A Plea For Heterogeneity

Upon reading Professor Legutko’s comments in last month’s issue of The Postil, I was reminded of the apophthegm of the Danish polymath Poul Hennigsen, “Democracy can only be measured by the existence of an opposition.” Prof. Legutko notes correctly that audi alteram partem no longer really holds true. His experiences in communist Poland of course serve as a stern warning to what happens when no opposition is allowed.

To avoid misunderstanding though, opposition for the sake of opposition is a nihilistic pursuit (he correctly notes that “the problem of the opposition is a tricky one”), it must be rooted in the separation and balance of governmental and societal powers. This can be seen for example in the 1936 Soviet constitution – at first glance it, along with those which it inspired in Soviet satellite states seemed quite progressive for their day and age. There was however no division of power; all power resided with the Party, hence the “rights” enshrined therein had no practical currency and no notion of civic society (outside of Party institutions) was permitted.

He notes further that “the danger of homogeneity has been looming over Europe and America for several centuries.” One might even say that for Europe this ideal hearkens at least as far back as Diocletian’s “Edict on Maximum Prices,” issued in the beginning of the fourth century AD.

Here though, one must distinguish clearly between the ideals of “homogeneity,” or rather “mass conformity” – this is of course nothing else than the notion of consensus, the foundation of any social contract, taken to an extreme – in “Europe” and “America.” The European homogenetical – “ism” – experiments (nationalism, communism, fascism, etc.) are for better or worse fundamentally rooted in continental European culture and history. The material philosophy of Marx, heavily influenced as he was by the Young Hegelians, for example, is firmly rooted in the tradition of Continental Philosophy. Anglo-Saxon and thus American culture and philosophy took a different path – one might say that Britannia became part of the Roman Empire too late and left too soon or that the Anglo-American thassalocracy took a different road.

The movement to which Prof. Legutko alludes with his remark “at that time, it never occurred to me that the Western world may produce a society and a state of mind where the opposition as a permanent constituent of political and social life may disappear or become unwelcome” is essentially an Anglo-American import to Europe. In Great Britain and the United States, the above-mentioned “-isms” never really took could take hold, except among some immigrant groups such as the “German Workers’ Educational Society” in London. The reception of Marx in the English-speaking world was always quite distinct from the Continental tradition – Latin America, firmly rooted culturally in Europe followed this path to some extent, too.

By this I by no means wish to claim that Albion and its American parcener do not belong to the “Abendland,” but that rather it took a different path. The West, a marriage of Hellenistic and Christian idea(l)s under the Roman imperial umbrella produced a division of power which mediated between the temporal and the eternal.

The Church always remained separate from the Roman state, which had formerly prosecuted it, because while Christians were willing to accept the worldly authority of Rome, they refused to accept its supernatural authority (e.g. divine emperors). This was historically speaking a rather unique set of affairs, combatted by some (Caesaropapism), and disposed with in the Middle Eastern parts of the Empire with the rise of Islam (Judaism, i.e., Judean religion after the loss of its state, left politics to the [non-Jewish] states in which they lived and concentrated on religious matters). Much of Western history and politics since then has been establishing a modus vivendi betwixt Church and State, a balanced division of power.

So, as has been pointed out by, among others, Remy Brague, the Church secularised the medieaval state by assigning to it a domain of its own, keeping the peace. We forget that “secularisation” (like indeed philosophy) was not in its inception anti-ecclesiastical; it was initiated by the Church and from the 11th century on, it strove to “laicise” the political power by taking away from it all initiative in spiritual matters. This, however, states were never eager to do, given that, for their part, they dreamt only of sacrality.

In the Early Modern Period, after the Thirty Years War and the Counter-Reformation – it is not a coincidence that the borders between Catholicism and Protestantism, excluding the flanks such as Poland and Ireland and cuius regio, eius religio notwithstanding, roughly equate those of the Roman Empire – political stability now being ensured by the principles of Westphalian sovereignty, the new protestant states recalibrated the politico-religious balance in that the secular head of state was also the head of the national church. Furthermore, in Protestantism, the notion of the individual (originally formulated by St Augustine to theologically explain the Trinity) played a crucial role in the economy of salvation. This was especially true in England during the Protectorate (or Interregnum) under Cromwell.

What we though see roughly after, let us say, 1648, are two different approaches to reduce the sacral authority of the Church(es) – one culminating in the French Revolution, the other in the Foundation of the American Republic. Where the French sought to create a secular republic on the ruins of the tyrannous Catholic Church, America founded by the Pilgrim Fathers and their Congregationalist Churches in New England, soon overtaken by Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians, followed in turn by Pentecostalists, Restorationists and others, including native creations such as Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, denied the State any role in matters religious – as Thomas Jefferson, by no count a religious fanatic, noted: “Pure rulers can have authority over such natural rights only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God. The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg” (Notes on the State of Virginia Query XVII). The uniqueness of America must be seen in light of the “Pilgrim” Fathers (cf. Hebrews 11:13–16) and the other Dissenters who pilgrimed to the new Promised Land, each with their own Heilsgeschichte.

As Ian Buruma has noted, “American Protestantism favour(ed) histrionic emotion over superior learning and democracy over authoritarianism, but it was also a brand of individualism that tolerated inequality as long as men were free to compete for ‘the good things of the world;’” that is, the “honest pursuit of prosperity.” This was also noted by de Tocqueville during his travels to America in the early nineteenth century; the pursuit of material success and the hope of salvation in the world to come were not distinct, but rather closely linked.

Furthermore, de Tocqueville noted that, unlike in post-revolutionary France, “for the Americans the ideas of Christianity and liberty are so completely mingled that it is almost impossible to get them to conceive of the one without the other.” The Catholic Norman nobleman visited the United States during what is known as the Second Great Awakening, and he saw in the puritan ethics the underlying principle of American society. While these on the one hand enabled the building of a civil society, which in turn led to stable democratic institutions, there was also an aspect which worried him, a survivor of the French excesses – namely, a disturbing social conformity and the lack of distinction between public and private life. “The same people, who insisted on their individual rights as citizens of a democratic republic, were capable of inflicting horrible violence on others on the basis of their sexual practices or simply the color of their skin.” The excesses, such as the Salem Witch Trials, are well known. But on the whole one must say that the American experience was much less violent and bloody than the successive revolutionary excesses which plagued Europe.

It is not my goal to pass judgement here, just to note that the Christian Puritan ethics are part of the cultural DNA of the United States and make it quite distinct from Europe. It is also the reason why neither European socialism or communism could ever really make any inroads – they are too antithetical. American secularism, in which the sacred became an individual affair, produced a new dynamic between individual prosperity and social responsibility – the two poles or tension fields between which American culture and society oscillates.

From this, to oversimplify matters for the sake of brevity, morphed for example two diametrically opposing movements: those of the “Social Gospel” and the “Prosperity Gospel,” which are actually but two sides of the same American coin. Both, true to the Puritan ideal and postmillennial theology, enshrining in an egalitarian fashion a fluid transition between private and public; personal holiness and public engagement strove to create an ideal society based on their respective constituent salvific histories – the one opposed to capitalism, the other avowing it. These diametrically opposed poles, however, basically form the basis of civic society and represent the societal division of power in the United States, where European notions of “right” and “left” are inappropriate – but never in terms of Hegelian dialectic, as in Europe, since a real synthesis could not emerge.

Due to this polarity America could emerge as a great nation, the majority of the population including large numbers of immigrants, could settle somewhere between the two extremes, usually along the imaginary equator, mainstream America. Over the years, decades and centuries, the pendulum moved back and forth, seemingly endowed with some uncanny instinct, continually recalibrating, understanding which pole was most seasonal to the present needs and national interest. This equilibrium slowly became unbalanced after the Second World War, culminating in the 1960s when social issues were once and for all politically transformed into moral problems, as both poles tried to immanentize the eschaton, each with their respective (holy) “Wars on…” – and then becoming metamorphosed into respectively the “New Left” and the “Neocons.”

Slowly, the political division of power enshrined in the Constitution, written by enlightened cynics (in Europe such tended to be authored by idealists) began to be eroded inter alia by primaries, plea-bargains, and an activist legal culture espoused by both groups. Both poles, though developed and evolved, remain true to their puritan ideals of public and private holiness, seeing the world as being comprised of the good (the elect) and the evil (the other). The respective elect, of course victims of persecution, strive in a merciless combat against evil, each supported with their own salvific history. With regard to the latter, we see that “fake news” and conspiracy theories are not a recent phenomenon in America and hearken back to the various salvific understandings of history, espoused by the dissenter settlers in New England. So, for example, both Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump claim that an election was ‘stolen’ from them; the former due to alleged foreign influence; the latter due to mail-in ballots. Each group lives in its own alternate reality.

The point which I wish to make clear here is that we have here the two faces of Janus – one cannot exist without the other – the New Left, or Wokes and the Neocons or neoliberals. The term “woke,” etymologically related to “Awaking” (in its American religious sense), is but one indicator of the intrinsic religiosity of both. In any case, such culture wars are not new to the United States, nor is this present one more severe than previous ones. They come and go like wildfires, leaving behind “burnt-over districts.” The one strives religiously for an unbridled market as a means to prosperity for all – the elect succeed; those who fail have only themselves to blame. The other sees injustice everywhere and proposes a theology of redemption based on perceived victimhood and public confession of “sins” (hence, self-abasing Prince Harry bemoaning his ‘white privilege’ on Oprah. In many ways he seems to wish to resemble Hester Prynne in Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlet Letter). What has changed though, and this is rightly noted by Professor Legutko, is that they have become an export product, waging their endless struggle overseas.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that after the end of the Cold War, no new world order, such as after previous conflicts (Treaty of Westphalia, Vienna Congress, League of Nations, united Nations) was established – instead another a postmillennial manifestation of the “End of History illusion” (originally a premillennial notion formulated in St Augustine’s City of God) gained currency. Secondly, the rise of the internet and social media – which have reinvigorated the Puritan fluidity of public and private. An often-heard cynic quip in Eastern Europe is that if the KGB, Stasi or the Służba Bezpieczeństwa had had social media, such as Facebook, the Iron Curtain would still be in place.

This misses the point – if such states had invented it, probably no one would have used them. We do not have some totalitarian mastermind at work here; rather the digital incarnation of the Puritan ideal – no secrets, yea even having secrets is a sin. Both the wokes and the neocons espouse “transparency” (as well as compliancy and best practice in an absolute moral sense) as an arbitrary instrument to be employed by their respective witch hunters. Jefferson’s point (see above) is now construed as “powers extend to all acts as are seen to be injurious by others” – i.e., mass conformity and mob rule redivivus.

The new digital dimension means that sins can now be hunted down regardless of time and place, when and where they may have occurred. As with Hawthorne’s Reverend Dimmesdale, past injustices must not be forgotten, for they influence the present. Here there can be no freedom, no notion of liberty. We are condemned to our past, without hope of a future. By contrast, “among democratic nations,” as de Tocqueville pointed out, “each new generation is a new people.”

Europe (and indeed the rest of the world) is faced with this double alien onslaught. On the one hand, traditional social market economy and welfare states are deemed protective and uncompetitive. On the other, autochthonous European cultures are viewed as intrinsically racist, heteronormative and transphobic. Now that Europe seems to have created a peaceful modus vivendi for ethnic minorities (without fighting over borders or ethnic cleansing), the concept of new self-declared
“historically victimised” minorities has been imported, much to the detriment of received notions of civic society.

These twin American ideologies, exported via the internet, seem to have taken hold in Great Britain, among Cromwell’s heirs, and in those countries which share long-standing historical and cultural ties with the Anglo-American world, such as, the Netherlands. But also Germany, which since the Second World War, has been politically and economically aligned with the United States – the traditional Anti-a\Americanism of the classical German left and right (e.g. Heidegger’s warning about “Amerikanismus” (Martin Heidegger: Hölderlins Hymne ‚Der Ister‘, GA 53, S. 68) has all but disappeared – while remaining culturally attached to Europe, limping in two minds as it were (much to the dismay of the French), is increasingly feeling the strain.

But this too applies to Eastern Europe, where English supplanted Russian as the first foreign language – in countries which have traditionally been more sceptical to Perfidious Albion, such as France, stubborn resistance can be seen – the notion of “laicity,” by which the Catholic Church fares rather well, is the antithesis of Puritanism. Hence, it is no coincidence that European countries, which boldly ascribe to neo-liberalism, also have a thriving woke culture, or vice-versa, even if markets and victims have to be invented to lie in the American-made Procrustean double-bed.

This admittedly brief exposé, may the reader forgive the author for painting a canvas with very broad strokes, is not to criticise Professor Legutko’s fine analysis of the present European situation, but rather to render a more precise diagnosis of the symptoms. Yes, we are faced with a new homogeneity, but it is a quite different beast; the ghosts of the past have not come back to haunt us. Homogeneity, as the biblical tale of the Tower of Babel teaches us, is that when the whole world is of one language and one speech – succumbing to hubris, we strive to be gods but succeed only in losing our humanity.


Professor Dr. Robert M. Kerr studied Classics and Semitics largely in Vancouver, Tübingen and Leyden. He is currently director of the Inârah Institute, for research on Early Islamic History and the Qur’an in Saarbrücken (Germany).


The featured image shows, “Embarkation of the Pilgrims,” by Robert Walter Weir; painted in 1857.

Should The Libertarian Party Disband?

Edward Ring opens up his call for the abandonment of the Libertarian Party with this powerful criticism: “Siphoning off voters from the side that’s fighting the hardest to preserve individual liberty and economic freedom is not principled. It is nihilism.”

He follows this up with the second of his strong one-two punches:

“If you want to find a Libertarian Party organization that has achieved relevance, look no further than Georgia. That’s where Shane Hazel, running for the U.S. Senate as a Libertarian, garnered 2.3 percent of the vote in November. Hazel’s showing may have been insignificant, but the Republican candidate, David Perdue, only needed 0.3 percent more votes to have avoided a runoff, where he lost… All that Perdue needed was for one in seven of Hazel’s voters to choose him instead, and the GOP would still control the U.S. Senate…”

So, is it true? Would the cause of liberty be helped by the termination of the LP?

I think not. (Full disclosure: I have been a member of this party ever since 1969 when I ran for New York State Assembly, two years before the creation of the national party in 1971).

First of all, it is not that clear, as this author contends, that the Republicans are all that closer to libertarian principles than are the Democrats. Yes, indeed, they are, on economic issues. The Elephant clearly beats out the Donkey in terms of lower taxes, regulations, private property rights. This despite the fact that socialist Romney care started in Massachusetts. Neither party favors ending the fed or a unilateral declaration of free trade with all nations. Mr. Ring charges libertarians with “Killing American Jobs: Libertarians support ‘free trade’ without first insisting on reciprocity.” Here, he just reveals his lack of economic sophistication. I recommend that he read Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations,” or, for a more modern analysis of tariffs, Milton Friedman’s splendid work on this issue.

Free trade is necessarily beneficial to all participants at least in the ex ante sense. If Jones purchases a shirt for $10, it must be because at the outset, he values it at more than that amount, for example, $15. So, he earns a profit. The salesman Smith valued it at less than that amount, otherwise he would have not accepted the deal. If he placed a value on that shirt of $2, he gained to the tune of $13. Both sides benefit. And it matters not one whit whether Jones and Smith are in the same or different countries. This logic applies domestically as well as internationally .

But if Jones purchases a shirt from abroad, does that not mean lessened sales for the domestic supplier Smith? Yes, it does. So fewer shirts will be created locally, and more in this other country. But hat will the foreign shirt manufacturer do with the money paid to him by Jones? Why, turn around and buy something else in the domestic country! If it is good economics to protect Smith, from foreign competition, then it makes sense for, say, Colorado, to protect its industry from the “incursions” of manufacturers in Texas, for instance. That’s nonsense on a stick. No, one of the reasons the U.S. is so wealthy is because we have a gigantic free trade zone. No internal tariffs. These economic principles apply in all realms.

What about the minimum wage? The Democrats want to raise this to $15 per hour. The Republican plank on this matter? To $10 per hour. Both are horrid, albeit the former slightly more than the latter. The higher it is, the more unskilled persons it precludes from employment. The economically illiterate (and here, unfortunately, I include several Nobel Prize winners in economics) maintain that this law is like a floor under wages; the higher it is raised, the greater will be salaries. If so, why limit this to a mere $15 per hour? Why not $50, or $1000, or $1 million for that matter? In that way, we could all become rich! Why not eliminate foreign aid to poor countries, and advise them to inaugurate and then raise their minimum wage levels to the skies? No, this law, rather, is akin to a hurdle, or a high jump bar. The higher it is, the more difficult it is for unskilled workers to obtain any employment at all. Not only should it not be raised, it should be eliminated entirely. At its present national level of $7.25, it consigns to joblessness all those with lower productivities.

But economics is only one of the three dimensions of political economy on which all philosophies must take a position.

The second one is personal liberties. And here the Democrats are much closer to the liberty position than are the Republicans. The latter are still being dragged into the 21st century in terms of legalization of marijuana; only Oregon, has made tiny steps in this regard with even harder drugs, and we all know which party is in charge there. Mr. Ring asks “Have libertarians recognized the consequences of tolerating use of these drugs?” Evidently, he does not recognize the horrendous effects of prohibition. Maybe he’d like to put alcohol on the banned list again? That substance, too, has deleterious effects. The Republicans are the paternalistic party. On the other hand, they are way better than the other organization on not defunding the police and gun control.

A similar pattern exists with sexual relations between consenting adults for pay. Legalization of prostitution is anathema to most politicians in the red states. The blue-staters are at least a bit more ambivalent on this and other such issues.

The third dimension is foreign policy. Here the libertarian view is the one articulated by Ron Paul, as also occurs in the other two cases. This former Congressman advocated a strong defense, but no “offense” at all. No more roughly 800 military bases in some 200 countries; bring the troops home, all of them. How do the Redsters and the Bluesters stack up on this non-interventionist policy? A mixed bag can be found on both sides of the aisle. There are Democratic warmongers such as Hillary Clinton, and also Republican ones such as Tom Cotton and Ted Cruz. There are also Democratic office holders such as Bernie Sanders and Republican ones such as Rand Paul who are much closer to the libertarian position. Indeed, the two of them have cooperated with one another on such issues. Tulsi Gabbard is another Democratic Ron Paulian on foreign policy. Both parties were roughly equally responsible for the anti-libertarian wars in Afghanistan and Viet Nam. Call this is tie as far as the libertarian sweepstakes are concerned.

So, what is the final score? If this were a chess match, I would rule one win for the Democrats, one of the Republicans, and a drawn game. That is, 1.5 points for each. Nothing much to choose here for the libertarian.

There is one point Mr. Ring overlooks that might incline libertarians in the direction of the GOP: the Federalist society. This is an organization in which conservatives do not merely tolerate libertarians but actively cooperate with them, work with them, befriend them. (This is in sharp contrast to the Young Americans for Freedom in which libertarians were roundly condemned as “lazy fairies,” a takeoff on the phrase “laissez faire capitalism” favored by the freedom philosophy.)

If Mr. Ring is serious about obviating future experiences such as provided by Shane Hazel, libertarian hero, he would urge Republicans to offer Libertarians an olive branch instead of the usual smack upside the head. Instead of making it difficult for the party of liberty to get on the ballot through endless lawsuits, for example, make a deal with the Party of Principle. Allowing them to run for some minor offices without Republican opposition, or, even, dare I say this, support. In return, the LP might agree not to run candidates in races expected to be very close. I cannot of course speak for the Porcupine Party (its nickname in New York State), but I don’t see offers of this sort even being contemplated. Nor is there a lack of precedent for this sort of thing. In New York state the Republican Party cooperated with the Conservative party along similar lines.

No, it is not “nihilism” to insist that the message of liberty be brought to the American electorate. Neither major party fills that role.

Addendum: Mr. Ring is mistaken in taking the platform of the Georgia state libertarian party as descriptive of all libertarians. Immigration, for example, is a hotly debated issue amongst its members.


Walter Block is the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics at Loyola University, New Orleans.


