The Death of Liberalism? An Interview With Nicholas Capaldi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Polish version of this interview appeared in Arcana.

The Conflict Of Opinions: Iconoclasm And The British History Wars

International movements delight those who like to find commonalities in cause, course and consequence, but each country has a unique dimension in every crisis and there is danger to reading readily from one to another. And so also with Britain. The demonstrations, agitation and commentary
seen in 2020, notably in Bristol and London, but in practice across much of Britain, saw both deeper and more widespread tendencies and ones particular to the country, notably to the legacy of empire. The latter provided a matter of intellectual and conceptual confusion on the part of much of the agitation, with an elision of the distinction between discussion of the slave trade and that of the empire. In reality, the two were very different, and one of the major activities of the empire was the campaign against slavery. That distinction, however, was of no interest to what rapidly became a movement drawing together a range of interrelated discontents.

Declared a murderer, as his statue was thrown into the water, Edward Colston (1636-1721) was scarcely the evil personified that is now asserted, in a period in which the interface between history and myth is very active, while a new public history is constructed, mindless of the very many killed in the Chinese model of the 1960s cultural revolution; but then a total lack of context and comparison is part of the situation, as is a failure to understand the nature of tyranny in recent (and current) Communist states. Thus, those who care not a fig about the dire situation in North
Korea today are very happy to make gestures about the situation centuries ago.

Television presenters confidently announced as fact that Colston’s statue was thrown into the very harbour from which his slaving ships set sail, and that it met a watery grave like the dead and dying slaves thrown from the ships from which he made the bulk of his fortune; but he directly owned
no slaving ships, and the bulk of his fortune did not derive from the slave trade. In many respects with Colston, we have the problems of addressing many issues for a period in which information is not as full as we would like; not that that prevents commentators.

A child born in Bristol, and fond of the city as a result, Colston left it during the Civil War and was essentially a London merchant. It is unclear how much of his fortune derived from the slave trade, in which he was involved from 1680 to 1692, due to his membership of the Royal African Company, of which he was Deputy Governor, from 1689 to 1690. Colston was also a partner in a Bristol sugar refinery. In practice, much of his merchant activity was focused on trading with the Mediterranean and Iberia, lucrative trades from which he presumably derived most of his wealth; and
Colston was involved with slavery for around one fifth of his long business career. For the last thirty years of his life, he was not involved, although, crucially, it is not clear why. It was in that time that he endowed his charities, for education and poor relief, which makes him the greatest philanthropist in Bristol’s history.

The fate of the Royal African Company is separately interesting, as a result of the impact of national politics on its fortunes during Colston’s life (see my Slavery. A New Global History), and that possibly deserves more attention when he, who was later in his life an MP, is discussed. At the risk of being ahistorical, the relationship between his active levelling-up philanthropy and discussion of contemporary social policy and politics is also interesting. None of this concerned the demonstrators in Bristol. The facts of Colston’s life are irrelevant to the protestors who do not want to be told the truth, but, rather to attack the myth.

As far as the general point about memorialisation is concerned, it is surely better if matters are handled in a legal and temperate fashion. Feeling strongly about an issue as a justification for mob action could all too readily be used across a society that includes many who feel strongly about other aspects of belief and activity; and then we would be in a very dark place indeed, one possibly of sectarian violence, or of physical attacks on homosexuals or abortion clinics, or a whole range of what is hated by at least someone. I cannot help reflecting on the image of violence in Sir Thomas More, a play in the writing of which Shakespeare may have had a role:

And that you sit as kings in your desires,
Authority quite silent by your brawl,
And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;
What had you got? I’ll tell you. You had taught
How insolence and strong hand should prevail,
How order should be quelled; and by this pattern
Not one of you should live an aged man,
For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another.

Readers of this who support the Bristol rioters might shrug their shoulders and say the ends justify the means and that I am ‘privileged’ by my whiteness, a charge thrown at me on Radio Four; but of course this passage referred to the ugly May Day 1517 riots in London; riots directed against
foreign residents. And just before, as all too often, race is thrown to the fore, these foreigners were white, and the writer vividly refers to refugee foreigners, ‘their babies at their backs.’

As a Policy Exchange public opinion poll indicated, these discontents in practice were only those of a minority, and most of those polled wanted no iconoclasm, but, nevertheless, the impression was created of a mass movement.

The basic constituents were fourfold:

  1. Campus agitation
  2. Discontent among the young
  3. Pressure from the Left, especially the Far-Left
  4. Anger from ethnic minorities.

These categories, however, have to be handled with care, as much of each group, and, polls indicated, only a minority of the young backed the cause of the protestors. At the same time, to label the latter simply as entitled, primarily public-sector, often middle-class, politically correct, left-wingers, would be to adopt an overly tight schematic. More pertinent would be the observation that these were individuals and supporting groups and institutions; for example the BBC and the Guardian newspaper, frustrated by the overwhelming Conservative victory in the general election of December 2019.

Thus, in electoral terms, the demonstrations took place at a very different moment to those in the United States. There was, and is, however, a degree of highly inappropriate mimicking, as with holding up ‘don’t shoot!’ placards, like those in the United States, at unarmed British police. So also with the desperate and disproportionate search for episodes of real or alleged police brutality, which are then typecast to produce an image of alleged systemic violent racism. The reality throughout is that there are very few such episodes in Britain and, in contrast, a very large number of black-on-black killings, mostly linked to drug-dealers and turf-wars. However, the “performative” (a favourite “progressive” word) nature of protest is not to be directed at drug-dealers and the related criminality; a choice that is highly indicative of the irrationality and overt politicisation of the protests.

As another instance of difference with the United States, the “long march through the institutions” has developed further in more statist Britain. This “long march” is especially significant in the case of the universities, where they were particularly (although not exclusively) linked with
Departments of English, History and Politics, and with younger academics. In part, this was a process of fighting for consequence in the face of the proletarianisation of a profession being expected to work harder as a consequence of mass-access student entry. There was also the ascribing of established intellectual strategies and academic practices to a new situation apparently full of potential. In particular, the discourse-merchants and zeitgeist specialists found opportunities in a situation that they could define in terms of good and evil.

