is that of husbanding resources and ensuring their renewal.” As a label for the distinctive social and cultural mood that Scruton represented, “conservation” may be preferable to the “conservatism” with which he is more often linked. As a label, it is certainly more useful. “Conservation” appeals to an instinct to protect and cherish, which quite properly transcends all political distinctions. But the label is particularly significant for conservatives. For “conservation” reminds us that “being conservative” is not primarily an identity, or a category, but a task. It shows that conservatives are people who find things to conserve.

Scruton understood that this task of conservation showed where modern conservativism have gone so badly wrong. In organising their agenda in subservience to the free market, the conservatives who dominate in present-day politics have too often allowed everything to be turned into a commodity. But in allowing everything to be for sale, they have admitted that nothing has any fixed value. And too often they have permitted this process of commodification to be applied to values in the electoral marketplace, so that the opportunities of the moment trump their obligations to the past and so also their protection of the future.

This explains why, in the United Kingdom, the Conservative Party barters with established norms and venerated institutions in the hope of short-term electoral gains, while pretending to anyone who will believe them that their hurriedly formed values are judgements to which right-thinking people have always been committed. And so on cultural issues, the Conservative Party, like some similar movements elsewhere, is not going in a different direction to its major political rivals. It is going in the same direction at a slightly slower pace.

We can begin to grasp the failure of modern conservative politics when we ask ourselves what that politics has actually conserved. Political conservatives have done a good job of protecting an open economy. But the free market conserves nothing. The task of creating an open economy is much less important than the task of conserving culture. This is why, in the United Kingdom, the task of cultural conservation is being advanced by communities that see the Conservative Party as the problem. Across the country, in home educating families, in small congregations, and at irregular conferences, cultural conservation continues despite and not because of conservative politics.

This is evident when we consider the element of our culture that seems most obviously under attack – the family. Conservative thinkers have always understood that the family is the most important social unit to protect. In fact, the significance of the family is built into the language that we use to describe our conservation task. Scruton understood that conservatism and conservation are both about the responsibility of “husbanding.” The assumptions that underlie his metaphor are enormously significant. For it is only as we conserve families – the social unit in which the work of husbanding finds its archetype – that we build the cultural capital by which those larger projects of cultural preservation may be pursued.

Of course, there are no political solutions to problems that are ultimately spiritual in character. But conservatives need to stand against – and outside – a culture in which everything is up for sale, protecting the things that matter most in the dead-ends of modernity.

Crawford Gribben is a professor of history at Queen’s University Belfast, and the author of several books on early modern and contemporary religion, including John Owen and English Puritanism: Experiences of Defeat (Oxford UP, 2016) and Survival and Resistance in Evangelical America: Christian Reconstruction in the Pacific Northwest (Oxford UP, 2020, forthcoming), and co-editor of books including Cultures of Calvinism in Early Modern Europe (Oxford UP, 2019).

The image shows, “The Peale Family,” by Charles Willson Peale, paonted ca. 1773-1809.

Why I Choose To Call Myself A “Conservative”

Labels can be misleading, they can, as Scruton pointed out, control speech, but they can also show our orientation or direction of thought.

The immediate inspiration for writing this short essay was the recent passing of Roger Scruton, the conservative’s conservative. I need not repeat all of the wonderful pieces that have been written about him. There are, however, two things I want to emphasize. Scruton and I were roughly contemporaries and we had our epiphany, unknown to each other, at the same time.

In 1968, Scruton was in Paris and witnessed the uprising. He has remarked that he suddenly realized the difference between himself and the rioters. The rioters, many of them intellectuals or inspired by French intellectuals, were interested primarily in tearing things down – believing, in romantic Marxist fashion, that the good will rise automatically from the conflagration of the old. Scruton suddenly realized that he was not interested in destroying things but in preserving what was most valuable.

From that moment one he became one of Britain’s most outspoken and courageous conservatives. At the same time, riots were occurring across America’s campuses, including my own university. Until that moment I had naively thought of myself as a liberal reformer, on the correct side of all of the major social issues. To see the destruction of higher education in America, although the corpse is still around, to see administrators unable and unwilling to defend the crucial importance of my beloved institution made me realize that I was also a conservator of our cultural institutions.

More recently I watched a U-tube presentation of Scruton trying to explain to a Dutch audience what was behind Brexit. He mentioned a number of things, including how his parents’ generation had successfully defended the UK from Nazi invasion, how Britons had no need to launder their recent history, how Britain was a bottom-up society and the home of the rule of law. It is the last point that inspired my recent publication of a book to substantiate that claim and to remind myself and others of the unique Anglo-American heritage.