The featured image shows, “La liberté (Freedom),” by Jeanne-Louise (Nanine) Vallain; painted ca. 1793-1794.

Nicholas Capaldi: Liberalism And The West

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



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

American Anorexia: The Thin Mind Casts No Shadow

1.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elsewhere, Chesterton wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Afghanistan: The Allies’ House Of Cards

The Taliban’s sweeping advance and the collapse of the state of Afghanistan surprised almost everyone, including some military commanders who did not realize that each war is different from all the previous ones and that doctrines in practice can be useless in the face of new realities. The military tends to have a conservative mentality, not only politically, but in their own profession. That is logical, because war is an extreme situation from all points of view; and to be able to face great dangers it is necessary to have the certainty of method to defeat the enemy, or at least not to lose one’s life, and to be able to withdraw at the right moment.

Strategists, and public opinion, which often has a plausible vision of what war is, thanks to good war movies, believe that the core of war is the battle, or the succession of battles. A battle is a confrontation of two armies in a scenario in which victory and defeat are decided. Battles may be in the open field, in a war of tactics, or in the capture of a city. Each battle depends on the number of soldiers in each army, their armament, or firepower (literally, rifles and artillery), but also on who is in charge of the command and the will of the troops not to retreat, to attack the enemy and to take casualties.

After the Second World War, the land-battle model was the confrontation of mobile units, armored or not, maneuvering in coordination with artillery and air forces, which can decide combat at certain moments, destroying armored vehicles, artillery or infantry. The problem is that, as John Keegan rightly pointed out in his book, The Face of Battle, the increase in mobility and firepower has made it almost impossible to conceive of gigantic mechanized confrontations (as was the battle of Kursk in World War II, in which German and Soviet armored vehicles annihilated each other by the thousands) in order to speak of the end of battles.

We conceive the capture of a city in the same way as a battle. In a city like Stalingrad, an army is entrenched, and others attack it with artillery, aviation and infantry. The result is that, first of all, the besieged city becomes a fortress of trenches in its ruins, and its capture is much more difficult. The bombardment of cities during World War II served almost no purpose, neither from the military nor from the economic point of view, as historians and military men have recognized. The Americans and the British invented “massive saturation bombing,” which consisted of drawing a huge area around the city and razing it to the ground like a steamroller. Such bombings serve no purpose, except to destroy indiscriminately and kill civilians, as happened also in Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan.

There are also wars without battles, without fronts, in which the military doctrine is useless, if it is not revised and the war converted into something else. We are talking about guerrilla warfare, fought almost exclusively by the infantry. General Norman Schwarzkopf, who won the First Gulf War in a series of battles to annihilate the Iraqi army, thanks to his air, artillery and logistical superiority, but who actually lost it, as he himself admits, because he was ordered to save Saddam Hussein and allow the withdrawal of Saddam’s elite units, the Republican Guard, at the last moment, in order not to favor the expansion of Iran, as he states in his biography.

When he came to Vietnam, as an infantry lieutenant colonel, he found a unit lacking in discipline, but one which was excellently armed and provisioned. The standard drink for his soldiers was Coca Cola; they were served ice cream for dessert and drug use was quite widespread and allowed by looking the other way. This was because in Vietnam, one out of three soldiers fought in units that were usually no larger than a company. They were replacement soldiers, 18 or 19 years old, serving for one year, who had neither the solidarity of their comrades nor of their officers. Those who were about to be discharged ridiculed the rookies. Only soldiers who had survived a few battles, as in other wars, tended to survive. In the Battle of the Bulge, the average life of a soldier who had just arrived at the front was less than 14 hours; and the same thing happened in Vietnam with rookie soldiers and officers. A rookie officer did not survive more than two days; and the killing of officers, simulated as a fall in combat, was very frequent in Vietnam, as in other wars.

Schwarzkopf says that he would have liked rather to be in command of the Vietcong. A Vietcong soldier survived in the jungle by carrying a cloth tube full of raw rice that he cooked every day. As he knew how to hunt and fish, he did not need to carry more food. And he had the support of the local population, or he could demand it from them with little effort. And above all, the General points out, he had a cause to defend – his country, and so he could face the horrors of hand-to-hand combat.

The American infantryman, who would spend one or two weeks in the jungle, in a war in which the number of classic battles was minimal, left with a kit weighing about 35 kilos: his rifle, the ten standard magazines that he supplemented with as many in cartridge cases, grenades, food and other supplies needed to survive those days. In addition, as their new weapon, the M-16 failed, the soldiers ended up being allowed to carry weapons of their choice. All this to enter an unknown terrain, inhabited by peasants whom they could not know whether they were hostile or not, and who they had come to defend. This often unsurety often led to many surprises. In an effort not be face such surprises, the Americans resorted to destroying entire villages, or razing them to the ground by requesting air support from their superior officers. In Vietnam, for example, no colonel was killed in combat. and because of all this, the soldiers came to the conclusion that they were fighting a dirty and senseless war, which would end in a resounding defeat.

Something similar has happened in Afghanistan. The military commanders did not get to know the country. They did not encourage the study of local languages, but used interpreters, which can be very dangerous in a country with fourteen ethnic groups, and a country which is also very extensive, more or less the size of Spain, with a very high elevation, and fragmented by large mountains. A country without railroads, highways, navigable rivers and few airports, which meant that entire areas were never penetrated by western troops, because of disinterest or inability.

The occupiers, instead, focused on cities and created static defense systems, from large bases to fortified forward posts. This allowed the movement of militias, such as, the Taliban, through an unknown country. As Afghanistan is an agrarian country based on irrigation, the population is concentrated in the large valleys, or lives scattered in small groups among the mountains. In this scenario there were hardly any battles, and when they took place, as in Tora Bora, the infantry soldiers were Afghans, who had about 80,000 dead, in a war that brought the Taliban more than 84,000 casualties and thousands of prisoners. The western dead did not reach 4000, although there were thousands of wounded and casualties of post-traumatic stress, more than a third, as in Vietnam.

The Allies abused their firepower, especially in the air, which caused, as in other wars, dozens of innocent victims, and undermined the support of the population. For the allies, the war was ruinous, both economically (because they had to import everything) and militarily. They invested 2.2 trillion dollars (the USA alone). But that money generated gigantic flows of corruption among companies, the army and the local government. The local-created army was poorly armed, with light infantry brigades, without tanks in its tank units; and furthermore, it was divided among the zones of the country, creating territorial defense units for each of them, but not a powerful maneuver force.

Under these conditions, when a country that was never controlled, even though it benefited from major improvements in education, health, women’s rights, economy, technology and communications, is corrupted from head to toe, at all levels of the army and the civil service, the house of cards begins to shake. The army intelligence units were infiltrated by the Taliban, whose sympathizers increased among the population. These units believed that they could save themselves by grasping at straws. So, there was no need for big battles. The Taliban could not be annihilated because the Afghan army lacked adequate air and artillery resources.

The Taliban were allowed to take over a rural environment, which the politicians never bothered about. And so, given a decayed government, it was only a matter of waiting for it to fall under its own weight, to give birth to a new rural country, with a minimal state, and one ready to become a colony producing raw materials: lithium, copper, uranium, agricultural and livestock products, at the service of the colonial powers that will take over from the Allies, such as, China, Pakistan, Iran or the new Russia, which will probably recognize the new Afghan state, in the face of impotence, bordering on the ridiculous, of the USA and the European Union.


José Carlos Bermejo Barrera is Professor of Ancient History at the University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain). He has published numerous books in the fields of mythology and religions of classical antiquity and the philosophy of history. Among these are The Limits of Knowledge and the Limits of Science, Historia y Melancolía, El Gran Virus. Ensayo para una pandemia, and most recently, La política como impostura y las tinieblas de la información. He has published numerous works in academic journals, such as History and Theory; Quaderni di Storia, Dialogues d’Histoire Ancienne, Madrider Mitteilungen. He is a regular contributor to the daily press.


The featured image shows an untitled piece by Jahan Ara Rafi, painted in 2013.

What Really Happened In Afghanistan?

Early in 2021, Afghanistan once again found itself in a situation similar to the early 1990s, when the Soviet Army withdrew from the country. The then president, a technocrat educated in the Soviet Union, was head of the government in the communist system, installed by the USSR. Poverty, war and violence were widespread. The opposing forces wanted to establish an Islamic system.

The result was an end of support from the Soviet Union, overthrow of the communist government by the mujahideen (the Arabic term for those carrying out jihad; the term also means “strugglers”), civil war between different ethnic groups of mujahedeen, and later the Taliban regime’s takeover of the country and their hosting of Al-Qaeda, which planned the 9/11 attacks from inside Afghanistan – which made the international community and the US intervene in Afghanistan. The Taliban regime was toppled.

There were significant changes in the ensuing 20 years, particularly valuable achievements were made in the cities. But despite all the achievements, Afghanistan remained a poor, violent, corrupt, and one of the worst countries for women, children, and religious and ethnic minorities. As in the 1990s, at the start of 2021, the Afghan president was a technocrat – but this time educated in the US and president of a government backed by the US and the liberal West. The opposing forces, however, were still the same, claiming that they wanted to establish a pure Islamic emirate, in which they would apply their Islamic Sharia.

After the withdrawal of the Soviet Army from Afghanistan in 1989, the Afghan government fell under the mujahideen. There was a bloody civil war in the country, and finally the Taliban took power. Between the years 1996-2001, the Taliban carried out massacres against ethnic and religious minorities, such as, the massacres of the Hazaras in Mazar-e Sharif and Bamyan provinces. As part of the application of their Islamic Sharia, the Taliban flogged and stoned hundreds of women publicly, punished thousands of people for simple things, such as, shaving the beard, having a “western” hair style, having books in foreign languages, listening to music or watching films. As part of their foreign policy, they established close ties with Islamic fundamentalist states such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan (the only three states that recognized the Taliban) and some other Arab states.

Moreover, the Taliban provided shelter to Al-Qaeda, the most dangerous terrorist organization of the time, which planned the 9/11 attacks. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the United States used its right to Self-defense, a right ensured to States by article 51 of the UN Charter. At the same time, the United States requested its allies to join the war on terror and use their right to “collective defense” given by the same article of the UN Charter. As a result, NATO countries for the first time invoked their article 5, which provides that an “armed attack against one NATO member is an attack against all members and so they will take actions to assist their Ally.” That was how the war against terrorism in Afghanistan started. Primarily, the military camps of Al-Qaeda and Taliban were destroyed and then the Taliban regime was ousted from power.

After the Taliban was toppled, the US also got engaged in nation-building in Afghanistan. The Bonn Conference was held in Germany, which paved the way for an interim government to be formed by representatives of different ethnic and religious groups in an inclusive manner. The interim government, as part of its duties, held a loya jirga (traditional grand council) to make a new constitution, which was ratified in 2004, and in theory, guaranteed some freedom, as long as said freedom did not contravene any religious teaching of Islam. Although some form of religious freedom could be inferenced from the constitution, Islam was established as the official religion of the state.

The main issue with the new constitution was that, as in the last century, it centralizes the power to the center, something that alienates different peoples, as they cannot even select their province and district governors. However, one of the most important thing about the new constitution is that, in theory, it allowed women and girls to enter schools and universities, and the social and political arena.

State institutions were built from scratch. Universities and schools were opened for both women and men, although in many provinces women could never attend schools and universities in large number. Operations against terrorism were carried out, along with development projects in many parts of the country; and despite widespread corruption in the Afghan government a lot of progress was made in communication, media and many other areas. All that progress came at a huge human and financial cost, both for the international Community and for the people of Afghanistan.

Despite all the hard-won achievements and changes, many things did not go well. And so on August 15, 2021, Afghanistan fell and a serious human tragedy began. To understand why things ended the disastrous way they did, there is a need to carefully delve into the past. One of the reasons why things did not go well was because the US, NATO and the Afghan government did not pay attention to how the Taliban transformed itself over time. Thus, the US and NATO always had a static, monolithic understanding of the Taliban, while the Taliban and its strategy kept evolving.

The Greek historian Thucydides explained that war was waged for three reasons: honor, fear and interest. In the case of Afghanistan, many argued it was honor (in both religious and tribal context) for which the Taliban continued to wage war, after they were toppled by a US-led coalition in 2001.

Others argued that the irrational Taliban continued the war simply because they were manipulated by a charismatic leader (Mullah Omar), were indoctrinated in religious madrasas, were closely tied to the Pashtunwali culture that valued avenging dead relatives and blood vengeance. However, these arguments were only partly true. While culture had a significant role in shaping the Taliban’s way of war, the group and its war were explicable within familiar strategic concepts both classical and more contemporary. The Taliban had developed a strategy to succeed and ultimately became winners.

Afghans are more generally survivalists. In that sense, the Taliban, formed primarily by Pashtuns, are no different than the rest of the people. Despite the fact that religiously the Taliban believe in the other world and praise martyrdom, in the battle ground, their top priority is not directly going to paradise, but to survive and succeed. The same survivalist nature is the key to explaining why, in the conflict areas, people change sides, always siding with the expected winner, or playing both to avoid recrimination by the possible top-dog.

In 2001, the Taliban was toppled by the US-led coalition in the course of just a few weeks and by 2006 many American and NATO authorities counted the Taliban as ultimately defeated. However, some historians and military analysts were skeptical of the narrative that said the Taliban were dead. Some years later, the skeptics were proven right. The Taliban, who were pronounced dead several times, refused to die, and went through a process of transforming into the “neo-Taliban” – they gradually adapted to changes that could help them reach their strategic objective of becoming the winner.

Thus, after being toppled, the Taliban gradually emerged and secretly started spreading their handwritten messages in the form of “night letters,” face-to-face warnings, and in some cases, radio broadcasts, emphasizing the narrative that time was on their side and the infidels would have to leave. The Taliban leader Mullah Omar had said, “…the Americans and NATO have all the watches, but we [the Taliban] have all the time…”

As the Taliban positions were being bombed since 2001, they exploited territorial bases in Pakistan to survive, and replenished their manpower with fresh recruits of stateless, transnational jihadists with expertise, money, and weapons, but also with Pashtun, Arab, Uzbek, Chechen and other volunteers. Then the Taliban carried out periodic offensives, mobilized Afghan riots among civilians alienated from the state because of food shortage and the state’s great corruption and failure.

While in power, the Taliban practiced and imposed strict Sharia and “pure” Islam. On the battlefields, the Taliban started to sacrifice their culturally and religiously-rooted beliefs and taboos for survival and success. For example, despite the religious and cultural emphasis on human remains to be buried, the Taliban fighters usually left the bodies of their dead behind and did not risk removing them from the battleground. The “neo-Taliban” resorted to Al Qaeda-style tactics – roadside explosives, kidnappings. That was well-calculated – because the international and Afghan forces were not affected as much by five days of fighting as much as they were affected, for example, by a suicide attack or a roadside bomb.

The Taliban are mainly formed by Pashtuns, but as part of their evolving policy to gain popularity, the group tried to include the rival groups such as Tajiks and Uzbeks in their movement. They were very successful in that. For instance, provinces such as Badakhshan, Takhar, and Kundoz, which are Tajik and Uzbek dominated respectively, fell to the Taliban very easily this year. It was partly because the Tajik and Uzbek locals were divided and many became vulnerable to Taliban ideology.

The Taliban even tried to recruit Hazaras —a group different from the Taliban ethnically, linguistically, and religiously— but were unsuccessful simply because Hazaras remember the Taliban’s ethnic cleansing and massacring of thousands of Hazaras in Mazar-e Sharif and Bamyan and thus still fear their return.

While in power, the Taliban were known for technophobia. The Taliban’s Sharia police were breaking devices such as television and computers. But in the recent years, the “neo-Taliban” have vastly been using every means of technology to spread their propaganda. By 2006, the Taliban had representatives in Iraq to learn video production from Al-Qaeda, so that they could use produce videos and publish them on the internet.

Considering the fact that the Taliban considered depiction of humans as evil, the use of new technology was revolutionary. Similarly, when in power, the Taliban punished people for listening to music; but in the last few years the group has used music with religious content as a way to spread their propaganda, strengthen the morale of their fighters and deliver their message in the most suitable way to the illiterate people. Like modern fascism, the Taliban hates modernity, but wants the benefits of its technology.

The coalition and the Afghan government destroyed opium fields, but the Taliban offered protection and defense of the opium fields, which made the group more attractive to the Pashtun locals in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, in which the largest percentage of the world’s opium is produced. The Taliban’s protection of the opium fields and its direct involvement in the drug industry, although in opposition to their religious beliefs and their leader Mullah Omar’s fatwa in 2001 to ban poppy cultivation, was strategically calculated, and provided the Taliban with an annual income of around $420 million.

The Taliban also used the time during which the US was engaged in Iraq and allocated much of its manpower, spending and political capital to the war in that country, and during which time, Afghanistan was not the priority. For example, in 2007 there were 27000 American troops in Afghanistan, while in Iraq the number was around 155000. This neglect helped the Taliban to strengthen even more.

As part of their evolving policy to gain popularity, they relaxed their restrictions on social behavior. For instance, while in power and even many years later, the Taliban only allowed religious schools for boys and totally forbade girls’ education. Between 2001-2006, the Taliban destroyed over 200 schools, killing tens of students and teachers. Years later, they allowed schools for boys in their territory; but this never meant the Taliban were ultimately sincere or committed in the long term to change their education policy.

Another stereotype which is mainly promoted by the Taliban themselves is that the Taliban are very much tied to martyrdom and going to paradise, which is true, but at the same time, while in wartime, the Taliban have proved to be more subtle operators. There is a famous case in which Taliban leaders trimmed their beards —shaving the beard was punished under the Taliban— to avoid being captured.

Innovation of suicide bombers, an affront to popular understanding of Islam in Afghanistan, came with a utilitarian justification by the Taliban leaders; meaning that as it was proved effective, so it was allowed and justified by their version of Islam. A suicide bomber’s dream might have been paradise, but to a Taliban leader that was an important way to reach their objective.

The Taliban sacrificed dogma for popularity. They sacrificed religious belief for success. They shifted from technophobia to using technology and cyberspace to spread their message and propaganda. They sacrificed the Pashtunwali code, for example, to attack pro-government Pashtuns, again for their ultimate success. The Taliban gradually formed a parallel government and virtual state aiming to become the real government and state over time.

Part of the Taliban success was because of the willingness of the Western media to broadcast the Taliban claims. The Taliban have always used human shields, occupied small towns to maximize collateral civilian deaths caused by Afghan and international forces, and blamed everything on the government and NATO. All their claims were broadcast by the Western media. The Taliban were particularly good at exploiting audience perceptions of the media. For instance, the Taliban removed weapons from the corpses of their dead fighters and made them appear as non-combatant and then showed the bodies to the media.

Some argued the Taliban’s center of gravity was their leader, but they were proved wrong. Because when their leader died, the Taliban could successfully keep it secret for months and finally overcome the leadership issue. In recent years, the Afghan government tried to create divisions among the Taliban by supplying and creating smaller factions,; but that only empowered the Taliban and endangered the Afghan government. As one Taliban faction leader described it once: “…we don’t depend on government, the government depends on us. They think they use us, but no, it is we who are using them and their equipment to advance our own goals…”

What was interesting about the Taliban factions receiving supply from the government is the significant change in their view of the issues. In their propaganda, the Taliban always refer to the Afghan government as “the puppet of the West,” and to those working for the government as “slaves of the slave;” while in wartime, the Taliban received support from the Afghan government without any hesitation, but then cleverly used it against the Afghan government.

While it is not clear how much the Afghan government and its intelligence services have infiltrated the Taliban, it is crystal clear that the Taliban had many sympathizers and infiltrators in the Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police; but probably not on a serious scale in the Afghan National Directorate of Security.

In early 2021, the Taliban had around 80,000 full-time fighters and had significant income sources, such as, illegal mining and opium money. In the peace deal with the US, in February 2020, the Taliban guaranteed the freedom of their prisoners —many of them accused of committing serious crimes.

A great many of the reasons why Afghanistan fell so rapidly are related to the Afghans and many of them date back to 2014 when Ashraf Ghani became president, after a fraudulent election, in which he was announced the winner, while his rival, Abdullah, who did not compromise, became Chief Executive Officer, after mediation by the US Secretary of State, John Kerry.