In part, there was the normative repetition of slogans about inherent White privilege, many linked to reductive analyses on the part of “New Left” academics keen to reduce individuals to categories and to explain people in terms of supposedly inherent thought. Most of those offering this analysis were middle-class of some type or other; so, in order to pose as helping the underprivileged, the critique of a redundant, imperialising, conservative whiteness suited them. Ironically, the principal slants or “disproportionalities” in university entry in Britain were in favour of women as a whole, and, among ethnic groups, of Asian pupils, but truth was not to be allowed to stand in the way of a good narrative of justifiable anger. Thus, BAME [Black and Minority Ethnic] was employed as a classification, even though there was much variation amidst it, including very considerable tension. Yet universities lined up to sign up for, and propagate very actively, what was presented as an “antiracist” strategy.

Leaving aside the obvious self-interest involved, with those linked to this process gaining or protecting well-paid jobs, these attitudes helped encourage and disseminate the iconoclastic ideas of 2020, and as part of a rejection of the imperial past, indeed the past as a whole. There were liberals involved who were ready to vary the critique, but the key dynamic was that from a far left who saw all qualification, let alone criticism, as totally unacceptable. Moreover, they lived in a bubble of likemindedness that owed much to social media. Thus, on 22 July 2020, the Registrar, or head of the administration, of Exeter University, sent an email to staff declaring: “If you see or hear any inappropriate behaviour, and you feel able to call it out, please do so in an appropriate way. It may be that a colleague is unaware of the impact of their behaviour, and mentioning this may give them a chance to adjust their behaviour alongside allowing them space to reflect.” Such “space” to “reflect” is steadily becoming tighter, but the entire exercise is reminiscent of Communist activity. Those who do not say the right things can be “called out.” This “cleansing” will doubtless cause a thousand flowers to bloom, as long as they are the same colour and height.

An additional trouble is that now, as apparently “silence is violence,” those who remain silent will also be forced to go to mandatory “retraining” sessions. Freedom of thought and expression, as well as open enquiry, have been totally discarded. This is power at play; but, as so often, it is power masquerading as weak and suffering hardship, so that grievance becomes a necessary drive to action.

An historical perspective on this process would point out that we have been here before. Iconoclasm itself was central to the Protestant Reformation, notably with the destruction of monasteries and of shrines in the Henrician Reformation, named after Henry VIII. The end of sainthood proved particularly damaging for many churches. In turn, more strident Protestantism in the Edwardian Reformation, named after Edward VI and then in and after the mid-seventeenth century Civil War led to fresh destruction, the latter extending to the iconography of royalty, including statues. At that stage, Britain had a tradition of political and religious instability far greater than that of Italy, one compounded in 1688-1689 by the overthrow of James II (VII of Scotland), in what to the victors was the Glorious Revolution.

And yet, thereafter, iconoclasm ceased to be part of the British tradition. In part, this was due to the contingencies of history, notably no successful foreign invasion after 1688. Indeed, the prime damage to British (like Italian) cities was bombing in World War Two. There was also the practice and ideology of a domestic politics that in Britain (although not Ireland) saw political, economic and social transformation, but in a largely non-violent fashion. This, indeed, became a key element of the British “way,” one celebrated by conservatives influenced by the idea of organic change derived from Edmund Burke and by nineteenth-century liberals (and religious Nonconformists) similarly committed to peaceful reform. Taking outsiders into the political system was part of this process, as when the governing Whigs absorbed first (some) Tory policies and then Tory politicians from the 1720s. A key development was that trade unionism followed the path of the system-joining Labour Party rather than system-rejecting syndicalist or communist methods. None of these processes was simple or easy, but they were all important.

To a degree, the situation now is less happy. The system-rejecters who populated the Momentum Movement and were very influential in the Labour Party in 2015-2020, when it was led by Jeremy Corbyn, can be found behind Black Lives Matter, which is keen to replace both capitalism and the police; as well as being heavily white and middle-class. The critique of Empire provides a rhetoric to make their movement popular with tranches of campus culture, current or recent. And thus, the statues are attacked.

There is a present-mindedness at play, but also an absolutist, Manichean, good versus evil worldview, one defined by the would-be setters of the agenda, who have variously been described as Maoist, narcissist and Orwellian; all descriptions employed with reason. There is also a deliberate
rejection of the notions of History as both a trust between the generations and a public practice of nationhood; or, seen differently, a determination to transform both into a very contrasting trust and practice. That is a deliberately disruptive process, and iconoclasm is simply one consequence.
Pressure on, and from within, institutions to change, in large part first by admitting institutional and inherent flaws in the shape, in particular, of racism, is part of this process. Thus, educational curricula, and hiring practices in all forms, are to be changed, not as a consequence of debate, but due to a demand for a monoculture of opinion and monopoly of power that is far more serious than any supposed virtue-signalling. I have seen this clearly with the University of Exeter from which I retired in January 2020. Its new self-definition as an “anti-racist university” might be an amusing comment on the racists who therefore supposedly ran it until the new initiative, but this is to be enforced by “unconscious bias” policies that are a clear grab for power by a group of administrators, would-be administrators and related academics, notably in Critical Race Theory, which is problematic in its conceptualisation and implementation. Typical of this is the search for microaggressions which, to put it mildly, are very much in the eye of the beholder. In another echo of the Cultural Revolution, student monitors have been employed at Sheffield University to report on staff and students, and, on the pattern of the NKVD, this only works if they provide the necessary evidence.

An industry is at play, with Advance HE, a data provider for UK Higher Education, pushing universities to meet its Race Equality Charter That it has Trustees who are senior officeholders in universities now agreeing, at considerable cost, to meet its targets, provides at the very least a serious conflict of interest. Moreover, significant sums of money are shown in the accounts as going to Trustees. Doubtless this has all been cleared by the relevant committees of their colleagues, but it will look heavily questionable with the perspective of history, and, at present, might strike some as unacceptable.

That money and status, and an ability to imagine that hard work is giving orders to others, who actually do the teaching, marking and research, are all at play, will surprise no-one who understands how bureaucracies operate in totalitarian systems. What is surprising is that this situation pertains in a democratic system with a Conservative government. So also with the BBC and its treatment of British politics and history, notably of late, Winston Churchill. The News at Ten, flagship programme, on 21 July 2020, was highly critical of Churchill’s stance during the Bengal Famine and provided no balance or contextualisation. To note that Churchill’s statue was one that was recently attacked is pertinent, as is the degree to which the criticism of Churchill by the BBC is part of a long pattern of revisionism in pursuit of a left-wing agenda. There is no equivalent in attacks on aspects of the left-wing past, for example, the Labour government’s role in the foundation of the National Health Service.