Recognizing the confusion caused by labels, especially labels with a long history and multiple meanings, I nevertheless choose to call myself a ‘conservative’. This choice reflects the fact that the intellectual world is dominated by people who call themselves ‘progressive’, that progressivism seems to control the terms of discussion, and my instinctive desire to speak truth to power. Prudence has never been one of my virtues.

Before explaining my positive understanding of ‘conservatism’ I want to note what I disagree with in progressivism. To begin with, I object to bullying, to the silencing of dissent, the suppression of what used to be called free speech, and to coercing and penalizing people who oppose progressivism. Second, I am opposed to radical ‘social’ change instituted by the government and justified by appeal to abstractions designed to achieve a utopian goal. Third, I object to the invariable and inevitable distortion of the previous sentence by those who will attribute to me the position of opposing all social change.

What I mean by ‘conservatism’ is two things. First, it is impossible to think and speak about anything without employing an inherited background of norms and assumptions. We cannot explain or critique anything from a wholly external perspective. Our intellectual and social inheritance contain many norms, and there is no systematic way of organizing those norms without appeal to some extraneous perspective or without promoting one norm to a prominence it cannot rightfully claim. A good deal of what passes for philosophy is the elevation of one intellectual practice above all others. Our inheritance is too rich and complex to be so systematized. Progressivism is an example of the illicit claim of being ‘the’ uber framework. Rigidity is thus always on the side of Progressivism.

Our plurality of norms evolved over time (sorry, Moses) and reflected a particular set of circumstances. Inevitably and of necessity new sets of circumstances will lead us to recognize additional norms and conflicts and tensions within the norms we already have.

How then do we resolve these conflicts? The better or more accurate question, is what has our practice of conflict resolution or management been? Borrowing from Oakeshott, I would say our practice has been to engage in a conversation that begins by diagnosing our situation; we make proposals about what the response should be; we recommend this proposal by considering a large number of the consequences likely to follow from acting upon it; we balance the merits of any proposal against those of at least one other proposal; and we assume agreement about the general conditions of things to be preferred. Arguments constructed out of these materials cannot be ‘refuted’. They may be resisted by arguments of the same sort which, on balance, are found to be more convincing. The recommendation always involves a rhetorical appeal, an appeal to what we believe are the relevant overriding norms – the general conditions of things to be preferred.

The human condition can never in this life be utopian. Some good things can only be purchased by abstaining from other. We cannot choose everything. To open some doors is to know that others must remain closed.

What I seek to conserve is our practice. Progressives threaten our practices in the name of some abstraction. Armed with some such abstraction (e.g. ‘equality’) they will disrupt the conversation by claiming that the equal right to free speech means that any speaker they do not like can be shouted down. In vain do I remind them of what J.S. Mill said about censorship. In vain do I remind them that successful reformers like Martin Luther King prevailed because they reminded others into acknowledging what the inherited norms were.

For progressives, words (e.g. ‘racism’, ‘sexism’, etc.) mean only what they choose the words to mean. Any appeal to “the general conditions of things to be preferred” is illegitimate because what we thought were the relevant overriding norms (note the plural, please) is rejected as an appeal to something illegitimate. What are the legitimate norms? It is what they say it is and as they alone understand their holy abstraction.

On the contrary, I want to conserve the conversation, and the civility implied therein. It may very well be that there can no longer be a conversation. Communities do sometimes disintegrate, split into multiple communities, or find it necessary to destroy one another. Those who hold onto the illusion that the community can and must always be preserved (‘do-gooders’) are giving in to the belief in ‘the’ uber framework. Progressives, like Bolsheviks, always win in these situations because they will never concede anything. The ‘do-gooders’ will concede anything and embrace an Orwellian discourse. Progressives may control the commanding heights, but like all barbarians, in the end, they can only appeal to force.

As a “conservative” I want to preserve the inherited community, warts and all, not embrace an abstraction; I do embrace the need for periodic review; I vehemently oppose those who pretend to be conservatives but are merely intransigent about something or other; I patiently endure the process by which we engage in reform, however slow and painful. I am ready and willing to oust the disingenuous progressives (as opposed to the merely confused) who pretend to be inside the community in order to enjoy its benefits but reserve for themselves the exclusive privilege of not being bound by it when it suits their private agenda. I am prepared to let them go their way; but they cannot stay as is. The progressives will claim that I am the one who is leaving when in fact they are the ones who have abandoned the community long ago. To be a ‘conservative’ is to choose to stay and to be willing to pay the price; it is not to idolize any one institution.

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

The image shows, “The Chess Players,” by Sir William Orpen,” panted before 1902.