During his time as president, Ghani alienated other groups, by depriving them of any real role in decision-making, and surrounded himself exclusively with Pashtuns. In the multi-ethnic Afghan society, monopolizing power has always been one of the main issues why the nation-building process fails and the governments collapse.

In his election campaign, Ghani promised that he would eradicate corruption. But when in power, he failed to address the issue. Ghost schools and ghost soldiers, for which Afghan authorities were paid, were just a small part of the endemic corruption in the country.

What further demoralized people about the democratic system was the moral corruption of those in power, including the people very close to Ghani. The scale and the level of corruption was incalculable. Even widows of Afghan soldiers had to sexually gratify officers to get pensions; and there were allegations that members of the Afghan administration offered posts in exchange for sexual favors.

There has always been ethnic division and ethnic tension among different groups in Afghanistan. Larger groups usually gained power, with the help of external sources, and in some cases committed atrocities and victimized smaller groups – and they have never been held accountable for what they did, which goes in explaining why there has been so much hatred and so little trust. However, after the new constitution was ratified in 2004, there was hope that a nation would be built from the different ethnic groups.

But people have remained divided, up to the point that even at schools and universities, students of different ethnicities have made ingroups, so that even inside the classrooms the interaction was mainly by way of groups.

If anything ever was national, in the real sense of the term, in the last two decades and probably in the last century, that was the Afghan National Army. For the most part, it was because it was largely trained by the US-led NATO forces, in which ethnic composition, as primarily set by the US, was inclusive, in which all ethnic groups could see themselves as belonging. In the Afghan National Army, soldiers developed profound friendships, bonds, trust and loyalty. Even though while the whole country and institutions were drowning in corruption, the national army maintained some positive motivation, and even gradually gained the trust and respect of ordinary people.

Nevertheless, since 2014, when Ashraf Ghani became the president, the Afghan National Army gradually became an instrument in the hand of the populist president who was accused of ensuring Pashtun domination, even if it came at the cost of ethnic and social division of the country, or strengthened the terrorist group, the Taliban. Since 2014, non-Pashtun generals and officers have continuously been fired or sent to the frontline and killed. Politicizing the Afghan National and Defense Security Forces further weakened it.

Late in 2016, Ghani and, as sarcastically described by some, his “three-man republic” started a campaign to engage the Taliban in peace talks. This campaign, in which apparently millions were spent to spread the idea that the Taliban had changed and it was time to negotiate with them, was flawed. The campaign was not launched after a military gain over the Taliban; but rather it begged and bribed the Taliban to start peace talks. As part of the campaign, in 2018, Ghani offered a careless ceasefire to the Taliban. This miscalculated ceasefire paved the way for the military presence of the Taliban in major cities, including the capital, Kabul, which the Taliban had never left. The Taliban’s presence in the cities gave them the opportunity to campaign for their group by exploiting the mullahs who already sympathized with them.

The idea that Afghanistan did not have a military solution also became attractive in the US. “Peace entrepreneurs” like Khalilzad, who was later appointed as the US Especial Envoy to Afghanistan, took advantage of that idea. Khalilzad emphasized that there was no “military solution” and took the lead mediating peace negotiations on behalf of the US with the Taliban.

Regardless of how much the US authorities lied to the American public about the war in Afghanistan and what had been achieved, Khalilzad’s efforts to make peace or find a way out for the US from Afghanistan were deceitful and irresponsible. His negotiations with the Taliban did not end in peace, led to the emboldening and strengthening of the terrorist group which the US fought for its harboring of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. While the Taliban has never denounced its cooperation or ties with Al-Qaeda, Khalilzad kept assuring everyone that the Taliban had changed and was sincere in its talks, and that the group could become a partner of the US, in fighting terrorism in Afghanistan and the region.

While Khalilzad was selling the idea of a “changed Taliban” and that political settlement was possible, the UN reported that the Taliban continuously violated the conditions of the peace deal signed on 29 February 2020, which included a ceasefire, reduction in violence, and engagement in peace talks with the Afghan government. The report indicated that the Taliban, in fact, had increased their attacks, violence and target killings. Most of the five thousand Taliban prisoners, who were released from Afghan government prisons, rejoined the war.

In addition, the Taliban continued applying their Sharia in the territories under their control. Considering all that, it was foreseeable that the withdrawal of the United States and NATO forces would have serious consequences for Afghanistan, particularly for women, and ethnic and religious minority groups.

At the same time. according to the study “Women, Peace and Security Index 2019/20” carried out by Georgetown University, in cooperation with Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), Yemen and Afghanistan were the worst countries for women among 167 countries that were studied. Such was the situation when the international forces were – still – in Afghanistan, supporting the Afghan government and the Afghan Army. None of this was taken into account by Khalilzad, who was searching for a way out and very soon.

In effect, Khlilzad was negotiating with his eyes closed. For instance, according to different reports, since last year, the political elite and civil society activists, journalists, and in some cases university professors and intellectuals with clear points of view against the Taliban ideology, fell victim to Taliban targeted killings —which were unclaimed or denied but probably in most cases carried out by the Taliban.

There were various other disturbing signs. Young Taliban sympathizers spoke of a “great revenge” on those who in one way or another were against the Taliban ideology. What that indicated was that the Taliban would have no respect for any commitment they made with the United States, or whatever they said in front of the cameras of the international media. The group was deceiving the whole international community and buying more time. That is why, as soon as the foreign forces left, the Taliban continued to take control of the country by force.

In February 2020, the US and the Taliban signed an Agreement in the Qatari capital of Doha, but with the absence of the Afghan government. Based on this agreement, the Taliban was to stop its offensives against the US and NATO forces; end its ties with Al-Qaeda; not allow Afghanistan’s soil to be used by other transnational terrorist groups to attack the US and its allies; reduce violence and begin intra-Afghan peace dialogue. On the other side, the US would withdraw forces from Afghanistan and guarantee the release of 5000 Taliban fighters.

Months after the agreement was signed, 5000 Taliban prisoners were released, most of whom were reported to have rejoined the Taliban in their Jihad. The Taliban indeed remained committed to not attacking the US and NATO forces after the agreement; but its relation with al-Qaeda continued to exist and even strengthened, and its offensives against the Afghan forces also increased.

In April 2021, US president Biden announced the end of the “forever war” in Afghanistan and the total withdrawal of US troops from the war-torn country. Despite some NATO members, for example, Germany’s approval on extending its military mission in Afghanistan for one more year, the US withdrawal plan consequently led to the withdrawal decision of all NATO forces from Afghanistan. While the date set for the total withdrawal was 11 September, most NATO members had already brought their troops home by early July.

Since the announcement of the withdrawal, violence has surged, peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government did not have any result, and the Taliban continued to rapidly overrun a significant number of districts. In June alone, Afghan government forces lost more than 700 military vehicles and other equipment —of course donated to the Afghan army by the US— to the Taliban. The continuous loss of territory and military equipment gave the Taliban fighters’ momentum, and impacted negatively on the Afghan security forces, who no longer had air support from the US forces.

By ending its military presence, the US not only lost its most significant leverage with the Taliban, but also emboldened the group to claim victory by means of jihad. What the international community and the US must take note of is that a Taliban victory in Afghanistan sends a strong signal to other Islamist jihadists in other parts of the world that they too can become winners. Most importantly, the US and the international community should realize that what happens in Afghanistan does not stay in Afghanistan. When terrorism takes stronger roots in Afghanistan, it will pose a threat to the rest of the world.

Now the situation seems pretty similar to when the United States left Iraq, and when ISIS gained strength and started massacring Yazidis and other minorities. The U.S. went back and took part in destroying the ISIS. But in the case of Afghanistan, going back is much more difficult and more costly. What is clear now is that those who were vulnerable before have become even more vulnerable; and as human rights defenders and workers are targeted by the Taliban, the worst fear is that ethnic and religious groups such as the Hazaras could silently face ethnic cleansing or even a genocide in Afghanistan.

As for ethnic minority groups, the Hazaras who make up about 15-20 percent of the country’s estimated 36 million population – but they face a greater danger. Since 2014, they have been targeted several times. First, it is impossible for this Shiite group to adopt to the Sunni Taliban rules. Secondly, they belong to different ethnic groups, possess different physical characteristics, speak different languages, and most importantly, the Hazaras have changed very much in the last two decades.

For example, according to the survey “A Survey of the Afghan People: Afghanistan in 2019,” conducted by The Asian Foundation, “Hazara respondents (92.3%) are more likely to strongly or somewhat agree with women’s equal access to education.” That is the highest level in the country.

Education for girls almost became a universal phenomenon among the Hazaras. But now with the Taliban in power, Hazaras are much more under threat of the Taliban, ISIS-K and other terrorist groups than they were before. Different UN reports indicate that there have been several cases of targeted attacks against the Sikh minority and the Hazara community in the last few years. The last remaining Sikh and Hindus left Afghanistan for India, meaning there is no Hindu left in Afghanistan.

Some groups are preparing for resistance against the Taliban. Compared to other groups, Hazaras have less access to arms, as they handed in their arms as part of the process of Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR), administered by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in 2003.

What really happened? Corruption and tribalism among the Afghan elite, and the inability of the US and NATO to understand the enemy. How could the Taliban not win?


Gabriel Vilanova is the pseudonym of a young Afghan scholar whose memoirs, Afganistán: Una república del silencio. Recuerdos de un estudiante afgano, have recently been published in Spain.


The featured image shows the work of the graffiti artist, Shamsia Hassani, in Kabul, ca. 2013.

The Second American Revolution

Victor Davis Hanson, the well-known intellectual and military historian recently published an interesting article, “Are We in a Revolution and Don’t Even Know It?” Basically, he wonders whether the USA is facing a revolution or not, and provides the reader with many examples of the social turmoil, if not a complete flip upside down, now affecting American society.

From the outside, the US situation appears a bit different. As an old saying goes, the one I side the house sees things differently from the one who is outside it. And I’m outside. Thus, I’d like to add some considerations to what was published in Hanson’s interesting article.

A first point which, I don’t know why, seems to be always neglected is that nobody seems to realize, and/or to have told the people what will be the final result of the ongoing Wokeness, if it is not stopped.

In short, if whatever linked to slavery and to the slave-owners must be cancelled, the Americans should:

  • Change the name of their capital, for George Washington was a planter, thus a slave owner;
  • Remove his portrait from $1 bill, not to speak of the quarter;
  • Change the name of Washington State, and any and all institutions named after him;
  • And, best of all and above all – eliminate US Constitution, for it was written and signed by slave-owners.

Absurd? Wait and see. Ten years ago, nobody could expect Political Correctness (the etiology of Wokeness) would be blaming poor Christopher Columbus because he discovered America. So, why shouldn’t one expect Wokeness, incrementally, to finally come to that stage when the US Constitution has to be abolished because it was written and signed by white males who owned slaves? It would make perfect sense, because it suits perfectly what the Woke now hold sacred.

Second point: if all manner of colonial rule and heritage must be rejected, USA must be disbanded, completely, and forever.

What the Americans normally do not say, and perhaps do not like to think about, is that, in cold historical terms, they belong to a country composed of land stolen from the natives, who got promises which were regularly not kept, and when the natives protested (and sometimes also if they did not protest), they were almost all killed (think of Wounded Knee): in other words, America is a colonial land whose original owners were killed or expulsed by colonizers, and only in a very few case were allowed to exist, staying in small areas where nothing exploitable was supposed to be found by the colonial invaders.

The US is one of the clearest cases of imperial colonialism ever seen in the last 3,000 years in the whole world. No ancient world power ever acted their way. The ancient empires that we know of, they all conquered all the land they could, but they never killed all the inhabitants. The Romans too, killed all the opponents in armed conflict, but not all the people whose land they conquered, nor expulsed them from those lands. The USA did. And I’m afraid that this could become a red-hot issue very soon, because, according to the current Woke paradigm, such a country should be cancelled; that is to say, disbanded, abolished.

Do normal Americans realize this? Do the people in the street realize it? Did anybody warn them? Will anybody warn them before it will be too late? Does anyone even wonder, what next?

Third point: the current American situation recalls to my mind what I saw in South Africa, when I visited it after the end of Apartheid. In fact, what is going on in the USA is the typical post-colonial reaction we saw in many of the former British colonies in Africa.

One might wonder how much this may be due to the racial separation maintained in the US for quite a long time, a racial separation, not considering the obvious moral aspects, that was quite odd when one thinks of some aspects of it.

The now so-called African Americans belong to a group existing in the USA for at least three centuries and half (and the last of their ancestors came a bit more than two centuries ago), whilst the ancestors of the majority of the Americans came later, and sometimes quite later. But, simply due to their skin, the newcomers had, and have, in fact much more rights than the African Americans who were already there for many generations. Hence, it is not a surprise if the attitude generated by the American-led destruction of the European colonial empires soon after World War II initiated a wave now affecting the USA, all because of a simple principle – if it was right and had to be applied to other colonialists, why shouldn’t it be right and be applied also to the USA?

Actually, the racial conditions in some European colonial empires in Africa were basically the same as in the US, and one may wonder why such an attitude never affected, and does not affect, South American countries, namely, Brazil, whose slave ratio to white people – currently 1 to 1 – was and still is higher than the USA’s. Perhaps, because they actually melted? Perhaps due to their Latin and Roman Catholic mentality? Perhaps because the child of a slave and of a free man was automatically a free person there? This can be a matter of discussion, but it would be useless now; and this is not a critique, but a simple conclusion of where ideas lead us. What is certain is that for a very long time the US Constitution was not applied in full, seeing that it foresaw equal rights for all; and it was not so. Otherwise, why did Martin Luther King die?

There is another point about the Constitution, and it’s a weak one: the pursuit of happiness.

Nobody can deny that it was, and is, a nice idealistic statement – but nobody seems to realize that, when applied in full, this point basically meant – and still means – that society can be completely turned upside down. The pursuit of happiness is something not belonging to religion, especially to Christianity, because those religions – with their heads firmly on their shoulders – usually promise, and look for, happiness in the next life, not in this one – thus the pursuit of happiness is a Masonic and Deistic statement, an aim as nice in theory as it is dangerous in fact. Happiness is something quite subjective. Thus, who can really properly assess whether the happiness one looks for is wrong or not, whether it is dangerous or not – and if it is wrong, then it is also illegal, along with the way one goes about pursuing it?

Further, delving deeper, the situation changes dramatically, because what the pursuit of personal happiness is may turn into an institutional earthquake.

If a minority sees its rights not respected, in spite of the Constitution, why should that minority not react? And if – as it is normal to expect – to have its own rights respected means also a way to fulfill the constitutionally granted pursuit of happiness, who could deny that a minority has twice the right to protest?

So, besides the way they are acting, is it not this so strange, if we see now the Black Lives Matter movement be so active; and it is in a certain way understandable, if the Cancel Culture movement gains strength. In theory, BLM is looking to have their constitutional rights respected and fulfilled. Of course, we could argue from now till eternity about the way, the means, the process that such a protest has and is using; but this would not change the main count – they feel not respected and they demand their rights to be respected – because the Constitution states it.

Cancel Culture is a very bad and stupid way to act, not to say the worst way to act – but it is understandable that in a sort of exasperated reaction to a longstanding nasty situation, a protester, belonging to a minority whose rights have been this long neglected, may instinctively feel allegiance to Cancel Culture, and throw away the baby together with the bath water; that is to say, may very easily throw away whatever seems linked to the system the protester is reacting against. I do not like it – but is also something whose mechanism I can well understand.

Fourth point. I’m not that sure that what is going on is due to socialism. I’d say it is due to capitalism.

Let us say, that what’s going on with immigration in the Western world is welcomed by capitalism, because opening the borders provides big enterprises with a huge availability of low-cost manpower. This manpower can be exploited both via the small wages they will accept, and by blackmailing the existing workers, forcing them also to accept smaller wages. It is something we know – the Liberals did the same trick in early 19th-century England. It was during the Industrial Revolution; and this sort of “job market” was considered to be a pillar of the Free Market (in capital letters, please – let us pay due respect to the gods of Liberty: Money, Liberalism and Free Market), which, from its iown logic, was a pillar of Liberalism.

Now it’s the same. Basically, the more manpower you can rely on, the less you can pay them and the better you can enslave them, for you can kick out the one, or the many, who will try to protest, and when one has to choose between starving and accepting a small wage, he will take the small wage every time. This is going on in the USA as well as in the European Union – although the EU has a few more social safety nets, which somehow soften the bad impact of economical crisis on the people.

Regardless, on both the sides of the Atlantic, the only obstacle a worker has between enslavement by the enterprises – or by the corporations – and an honest wage is how strong the political expression of the collective, that is to say the State, is. Thus, how able the State is to oppose the corporations, no matter how indebted it may be to them; unless – now, please pay attention – its debt is owned by the corporations, which can that way blackmail the State itself. Now, going back to the American case – who owns the US debt? Or, better, who manages and partially owns the US debt, besides Japan, China, and Luxembourg, I mean? The Banks? And how close to the corporations and to the financial compacts are the Banks? Are they “socialists?” Answer these questions and you’ll get the answer.

Hanson in his article underlines some important daily-life aspects:

“By continuing to suspend rental payments to landlords who have no redress to the courts for violations of their contractual leases, the government essentially has redefined private property as we know it. Who really owns an apartment or a room in a house if the occupant has not paid rent since last spring? Is the de facto owner the renter in physical control of the unit, or the increasingly impotent title holder who must still pay the insurance, taxes, and upkeep?
Do we still recognize the principle that those who owe money must pay it back? Biden is talking about vastly expanding any prior idea of student loan debt cancellations by massive new amnesties. As capitalism transitions into socialism, what about the parents who saved to pay their children’s tuition, the students who worked part-time and took only the units they could pay for, or the working-class youths who decided loans were too risky and preferred instead at 18 to go straight to work?
Are they hapless Kulaks? And what do we name the indebted students and the loan-sharking universities who finagled a collective $ 1.7 trillion student debt? Revolutionaries? Who pays for what others have incurred?”

This is all true, and pretty accurate. But, once more, the roots of the problem lie in the way the US is constituted. Hanson states in the next line, “Supply and demand under capitalism adjudicate wages and thus the rate of unemployment.” This is a perfect “classic economy statement.” Fine in theory, but, besides what happened in 1929 and besides how J.M. Keynes demonstrated the imperfection of such a statement, are we sure that it works, or that it actually worked well in the US?

Of course, I know that millions of immigrants left Europe – and my country (Italy) provided plenty of them – to find a new and better life in the US; and I know that, generally speaking, we have always been told that they fulfilled their hopes. But did this good capitalistic system really work the way we have been told? I would not be that sure.

I’m not thinking of the 1929 crash and of its consequences on people. I’m thinking of the situation portrayed by some American authors at the eve of the 20th century. If you read O. Henry’s stories, namely, Brickdust Row, or Elsie in New York, (from The Trimmed Lamp), or if you have a look at the novels of Jack London, you may have some doubts about how well capitalism worked; and you may wonder how many immigrants and Americans really enjoyed being under it, and used it to achieve the American Dream and got success.

On the other hand, how many immigrants and Americans had a very sad and dramatically poor life, shortened by fatigue and over-work and which ended very badly. In fact, as every historian knows, or should know, we rely on memoirs and accounts written by those who had time to write them. But normally the low and illiterate classes do not leave a trace behind. Thus, we do not know how many people “failed,” and were destroyed by the American capitalistic system.

Back to present situation, if the US is now facing “a collective $ 1.7 trillion student debt,” this is an aspect generated by a capitalistic system. My university years, all together summing all my three levels – in English terms Graduation, Master and PhD – in Italy and in France, cost me less, far less than a single year in an American University. I remember quite well how appalled my father was (who knew the US far better than I do, for he was a tenured, full professor of physics in the Engineering Department and had close links with US research organizations from the time he was in Brookhaven in 1959, and came to the USA every year until 1995), when in 1988 he was told in Berkeley how expensive a school-year was there.