Statues are both real and figurative. In the latter sense, attacks from the Left have been on the ascendant from the 1960s, and the Thatcher years (1979-1990) did not really see this process stop. The intent on imposing a twisted narrative of hatred of the country, even a perverse virtue-signalling selfhatred, are issuing a call to destroy gentle, generous, democratic Britain; not a call to destroy statues. The dangers are far greater than ignorance of history; and the idea that a rational review of the real historical facts will help is far too optimistic, because any who argue thus are presented as sharing in the evil of a past that must be destroyed.

Conservatives in Britain are apt to be highly pessimistic about the state of the “Culture Wars,” and certainly Labour has done particularly well in university cities, such as Cambridge, Canterbury, Exeter and Oxford, and in the last election was in the lead among voters aged under 44. Thus, the
crowds demonstrating or tweeting against statues are scarcely marginal. Yet, the self-indulgent, obsessed with an ignorant view of the past, should apply their energies to the present in giving direct help to the poor, on their own doorstep, and in large tracts of the World, who have nothing. That point makes addressing the situation more urgent.

Remedies worthy of attention include taking away the BBC’s anachronistic licence fee, reforming and/or removing funding from university quango bodies such as UK Research and Innovation, and the Office for Students, supporting legal and administrative action against universities that limit free speech, as permitted by the law of the land, and shifting the balance in post-16 teaching from HE (Higher Education) to FE (Further Education), with the latter encouraged to focus on vocational education and funded, in part, by money moved from HE. The radicals are the new establishment and their power can only be lessened by radical means, the means also necessary to hold off their malice.

I am most grateful to Julie Arliss, Peter Cull, Bill Gibson and Andrew Sharpe for their comments on an earlier draft.

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 the statue of Edward Colston, in Bristol, before it was toppled.

Towards The Fall Of The French Fifth Republic

The complete lockdown of my country, in March to May 2020, was a good opportunity to sit down and think about its political and institutional condition, a topic that particularly worries me ever since the Yellow Vest riots at the end of 2018, when I, and a lot of my fellow countrymen, felt the regime of the Fifth Republic falter. From that moment, the possibility of the collapse of the regime obsessed me, along with my previous thoughts on the real nature of the Fifth Republic as political regime. I tried to figure out what is to be expected in the coming months and years in my country, using my usual method of historic comparative analysis.

Here’s why I think that the French Fifth Republic is not a democracy, but a new Ancien Régime, and will therefore be destroyed by a new Revolution. And this is how it will happen.

A New Ancien Régime

The first thing to say is that France is not a democracy, and that’s true from the very beginning of the Fifth Republic, in 1958, and has only worsened since.

Usually in France, we think that our Constitution implements a possible form of democracy, one of the many different sorts existing in the West, and showing only a few constitutional and institutional variations from these; and that the others differ amongst each other in the same way and range, and that they together thus draw a spectrum of possibilities in the political realm called, “democracy,” which constitutes the enlightened form of government in the modern West.
That’s completely wrong. All our European neighbor-states have identical constitutions and rules about some crucial points, while France shows a radical singularity. Thus, France is not another democracy among others; it’s the exception to the rule. All great democracies in Europe (United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Spain), are parliamentary democracies, where head of state and head of government are clearly separated, and the Government is accountable to parliament. It’s also the case in India, in Japan, Canada, and Australia. It was also the case under the French Third Republic. It’s not the case in France today.

The separation of power is not even strictly implemented, as in the American constitution, in which the President is both head of state and government, but the Congress is independent from him.
France has a so-called “semi-presidential system,” in common with countries like Russia, Syria, Algeria or Egypt, which are not democracies at all. France is not a “democracy” in the usual sense of this word. But nor is it a dictatorship – France under King Louis XVI was not a dictatorship, neither was Germany under Kaiser Wilhelm II. France is an exception, an intruder in the democratic world. There is no balance between powers. The President isn’t accountable before anyone, as long as his term lasts; but he has the power to dissolve the Parliament. The presidential function is a sort of political gravity pit – as time passes, everything ends up depending on it.

In a society, political mores and institutions form a feedback loop. When the Fifth Republic was founded, democratic culture in France had been well established for more than eighty years. The “Republican monarchy,” as the French constitutionalist, Maurice Duverger, called it, gradually altered and erased this democratic habitus – court manners now came to rule the political world and the media, the arts and the economy. The French political ecosystem today matches the institutions of the Fifth Republic, that is to say, we are now culturally this “Republican monarchy,” which we were previously, in the 1960s and the 1970s, only formally. Among our neighbors, the seat of political power is the Parliament. In France, it’s the Elysée palace, the presidential residence – and it’s just not the main seat, but the only one. There’s no debate there; everything is decided in the backrooms, and the French people only hear some rumors in the press about why and how important decisions are made.

This return to a pre-democratic political culture, as in the Ancien Régime or the German Empire in the 1900s, has had a spectacular outcome – missing real democratic debate, the French people show their discontent with riots, such as the Yellow Vest movement.

Here, I should reiterate what I said in my last book, La Structure de l’Histoire (The Structure of History) – that the parliamentary Nation-State is the result of a long deterministic process. First, a feudal society evolves towards centralized monarchy through the growing power of the feudal king, and the creation of a representative assembly made up of different parts of the feudal system (English Model Parliament in 1295, French Estates General in 1302). The last stage of the process towards national parliamentarism is what I call a “national revolution.” a revolutionary cycle which transform a regime of centralized monarchy into a parliamentary regime, an autocratic power into a democratic-representative power. This stage lasts approximately forty to fifty years, as in the two English revolutions (1641-1689), the French Revolution and the July Revolution (1789-1830), or the Spanish revolution and Spanish transition to democracy (1931-1977). The scheme is always the same: Fall of the old regime, an attempt to establish a moderate new regime, economic collapse and the rise of the radical revolutionaries, civil war and military dictatorship, authoritarian regime, then finally an “easygoing” revolutionary episode.

In my previous book, Atlas des guerres à venir (Atlas of the Wars to Come), I also described the historical phenomenon which I termed, “avenger-imperialist,” or “revolutionary imperialist,” a nationalist dictator. who simultaneously is a product of a “national revolution,” who seeks to end this revolution by way of a synthetic new order by amalgamating revolutionary democracy with the autocracy of the old regime; and seeks to insure the domination of his people by what he sees as “natural borders.” Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin or even Mussolini or Francisco Franco are such figures.
So here’s the point: If the deterministic historical process dictates a one-way evolution towards a parliamentary nation-state, a reality we observe in every great European state, how is it that France has regressed to a sort of new Ancien Régime in the middle of the twentieth century? It can’t be because of any sort of advancement that France had made, in comparison to its neighbors, since the United Kingdom is its elder in the fulfilment of this historical path and is still ruled under the same parliamentary system we find in Germany, Spain or Italy, which all accomplished their national revolutions later than France.

The answer, in fact, is to be found in Russia. This country is remarkable for having passed through two national revolutions in a row during the twentieth century; first in 1917, then in 1991, which is ongoing (in which Putin is a new avenger-imperialist; but that’s another topic).

How is such a thing possible? Because the first Russian revolution took place at the same time as the German revolution (1918), and the Russian and German revolutionary-imperialists, Stalin and Hitler, crashed into each other. Normally, a revolutionary imperialist expends the power of his country, unites against him all the neighboring countries, and is finally crushed by their coalition, and his defeat finally establishes the borders of his country by terminating its imperialists ambitions. The typical case is Napoleonic France. Hitler’s Germany also matched this scheme, because Hitler was, as Napoleon, the aggressor, and created the unity of the nations against him.

But Stalin, who was on the same trajectory, was attacked by Hitler before he himself could attack Germany. Thenceforth he was not an aggressor, but a defender of the Russian homeland, in what is known in Russia as the “Great Patriotic War,” which legitimized the Communist regime internationally, making USSR one of the Allies against Hitler, and internally, where the Communist regime become the savior of the motherland.

This historical accident derailed the Russian trajectory, changing the revolutionary – and as such, temporary – Soviet regime into a new “old regime,” which is to say, a regime strongly accepted by the people, not only by the means of terror but because of its great prestige, its authority which faced no serious questioning, and propped by national pride because of its imperial capacity. Such had been the case of France in the 18th-century, right after the numerous conquests of Louis XIV and the victory in the war of the Spanish Succession; it had been the case in Germany, united under Prussian rule, after the victory against France in 1871; it had been the case of Russia after a series of wars that took place in the second half of the 19th-century, which had resulted, in the extreme extent, in the Russian Empire in Europe, against the Ottomans. That is why the Soviet regime, in 1991, collapsed, as all “Ancien Régimes” are supposed to, that is to say, by a national revolution.

This brief look at the Russian case proves that in some cases, a temporary structural backward trajectory can be observed, a one-off regression from the historical path.

And it’s precisely this kind of historical accident which is the cause of France’s current institutional problem. In France, the historical accident is the defeat in 1940. No other European country had to face such an upheaval so late in its national historical path, after becoming a parliamentary nation-state. In fact, at this time, only two great European countries had reached this stage of evolution: United Kingdom and France. The defeat provoked the collapse of the French democratic regime of the Third Republic, and the establishment of an authoritarian regime for a few years with Vichy France, and which opened a new revolutionary phase. It must be noted, indeed, that a national revolution always starts with a painful episode that discredits the previous regime, destroys its authority and plunges the population into disarray. Such was the case of the humiliating defeat of France in the Seven Years’ War, which cost the monarchy the people’s trust, inspiring a predictive resentful song, Comprenez-vous? (Do you understand?), attributed to Voltaire: “When we’ll be out of tears/ When we’ll be exasperated / We’ll know well to who, Madam / We’ll have to bend our neck / Do you understand?”

It was, similarly the case of Russian and German defeats in the First World War, ending the Russian and German Empires with revolutions. And we saw again the same scheme when the USSR, humiliated by defeat in Afghanistan, and with its incapacity to match Reagan’s IDS, along with the Chernobyl disaster, collapsed in 1991.

Such catastrophic defeat leads to an all-round questioning of values and the ruling system, and generates a collective impulse towards a new political model, through a national revolution.
Thus began a new revolutionary phase, in France, including its radicals (Communists) and its synthetic dictator, an avenger-imperialist – General Charles de Gaulle, who was often called a Bonapartist, unsurprisingly. Of course, this national revolution was less violent and its consequences lower than the first occurrence, but it seems that it’s always so with such an accidental repetition of a national revolution – in the same way, the collapse of USSR was much less bloody than the Revolution of 1917, and Putin is not Stalin.

In fact, it was not the first time France has gone through a throw-back and new national revolution. As a matter of fact, France went through three national revolutions: The first started in 1789, the third in 1940, and the second in 1870, after the humiliating defeat against Prussia. Then, France suffered the Paris Commune, then an aborted avenger-imperialist with general Boulanger, who never took power, allowing democracy to be established quickly.

But de Gaulle failed to establish the regime he wanted in 1946 – the Fourth Republic was in fact a restoration of the Third. And the Fifth Republic is the product of a coup, which was its original sin. De Gaulle came back to power with a putsch – or under the threat of a putsch, which is the same thing. The Constitution wasn’t written by an Assembly elected for that, which is the normal way to adopt a constitution in the democratic tradition, but by a man – Michel Debré – on behalf of another – de Gaulle – and then offered to the people by way of a referendum. So, there it is: The French Fifth Republic was set up by an avenger-imperialist.

As well, this regime wasn’t contested afterwards, and it came to accentuate its vices through the many successive amendments to the Constitution. That’s how, like the Soviets in the 1980s, we again have today, in France, a new pre-national revolution regime, a new Ancien Régime: a non-democracy, marked by all the vices of this kind of aging system – very little social mobility, very much depending on the State and its apparatus, and diminishing freedom of speech.

A New Revolution

With that being said, where are we headed? The answer is quite obvious: A new national revolution. It’s the way defined by the determinism I explained earlier; and even when an accidental regression occurs on the path to historical determinism, a country continues moving forward, as Russia did after 1945. And this implies that it follows the same determinism.