If you must pay for your education, the system can work when you have a well-going economy, distributing huge wages to everybody, or almost everybody. But what if the economy fails? That’s why we in Continental Europe have a state held system. Whilst the State-owned educational system provides everybody with the same opportunities – almost all paid by the collectivity through taxes – and then it is up to the single student to decide whether to exploit them or not – and this seems to me quite Democratic. But a system based on education, only if you can pay for it, makes a big social difference right from the get-go because it predetermines who cannot pay and who thus will have a low-ranked life.
The continental European system is a social system; and the difference between it and the socialist one is the same that exists between Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum and Marx’s Capital.

Let us consider point in regards to the economy. Hanson continues:

“By continuing to suspend rental payments to landlords who have no redress to the courts for violations of their contractual leases, the government essentially has redefined private property as we know it. Who really owns an apartment or a room in a house if the occupant has not paid rent since last spring? Is the de facto owner the renter in physical control of the unit, or the increasingly impotent title holder who must still pay the insurance, taxes, and upkeep?
Do we still recognize the principle that those who owe money must pay it back?”

This is completely true, but it calls to my mind what happened to two people I know after the Lehman Brothers crash. The first was a fine example of parenthood. A friend of mine, a tenured faculty, had just retired when the crash occurred. The domino effect deprived him – as he told me in following year – of $100,000. But this was not all, for his son lost his job, as well as his daughter-in-law lost hers, and they both could no longer pay their loans, and thus they lost their home in a short while, and, of course they lost also all the money they already paid to the bank. And what did my friend do? He took in his son’s family, and went back to work, doing contract-work at the university, in order to look the whole family. This is what any parent would do, I think, or at least what any Italian parent would do (but my friend is of Anglo-Saxon background).

The other person I know, on the other side of the USA, is an attorney, who specializes in loans, especially home loans. Well, before the crash, he had his own office with one or two employees, and had a fair but not excessive yearly income.

Now he has 500 clerks and attorneys working in his office – whose salaries he himself pays – and this “growth” was achieved within three years after the crash and he became – and is – a multimillionaire – all because of the home loans he helped the banks recover from people who could no longer pay back their loans.

This is capitalism. But why is anyone surprised, if a lot of people do not like all this? I mean, in the second example, the attorney will praise capitalism. But what about the first example, of my professor friend and his family? Can they be considered socialists if they criticize the system? Oh, by the way, the professor is a conservative (a Republican in American parlance) – while the attorney is a progressive Democrat. Now what?

Hanson, while speaking of the $1.7 trillion student debt wonders, “What about the parents who saved to pay their children’s tuition the students who worked part-time and took only the units they could pay for, or the working class youths who decided loans were too risky and preferred instead qt 18 to go straight to work? Are they hapless Kulaks?… Who pays for what others have incurred?”

Quite right. But I would also ask – who pays for what happened to the money of my friend the retired faculty member? Nobody. Why? Because this is the capitalistic system. Ah, and does it work only one way, or both ways? Why must it be accepted when one friend is financial ruined, but can’t be accepted now? Why, if a young couple can no longer pay their loan, must lose both the house and the money they had already paid into the mortgage, thus losing twice? Is it morally correct, because ”this is business, honey?” and “what is good for business is good for America?” Or should we start wondering whether what is good for business is not so good for Americans?

Why can it be considered right to be cared for in a good hospital only because of the amount of medical insurance you pay? On this side of Atlantic, for example, last fall I got a first-class surgery in a good hospital, for which I paid just 23 euros, because all had been paid in advance by my, and other people’s taxes. Simple point, please – is this socialism, or is it simply a social state?

Now, I know how easy it is to make comparison, and how easy it is to criticize, especially from the outside, and how hard, if not impossible, is to find or to suggest a good and real solution. I’m afraid I have no solution, because thus would require that the US should deeply change its structure and its mentality – and this is impossible, at least in the short term.

Sadness due to the turmoil devastating American society is something I too share, no matter the fact that I’m a foreigner. But to define such turmoil as socialism is wrong: it has nothing to do with \socialism, and there is nothing whatsoever that can justify complaining about socialism, communism, or whatever. In fact, blaming socialism is misleading.

In case, one might be wondering, did the US sow the wind and is now reaping the whirlwind? My answer is, unfortunately, yes.

So, I’m afraid that, yes, the USA is in a Revolution and perhaps it doesn’t even know It. But is a revolution that the USA prepared all itself, since the time the Constitution was written, a Revolution, like the original one, based on the Constitution, not a revolution ignited by socialism.

And the worst part of it is that Americans do not realize how far will go and what devastating effects this Second American Revolution will and what devasting effects it will unleash. Thus, let’s say, “In God we Trust,” and keep our fingers crossed.


Ciro Paoletti, a prominent Italian historian of military history, is 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 featured image shows, “The slave-market of to-day,” an illustraion by Bernhard Gillam, published January 2, 1884.

Those Pesky Poles! Forever Defying Totalitarianism

1. Polish Peskiness Brought Down the Soviet Union, While The Soviets Transferred The Baton Of Imbecility To Educated Westerners

Is it the Bigos (hunter’s stew), is it the Zurek, is it the Blintzes, is it the Pierogi, or the Krupnik which makes the Poles so damned obstinate, so pesky?

Or is that a people, whose nobles went against the current in the sixteenth century by devising a noble system of democracy (an elected monarch with a functioning parliamentary legislature) when other European countries were becoming increasingly absolutist, really don’t like being bossed around by bumptious authoritarian idiots?

Or is that a people who were written off the map for more than a hundred years don’t like being written off or out of history, and that a people who fought and successfully defended themselves against the Bolsheviks in 1919-21, only to be invaded by the Soviets and Nazis, don’t like being victims of the deranged imperial dreams of others?

Or is it that a people who were duped into becoming a communist country and Soviet vassal have inoculated themselves against being duped again by ideas that promise to be very heaven but turn out to be hell?

Or is that a country whose Catholic identity was just too strong for the communists to successfully suppress continue to hang onto their religious identity when Western Europeans view their own history, and religious heritage, with a mixture of ignorance and shame (unfortunately without being ashamed of their own ignorance)? One Polish refugee from communism, Aleksander Wat, in My Century, thought that

Poland’s mainstay was not in revolts but in “disengaging from the enemy,” specifically, the country’s overwhelming Catholicism, precisely that parochial, obscurantist, and often vulgar Polish Catholicism, which, however, purified itself and grew deeper “in the catacombs” and truly found its shepherd in the person of the Primate, Cardinal Wyszyński. That Catholicism made the Polish soul impervious to the magic of “ideology” and the knout of praxis, and it was not the rebellious writers and revisionists who caused the Polish October but – apart from Stalinism’s crumbling power and cohesiveness – the steadfast, constant, unyielding mental resistance of that Catholic nation, its “dwelling” in transcendence.”

Whatever it is, though, those Poles sure are pesky for anyone who thinks they should roll over and take a boot on their necks. They probably vote in such large numbers for the Conservative Law and Justice party just to give the finger to the Western Europeans elites who all want the Poles to come to their party of endless progress – and self-annihilation.

In the upside-down world represented by the European Union and mainstream Western European political parties, it is authoritarian to oppose dismantling the values of Christendom which gave the West its greatest achievements. Likewise, West European elites cannot stand the fact that a predominantly Catholic country has the temerity to want to defend its Catholic tradition from a group who might be more smiley than the previous Soviet bullies, and who generally tend to like to get their way with promises of giving or withholding large pots of money rather than bringing in tanks. But the pesky Poles wipe off their smiles and make them hot under the collar when they say thanks for the money and trade deals, but no thanks to the tactic of welcoming Muslim migrants and refugees to transplant not only themselves in their flight from economic and political hardship but their traditions and, in too many cases, their pan-Islamist aspirations on a remaining national bastion of Christian soil. The Western European elite wants all opposition to its values and institutional overhauling to fold in exactly the same way as they themselves are folding to their geopolitical enemies. They seem to struggle to understand why a country, whose workers openly took to the streets against the communists in 1956 and then again from 1980 formed the union, Solidarity, to defy, with eventual success, their Soviet masters, won’t simply take the money and obey. Why they think they will succeed where the Soviets failed is but one more example of how all the mountains of bureaucratic EU drivel is a cipher of mental vacuity, merrily redesigning the world in the image of its own emptiness – the confirmation, if one will, of an intelligentsia which once spawned, Being and Nothingness, merely becoming nothingness. And whereas the Western elites, like their US counterparts, all accepted the eternally enduring presence of the Soviets, the Poles became the spearhead of what would ultimately inspire others from Soviet satellite countries to also stand up to their Soviet masters.

Yes, there were many things that bought about the demise of the Soviet Union, from a disastrous war in Afghanistan to a nuclear power plant accident, which revealed the dangerous incompetence of trying to preside over nuclear power with a system in which raw power and ideology always trumped over truth and competence, to a US president, depicted by the intelligentsia as a cross between Bozo the clown and a third rate actor who thought he was a cowboy, who defied the conventional wisdom – that the Soviet Union was an undefeatable superpower – by upping the arms race to levels which bought an already ailing economy and a gerontocratic power, loosening its grip through age and a generational power transfer, to its knees.

But one could not underestimate the peskiness of the Poles when it came to the fall of communism. There was the outspoken and very pesky Polish Pope who had inspired the formation of Solidarity, and who refused to go along with the rot in the Church that was all for Christian Marxist/communist dialogue, and liberation theology, itself little more than a Soviet propaganda front posing as Christian teaching. And then there was the pesky Polish priest who was closely connected with Solidarity, Father Jerzy Popiełuszko, who was murdered by members of the security service. His murder only served to ensure that Solidarity would be an even bigger thorn in the side of the communist government than it had been before.

Generally, though, it is the sad fact that when the Soviets were well on the way to losing the military war, they were already defeating the West in the propaganda war. Their victory was pyrrhic because their attempts at open-ness and reform proved to be as disastrous as the rest of their attempts to realize the dreams of a bunch of ideas spearheaded by people who thought their knowledge and philosophy could create a system that was both perfect and unprecedented. All that was left was to leave their communist allies presiding over their satellite dependencies in the lurch, and walk away from a political system that was taped together by lies and people spying on each other, and an economic system that could not produce enough bread, let alone computerised arms systems to rival the US. (Whether to their credit or not remains to be seen, but the Chinese had already decided to drop the economic system while holding onto the political system). So, the Soviets had a bargain basement jumble sale where Western grifters and con-men like William Browder, the grandson of the American communist party leader Earl Browder, and the local mafia scooped up the assets of a country.

And while almost all the Soviet scholars went over night from being media talking heads and clueless political scientists explaining why détente was a very good deal, to historians scratching their heads over why the biggest event since the Second World War took place without them having a clue it was coming – that wannabe American cowboy Bozo and a handful of his anti-Soviet advisors, who had been reading a few astute economists who had identified the gigantic budgetary hole covered by creative accounting, which involved simply transferring next year’s income to this year’s, who saw what the Poles saw – that Soviet power was just one more in a long line of heavily guarded Potemkin villages.

Though to be fair to the smarts of the Soviets, while they could not run a country, they sure knew how to dupe the minds of Westerners. For just as from the time of Lenin’s take-over to Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin, the Soviets had managed to convince many of the leading minds of the intelligentsia in North and South America, Western Europe and Australasia about the virtues of Soviet communism, up until its demise, the Soviets had created all the key critical phrases and “talking points” that radicals of the 1970s and 1980s would use when it came to the power politics of the Cold War. They would all castigate Regan as a warmonger for calling the Soviet Union an evil empire, for devising a bomb that would kill people without destroying buildings, for walking back on détente and upping the arms race, and for having the temerity to plan a missile shield system that was thereby, according to the radicals and Soviets, increasing the likelihood of nuclear war, even though, they would add, with absolute assuredness and without a blink, it was a scientific impossibility. The dialectic of imbecility had already been a successful experiment, conducted by the Soviets upon the better educated saps in the West.

For anyone who can recall, the media reported almost daily on the well-meaning protesters in Western Europe wearing gum boots, rainbow dyed tee-shirts, peace signs and carrying their kiddies on their shoulders – while on MTV, Sting, like so many singers who believe that being able to knock out a good tune gives them a terrific handle on geopolitics and how to achieve world peace, having taken time off from saving the Amazon, was earnestly intoning: “If the Russians love their children too/ How can I save my little boy from Oppenheimer’s deadly toy?? (Allow me to put it on the public record, so that on Judgment Day I can say in my own defense – for all my sins, Lord, no matter how hummable his tunes, I could never stand the sanctimonious strains of Sting.) All their anti-nuclear protests were directed at weakening military opposition against the Soviets – for, they intoned repeatedly, it was NOT the Soviets, but the USA who was bringing the world to the brink of destruction. This was of course before the next (pre-COVID) all-encompassing catastrophe – global warming/climate change, which would push aside nuclear disarmament as the source of hyperbolic panic requiring an elite of wise and all-knowing saviours.

The most radical Westerners thought they were super smart in being non-Stalinist, non-Soviet Marxists. But they were to use the phrase coined by the pesky (Lithuanian born) Pole, Czeslaw Milosz, “captive minds.” This is perhaps why, in spite of not being attracted to the grey lump that the Soviets had served up as communism, Western radical students could not tolerate Soviet dissidents being given any kind of platform. I was studying in West Germany in 1984 and recall a poorly attended talk by a Soviet dissident. The West German university students booed him for being a US Cold War stooge.

Today the tactics and narratives that the Soviets had fostered long before the Cold War in creating disunity in the USA by fueling racial strife so it becomes a civil war, are now not only commonplace in universities and schools but in corporations and the White House itself, which approves of critical race theory being taught even in the military. The communist strategy of subversion was all mapped out in detail by the KGB defector Yuri Besmenov, and his book, Love Letter to America, written under the pseudonym Thomas Schuman. But his warning was already a generation too late – at the moment, the US was poised to win the Cold War, it had lost its mind (its universities, its media, Hollywood and other idea-brokering institutions) to the same terrible ideas that the Poles and others were trying to shake off.

The legacy of the communist victory – leaving China alone to pick up the spoils – is now so obvious, that half the US sees it. And it is certainly not those US citizens who control the formation and circulatory flow of the ideas of the ruling class. It is also significant that two of the best recent books that are diagnosing the spiritual, intellectual and social suicide of the Western world are by Poles, Ryszard Legutko, and Zbigniew Janowski. The former is a member of the European Parliament as well as the author of The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies, and more recently, The Cunning of Freedom: Saving the Self in an Age of False Idols.

Legutko came to prominence a couple of years ago thanks to the stupidity and bellicosity of students and staff at Middlebury who, having slapped up posters and a Facebook page denouncing Legutko as a “f****ing homophobe and sexist,” prevented him from speaking about the dangers of totalitarian democracy engulfing “free societies.” The public talk having been cancelled, the professor who invited Legutko to the college had his nine students hold a secret ballot (yes, this is how free students are today in an American university) to see whether Legutko should give the intended lecture to them.

They voted yes (sanity prevailed for a moment), and he did manage to commence his lecture to the professor’s small class. But as more students filed in and word got out, that too was subverted and Professor Legutko was escorted off campus. I doubt if any of the staff or students had the wherewithal to even read his book, let alone ask whether their confirmation of the “thesis” of Legutko’s book was really making a better world. They were just like anti-Semitic Christians, who never understood that their tactics only served to illustrate the deficiencies of their own personal faith, character, and behaviour. Unfortunately, the world is made more by the deficiencies of who and what we are and do than by the neatness of our (ostensible) moral reasons and ideas. But good luck finding twenty professors in the USA who know or care about that.

Just as some Muslims kill people to protest against those who publicly dispute that Islam is a religion of peace by referring to violent imperatives in passages of the Koran and hadith, elite students and academicians of today want to end hate, serve social justice and overcome all oppression by screaming at and shutting down anyone who thinks that they are just a bunch of bullies, know-it-alls, and spoilt brats, who know nothing serious about society or even justice. Though there are spoiled brats in Poland (and members of its intelligentsia) who also want to join the mental and spiritual suicide being undertaken by their Western counterparts, and whom the Western elites are recruiting into its ranks.

Hence a group of them, who had sought to enforce a ruling of the European Court of Human Right’s work that proscribed all religious symbolism from schools, also hauled Legutko before a District Court in Kraków. His crime? Apparently, it was calling them “spoiled little brats.” Sadly, just last month, Legutko found himself attacked again by students and members of the Philosophy Department of the Jagiellonian University, where Legutko teaches.

The reason for this was his letter to the university Rector about the dangers of the university having put in place a Western style administrative department for equity grievances. The letters – which are appearing in the Postil – illustrate the same pathetic and sanctimonious reasoning, self-serving moral platitudes, and appeal to authority as are found today in every Western university – confirming yet again that philosophers are not inoculated against being seduced by their own moral vanity, and are no more inclined than anyone else to take on the burden of historical memory, when required to think for a moment about what ethically fragile and generally unwise creatures, such as we do with the machinery of abstractions, once it is set up to ensure social control.

Janowksi, like Legutko, grew up under communism, but he returned to Poland last year, after thirty-five years in the USA. From my correspondence with him, Janowski is a born teacher, and it seems that he found many US students who greatly appreciated what he had to teach. But he was worn down by the mental midget-ism and wokeness that had taken over the university, along with the university administration who would periodically carpet him for his contrarianism.

As anyone who knows the least thing about Western universities today, university administrators have mastered the racket of having students and the state pay their exorbitant salaries, while simultaneously shutting down, and clearing out all genuine intellectual work in the Arts and Humanities, and while creating the safe spaces so their students learn that all whites are racists and that the USA is the most racist country in history.

Janowski has captured this farcical replay of totalitarianism in the USA (if I may borrow Marx’s tweaking of Hegel on history) in his excellent book, Homo Americanus: The Rise of Totalitarian Democracy in America. But before looking more closely at the works by Legutko and Janowski, I want to briefly discuss that earlier generation of pesky Poles who were trying to bring down communist totalitarianism – one of them, Leszek Kolakowski, was Janowski’s PhD supervisor, and hence a direct source of inspiration for him.

2. Poles Against Communist Totalitarianism

While there is a very long list of Polish critics of communism, I suspect that the two most well-known to Western readers are Leszek Kolakowski and Czeslaw Milosz, the former a philosopher, the later a poet. Given that communism is a poetic fabrication, resting upon a metaphysical contrivance, it is fitting that philosophers and poets expose its centre as being nothing more than thoughtless and abstract words; that is, words that are void of the sediments of soul that good poets are attuned to access, or the conceptual sharpness that provides philosophical insight into our actions and the world.

The central feature of Milosz’s Captive Mind, written in 1951, when the young Kolakowski was still a believer in communism, is its depiction of poets and writers whose love of words and art eventually lead them all to betray their muse as they (for diverse reasons from their own ideological need to believe, and their self-induced blindness to economic and political opportunity to fear) succumb to mental captivity.

In Milosz’ own case, we are not dealing with a particularly political animal, even though the Captive Mind provides some valuable reflections upon how the ideology of communism and its “philosophy” of dialectical materialism kills the spirit. Milosz, though, was a man who could distinguish between what is truly venerable in poetry, and hence why commitment to it cannot be compromised by ideological fiat, and vacuous verbosity.

The cross roads that placed Milosz between the choices of following the power and opportunities that came from using his pen in the service of power or keeping true to the muse, was very similar to Kolakowski – who might have been an ideological hack had philosophy not remained his true love. And it was also his love of philosophy that enabled him to see the sheer untruth of the endeavour he was devoting his faith to.

Communism is a jealous God, and it is a philosophical God that requires total metaphysical possession of the mind (to be sure it is also a crippled philosophical God demanding crippled minds). Its claim to possess the scientific method, dialectical (historical) materialism, to enable its practitioners to identify the objective laws of history, and the larger historical meaning of the political and economic circumstances of the hour, is a big claim that reality rebukes at every opportunity.

Kolakowski had a keen metaphysical sense and that sense runs through his philosophical writings where the “big questions” remained his philosophical preoccupation until his death. Back in the 1950s, it was becoming clear to Kolakowski that dialectical materialism was a very small – and ultimately paltry – box of mental tricks when it came to dealing with the “big questions” that required really using the powers of the mind.