What is the first stage of a national revolution, the trigger of the regime’s collapse? A humiliating event that seriously undermines its authority, especially one which questions its core-legitimacy and is the institution that is the main pillar of its supremacy. In the 2020 France of the Fifth Republic, the most cited pillar of the State’s legitimacy is the so called “modèle social français” (the French social model), which is based on a very powerful welfare-state and the promise of an unrivaled healthcare, brought about by the largest investment of the European Union in this sector – 11.3 % of the GDP.

In dealing with Covid-19, France obviously did much worse than Germany, and not much better than Spain or Italy – whose healthcare systems where described in the mainstream French media up until March 2020 as less professional and less efficient. France still had a worse mortality rate per million inhabitants than the United States or Brazil, despite the efforts of the French media to hide this reality, by speaking only about the total number of deaths.

No tests, no masks. In the weeks following, this important information the French government could not hide, and it had a disastrous effect on the population’s morale, like going to war with too few guns and missing ammunition. Perhaps it’s understandable, though annoying, that an “average” country is not ready to face a pandemic. But it’s a humiliation, in a country which prides itself on its healthcare, to appear so helpless. Especially at a time when the authority of the State is already low and lacks legitimacy, just a year after the Yellow Vest crisis, in which the regime already seemed on the verge of collapse.

In addition, the French economy will be one of the most affected by the consequences of the coronavirus – experts expect GDP to drop by more than 10 %, and a million French workers will probably lose their jobs within a year. A ten-fold Yellow Vest crisis is expected to come about.

What Will This New National Revolution Look Like?

Historionomy can help us to draw a sort of cone of possibilities. Here’s the method: We have to re-examine the cases of national revolutions and avenger-imperialists in French History (Revolutionary and Imperial France, the Paris Commune and the Boulangist crisis, the defeat of 1940, and the de Gaulle presidency) in order to figure out the main common stages and the variables causing the variance between the different cases. Then we will be able to compare this model with other main cases mentioned previously (the German revolution of 1918 and the Third Reich; the Russian revolutions of 1917 and 1991) to ensure its reliability. Then we will use this model to predict how the political and institutional situation in France could evolve in the next years.

Here’s the table summarizing the French case:

It is to be noted that the Revolution-Empire cycle lasted 26 years (1788-1815), the Paris Commune-Boulangist crisis cycle lasted 19 years (but it was aborted), and the 1940 defeat-de Gaulle presidency lasted 29 years (1940-1969).

Here’s the table summarizing the Russian case:

And, lastly, here’s the table summarizing the German case:

Before trying to figure out the future of the French Republic, a few remarks must first be made.

The French Revolution-Empire case, the first Russian case and the German case are about a first national revolution, not a replica, and show a greater degree of revolutionary fervor, with much more violent consequences concerning the number of victims and geopolitical upheaval. Replicas, in France as in Russia, despite a similar path, show a much less tragic outcome on these points, probably because ideology was less influential: Jacobinism, Bolshevism, Nazism were very powerful ideologies. Nothing like these is visible in the other cases.

Besides, there are two factors that are quite new and could affect the development of the scheme.
On one hand, the ethnic situation of the country, after half a century of mass immigration that led to the appearance of large ethnic and religious minorities, especially Muslims from North and Sub-Saharan Africa. Therefore, the regime collapse could degenerate towards a 1990s Yugoslavia-like scenario, with episodes of racial war and ethnic cleansing.

On the other hand, France is now a province of the American Empire, belonging to NATO, and its stability is of strategic concern for Washington. One could wonder how America would react to a collapse of the French Fifth Republic: Would it let the revolution go its way in a “wait-and-see” posture, or intervene immediately to ensure the stability of Europe? In case of a plunge into the chaos of an interethnic conflict, will America act like it did against the Serbs in the Bosnian War, or accuse the French people of genocide, if the conflict results in the expulsion of some populations recently immigrated?

These are questions I did not incorporate in my projection, because the model says nothing about them, but it must be said that they can, at any stage, influence the chain of events.

That being said, here is the projection resulting from the application of our model:

Philippe Fabry is a lawyer and a theorist of history. His approach to history is found in a recent interview with the Postil. He is the author of Rome, From Libertarianism to Socialism, A History of the Century to Come, and The Structure of History. His personal website is: https://www.historionomie.net.

The image shows Antoine de Boissy d’Anglas being presented the head of Deputy Jean Feraud by Jacobins in 1795. The painting, by Auguste Vinchon was completed in 1831.

I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine: A Consideration Of Youth At The Turning Of An Era

That we are at the end of an age is clear. It remains to be seen what exactly are the opportunities and difficulties, the tragedies and hopes, of this moment. A taller order still is playing out the long-term consequences of the COVID-19 disruptions through society. Via the Corona disease the long-downtrodden West, indeed the world, may be experiencing a transition as regular – though seismic – as a “Fourth Turning” moment; or we may be witnessing birth pangs as profound and far-reaching as Rome’s Fall in Western Europe. My pet analogy for this moment is somewhere in between the mundane and the dramatic: The Sixteenth Century transition from the Medieval to the Modern eras. Now, as then, the economic, political, social, and religious mind of one age is being shelved and another adopted. Pick your poison, pick your precedent, times they are a-changin’.

The order heretofore is dead. It has been dead for a stretch already. Perhaps the “postmodern” moniker is appropriate to describe what I mean. The Modern world, stretching from the Enlightenment through the end of the Second World War, had run its course. Yet whilst technology developed far apace of everything else, postwar social structures plodded along into the 21st-century largely untouched. What changes there were, were cosmetic. Then came COVID.

A tree is known by its fruit, and this late order of ours has strewn a lot of rotten fruit about. We hear this rottenness, this tiredness, this deadness in milquetoast sermons, we eat it in nutrition-starved foods, we live it in deracinated families, so on and so on in secula seculorum. There’s no end to mediocre examples of this order.

Through its postwar, postmodern facelift we kept the Modern structures going because the mass of us are followers. If we weren’t sheep by nature, then many thousands of hours of industrial education made us sheep. And besides, as Mr. Jefferson reminds us in the Declaration, men are fonder of tolerating evils than of changing them.

Whatever uneasy assurances we told ourselves about this society, we knew they were not true assurances. Admidst the despair and hollowness and commerce of modern life, the better among us did the sensible thing: We became addicts these last 20 and 30 years. It’s only a marvel that more of us haven’t gone in for poisons of whatever sort. When faced with a culture as vapid as the DMV, and Walmart, and the iPhone, one is tempted to grimly conclude with the ancient Greeks that the luckiest man is he who dies in the womb. Who’s the second luckiest man? The one who dies in childhood. And so forth. You get the point.

After a stint in rehab the ones who sober up return to a hell less Dantean and more Quranic, less flashy and more monotonous. Men who’ve come down from their highs this last decade see before them an endless liturgy of bi-weekly pay and once-monthly rent, regular taxes and pointless holidays, forever statues and forever entertainment (always statues and entertainment, always). Nothing of the soul, nothing of the numinous, nothing of life. Indeed nothing but the inane which drove people to the bottle or the needle or the pill or the porn in the first place.

There is no chemical solution to a spiritual problem, so goes an AA maxim. Ah, but musha, the spiritual sorts haven’t been much help. Beyond some local examples of heroism – a religious congregation here, a helpful priest there – the institutional Church has been altogether useless through the late addiction crisis. Nothing so deftly paints the sorry portrait of modern Christianity as the contrast between the long parade of buggery, litigation, and sectarianism of your holy rollers on the one hand, and the robust monthly heroine casualties on the other.

Everything is tired. The Church, the state, art, commerce, you, me.

Yet as we shuffled along intoxicated, or stultified by the mantra, “This is the way the world works,” the center could not hold. Along came COVID-19. Where it came from, how dangerous it is, nor how effective are masks I care not. For the first time in our lives social structures which seemed adamantine have become mice. With Isaiah we ponder, “Are you the ones who shook the earth and made kingdoms tremble?” The entire order which swindled and dispirited and addicted us was put on hold this spring. Soon it will be through.

Yet I’m no Pollyanna. Yes, the order was dead before Corona came. Yes, now it is evaporating or soon will be. But a darker timbre is in the offing as the old order, manned by generations of intoxicated or indifferent slaves, continuing only with the force of inertia, crumbles. The powers that be are not as apathetic as they’ve made their servants. They work and they work hard. If things keep apace then surely a technocratic control system of greater personal isolation and crueler economic and legal slavery is in the offing. No man who follows the news is blind to this. A rising secularism, as vicious as it is determined, now verges on leading the mass of Karens and Kevins into a captivity heavier than the one known heretofore.

At this heady moment, at this turning of an age, let us consider youth. It is in the virtues of those years that we may snatch the brand from the fire. Renewed in our minds, we may yet forge a happier epoch.

***

From the word go we note what the remainder of this article is not. This is not the tedious celebration of the vapid qualities of early adulthood which so haunts pop culture. That nostalgia, captured in Bryan Adams’ song “Summer of ‘69” by the refrain, “Those were the best days of my life,” is not what we’re on about here.

There’s a certain fetching style of writing in Church documents which is well worth exploring. You’d not call ecclesial writings beach reading, but they’re not canned either. In a tired Church, “tired” in a way Benedict and Francis and Dante and Chesterton could perceive, one gets the impression that a crew of Lit-majors at some unknown point last century managed to infiltrate Rome. Like a special forces team, I imagine them holding a building, or a floor, maybe just a lonesome closet, of the Vatican complex. There they write their handsome prose.

Communio et Progressio, the 1971 elaboration of the Second Vatican Council’s Inter Mirifica on social communications, recalls some of the beneficial qualities of youth. It says, “Generosity and idealism are admirable qualities in young people, and so are their frankness and sincerity” (67). These are fine sentiments to describe the best qualities of the young. Let’s chew over them, for they are dearly needed in this grey, cant-ridden world.

The opening years of life, years of generosity and idealism and frankness and sincerity, are a chapter of existence which the liturgy especially lauds during the sunny days of summer.

The merry month of June opens with the memory of the Ugandan Martyrs (June 3), and it continues with Anthony of Padua (June 13).

Midsummer itself is crowned with the energy and selflessness of Aloysius Gonzaga (June 21). What’s true for saints’ days in general is especially poignant here. The abstract meets the concrete. Virtue meets flesh. On a day neo-pagans have brought into prominence for the beauty of midsummer’s solar splendor, St. Aloysius’ placement is an annual reminder of Christianity’s sublimation of natural truths. In the youthful Italian’s placement the best of the Classical world and its appreciation for natural beauty meets the Incarnational reality. Pagans are right for celebrating the light of midsummer. In a world of halogen bulbs any nod to the diurnal cycle is welcome. But June 21st is sunnier yet for the memory and intercession of this selfless religious.

Continuing, we see John the Baptist has two summertime days: a bonfire-filled June 24 for his birth, and August 29 for his death. Youth have long involved themselves in protest, and John was given to that type of fire. How fitting, with all the earnestness of a Mario Savio or a Rachel Corrie or a Mohammed Bouazizi, that this cousin of Christ’s would die at the hands of lumpy Herod, a man who’d fallen into the most unappealing of middle-aged habits: the chasing of feckless young women. Enthusiastic Clare, shorn of her teenage locks, graces August 11.

An astute participant in the liturgy will be aware of a small annual drama which unfolds through August’s dog days. Turning our attention to pre-Constantinian Rome, our scene starts with St. Sixtus and his companions (Aug. 7), a crew who’d made the Roman Church famous for its material aid to the indigent. This drama climaxes with martyrdom of Sixtus’ deacon, the earnest and good-natured Lawrence (Aug. 10). In a type of flashback to a generation earlier, our vignette fades out on Aug. 13 with Sts. Pontian and Hippolytus’ sweet after-feast of reconciliation and sacrifice. At the close of their Vespers we turn away from the young Roman Church and we get back on with the regular rhythm and medley of saints’ days.

Things reach a crescendo of sorts with St. Augustine’s Memorial on August 28. Like Clare, who lived a full life, even a long life by Medieval standards, Augustine survived to hoary old age. However, like Clare, it is the saint’s youthful episodes which so endear him in the common imagination.
Let us idle our engines a moment with this beloved North African saint. I will not relate the well-known saga of Augustine’s opening years, nor will I enter into a critique of popular memory’s recollection of the man, a figure whose exaggerated fleshly vices get more play than they deserve. His very real intellectual difficulties are less spicy.