In some ways, communism was always about one’s mental powers, whether one really wanted to develop them, or whether one was happy to learn and apply a philosophical dogma and defend it at all costs. Marx would always resort to invective when anyone disagreed with him; and in that respect, he set the precedent of what one had to do – bully, threaten and silence one’s opponents – if one wanted to protect a set of doctrinal principles and commitments – the method of dialectical materialism – from philosophical critique.

Thus it was that Lenin, who had read very little philosophy, took time away from his revolutionary screeds and tactical writings to study Hegel’s Science of Logic (and just in case anyone might think he was not serious, it was not the shorter Logic of the Encyclopedia but the big thick one!) – the study remains clear for all and sundry to read thanks to his disciples preserving his notebooks as if they were holy writ.

The “study” is mostly transcription, and gloss with comments and marginal scribblings – all of which confirm that Lenin was completely clueless about what Hegel’s philosophy was. Thus like a deranged school master after all the screaming and dribbling (“Hegel conceals the weakness of idealism;” “ha-ha he’s afraid! Slander against materialism Why??”), he also found things in Hegel he could give big ticks to (“excellent!” “subtle and profound!” “a germ of historical materialism,” and such like).

Lenin already knew that history is made up of material forces which are dialectical, and that communism is the dialectical resolution of the class antagonisms of history. But serious Marxists believed that anyone who really wanted to enter into the inwards of the development of history had to read their Hegel. Albeit, by never forgetting that philosophy, as Marx had explained, consisted of two teams, idealists (those who thought the world came from their own heads) and materialists (the smart ones who knew there was a world outside of the head).

Thankfully, cholera had taken Hegel out before he had to read this nonsense, which was first aired by Marx’s pal, Ludwig Feuerbach, who failing to understand that when Hegel wrote a work on logic, he was writing (to be sure, it was a radical exposition and argument) on the process involved in how we think. Feuerbach, to great applause from Marx, criticized Hegel for not understanding that if he closed his eyes and wandered unawares into a tree, the bump would teach him the tree existed independently of his thought or knowledge about it. Pathetic, isn’t it?

Even Marx, as he got older, realized that really Hegel (he and Engels would refer to him affectionately in their correspondences as “the old boy”) was a much smarter dude than Feuerbach, who by then had taken his materialism to such dizzying heights as coming up with the formulation “one is what one eats” – in the German it looks cleverer – and thus becoming a forefather of today’s dietary obsessives.

Still, Marx thought that Hegel had grasped that history develops through antagonistic forces which give birth to an immanent resolution, which will ultimately enable man to reconcile himself with his essence as a cooperative labouring being. This was, to put it mildly, a cross between a trivial dilution and very silly application of Hegel’s rather profound, if ultimately unsustainable, account of how our thinking and knowledge (and hence the sciences) develop. So just as Marx and Engels had already told him, Vlad could now claim that Hegel, though a bourgeois, had been a real asset for the communists.

Lenin’s other great work of philosophical criticism was Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. It was, mainly, though not exclusively, a polemic against Ernst Mach and Richard Avenarius (two philosophers very little read today). One might well ask what on earth would a critique of two post-Kantians, trying to identify the role of cognitive operations within modern science. has to do with overthrowing the Tsar and sparking off a global revolution against capitalism? Good question. The answer is – to repeat – that Marxism was always a philosophy, and that Marxist philosophy considered any other explanation about how to think, and even what should be thought about, as an existential threat.

One of the many dangers of making a metaphysic dictate the direction of social, economic, political and cultural development is that it is a recipe for paranoia – having exaggerated what it can achieve, it then exaggerates the damage which other ideas, which do not fit into that metaphysics, may do.

This was all interestingly bought out in the book Encounters with Lenin by the Bolshevik apostate, Nicolai Valentinov (who also wrote under the name Nikolai Valentinov-Volski). He had the misfortune of telling Lenin in a conversation that he found Mach and Avenarius interesting – at which point Lenin went ballistic, frothing at the mouth and screaming about two authors, which Volski points out, he obviously had not even read. (It was only later that Lenin would sit down with their books and belatedly prove the point that even when he read their books, he failed to understand their point).

So, really being a Marxist or a Leninist boils down to a very simple and stupid thing – believing that Marx and Lenin are always right about the essential way the world is and how to fix it. The fascist decalogue simply stated “Mussolini is always right,” which made it explicit that anyone donning the black shirt should also take out his brain. Mussolini though, preferred his brainless followers to believe in the myth of the nation instead of the scientific truth of historical materialism – so at least Mussolini knew the difference between myth and science (even if he knew as little about the science of society as the Marxists did).

By insisting that their brand of socialism was scientific, Marxists were really saying that Marx had discovered a method for understanding human nature, history, society and political economy which was unassailable. So, Marx was always right. The same line of reasoning then led to the faith that Lenin was always right/Stalin was always right/Mao was always right, etc. Little wonder that the Bolsheviks so effortlessly followed the fascists in making a complete unity of their leader, their party and their people (at least the ones that did not need to be liquidated or re-educated in slave labour camps).

Of course, as the schisms got too big to hide – which is the inevitable consequence of a thinking that is both uncompromising and murderous – Marxists had to have a Reformation and work back to the beginning. Which was why the post-Stalinist, New Left, wave of Marxists also returned back to the “salon” and classroom, where Russian communism originated, i.e., among the class of intellectuals and university students – only this time, they did have a developed world to take over, and the task of institutional capture had been set out by Antonio Gramsci. But that is a whole other story.

This long excursion into Marxism-Leninism as a philosophy is really to highlight the question, how could any serious philosopher not see that this is a path to mental captivity? That a number of people, who were philosophically gifted, nevertheless capitulated, is akin to Milosz’ account of seriously gifted writers and poets becoming ideological hacks.

Kolakowski may have started going down the road to ideological hackdom. In spite of the broad sweep of the claim, one cannot help but detect a certain autobiographical note in the title as well as the opening sentence of his book from 1988, Metaphysical Horror” “A modern philosopher who has never experienced the feeling of being a charlatan is such a shallow mind that his work is probably not worth reading.”

In Metaphysical Horror Kolakowski presents the horror through the optic of a Spinozian spin of Cartesian skepticism: “If nothing truly exists except for the Absolute, the Absolute is nothing; if nothing truly exists but myself, I am nothing.” For my part, I cannot help but see this as a metaphysical extrapolation of a soul that in saving itself from the Absolute of Marxist Leninism, but asserting its own foundational certitude, is left wondering – if all of its world and its life’s meaning amounted to nothing.

Perhaps I am reading too much into this which is pitched in a manner commensurate with the timelessness of the metaphysical disposition. But as I have said, both communism and modernity are the creations of the metaphysical imagination. And having freed himself from the captivity of Marxism, Kolakowski dives into the metaphysical imagination, with its Absolute, with the kind of resolve that only a true disciple of philosophy as the search for the Absolute and the absoluteness of life’s meaning, could muster: “Once we know,” he offers in that same work, “that errors and illusions occur, questions about a reality which can never be an illusion, or truths about which no mistakes are possible, are unavoidable.”

But whereas Marx and all his progeny end up being what Eric Voegelin, the Austrian philosophical contemporary of Kolakowski and refugee from Nazism, identified as “gnosticism,” then the search for the Absolute may become, as it did for Kolakowski, a humbling affair in which one realizes that there is, again from Metaphysical Horror, “No access to an epistemological absolute, and …no privileged access to the absolute Being which might result in reliable theoretical knowledge.”

How to face up to this without absolutizing one’s own self, with all its aspiration to know, and accepting the ceaseless limits of its knowledge, is to avoid falling into the trap of nihilism. Sometimes it takes a man almost a life-time to lay out the aspect of his soul that leads him to turn off the path that seems secure and easy, but is ultimately a dead end. Kolakowski’s metaphysical writings strike me as the expression of an aspect of his soul – his character – that had to be released through exploring the most pressing conundrums that have been woven into our civilization, through the symbols of religion and the questions of philosophy.

In any case the philosopher in Kolakowski realized as a young man, with everything before him, that the stodgy metaphysical mush that passed for philosophy in communist Poland was connected to the grim reality of daily life that passed for socialism. Not being able to simply go along with the idiocy and lies any longer – a visit to Moscow in 1950 had already shown him what idiots were running the show – in 1956, he fired off a number of missives that contrasted socialist myths and reality. One, “The Death of Gods” (available in the collection of essays, Is God Happy?) seems to be the work of a writer torn between the idealism of his old self and the determination of the new self to be uncompromising about the truth:

“When at the ripe age of eighteen, we become communists, equipped with an unshakeable confidence in our own wisdom and a handful of experiences, undigested and less significant than we like to imagine, acquired in the Great Hell of war, we devote very little thought to the fact that we need communism in order to harmonize relations of production with the forces of production. It rarely occurs to us that the extremely advanced technological standards here and now, in Poland in 1945, require the immediate socialisation of the means of production if crises of overproduction are not to loom over us like storm clouds. In short, we are not good Marxists. For us, socialism, however we go about arguing for it in theoretical debates, is everything but the result of the operation of the law of value. Defended with clumsy arguments cobbled together from a cursory reading of Marx, Kautsky or Lenin, it is really just a
myth of a Better World, a vague nostalgia for human life, a rejection of the crimes and humiliations of which we have witnessed too many, a kingdom of equality and freedom, a message of great renewal, a reason for existence. We are brothers of the Paris communards, the workers during the Russian Revolution, the soldiers in the Spanish Civil War.
We thus have before us a goal that justifies everything….
We believed that socialist rule would naturally lead to the swift and total disappearance of national hostility, nationalist prejudice and tribal conflict. Instead we found that political activity which goes by the name of socialist can encourage and exploit the most absurd forms of chauvinism and blind nationalist megalomania. In culture these manifest themselves in the form of naive deceptions and infantile sophistry, but in politics, concealed behind a thin façade of traditional internationalist slogans, they assume the much more dangerous and sinister form of colonialism.”

Another from that same year was “What is Socialism?” which is basically a list depicting the totalitarian reality of life in a communist country, that is preceded by the sentence, “Here, then, is a list of what socialism is not,” and first on the list was “a society in which someone who has committed no crime sits at home waiting for the police.”

It is true that Kolakowski was not alone in speaking out against what socialism had become and he was swept up in a hopeful wave of defiance and bravery. And it is this importance of this bravery that cannot be underestimated when one considers how totalitarian regimes come undone: ideas are nothing in themselves, they are made by people and they make people. That is to say, bad and stupid ideas only take off and become instruments of annihilation, cruelty and stupidity because they appeal to and help make people who are ready to kill, be cruel, imprison others who aren’t as stupid as they are, that is people who will stop at nothing to get their way and who have no doubt about the rectitude of their view of the world and the solutions to its ailments.

All the pesky Poles mentioned in this essay would have had an easier and cushier life in Poland and the USA had they just gone along with the cruel and stupid ideological conformists and enforcers, who had and have all lost their minds, hearts and souls. Milosz could not have come up with a more prescient title than the Captive Mind if he had to depict what is happening today. But the shocking thing is how easily today our Western intellectuals and academics have entered into mental captivity.

In part, this is because they had already swallowed the poison of liberal freedom that both Legutko and Janowski address. And whereas they had done so in the tenured and most comfortable of circumstances, the writers, poets, philosophers whom Milosz depicts in the Captive Mind had lived through a time of extraordinary suffering. The poet Beta (a pseudonym for Tadeusz Borowski), for example, had been in Auschwitz, and witnessed and chose to survive by doing all that was required of him by his Nazi masters.

Perhaps souls like Borowski were simply harder to ensnare, and perhaps we in the West have been breeding monsters of ignorance who have now become ignorant monsters, and they are so sensitive they suffer like someone upon the rack if they but think of anyone who does not believe that the sum total of their knowledge (which could fit on a tiny packet of cards) for understanding and judging the past, present and future of the human race suffices for total emancipation.

For, let’s be real –ideologues typically enter into a state of apoplexy when someone challenges their diagnosis or remedies of a state of affairs which they designate as social injustice because they do not want anyone challenging their authority – the “injustice” is just a “trigger” (hence the need for trigger warnings) sending them into states of rage. This is not to deny the existence of social injustices; but today’s woke would not know how to identify, let alone fix, an injustice (for that would require thoughtfulness, and nuance) if it were ripping out their entrails.

When one reads Milosz, one is saddened by humans with characters and talents who were lost to communism, when one reads today’s woke journalists or academics or listens to the hysterical screaming of the kids demanding the world be what will make them feel safe (no police, for example, or no “whiteness”), the sadness is not in characters that have been lost, but in characters that have been malformed from the moment they could talk, and thus who have no notion of what it is to think.

The first wave of pesky Poles had often initially swallowed the poison of socialism. Milosz and Kolakowski had both had promising careers with the communist regime – Milosz was a cultural attaché in the United States and Paris, though falling foul of the party, he was able to find political asylum in France and then move to the United States. His Captive Mind was an early exposé of what communism did to the soul and it which quickly became a modern classic.

Kolakowski’s intellectual journey away from socialism was a far slower one – from believer to “revisionist,” during the so-called “Gomulka thaw,” when the Polish communist party itself was seeking for new ways to socialism, to disbeliever. As an exile, first in Montreal (where he taught at McGill) in 1968, Berkeley (University of California) in 1969, and then Oxford in 1970, he was free to philosophically engage in the two topics that seem to me (though I have not read his entire corpus) to be his major preoccupation: the metaphysical needs of the human spirit, and the disaster of Marxism as an “answer” to that need.

In the West he saw first-hand how the kinds of ideas that he had believed in in his youth were being recycled by the New Left. The irony was that Kolakowski himself had been something of an inspiration for the New Left. To them , and any others who were interested, Kolakowski would have to spell out what everyone (except a historically insignificant number of Trotsky supporters and the New Left) knew – Stalinism had Marxist roots a theme that would be developed at length in his magisterial three volume study Main Currents of Marxism (written between 1968 and 1976, and originally appearing in English in 1978).

Prior to that, in 1973, the English historian and anti-nuclear weapons activist, E. P. Thompson, had written an extremely long piece, “An Open Letter to Leszek Kolakowski,” for The Socialist Register. Thompson was a pioneer of the British New Left, and a founder of the Marxist journal, The New Reasoner which would morph into the New Left Review. He had achieved some fame with his book of 1963, The Making of the English Working Class. I bought the book, as an earnest young man, some forty years ago, and while, it contains serious history which indicates what Thompson could have been without the romanticism and Marxism, it is, nevertheless, about as riveting as a trade union meeting. (Thompson liked Blake – and I love Blake – but sadly Marx ruined his mind and nothing of Blake’s poetic brilliance seeped into his writing.) I quote from its opening paragraphs to give you an idea of the kind of Marxist casuistry, doggerel and dogma that cluttered his mind:

“This book has a clumsy title, but it is one which meets its purpose. Making, because it is a study in an active process, which owes as much to agency as to conditioning. The working class did not rise like the sun at an appointed time. It was present at its own making. Class, rather than classes, for reasons which it is one purpose of this book to examine. There is, of course, a difference. “Working classes” is a descriptive term, which evades as much as it defines. It ties loosely together a bundle of discrete phenomena. There were tailors here and weavers there, and together they make up the working classes. By class I understand an historical phenomenon, unifying a number of disparate and seemingly unconnected events, both in the raw material of experience and in consciousness. I emphasise that it is an historical phenomenon. I do not see class as a “structure”, nor even as a “category”, but as something which in fact happens (and can be shown to have happened) in human relationships.”

Hello! Are you still there?

In 1978, the bit about not seeing class as a structure would become the source of a theoretical dispute between him and the French structuralist Marxist Louis Althusser – he who strangled his, equally mentally disturbed, wife. Althusser even wrote a book about it, in which he revealed that his Mum was at the root all those problems in his life that capitalism was not to blame for – i.e. whatever part of his mind and soul Marx had not destroyed was finished off by Freud.

In any case, before Althusser was a garden variety philosophical wife-strangler (and funnily enough this domestic act did not irrevocably damage his brand with Marxist feminists), and an ex-asylum inmate roaming the Parisian streets in his pyjamas exclaiming, “I am the great Althusser,” he was the epitome of Parisian Marxist cool – close to the trés cool Derrida and Foucault – and hence a leading light for those wanting to lead the rest of us poor saps into a world free from the murderousness of private property.

The Althusser-Thompson dispute was a dreadfully tedious piece of rationalism, in which Thompson ostensibly defended Marxism as empiricism. To be fair, in the windbaggery department Althusser was a veritable Zeppelin in comparison to Thompson’s mere hot air balloon, and, to change metaphors, in the great Marxist “bake-off,” it was a rather drab English mince-pie, albeit garnished with some slices of wit, versus a delicate Parisian soufflé – light, with an airy texture that requires years and years of dedication to understanding how to generate enough hot air by merely blowing long and hard enough into one’s selected chosen ingredients – a little Marx, tossed with a dollop of Lenin, and throw in a pinch of Spinoza: voilà who would need to know anything more.

Long before this and even before the Open Letter, Kolakowski, who I suspect was more given to blintz than soufflé, did a review of Althusser in the 1971 issue of The Socialist Register. It concluded that Althusser amounted to “empty verbosity which … can be reduced either to common sense trivialities in new verbal disguise.” I mention this just to give those readers who were not there a picture of what was passing for serious thought among Marxist intellectuals when Kolakowski was teaching at Oxford, and around the time Thompson’s “Open Letter” was published.

The major purpose of the hundred-page Letter was to express Thompson’s personal “sense of injury and betrayal” that Kolakowski had left the team. In the typical self-congratulatory moral tones that have become the hallmark of the post-Stalinist left, Thompson instructed Kolakowski that he did not affirm his allegiance to the Communist Party (though he never realized that he did not need to do so to be their stooge in the nuclear disarmament campaign) – he was committed to the “Communist movement in its humanist potential.”

Even such a rhetorical gem – in an attempt to ingratiate himself with Kolakowski – as “Communism was a complex noun which included Leszek Kolakowski” could not conceal the fact that Thompson, for all his reading and historical digging, was a know-all and hence, in spite of all his learnedness, was another Western useful idiot. Thus, the irony in the title of Kolakowski’s “rejoinder” to Thompson: My Correct Views on Everything. For what is obvious to anyone who reads My Correct Views is that Thompson, whose Open Letter the Marxist critic Raymond Williams himself (most tellingly) calls “one of the best Leftist pieces of Leftist writing in the last decade” (one can only imagine how bad the others were) is an “embarras de richesses” of clichés and abstract vacuities, expressing a depth of moral self-delusion that enables Thompson to glide over the true suffering of people living in a system that politically ensures a society without private property. Thus, he is able to write with a great sweep of his quill that “to a historian, fifty years is too short a time to judge a new social system.” Kolakowski, as one might expect, does not let this pass. But the real strength of Kolakowski’s rejoinder is in his own admission of modesty:

“I share without restrictions your (and Marx’s, and Shakespeare’s, and many others’) analysis to the effect that it is very deplorable that people’s minds are occupied with the endless pursuit of money, that needs have a magic power of infinite growth and that the profit motive, not use value, rules production. Your superiority consists in that you know exactly how to get rid of all this and I do not.”

Near the conclusion of the rejoinder, Kolakowski takes up this theme of the complexity of the problem when he writes:

“This does not mean that socialism is a dead option. I do not think it is. But I do think that this option was destroyed not only by the experience of socialist states, but because of the self-confidence of its adherents, by their inability to face both the limits of our efforts to change society and the incompatibility of the demands and values which made up their creed. In short, that the meaning of this option has to be revised entirely, from the very roots.”

As excellent as Kolakowski’s three volume analysis of Marxism was, not least for addressing the spiritual longing that reside within its materialist heart – thus for Kolakowski, understanding Marxism requires thinking about Plotinus, Meister Eckart, Jacob Böhme, and Nicholas Cusa as well as the usual philosophical suspects of German idealism and the young Hegelians – it did not halt the Gramscian inflexion that had taken hold of British Marxism. That was mainly thanks to the New Left Review which had been translating Gramsci and hence introducing him to British intellectuals. Though by then Thompson had fallen foul of the far slicker and more theoretically savvy Perry Anderson and his faction within the New Left Review.