The ability of a subject to inspire art is a sign towards its truth. The beauty argument doesn’t win the day in se. I can think of a young New York artist, for example, who regularly lends her considerable talents to Planned Parenthood sorts. Foul things can be dressed up beautifully. Sed nihilominus, as a general rule on an average day, the statement stands: Beauty points towards truth. Thus I adduce Bob Dylan’s I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine as a concluding aid in our meditation on the virtues of youth. It begins,

I dreamed I saw St. Augustine
Alive as you or me
Tearing through these quarters
In the utmost misery.

The tune of this song follows an old I.W.W. ballad about labor organizer Joe Hill. The martyred Wobbly left a large corpus of music. Its poetic quality is impressive for someone who learned English as an adult. Like Hill’s postmortem legacy, Augustine’s personality transcends time and translation.

In books like The Confessions his moral and mental struggles are ours. Augustine’s Civitas Dei confronts questions of political philosophy which press upon the latest headlines. Tearing through these quarters indeed! And whilst contemporary patois limits “angst” to teens at Hot Topic, Dylan’s imagery of a vital, confused Augustine running through our song is excellent for its relatability.

With a blanket underneath his arm
And a coat of solid gold
Searching for the very souls
Who already have been sold.

The already sold souls is as true a line as anything ever written. By war and pharmaceuticals and jobberism, by a thousand stratagems, the tired world plots to turn the rising generation into itself. Very often it works towards this end unbeknownst to itself. And in this we get a whiff of the magnitude of Original Sin.

Those already sold souls weigh heavily for Americans. Twice now gombeen-men have wrecked the careers and savings of Generation X with their recessions. The flashy endless wars which opened the century have morphed into a regular simmer of unreported conflicts. But flashy or quiet, here in holy Connecticut I oft’ come across scarred young men of a certain age. That betrayal of youth is more visible and sympathetic than the debt slave graduate who embraces a future equally as indefinite as our wounded soldier. Sold all, they are.

Perhaps Augustine’s blanket in the above stanza is a nod to the popular overplay of his lust. If so, we hear our young genius rushing out of his girlfriend’s pad shouting,

Arise, arise, he cried so loud
In a voice without restraint
Come out, ye gifted kings and queens
And hear my sad complaint.

A certain aspect of my educational work rings especially clear in this verse. Regularly I have the opportunity to interact with young men and women lately through with college. As it happens, usually because I’m trying to lasso them for a speaking gig or to teach a class; they have a humanities background. There’s something especially forlorn about this condition. Being in your twenties, having come to the end of the education-conveyor-belt, and being adrift in a STEM-world with a liberal education. The general adriftness of that hour of life is compounded by suddenly going from a world of letters and ideas to a society illiterate and apathetic. In this tribulation some encouragement is always welcome, you gifted kings and queens.

As the stanza ends, we wonder what complaint St. Augustine has? We find out:

No martyr is among ye now
Whom you can call your own
So go on your way accordingly
But know you’re not alone.

“No martyr is among you now.” Who knows how much Bob Dylan studies the Church Fathers? Whatever the case may be, this verse captures an anxiety Bishop Augustine explicitly commented on in his day. Living in a time and place when Christianity was going from being on the margins of society to being socially acceptable, including a cessation of state-sponsored persecutions, there in fact was a belief that the days of martyrs were through. In the Office of Readings on Laurence’s day (Aug. 11) Augustine preaches the second lesson, saying, “It is not true that the bridge was broken after the martyrs crossed; nor is it true that after they had drunk from it, the fountain of eternal life dried up.”

Dylan’s Augustine expresses how we can often feel. In a half-hearted world it seems there are no martyrs anymore, no one who’s so committed to an idea they’d die for. “Where is our James Connelly?” another Wobbly writer once asked. Yes, but where are our martyrs? They’re out there. Like the previous sections, this one closes with encouragement.

***

What agendas are moving now and where they are going is stuff for another article. Those with eyes to see know what’s up. Still and all, before we fill up those seeing eyes of ours with intimidating thoughts of this rising order, let us remember youth and the saints who embody those qualities of generosity and frankness and idealism and sincerity.

In the best tradition of Christianity, we also remember that just as Israel and Edom are ultimately spiritual realities, so is age and youth. Brigitta in Graham Greene’s Power and the Glory is used as a negative reminder of this. Kids can be washed-out cynics as soon as anyone else. On the positive end, though, even wrinkly old priests can say with all the newness grace brings, “I will go to the altar of God: to God who giveth joy to my youth.”

John Coleman co-hosts Christian History & Ideas, and is the founder of Apocatastasis: An Institute for the Humanities, an alternative college and high school in New Milford, Connecticut (USA). Apocatastasis is a school focused on studying the Western humanities in an integrated fashion, while at the same time adjusting to the changing educational field. Information about the college can be found at their website.

The image shows, “the Conversion of Saint Augustine,” by Fra Abgelico, painted ca. 1430-1435.

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.

The Necessity Of Bravery In Scholarship

Roger Scruton was a brave man. He was personally brave and intellectually brave. His personal bravery is evident from his activities in Eastern Europe helping to forge underground universities in the 1980s. There were real personal risks in doing that. Police states do not look kindly on anyone who encourages intellectual opposition to them. But then neither did Scruton’s academic colleagues back in the United Kingdom. There, he was persona non grata in an institutional world dominated by leftists and socialists always eager to excuse despotism and authoritarianism. That, after all, was their road to power.

While his academic brethren indulged ever more fantastical theories of society and human nature, Scruton found himself at odds with his generation. As he observed somewhat ruefully in his autobiography, he had some regrets about this. A mild touch of melancholy offset his phlegmatic personality. The generation who got their PhDs in or after the mid-1960s were serially attracted to successive forms of soft totalitarian faculty-lounge rhetoric: Marxist, Nietzschean, postmodernist, and identitarian. Each of these currents worshiped power. Scruton didn’t. Nor was he intimidated by it. He didn’t bend to fashions, crowds or collective passions.

No small part of the reason that the English intelligentsia (on the whole) despised him was that he possessed a remarkable independence of mind which they conspicuously lacked. That independence of mind was obvious when Scruton published The Meaning of Conservatism in 1980. He was aged 36. A defence of conservatism was practically inconceivable then—and it remains in academic circles today a rare thing. Especially a defence undertaken with Scruton’s depth of thought.

Like all classic writers Scruton existed at a slight tangent to time. He entered the public intellectual fray with a book that was out of step with “the times”. He remained that way, steadfastly but always interestingly. He did not wait for Communism to fall to oppose Communism. He argued for the virtues of England long before Brexit. He defended the imagination against social fantasy, beauty against the despotic rage for reason, and a placid, gentle politics against angry political posturing.

Scruton’s work and life, voluminous and multifaceted as both were, displayed a number of fixed points, anchors amidst the flow of time. His intellect and soul were constantly and often maliciously attacked by his critics. He paid a personal price for all the nasty badgering, manias and melodramas that were the calling-cards of the post-modern intellectual generation. Nevertheless his persistence resulted in a venerable body of work which had at its heart an intimation of a beatific faith. This was not just faith in a transcendent personal God but also the kind of faith that manifests itself in decent societies, genial associations, firm friends and responsible individuals.

Scruton was a careful thinker. He was trained in analytic philosophy at Cambridge. Elizabeth Anscombe, a student of Wittgenstein, was his PhD supervisor. That training left a mark on his philosophical style—a care in drawing distinctions. Sometimes he overdid that. But after his Cambridge student years (1963-1973) he discovered another intellectual tradition. Philosophically it was the tradition of Edmund Burke, the Whig inspirer of English conservatives. But, in the case of Scruton, Burke represented not just a philosophical archetype. After all Scruton was deeply familiar with Hegel, Kant and Spinoza—and the rest of the Western tradition of philosophy. No, the Burkean aspect was more than philosophical. It connected Scruton with a tradition of English letters that favoured straightforward, elegant expression and a style of writing about society and politics that was beautiful.

Among his many works, this literary style reached a dazzling peak in England: An Elegy, Scruton’s unparalleled description of the nature of England and the English. Most of his critics favoured language that was obscurantist and tortured—the more unintelligible the better. They all aspired to be public intellectuals because they wanted their fantasies to rule the world. Yet unlike most of them, Scruton was a genuine public intellectual—a person who could speak and write clearly and movingly about matters of great human importance.

Because Scruton didn’t worship power, the political party that he was close to, Britain’s Conservative Party, casually turned on him in 2019. In the last year of life, an infantile trophy-hunting left-wing journalist publicised a series of doctored quotes from an interview with him. He briefly lost his unpaid appointment to a government commission on good architecture, a topic he loved. He was restored to the post after the journalist’s fraud was revealed. But the action to dismiss him showed something striking. Namely how weak those who hold power can be, and how prone they are to panicked judgements. Small-c conservative qualities of faith, reliability, durability, commitment, and piety mattered to Scruton. Woven deeply into his writings are themes of promises, commitments, and vows; and things imperishable, immortal, and transcendent. His life encapsulated those values. He lived the way he thought.

Peter Murphy is a professor at La Trobe University and at the Cairns Institute, James Cook University.

The image shows, “Watson and the Shark,” by John Singleton Copley, painted in 1778.

What Is Conservatism?

How much did Sir Roger Scruton’s thought influence the current perception of Conservatism? This is hard to say. Had his mind widely reached the public opinion in depth, we could speak of an influence, but it was not so, for rarely a thinker’s mind has an influence on his own
contemporaries, and more rarely on his own generation; in case on the next. I’d say that he was a bright and cold interpreter of a commonly shared, and mutual way of thinking and perceiving the political situation in the West, and its contradiction; but it is really problematic to assess
if and how much he may have had an influence on the public political perception. For sure his work was carefully considered by specialists, and was often reported by the press, in and out of Britain, but how many people read such press and, among them, how many read this kind of news? No idea, but surely – no matter the country – they are not the majority of the
public.

It is not easy to define Conservatism, and we must keep in mind that not all the categories we can apply to the so-called Western mind can be applied to countries whose culture does not rely on the European root.

In theory one should define Conservatism “a contrario” due to what it is not. This could be easier. It is enough to look around, at the most shared behaviours and mentalities, and then say: This is not conservatism.

Once the list of the “this-is-not,” is arrived at, you’ll identify “a contrario” what Conservatism is. On the other hand, we must also beware those people who calll conservatism whatever can be used to blindly hold at any cost against social changes, just because they are changes, or just because they do not know how to argue or discuss. There is another way to define Conservatism. Basically, the difference between progressives and conservers is similar to that between children and parents. Children are attracted by everything new because it is new. Children want to do what they want, because they want it. Children have no experience;

Hence, they cause dramatic damage, which sometimes is impossible to solve. Children are egoistic, looking for, and caring for their own interest only; they despise rules, are arrogant, pretend to know everything and teach lessons to everybody. Children are not educated, and know nothing about their families’ history and roots, and are accustomed to have their meals ready-made, their clothes ready-made, their homes safe and comfortable, and to cry when things are not as they like. And that’s it.

Parents know what can happen, and which consequence a particular action will normally have. Parents have experience and have learned from it – unless they are post 1968s or progressives at any cost – thus parents know which kind of result the children may get. But whoever has children knows that you can shout as much as you want, and repeat the same things as much as you want, but your children will never listen at you, till it’s too late, perhaps much too late. Then, after many years, they will also be able – at least some of them – to realize that their parents were right; but they will hardly admit it, and continue behaving the same way, or worse.

It’s easy to be a progressive: Just shout “why not this?” There is no need to support the cry with ideas and reason, whilst a conserver needs a lot of culture and skill to explain and to defend his position. Since 1789 conservers are always old-fashioned, thus guilty, who must keep and defend their positions, whilst progressive are right by definition. In brief, Conservatism in the good sense is a blend of culture, tradition, broad mentality, and attention; Conservatism is good sense applied to daily life.

A corollary: Look at how many wars were caused by leftist governments and how big those wars were, and then look at how many were started by conservative governments. Then make a comparison between the casualties caused by the former and the latter. The result: Progressives caused much more death than the conservers. Hitler was a progressive, Stalin was a progressive, Mussolini was born and remained his whole life a socialist thus a progressive. Is that enough?

Ciro Paoletti, a prominent Italian historian of military history, the Secretary General of the Italian Commission of Military History. He is the author of 25 books, and more than 400 other smaller works\, published in Italy and abroad, and mostly dealing with modern and contemporary Italian military history and policy.

The image shows, “The Chess Players,” by Thomas Eakins, painted in 1876.