Also, sadly for the battle that Kolakowski was fighting, Althusser was but one of the Parisians who were to 1968 what the young Hegelians had been to 1844-48. A slew of “radical chicsters” were sexing up a philosophical, literary and sociological potpourri of Marx peppered with dollops of de Sade, and Nietzsche and sprigs of Heidegger – they were attacking totalizing narratives, and embracing the emancipatory potential of the marginals (Foucault extended his emancipatory largess from prisoners to paedophiles), who were deployed in the grand game of leading us to emancipation.

So. while Kolakowski was providing a lengthy and perceptive analysis of how the gulag gruel of communism came to be, the game plan had changed and the New Left were in the process of dropping the workers for any other group that could be construed as a minority. Old style British Marxists naturally enough were not so hot about all this – after all they (at least the serious ones) had wracked their brains over the three volumes of Capital, the Grundrisse, and the six volumes of Theories of Surplus Value – and they fought a losing battle against the French post-structuralists over who would be the hegemons of the university and the new society at large.

The theoretical disputes mattered as little in the late 1960s and 1970s as the disputes within and between Bolsheviks, Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries had mattered prior to the breakup of the Russian empire – what mattered was that a generation of educated young people with all their radical certitudes (in all their diversity) about power, oppression, capitalism, Eurocentrism and the panoply of social injustices and victims they would rescue were catapulted into positions of pedagogical authority by a society wishing to reproduce itself through educating its professionals. The Soviets knew exactly what was going on – for it was a replay of the process that had, albeit with the catalyst of the Great War, led to the demise of the Tzar, and were able to fuel the youthful arrogance of the class they could count onto hand them a (too belated) victory.

Kolakowski, though, could do nothing to stop this, any more than he could have stopped a flood with an umbrella – he was not only of the wrong generation, but on the wrong side of historical experience. He was the past and a man of considerable experience about the nature of communism. But it was the generation who saw themselves as being of the future who were indeed making the future– and their sense of experience was generally (with the exception of the casualties of the Vietnam war in the US and Australasia) one of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll and educational and job opportunities.

Even when the economic impediments of the 1970s kicked in, the model of mass education for social reproduction had been set, and then it was just a matter of time before the curriculum had been so politicized that the universities would become what they are now – managerially administered industrial sites for the making of a compliant globalist workforce shorn of the old bulwarks of sociality from the family, to the church, to the nation, and refabricated on the basis of race, gender and sexual preference.

Apart from Kolakowski, Milosz and Wat, trying to get Westerners to see the how, what and why of totalitarianism, the Polish historian Andrezj Walicki, especially his writings A History of Russian Thought from the Enlightenment to Marxism (1979), and Marxism and the Leap to the Kingdom of Freedom: The Rise and Fall of Communism (1995) provided an in-depth critique not only of Marxism, and its development but of the various ideological dreamings that helped turn Russia and its Soviet empire and satellites into a world that reflected back what designs of perfection actually deliver.

More to the point, the class of intellectuals in the West who might have benefitted from historical knowledge about the intellectual product of communism were not that interested in such writers or their diagnosis. Sadly, then, there was no contest, for the young professors and students, between Derrida/ Foucault versus Walicki /or Kolakowski –the former were superstars (and they were clever in the same way that a kid that can count to a hundred in Latin, balancing a stick on the end of his nose while juggling bunny rabbits for a while is clever), while the latter really knew they were talking about, especially when it came to how ideas of absolute liberty, and equality and the end of oppression would turn out.

But the professors and their students were interested in identifying all the things they were sure they could fix, not with learning about how little they actually knew. Ambition, arrogance, rhetoric, formulae, facileness, slogans – indeed the exact same ingredients of self-making that had been the brew and bake of the old left, was the brew and bake of the new left. Men like Kolakowski, Walicki, Milosz, Wat were voices for such old virtues as humility in the face of historical complexity and the need to accept the limits of human achievement and the inevitability of error, weakness and ignorance.

Around much the same time, as Kolakowski was starting his life in the West, another Polish writer and refugee from communism, Leopold Tyrmand, who had written a modern anti-totalitarian classic setting down the routines of communist daily life, The Rosa Luxemburg Contraceptives Cooperative: A Primer on Communist Civilization (1972), also (Notebooks of a Dilettante [1970]) reported that at a dinner party in America “a distinguished Negro writer” asked him what percentage of the population would vote anti-Communist if there were free elections in an Eastern European country.

When Tyrmand responded that, if the elections were really free and all positions could be presented, and if there were no fear of persecution, then it would be about 85 percent, the writer responded, “I don’t believe it”- a little later exclaiming more heatedly, when Tyrmand tried to explain how things worked in Poland: “It’s impossible! It’s against any logic!” And that really is the point: people who have no knowledge about something are convinced they do, provided they think it is the kind of thing they think is of political importance.

This is what ideology and education do. This is what the captive mind is. But in Milosz’ work of that title, minds were generally captured by circumstances harrowing, fearful and brutal enough to draw out a certain weakness of the soul. But today in the West it is liberty itself that has exposed the weaknesses of soul that now presides over the political and social institutions of the West. And whilst there are some fine diagnosticians of the current and very likely fatal pathology of the West, two Polish authors, Ryzsard Legutko, and Zbigniew Janowski have written works that take us into the heart of the matter.

3. Exposing The Dialectic of Totalitarian Freedom

When Hannah Arendt wrote what would become a class of political science, The Origins of Totalitarianism, liberal democracy was considered to be a form of government in which the state had clear identifiable limits. This distinction between a state that had limitations and freedom was not just a theoretical one – people wanting to escape from the control of the state and a particular ideology had, if they could manage to get there; somewhere to escape to.

Thus, it was that a number people, including the Polish intellectuals mentioned above, who could not stand the lack of freedom, the brutality, the ideological imbecility, the incessant brainwashing and ludicrous lies of communism fled to the West. It was much the same for people escaping from Nazi Germany – though the poor bastard communists who escaped from Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union were frequently caught up in the anti-foreign campaign of the great purge and all too often found themselves in gulags or simply before a firing squad. One of the distinctive insights of Arendt’s book was her argument that the French Declaration of the Rights of Man did not serve as a means to prevent the rise of forces that would lead to totalitarianism, but rather exposed groups of people who lay outside the protection of the nation and thereby found themselves as victims of persecution within the nation.

This insight of Arendt’s is a good example of how an idea, or principle may develop into its opposite. And although Marxists generally loved to talk of dialectics, anyone who really thought dialectically could see that Marxism was a power for the extinction of all classes and ideological enemies that were perceived as obstacles to those who lived off the narrative that they enforced on others. That is, it was simply a will to power of a bunch of people who thought they knew how to rule their world to get what they wanted – which they think everybody wants – no private property, and no religion etc. for example.

One might say that the reason for this is that the dialectic that transpired was between the willfulness of a group wanting their world to be a certain way and the stubbornness of the world (i.e. lots of other people) to resist that way. The problem has to do with ideology itself. For reality (including real human beings) refuses to simply yield to abstractions that only exist due to not taking into account those parts of reality that the subject or knower simply has no inkling of or care for. Communism was just one example of that failure. Fascism was another. And liberalism is yet another.

Liberalism, though, has been somewhat slower in revealing its totalitarian essence (though some – to take three very different kinds of people – like de Maistre, Tocqueville, and Newman clearly saw its weaknesses), and, unlike Fascism and Communism, its shortcoming did not require death or labour camps. But the time of revelation is now upon us. Would that it were not the case – would that liberty could prevail over all else. But it cannot, for liberty is a concept of some complexity, and even then, it is, at best, only an aspect of a life, and when we seek to make any aspect of life the essence or condition of life – we mess up.

Ryszard Legutko’s The Demon in Democracy, and The Cunning of Freedom: Saving the Self in an Age of False Idols, and Zbiegniew Janowski’s Homo Americanus: The Rise of Totalitarian Democracy in America examine the mess.

Part of the mess simply comes from ideology itself – the desire to simplify the complexities of the real to conform to a narrative, pattern of policy and legislation and the institutions of social reproduction which will solve our most pressing problems. The problems of political obligation, of who has the right to decree what must be done to whom, and who must be followed in order keep the peace between members of the social body, are perennial.

Problems between “groups” and within them have led to a relatively limited number of solutions – this is because the problems are very similar as are the means for solving them: someone or few must make decisions that the community must comply with, there must be some way of passing on succession etc. In this respect all “political” organization is inevitably hierarchical and elite-based–obviously how the elite is selected and what is expected of them varies significantly.

Historically, that elite had evolved out of the power they displayed – usually this display was exhibited on the battlefield, though power to engage the gods was always another aspect involved in the power formation and distribution of the society. Monarchy and aristocracy are generally and essentially derived from military victory, and the power of the monarch is also derived from capacity to command the requisite alliances that sustain the peace between potential contesting powers.

Although Plato and Aristotle had envisaged a kind of political order based upon the best ideas and insights that could organize a society – until modern times this was merely a philosophical pipedream. But modernity itself, in its technological and administrative and economic and political innovations is inseparable from the emergence of a new elite, whose bread-and-butter was (as the philosopher John Locke called it) “the way of ideas.”

As the number of people appealing to and living off ideas spread the entire way of understanding political authority changed. Modern social contract theory was one symptom of the change – for each of the contract theorists envisaged a rational reconstruction of the origins of social and political development. More important than the fact that a handful of philosophers were writing about the rational foundations of society and political authority was the fact that a public who were interested in discussing ideas generally, and, more specifically, how a society should be organized was developing.

The tensions between the Americans and the British crown provided the opportunity for a relatively small group of educated men to draft a new political order in a world relatively unencumbered by past vestiges of authority, that would in turn inspire a class in a part of the old world able to find its moment in the ruins of a financial and social breakdown that it had helped on its way. For good and bad, France, albeit initially for only a relatively brief time, had provided the old world with a new way of doing and speaking about political authority.

For all the chaos of the French revolution, and the geopolitical consequences that it triggered, politics and ideology became increasingly entangled. The history of the very word ideology comes from one of the revolution’s great survivors, a philosopher and political economist, Destutt de Tracy. That is, politics became not only something that concerned people interested in ideas, it itself became equivalent to a practice which primarily required getting the right ideas to fit a world which would conform to the ideas that its educated elite had about it. There were ideological differences between different thinkers and members of the public, but thinking of politics as a political matter was becoming increasingly commonplace, so that political choices were invariably ideological choices.

This is the background against which Legutko’s book needs to be read. For the young students and staff who tried to prevent him talking at Middlebury are so sadly ignorant of where they fit within the larger forces that have bred them that they simply dismiss him as a conservative -i.e., they reduce him to an ideology – whilst seeing themselves as the guardians of freedom and justice and human decency.

The operative word though is that they are guardians, and they guard what they think, which is all too little to do justice to the scale of the problems we can divide between the perennial and the peculiarly modern. Were they aware of that, the first idea they would have to dispense with, apart from their own faith in their knowledge, is that the kinds of problems that all people including modern people inherit and generate do not all have a neat – if indeed any – solution.

The idea that there is a political pattern with a happy ending, a pattern that politically eliminates the tragic features of life is completely crazy – and even non-religious people, who are thoughtful, should be able to appreciate that one benefit of believing in the after-life is that we do not become burdened by things we cannot achieve – nor completely delusional about our capacities to do what only a God would have the power to do such as see how all things fit together. (Which is why of all the metaphysicians, I have always had a soft spot for Leibniz).

Not surprisingly, people who think they know how things all fit, and hence how to politically solve our problems tend to be very similar – irrespective of their particular ideological convictions. One is reminded of the French fascist author Drieu de la Rochelle agonizing about which team to choose as there was so little real difference between them.

In terms of his reputation, he chose the wrong one, his friend Malraux the acceptable one – but both chose murderous regimes. In terms of the character of the people who are drawn to become ideologically and politically involved Legutko observes of the transition in Poland from communism to liberal democracy how swiftly “former members of the Communist party adapted themselves perfectly to liberal democracy, its mechanisms, and the entire ideological interpretation that accompanied these mechanisms. Soon they even joined the ranks of the guardians of the new orthodoxy.” This is because they were first and foremost guardians, and in this respect no different from the Western politician who immediately adapts the ideological ideas to political realities that he must confront.

While guardians can quickly switch ideologies, today they are programmed to think ideologically. And, for me, the power of Legutko’s analysis lies in his recognition of the depth of the problem of ideology itself. For while during the Second World War, or the Cold War liberal democracy looked – and indeed was – so much better than the alternatives, the fact remains that it rests upon abstractions such as freedom and equality which, if taken as things in themselves, are not only socially damaging, but which also contribute to the elimination not only of actual freedoms, but of aspects of sociality which are intrinsic to humans convivially cooperating and bonding across time. Thus, the kind of love a parent has for its child, or that exists between husband and wife, and even between friends simply cannot be fathomed if we think exclusively in terms of qualities like freedom and/ or equality. Living relationships are intrinsically and necessarily sacrificial.

The broken families that litter the liberal democratic world, are testimony to the triumph of liberty in the formation of relationships, but they are also symptomatic of the problems that befall a society in which the sacrificial is ousted by a mélange of pleasure, comfort and abstraction. Where the problem of broken families makes itself most conspicuous is where the material resources which, though no surrogate for love, enable other forms of communal engagement are lacking – that is among the poorest sections of the society.

Being from privileged backgrounds or at least being able to access resources which gave them opportunities that those dwelling in ghettoes do not have, the Middlebury brats threatening to silence Legutko were particularly outraged by his diagnosis of the damage done by the sexual revolution, warnings against marriage break-down and abortion. For the ideologue such warnings must be ideologically dismissed because they are conservative.

But the truth, of Legutko’s warning, is palpable amongst the American blacks, that is amongst the class which these imbecilic brats claim to somehow speak for and represent, along with single mothers from the white underclass whose domestic life is so frequently one of violence at the hands of men who move in with them when it is convenient to do so, and out as soon as a better opportunity arises. (More’s the pity that most students who study the social sciences and humanities would have no idea of the writings of Theodor Dalrymple aka Anthony Daniels).

It is sheer thoughtlessness that could lead one to think that freedom is a panacea for solving the kinds of problems that can only be dealt with by foregoing freedom, by accepting sacrifice – and the sacrifice that is paid for by single mothers, abandoned by the children’s fathers confirms the dialectical entanglement in which freedom frequently generates its opposite.

Thus, it is that Legutko, and this is also true of Janowski, which has also led him to track down J.S. Mill’s complicity in this madness, warns his readers that the breakup of the world into the seekers and enemies of freedom is ridiculous.

As indicated by the subtitle of the Freedom book Legutko recognizes that liberal democracy’s promise of salvation is idolatrous. It is not that liberty does not have its place amongst those aspects of the human spirit that give meaning and value in a life or to a collective, but an aspect is not a god. The endless search for the realization of liberty ultimately becomes a tearing down of the social and personal dwellings of the spirit that give it a purposeful sense of place.

The cloud of the abstract replaces the solidity of real relationships, with their compromises and imperfections, and the regular routine duties which are the condition of their nourishment. Liberty today has become indistinguishable from the short-lived thrill of a sexual encounter – “the sexual revolution,” says Legutko, “is arguably the most extreme manifestation of the episodic nature of man.” That something as ephemeral as the sex act can become the basis of an identity to be used as a foundation for the structuring of society – thus requiring an endless array of writings and university courses about its importance – is indicative of a people infantilizing, and pleasuring its way into hell.

Progressives think that their virtue will not only spare them this fate, but will contribute to them creating very heaven. But these are people whose “virtue” has no benign existential bearing, nor even basic moral bearing in so far as they are members of a class whose power is predicated upon the narrative they learn, conform to, preach, and protect at all cost.

Hence, diversity, identity, equity and such like are the institutional paper currency of the will to power of a poorly educated, highly ambitious, envious, and endlessly egocentric elite who base everything upon identity and representation because they are so devoid of any real self. Their freedom is their emptiness – and their creation, as Legutko, names one chapter in his Freedom book, is “the wretched world of absolute freedom.” Such freedom is what Isaiah Berlin had defended as “negative freedom” in “Two Concepts of Liberty.” And when communism was offering something that was positively revolting, negative freedom looked like it had much going for it. Thus, Berlin’s essay, which Legutko had once considered to be inspirational, now appears to Legutko, merely a “collection of platitudes and falsehoods.”

For Legutko, far from being an ideal that was self-explanatory and invaluable, freedom has proven to be a philosophical problem – and in the West it has “got into the hands and minds of dogmatists who turned it first into a rigid, ultimately fruitless formula, and then into an ideological tool to promote a liberal model of society that I found increasingly dubious.”

The problem that has been revealed to anyone with eyes to see is the problem that “once one particular group’s freedom is confused with the legal framework of freedom, then the language of freedom is likely to become mendacious” – and that is exactly what has happened over the last two generations or so in the Western world. In an essay in the first volume of Janoswki’s collected edition of writings by J.S. Mill, Legutko had pointed out how the harm principle simply becomes the means for a group wanting to entrench practices previously considered socially undesirable making the mores, that had been intrinsic to social development, a pariah position – as has happened now with the dismantling of the traditional family and its roles.

The great myth of liberalism is that everyone’s freedom can be maximized – so as Legutko puts it – it is a society that would resemble “a department store in which everything is offered, everyone can find what they want, no one feels undeserved, one can change one’s preferences, and even the most selective desires can be satisfied.”

Peoples that were once enemies now get along swimmingly well because all get what they want – hey you can get the burka, and I can get the bikini briefs that best display my twerk – provided, of course, the submit to the rules, which require a severe surgical reconstruction of what one actually wants. This is the squared circle of a society, one in which two fundamentally incompatible loyalties – loyalty to one’s own community, and loyalty to an infinitely open system – are falsely seen as both desirable and achievable.

I used the word myth above, but the myth is really little more than a lie. And the chaos of the Western world is in large part the result of the exposure of the lie as lie, which has brought out the savage and tyrannical reaction of the “de facto rulers, educators, ideologues, guardians, and censors for all members of the society.” That chaos has been facilitated, in no small part, by the elevation of such abstractions as “human rights” which simply enable the proliferation of claimants for conditions which someone has to supply, and recognition for qualities and behaviour which someone has to give, which only fuel the expansion of a class who control not only actions, but words, and thoughts right down to which pronouns are permissible.

Against the modern doctrinal approach to freedom that has been enwrapped in a dialectic of tyranny, Legutko, drawing upon Aristotle and Plato, defends a more nuanced and classically developed notion of freedom that moves from the unlimited and unconstrained idea of freedom of a self with its vacuous sense of dignity and hedonistic drives to an understanding of the self as requiring an inner strength that results from cultivating the virtues and hence taking on the sacrifices that are the precondition of those virtues.

In Plato and Aristotle freedom as such was never a virtue, rather it is a quality of the self that is an out-growth of the development of the virtues. Readers familiar with Aristotle will recall his famous distinction between those who are slaves by nature and those who may through circumstances fall into slavery, which is suggestive of freedom being as much a disposition and not simply a legal or political one.

In this sense the classical position offers a stark reminder of how mistaken modern philosophy has been in taking abstract political goals and abstract characteristics as sufficient in themselves, whilst failing to take into account the cultivation of the self through service and obligation. Legutko reflects upon the positive freedom to be found in such lives as the philosopher, the entrepreneur, the artist and “aristocrat,” whilst drawing his reader’s attention to how each type easily becomes distorted in its modern formation because the modern self is based upon an original fundamental failure to understand not only the soul and its needs, but how the failure to cultivate its development results in the kind of mess we inhabit.

It is the lack of cultivation of free inner selves that Legutko identifies as what has been lost in the obsession with emancipation that has only emptiness as its goal. Near the conclusion of the Cunning of Freedom Legutko observes – “Living is a constant process of making sense of what’s finite in the light of what’s infinite, and of what’s contingent in the light of what’s absolute.”

The West’s tragedy is, in part at least, the ruin that comes from a failure not only to understand the laws of the spirit, but from the ideological spread of a way of thinking and being, in which those laws are buried under the weight of the finite’s own self obsession and delusions about its infinitude.

What we now have is a great mass of deluded selves constituting a pyramid presided over by the emptiest and most deluded, by the people who claim to know the All that needs to be known (the infinite as such), but who in fact know next to nothing about themselves or the world.

One only has to think of the fact that the academic study of literature in the most prestigious universities in the world does not teach how to better fathom human lives, souls, and characters, with their respective trials, circumstances, fatalities, triumphs and defeats, virtues and flaws, but to read texts as ciphers of power relations constituted by identity types. Professors and students endlessly repeat Althusser’s view of the social world as consisting of subject-less structural “bearers” in the grim and endless identity struggles for “emancipation.”

While the word emancipation is a void, defined by nothing more than the absence of oppression, we may glean some meaning of the word from the common French post-structuralist alignment of Sade (with his gargantuan mechanics of death for the pleasure of the killers), Nietzsche (with his fantasy of higher men and supermen who are beyond good and evil and are the creators of value), and Marx (with his view of unalienated life being bound up with our labouring cooperative essence).

As a vision statement it looks (in the immortal words of Johnny Rotten) ‘”Pretty Vacant,” but that is the point. For what we are witnessing now is a carbon copy of Russian’s nineteenth century with its alliance of intelligentsia and students: the complete preoccupation with emancipation and the dehumanization of any who impede their “emancipation.”

Thus, the meaning of life is read exclusively in terms of unequal power relations, and the dyadic norms that they see as all important – oppressor/ oppressed, privilege/ equity, inclusiveness/ exclusiveness, whiteness/ non-whiteness, diversity/ lack of diversity, rich/ poor, cisgender/sexual fluidity. In what became the Soviet Union, once the politicized Russian intelligentsia successfully broke down and then took control of all social and political institutions, they moved from having dehumanized their enemy (those on the wrong side of the normative dyad) into a phase of extermination.

It is the first phase of the totalitarian reality of the United States today that is the subject of Janowski’s Homo Americanus, a searing indictment of how every-day and valuable freedoms in the United States – especially the freedom to “openly or publicly” express “opinions which are not in conformity” with “what the majority considers acceptable at the moment” have become suffocated by a surfeit of democratic intrusions, into “virtually all aspects of man’s existence.”

Though it is not so much the opinions which the majority hold, but the opinions which the majority of the elite hold that are the problem. This is one of two instances where I think Janowski mistakes the sentiments and ideas that circulate amongst the ideas brokers in the US with the majority of the population.

The other is in the opening sentence, “Only few Americans seem to understand that we, here in the United States, are living in a totalitarian reality, or one that is quickly approaching it” strikes a note of warning. But given that now almost half the country believe that their president was not elected, were Janowski’s book more widely publicized I think it would have a huge audience. These are trivial matters in a book that I think is as relevant to today as Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind was a generation ago – though I think Janowski’s diagnosis is far sharper, and not given to the kind of (Straussian) idiosyncrasies that make Bloom’s version of history look like a library shelf.

Perhaps the sentence that best sums up Janowski’s “thesis” is: “The anti- communist opposition, just like Western political scientists, did not understand that 1989 was not a moment of liberation, but the moment when one collectivist ideology (communism) was replaced by another collectivist ideology (democracy).” I think this is a brilliant insight into the historically complex and dialectical entanglements which may help us identify the vast expansion of democracy beyond “its electoral confines” so that today “Equality is our New Faith.”

Although it is indicative of the high speed of acceleration occurring right now, as this elite program steam rolls over all resistance, that the word equality is viewed with less favour than it was even last year, when Janowski was still writing the book: for now, the New Word/Faith is Equity. Though, Homo Americanus is not so much an argument for this claim as a testimony of it. And for all the many authors Janowski engages with to depict the tragedy he is witnessing, the writing reminded me of none so much as Joseph Roth who chronicled the rising historically unstoppable evil of Nazism. St. Augustine’s Press are to be congratulated for publishing a book that is so urgently needed and yet so out of step with the pre-occupations and obsessions of mainstream academia today.

Nevertheless, the fact that it is a small independent (albeit quality) publisher that has taken on Homo Americanus rather than a major academic or commercial publisher is indicative of the times. For it would never have got through the gatekeeping staff within the major presses, who simply cannot get enough books on sexual or (non-white) racial identity, oppression, and emancipation. Mainstream publishing today is generally committed to ensuring that the USA follow its elite headlong into oblivion.

And it is doing so apace. For in less than a decade it has gone from the world’s leading democracy and global superpower, attempting to preserve free societies from their totalitarian enemies (sure they would, when forced to choose, support their dictators), into a country (is it, in any meaningful sense, a nation?) in which ideological imbeciles are not only elected but set the social and political agenda for the next two or three generations.

It is now a society of what Janowski calls “communist liberalism,” a society in which the media can brazenly close down stories which do not suit its political objectives (does anyone remember Hunter?), whilst manufacturing ones that do (I note that Russia-gate was just given a reboot the day I was writing this sentence by The Guardian). It has gone from being a society in which freedom of speech was widely valued as unnegotiable into being interpreted as a means of ensconcing white privilege.

It is a society which once schooled the finest minds of the Western world to encourage considered deliberation about the problems that must be confronted for the survival and betterment of a democratic society, a society which once protected (even if did not adequately value) independence of thought. It is a society that once could benefit from its social and political tensions by opening up new pathways of conviviality and community building.

Now it is a society in which every disagreement is but an occasion for expanding the endemic of the inimical, a society in which families and friends can no longer agree to disagree, where someone cannot be allowed to say what he thinks he sees – nor even deviate from the formulae of articulation that has elite consensual approval.

It is a society that regards those, like Janowski and Legutko, who warn about the perilous condition of the USA, as pariahs and enemies – terms such as “right wing” or “conspiracy theorist” now are loosely thrown about to dehumanize and delegitimize anyone who is not on board with whatever the consensus of the moment is.

It is a society in which freedom of speech is not even allowed in schools, or universities or upon the technological platforms which have become the most important source of public assembly in the twenty-first century – and which have rapidly become sources of surveillance and snitching upon those deemed politically undesirable.

Janowski’s diagnosis is a tour de force of the shrunken and sick soul that the United States has been cultivating for decades. Although Janowski was not merely a traveller to the US, the book has much in common with Tocqueville’s Democracy in America – a work Janowski draws upon frequently in Homo Americanus -, for it provides an optic of the outsider that can see the strangeness of things Americans take for granted as being what every sensible person thinks or does. In 1835 – the year that the first volume of Democracy in America appeared – Tocqueville expressed his admiration of the American experiment while also expressing warnings and criticisms of the dangers it posed for the individual and the collective.

Having become such an economic and military power, even in the relatively recent past it may have been easy to consider Tocqueville’s fear unwarranted – they weren’t. But what Tocqueville saw as ailments that were still in their incipient phase, are now totally debilitating derangements of the soul and collective. Take, for example, the following observation of Janowski that America is:

“a place where everyone is afraid of something or someone: the gays are driven by fear of straight people; the transgendered boys and girls by fear of rejection from natural boys and girls; blacks by fear of whites, whites by fear of blacks, women by fear of men, Americans by fear of foreigners, illegal immigrants by fear of Americans and the American Justice system, liberals by fear of “white supremacists,” and so on. The list seems to be endless. And their fears are presented by the activists as socio-economic and political programs.”

Or,

“We hear on a daily basis the expression “war on […],”as in the “war on terror,” “war on drugs,” “war on cancer,” “war on obesity,” “war on smoking,” “war on fats,” and so on. Another term, belonging to the same militaristic family, is “survivor,” as in “cancer survivor,” “abuse survivor,” “date rape survivor,” “assault survivor,” and so on. Signs with the word “zone,” such as “Hate-speech free zone,” “Smoke-free zone,” “Drug-free zone,” “Alcoholfree zone,” “Stress-free zone,” and “guns-free zone,” make the world appear to be a mine-field, with places that are safe and those that are not, and in order to survive in it, one has to be truly vigilant. …Universities offer phone apps so that potential victims can press a button and be saved from danger. Being constantly bombarded by the words “war,” “zone,” “safe spaces,” “trigger warnings,” and “survivor” must have a psychological effect, as it likely creates a sense of threat even though it is rare that these threats are real.”

Thus, as Janowski also rightly observes: “Politics is not seen as a way of resolving conflicting interests, in which some groups win and others lose, or abandon some of their high-minded aspirations and lower their sails, moving onto problems which people with expertise can solve. The political realm looks like a spider-web created by loud fearmongers in which the rest of us are expected to entangle ourselves.”

As I have said repeatedly, this can only be gold for the geopolitical enemies of the USA is something so obvious yet so obviously ungraspable for the US elite and leaders of its intelligence agencies and military that one cannot help but feel the curtain has already come down – because there is no spirit of a nation left worth protecting.

At one point, Janowski notes of Homo Americanus – his “goal in life is to meet the demands of a purely rational social organization, devoid of eccentricity, individuality, spontaneity, and thereby life” – which is true, but what constitutes rationality in this world is one in which reason has completely been engulfed by feelings, and feelings by phobias, and phobias generated by a self whose real historical substance has been drained by an abstract and empty axiomatic ideal of equality/equity. Homo Americanus is:

“culturally impoverished, and his knowledge of other cultures is limited to occasional visits to ethnic restaurants. Any attempt to make him rooted in national tradition—through education, habits, and social mores—is seen as an onslaught on his thin identity. He even invented his own language of defense against becoming educated, that is, against the acquisition of a thick cultural identity. It is the language of “safe-spaces” and “trigger warnings.” It alarms him that there are others who claim strong cultural identity, that there are works of literature, philosophy, and art which were written from a specific perspective. Because he is not outer-directed, or is too afraid of facing the challenge of being in a world that he did not create, he builds his identity on the only thing he has— namely, his biology or sexuality, with which he experiments and which he believes can sustain him psychologically and culturally.8 His so-called culture is not part of long history of human experience that stretches to the ancient Greeks, Romans, Hebrews, Medievals, and others; it is a fragmented and arbitrary concoction of names and attitudes taken from different time periods and cultures. But even here, we encounter a new problem. His history is often simply made up—fictitious and of mythological rather than historical nature. It is easy to see that such a concept of identity has no continuous cultural history, and as such it must be hostile to any and every culture rich in records.”

That the malnourished selves are on a such a zombie-like rampage seeking to fill their lives with meaning should be no surprise. For people will do literally anything, believe anything to fill the void of meaning in their lives. All healthy cultures transmit spiritual meaning between generations.

In the US, though, where the traditional sites of spiritual transmission – the family and religion – are construed by its elite as oppressive, and where the young who go to college are inducted into a value system requiring abeyance to abstract moral ideals which ostensibly provide the key to social perfection, complete faith in their ability to fix all the wrongs of a hateful world, total shame, if white, in their traditions (which, curiously, is now commonly considered a racial phenomenon – if the US college is anything to go by, the Nazis seem to have won the day on that stupid idea).

These idols of self, “reason,” and morality are idols of death – which is why so many zombified college youth felt so alive last summer when they got to hang out with the black underclass and pillaged, looted, screamed and watched things burn so that they could at least feel – alive.

A famished spirit is as indiscriminate as a famished stomach. The feeling of least resistance is always pleasure. And hence if sex can be unmoored from the more traditional strictures as occurred in the 1960s then the starving spirit may find momentarily relief from its anomie, alienation and despair (at one point Janoswki notes that the US has the highest depression rate in the world).

Sex might be a quick release, but it also has other consequences from new life to disease and death, from joy to guilt, regret and jealousy to mental break-down and suicide, from a wedding to the break-up of families, a sexual act can topple a government and bring a kingdom to its ruin, – all of which are why traditional societies – even those like the Greeks and Romans (check out the harshness of their adultery laws), which seem to be so much freer than Christian societies have generally been extremely cautious about the rules and regulations surrounding sex. But, as Janowski correctly observes, in US Colleges,

“students show up in classes with T-shirts or with pins (the size of a hand-palm) on which it is written: “Consent is Sexy” (worn mostly by young men) and “I love Female Orgasm” (worn by young women). They are made to participate unconsciously in an ideological campaign, whose emotionally detrimental effects for their lives they are completely unaware. Knowledge of “how to do it,” taught by the “sex-masters” with college degrees, is a new rite of passage with which colleges send their graduates to the workplace. There they deepen their initiation into the American Brave New World by taking mandatory “sexual harassment training” and “sensitivity training.'”

One notes here the means in which the bodily pursuit though seemingly the objective of fulfilment is subordinate to the ideological – which for Homo Americanus today is the spirit in itself.

That sex features in such a conflicted and ideologically twisted way in the lives of Homo Americanus is evident in all manner of ways, from the hyper-sexualisation of children, to the gyrating, twerking of barely clothed nubile young women at sports events attended by families with small children, to an obsession with sexual harassment to the extent that now being a sexual harassment officer is a career, to a culture which encourages child masturbation and openness to consider non hetero-sexual relations as life style choices, to one in which sex has to be construed in terms of the nature of the power relationships involved between the parties, to tortured attempts to identify what exactly consent involves, especially when large amounts of alcohol has been imbibed, to cases of young women regretting their casual hook-ups and making false accusations of rape. Two examples provided by Janowski, which a number of readers may remember, well illustrate simply how insane the culture in the US has become when it comes to sex:

“Several years ago, we learned about two six-year-old boys—H. Y., from Canon City, Colorado and M D., from Aurora, Colorado—who were accused of sexual harassment. H.Y. was accused of kissing a girl (his age) on the hand; M.D. for singing a line from an LMFAO song, ‘I’m Sexy and I Know It,’ to a female classmate while waiting in the lunch line. The cases were considered to be of national importance judging by the fact that they were reported in The Washington Post and on national radio.
If you think this is crazy, hold on! Victoria Brooks, lecturer in law at the University of Westminster, rushed to defend Samantha against inhuman treatment when several of her fingers were broken. Samantha, it turns out, is a sex doll who ‘worked’ in a brothel in Barcelona. Human rights activists now want sex-dolls to be endowed with a consent chip. ‘It is a step toward a consent-oriented approach to sex dolls.'”

The extension of democracy into everyday life has occurred in tandem with the democratization of institutions whose historical value lay in cultivating noble qualities i.e., qualities that were decisively non-democratic – especially the classical ones of wisdom, prudence and moderation, piety, courage, and justice (as something that was concerned with the grains of complexity and traditional expectations rather than ideological formulae).

Thus Janowski draws upon Plato’s critique of the democratic soul from the Republic. For, as Plato had observed, in so far as democracy fuels the passions of greed and covetousness (pleonexia) it contributes to a psychic dissolution that crosses over into the most unconstrained, the most lascivious kind of soul and regime, the tyrant and tyranny.

When Janowski writes “to the former denizen of the Socialist paradise, the behaviour of today’s America is painfully reminiscent of the old homo sovieticus, and more the Chinese man of the period of the Cultural Revolution,” he is speaking not only from having read Plato but having lived in a satellite of homo sovieticus who also is historically astute to how easily students can be used as tools of tyranny, especially when, as happened in that revolution and is happening today, the energy of youth is harnessed to a leadership that empowers itself by destroying institutions that thwart its ambitions.

But whereas the cultural revolution was a momentary tactic in Mao’s elimination of political rivals, in today’s US, cultural revolution is the playbook behind the professional ruling class’s tactic of clientelism. This is all too evident in the acceleration of the decline of democratic institutions in the United States today.

When Janowski commenced this project, elected officials were not openly saying that the police should not be funded, nor its president and vice-president that America was a systemic racist country, and critical race theory was not (known to be) part of the curriculum in military academies. They say this because this is the kind of clientelism that has been bred into the professional classes who find a never ending supply of clients by no longer using the state to provide welfare for a group down on its luck, or experiencing the social hell of being born into a world built by the poor choices of its parents or grandparents, but recruiting permanent dependents and finding an infinitude of disparities (invariably natural, inevitable, and not even debilitating) which are proof that the system is biased and hence needs their political interference.

When a pronoun, or traditional name of a social role such as father or mother can be interpreted as a form of social injustice or oppression, one sees what an infinite front expands in the search for equity. While the Chinese have gone from overcoming the precarious position of the communist party prior to Ji taking over the reins, to inventing and expanding the deployment of 5 G, and perfecting (diabolical as it is) the nation/state/ market corporatist nexus through the Belt and Road Initiative, the US, has employed an army of lawyers and bureaucrats and HR officers to change all manner of forms and rules so that people can feel safe with their pronoun, and the CIA and FBI can now proudly recruit trans, gay and other people of “diversity.”

The US has so confused reality with representation that “The Greatest Showman” reveals more truth about US elite aspirations as taught in universities and as required by corporations – a circus and carnival celebrating the freakish – than anything that might be learnt by studying Economics, Philosophy, History, Literature (i.e., real literature, without the bollocks of theory).

On the pronoun front, Janowski discusses the case of Jordan Peterson, who refused to comply with university policy on suitable pronouns – that is because he believed (silly him) that for all their wisdom, neither university administrators, social justice advocates nor legislators had the power to command linguistic usage.

The articulate, mild-mannered, and rigorously rational Jordan Peterson who had achieved quite some fame as a Youtube personality giving Jungian inspired lectures on psychology, mythology, religion, and other matters which ideologues hate became a wanted dead or alive alt.right poster boy for a class that increasingly despises anything that deals with aspects of self-hood beyond their imbecilic formulae. What was so noticeable about the disgusting treatment dished out to Peterson by woke academics, journalists and political commentators lining up to execute Peterson for the tricoteuse among their audience – was just how politically innocuous Peterson’s teachings were.

In a normal world – one where he was not objecting against contemporary Orwellian speech mandates – Peterson would not be seen as a political thinker at all. From what I have heard of his political views, they are those of a fairly brown bread Social Democrat dealing with the limits and excesses of capital and the state. Only in a world whose elite is bent upon social extinction is such advice as try making your bed before trying to change the world seen as akin to Hitlerism. One Marvel comic, Captain America (who recently, after some six decades in the closet finally came out as gay) made Peterson a Nazi super villain.

How stupid can college educated people be, one may ask? The answer is – very. Which is why today there is a “general tendency in the U.S. to explain virtually all social, political, and economic problems as a result of prejudice or bias. No alternative diagnosis or explanation – individual or group behavior – of any problem seems to exist. Sooner or later, everything comes down to a problem of bias.”

It does not take a rocket scientist to realize that reducing everything to bias also means that everything can be cured by those who train us about our biases and how to overcome them. Hence, as Janowski observes, in his chapter “Blind Psychology and the New Road to Serfdom” the widespread usage of the Implicit Association Test (IAT) in psychology courses in America, a test that is meant to disclose the false consciousness which our ideological and moral betters detect in us – and as everyone is biased, there is an endless need of training courses to guide us into the new civility that liberal democratic America requires.

Just as communist countries required a ceaseless dedication to the exposure of false consciousness, in America today everywhere and anywhere one must be on the lookout constantly (as is now openly request in Facebook and in university classes) for people who are either an “-ist” or a “phobe.” They are to be subject, if lucky, to public shaming, a public apology (that fine old Calvinist tradition which has swept America, and is the subject of the second chapter of Homo Americanus), or economic destruction. Janowski provides example after example of people publicly apologising, or losing their jobs or reputation due to the totalitarian fusion of state, corporations, and educational institutions operating in the US. The occurrences of this so common now that none could recall any than a mere fraction of them. I quote just some of the examples that Janowski reminds his readers of:

“In October 2017, Christ Church in Alexandria, VA, of which George Washington was a founding member and vestryman in 1773, pulled down memorial plaques honoring him and General Robert E. Lee. In a letter to the congregation, the church leaders stated that: ‘The plaques in our sanctuary make some in our presence feel unsafe or unwelcome. Some visitors and guests who worship with us choose not to return because they receive an unintended message from the prominent presence of the plaques.” In August 2017, the Los Angeles City Council voted 14-1 to designate the second Monday in October (Columbus Day) as ‘Indigenous Peoples Day.’ According to the critics of Columbus Day, we need to dismantle a state-sponsored celebration of the genocide of indigenous peoples. Some of the opponents of Columbus Day made their intentions clear by attaching a placard on the monument: ‘Christian Terrorism begins in 1492.’ In June 2018, the board of American Library Association voted 12- 0 to rename the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award as the ‘Children’s Literary Legacy Award.’ Wilder is a well-known American literary figure and author of children’s books, including Little House on the Prairie, about European settlement in the Midwest. In a statement to rename the award, the Board wrote: ‘Wilder’s legacy, as represented by her body of work, includes expressions of stereotypical attitudes inconsistent with ALSC’s core values of inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsiveness.'”

Just as statues of the wrong people or representing the wrong stance have had to go, none’s contribution to the world has been so great that they cannot be made to be publicly humiliated if they make the wrong kind of joke or remark. Janowski recounts the story of the noble prize winner Tim Hunt who made the following unforgivable remark: “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab. You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry.”

As Janowski continues: “Hunt’s friend and Nobel Prize co-recipient, Sir Paul Nurse… told the Telegraph that Hunt’s “chauvinist” comments had “damaged science.…” Finally, Sir Hunt was forced to resign from The Royal Society…In a statement, the Royal Society announced: “The Royal Society believes that in order to achieve everything that it can, science needs to make the best use of the research capabilities of the entire population. Too many talented individuals do not fulfill their scientific potential because of issues such as gender and the Society is committed to helping to put this right. Sir Tim Hunt was speaking as an individual and his reported comments in no way reflect the views of the Royal Society.”

Lest anyone think that poets in North America are not as up to speed in the ideological denunciation and apologetics stakes, Janowski reminds anyone who may have forgotten of the following statement “from the editor of one-time prestigious and oldest American magazine, The Nation” after having printed a poem that apparently contained “disparaging and ableist language that has given offense and caused harm to members of several communities:”

“As poetry editors, we hold ourselves responsible for the ways in which the work we select is received. We made a serious mis-take by choosing to publish the poem ‘How-To.’ We are sorry for the pain we have caused to the many communities affected by this poem. We recognize that we must now earn your trust back. Some of our readers have asked what we were thinking. When we read the poem, we took it as a profane, over-the-top attack on the ways in which members of many groups are asked, or required, to perform the work of marginalization. We can no longer read the poem in that way.
We are currently revising our process for solicited and unsolicited submissions. But more importantly, we are listening, and we are working. We are grateful for the insightful critiques we have heard, but we know that the onus of change is on us, and we take that responsibility seriously. In the end, this decision means that we need to step back and look at not only our editing process, but at ourselves as editors.”

Since Janowski completed the book thousands of even more crazy things have happened – as I write this last week, not only have statues of Robert E Lee and Stonewall Jackson been dismantled in Charlottesville, but of Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea. Apparently, the Lewis and Clark statue has represented Sacagawea in an offensive manner.

Anyone familiar with Zamyatin, Huxley, Orwell, Koestler and such like can see immediately that the class that believes it is ushering in progress and a kind of utopia has already managed to build quite a dystopia in the US. And in Homo Americanus Janowski provides an excellent account of the fit between what is going on in the American soul and those and other prophetic works. Those of us of a certain age will recall the power that those books once exercised.

I recently read that a Professor at a US university had stopped teaching Brave New World because students today could not see anything wrong with Huxley’s world. And now what Orwell called Newspeak is as much part of our everyday world (hence over half the population think mainstream news is fake which only forces the elites to double down in their denunciations), as public denunciations and public confessionals. A “misword,” or off-color joke (as in the case of Hunt mentioned above) from a prominent figure (who is not so important to the elite that they cannot be sacrificed) inevitably leads to the process of public denunciation, public humiliation and temporary or permanent banishment.

The phrase the way to hell is paved with good intentions sprang to mind as Janowski demonstrates what far reaching consequences the seemingly, innocuous, though somewhat patronizing, concession to seventies feminists were gouged from demanding that the collective noun “man,” and pronoun “he” be interpreted as exclusively referring to the male sex, and hence a sign of women’s social subordination and exclusion. I will not repeat here the details of Janowski’s analysis, but will just say his position would probably have led to termination of his employment had he not packed up and left the USA.

When the very one-sided gender grammar war was being waged almost fifty years ago as part of a larger attempt by some women (generally authors, journalists academics and students) in the developed world to see all of history as subject to their particular socio-economic interests, concerns and claims, few asked why, if history had been so patriarchal, would women so swiftly have voting rights within a couple of generations of male suffrage? (Answer – the family was the most important unit of economic survival so it was in the interests of the labouring and middle classes to have women voting).

Feminists generally ignored the symbiotic character that is part and parcel of all group survival, or how roles enable the cultivation of certain aspects of selfhood and social being, while enabling different aspects of the real to be disclosed, accessed, and cultivated. Compulsion, like sacrifice, is a part of all social symbiosis – the part that is marshalled when the symbiosis is itself threatened by a member wanting its own gratification at the expense of the tasks it must fulfil in its role.

To be sure, the change in social reproduction and its economic conditions did involve a change of roles and hence a reaction against compulsions – and even some career obstacles that were no longer meaningful. And, yes, patriarchy had been real in so far as historically the father was invariably responsible for the protection of the family, which is a very different thing from women in the family simply existing for the pleasure of the father. (But why bother with historical and sociological complexity and nuance if you have read Marx and/ or Freud and are going to lead the world into a future free from oppression)?

Great changes require cool heads, and the euphoric mood and post-World War Two boom was one in which haste in social changes proceeded with very little caution about what it all might mean – indeed those with the most outlandish abstractions and utopian narratives prevailed, and those who had the temerity to defend the family and religion were mocked as fools.

When Monty Python’s Life of Brian came out, John Cleese and Michael Palin “debated” Malcolm Muggeridge and the Bishop of Southwark, Mervyn Stockwood, on the historical and cultural merits versus dangers of the film. Not surprisingly given the times, many of the audience thought that undergraduate humor was more incisive than the serious issues about religious mockery raised by representatives of faith that has formed nations. Say what you like about Islam, but it is not about to be blown over by undergraduate style humour.

The so-called long march through Western institutions was more a short sprint through doors long since or largely open. In keeping with almost everything else in the post-War boom, it was more posture and play (John Lennon running around in military fatigues, and Richard Neville’s Play Power sum up the mood) than bravery or sacrificial struggle.

Thus too, long after women had received the right to vote, at a time when all traditional work roles were up for grabs (partly thanks to the sexual revolution, and the decline of the single family wage-earner and living family wage), and going to college was a common choice for women with professional ambitions, the cause of eliminating the collective noun “man” was just one more in a grab-bag full of demands by a radicalized youth demanding to take over the curricula (which in the Humanities was far too intellectually demanding for kids wanting to smoke pot, engage in talk fests, have sex and listen to cool music – anyway all you needed to really know was that it was just the system, ya know – capitalism, man).

To be sure, in the USA, and Australasia there was a reasonable element to the radicalization, viz. opposition to a war in a land that most people knew nothing about. But what may have been (if one ignores international diplomacy and the matter of honoring alliances) a reasonable opposition to the war went hand in hand with the adoption of the Soviet/Cold War style anti-capitalist propaganda – feminists not to be outdone in the stooge department frequently equated patriarchy with capitalism.

Like the woke youth of today and the Russian youth of the 19th century or the German youth of the 1930s, it was a youth who knew little about anything, but who were totally convinced that the little they knew sufficed to making the world a better place. For the feminists, any attempt to understand social roles and obligation through historical and cultural analysis were only permissible – courtesy of J.S. Mill – if the idea that men were the oppressors of women was the purpose for undertaking the analysis as well as its conclusion.

It is astonishing that the most educated and privileged members of this generation of young men and women, portrayed themselves as if their suffering (not enough sex, or drugs to go with the rock n’ roll?) was akin to the victims of the holocaust or gulags (though they rarely referenced the gulags.) Reflecting upon this hypocrisy and idiocy almost makes me want to join Black Lives Matter, were it not for the fact that movement is also full of white college educated kids as well as black privileged people crying, “Gimme gimme, I want I want.”

The significance of the easy victory over the meaning of “man” and pronoun replacement (none really cared that much to engage in a serious linguistic/ sociological/ historical fight over it, and any who did were made to look like chauvinist meanies) is not only visible in feminist studies and the like dictating our understanding of the past, but it has even entered this year into the US House rules that stipulate that “familial relationships like father, daughter, and niece will be replaced by gender-neutral equivalents like parent, child, and sibling’s child.”

That the US House has become the centre of the kind of language that is to be used throughout all the institutions is simply a forerunner to the fact that anyone and everyone will be able to be monitored on the basis of what they say and think. Big Brother has been cleaned up to be gender fluid.

And, one can be sure that there are plenty of educated young American women today who, if given a revised copy of 1984, in which the society were identical in every respect to Orwell’s original, other than it was presided over by Big Mother, would go around saying how they wished they lived in that world. But one might think, would that not be reinforcing traditional roles? To which the answer is: that’s OK when done in a good enough cause such as ensuring absolute conformity and compliance to our imbecilic orthodoxy.

Of the various prophets of dystopia, like myself, Janowski is particularly partial to the genius of Dostoevsky. He had looked into the soul of the radical youth of the generation of the 1860s and 70s and seen demons. He also foresaw the kind of diabolical world that would be requisite for the man-god, a creation of the scientistic rational calculable self. Ultimately this would be a world in which number replaces names so that all vestiges of the individual human soul could be eliminated. Zamyatin picks this insight up in his novel We, where his characters have numbers not names.

When one considers that naming is one of the most primordial acts of human orientation and how the transmutation of life is accompanied by the creation of new names, and the potential to reevaluate the old, one can appreciate that the creation of nameless selves involves completely eliminating the most elemental act of orientation and collective association.

It was the Enlightenment that first sought to rename the entire world on the basis of an understanding unperturbed by the fire of the imagination. We have not yet dispensed with names, but we have dispensed with their historical connectedness. In a world where the young can so easily equate Hitler with Churchill it is all too evident that names now are little more than numbers, more specifically algorithms (crafted by engineers for google, Facebook, Youtube, etc.) for passing on information in accordance with one’s taste and interests, but also in accordance with what the creators of the algorithms think you should be able to have access to.

Toward the conclusion of Homo Americanus, Janowski presents a number of proposals (the following are more or less quoted verbatim) for restoring sanity to the American soul and American society at large.

They include: limiting the egalitarian propaganda that permeates democratic societies; deregulating human relationships, so that the state, legal system, schools, and employers must refrain from telling people how to act; reviving the notion of civility, and condemning certain forms of toxic behavior that are justified on multicultural grounds; restricting police and legal involvement to matters that concern someone’s physical safety, whilst prohibiting them from involvement in ethical regulations concerning how men and women act under peaceful conditions; tempering environmental activism; limiting authority over our decisions, and common-sense and tradition; rescuing “education from the hands of the multicultural ideologues,” and reinstating “old intellectual criteria into education for the sole purpose of teaching students objectivity;” ensuring that colleges and universities return to the pursuit of truth; and completely abandoning the idea of equality that holds collectivist ideology together.

I do not object to any of these proposals, but the fact that such proposals are even aired as the solution to our problems suggest the extent of the social sickness and how little chance there is of a philosophical cure, at least any time in the foreseeable future. Janowski, like Legutko, is an observant and thoughtful man.

But the problem is that the modern West has created an elite where thoughtlessness – imbecility – and the pursuit of self-destruction are not only all of a piece, but are the professional requirement of institutional power. And while bad ideas are intrinsic to the problem, and while these ideas are the result of the perversity of thought that occurs through the mutation of (poor) philosophy into ideology, it is the sociological incarnation of ideas that towers over those of us who are able to get along in an imperfect world, but find living in an insane one a far greater tribulation.

And that is the problem we in the West now face with the alliance of bad philosophy, government, business and our educational system – at tertiary and school level. For these institutions are enthusiastically controlled by people with captive minds and souls who have no idea they are captive. They are the result and the perpetrators of the metaphysics of horror. We are living within a brainwashing operation of such success, that the people who are least affected by it are the people furthest away from the centres and institutions of “power.”

With all the hot air expended upon rights’ talk, rights do not sustain social virtues – our most valuable practices have to be repeated daily to be sustained. Our elite has no idea of what the best practices (to use another formulation that the managerialists have turned into a cliché) of the past have been because they have substituted the complexities of the real world for a small smattering of ideas, they have substituted what they contain in their paltry pea brains for the world.

We all have pea sized brains – and if we all fessed up to that, we might just be less inclined to equate moral rhetoric with moral substance, to embrace and enforce simple solutions which generate even more difficult problems, and a little more forgiving of each other. They think by endlessly appealing to emancipation and equity or chattering about oppression and inequality they are really dealing with reality. Of course, just a little digging would always reveal conundrums, complexities, paradoxes, which would quickly expose how paltry and inadequate these terms are.

The elite do not know, for example, because they do not bother to inquire, how widespread slavery has been and still is outside of the West. It matters for nothing that having allowed slavery to exist in the US meant that even those who wanted to eliminate it overnight had to deal with the question of what would happen to ex-slaves, how long would it take to find employment, how could they survive from day to day – of course, such economic fundamentals, as have been raised by Thomas Sowell’s “The Real History of Slavery,” in his Black Rednecks and White Liberals, are not the concern of people who know everything and just need to hold office and be on a payroll to spot who is biased and solve all our social problems with crayons, butchers paper, rotten fruit, the stocks, and the threat of unemployment.

Likewise, people who insist that nothing has changed for blacks in America since slavery care nothing for the fact that some 300,000 white men gave their lives up in the United States, to destroy slavery, at a time when it was still widely practiced in other parts of the globe.

Those who say nothing has changed, and we have to do more, like take a knee, give random reparations to any black person; or, if white, make sincere public displays of how sorry we are for being white, and how schooled we have been in the damage caused by whiteness – not only give up nothing but may end up as much on a winner as the white Robin DiAngelo who earns nearly a million dollars a year from book sales and speeches. They either do not care or know nothing of the history or extent of white enslavement. They love to use the word progress, but are indifferent to, or ignorant of the fact that the overcoming of slavery in the West was indeed an indication that finally, in some small way, the human race in some part of the world had made a little progress.

Instead of knowing how ubiquitous slavery had been, they have been paralysed by their past, have preferred myth to truth, and have sought to shame others for living in a world that has been intrinsic to the making of this one. They have believed that they are so much better than all that have lived before them. The truth is that people who think this way end inevitably up being so much worse. In the twentieth century the most toxic ideas were to believe that one’s class or race dictated who should prosper or suffer, live or die. Shockingly, those ideas did not die with Bolshevism and Nazism, but found new ways to circulate and seize the minds of those dedicated to progress.

One might recall that these ideologies loved talking about either equality and/ or community. And like our current Liberal totalitarianism: they were ruthless in denouncing and persecuting their critics; they required the most careful attention to what was said, and how it was said; they used every media at their disposal; they both drew upon the energy of youth and the ambitions of technocrats and the ideas that fitted the world-view of their respective intelligentsia; they received serious financial support (yes, the Bolsheviks too – see e.g., Richard B. Spence’s Wall Street and the Russian Revolution: 1905-1925); and they seized power in societies beset with serious problems by offering slogans and simple solutions; and when in power they delivered devastation. Societies need elites – but an elite that denies that it is an elite, which makes no sacrifices but decides who must be sacrificed, which gains its power by directing hate between groups, while claiming to be against the haters is nothing but a fraud squad.

Would that the elite of the West bother to learn something from those pesky Poles. In the meantime, we can at least celebrate that we have before us writings by those who refused to go along with the tyranny of imbecility and cruelty, as well as those who recognize some of the sources of the sickness that now afflicts the West.

I think all parents wish that their children would learn from the hard-earned lessons of their parents’ sufferings – but they rarely do. Not that I am speaking as a parent, but as someone who was lucky enough to belong to a generation whose parents had been in and emerged from hell, it gives people like myself who can see what the West is doing no joy in seeing them create hell. To the older ones (that is my contemporaries) who do it solely for profit and position, I say shame on them for not learning anything about life other than mouthing platitudes, deluding themselves and the young, and making money while doing so.

To the younger ones who are their stooges, I say pity them for their ignorance, youthful pride, and having been subject to even greater monsters of ignorance. To the pesky Poles I say praise and thanks to you for your bravery and thoughtfulness. I wish more in the West would learn from you.

And, finally, let us acclaim: pesks of the planet unite, you have nothing to lose but your subordination to an imbecilic elite, who are determined to sacrifice you for everyone’s good, especially their’s.


Wayne Cristaudo is a philosopher, author, and educator, who has published over a dozen books.


The featured image shows, “The Resurrection of Poland,” by Władysław Barwicki, painted ca. 1918.

High Taxes And Unemployment

According to a recent study authorized by the National Association of Manufacturers, President Biden’s proposed tax hikes will indeed cause unemployment. In the view of NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons, it is possible to quantify the damage to the economy: “one million lost jobs in the first two years.” The research was undertaken by Rice University economists John W. Diamond and George R. Zodrow.

To be sure, there is some superficial plausibility to this contention of the employers’ association and these economists. If the government takes additional funds out of the private sector, the latter will indeed have less money with which to employ people.

But what will the government do with its additional revenues? Why, it will create other employment opportunities. It might do so by subsidizing industries that will help reduce carbon emissions, such as those that provide energy via wind, water, solar, etc. It will almost certainly hire people to upgrade roads and bridges, and build new ones. The health field can certainly use a few more, ok, a lot more, doctors and nurses; hence, financial support for medical education.

But suppose that Mr. Biden stuffs all this additional tax money into his mattress; e.g., does absolutely nothing with it. Will that not create horrendous unemployment? Not a bit of it. Prices will then be lower than otherwise would have been the case (thanks to the real balance effect), and everyone’s money holdings will be that much more valuable. Since jobs come from revenues, this will also reduce joblessness. Alternatively, and just as unlikely, posit that the Biden administration uses the extra funds garnered by this tax increase to purchase goods and services from abroad. Will that promote domestic unemployment? No, again. For those abroad will use these payments to purchase our products, again increasing job slots.

Lookit, if high taxes cause unemployment, then states like New York, New Jersey, Illinois, California, Massachusetts should have vastly higher unemployment rates than low tax states such as Arkansas, Louisiana Mississippi. But this simply does not occur. Similarly, unemployment rates ought to be positively correlated with high taxes across nations, and that does not prevail either.

Does this mean that Biden’s tax policy is good for the economy? That is highly disputable, and entirely a different matter. All we can say for sure, on the basis of elementary economics, is that this will mean a transfer, or redeployment, but not unemployment. People will be shifted from some jobs, companies and industries to others, based on this plan, but there need be no overall increase in unemployment, after these shifts occur. Yes, there might well be a temporary increase in joblessness while this reallocation occurs, but that would be true of any shift in policy. Should Mr. Biden be required to maintain each and every policy of his predecessor? Not on the basis of increasing unemployment, unless he does so.

It is perfectly understandable for Republicans, the National Association of Manufacturers and other such groups to throw everything possible at this present administration’s tax policy and hope that something sticks. But let us not toss basic economics out the window. Higher taxes, to be sure, have some drawbacks; but unemployment is not one of them.


Walter Block is the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics at Loyola University, New Orleans.


The featured images shows, “Highway 99,” by Ronald Debs Ginther; painted March, 1933.

Wearing The Full Armor Of God

When Ron DeSantis, Florida’s conservative Republican governor and likely presidential candidate, said recently we need to put on the “full armor of God,” the media looked at him like he was crazy—or from another planet. But his supporters gave him a standing ovation.

As secular liberals, most of the press have no familiarity with the phrase, its origins, theology, or importance. They are bigots against religion and unschooled in what used to be the norms of American life, churches, and culture.

The press and nearly our entire elite ruling class, in academia, sports, politics, media, business, and culture are biblically illiterate and have no idea what the Jar of Nar (John 12:3) refers to; where the road to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-35) led or who travelled on it; or even what happened in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26: 36-46).

Let me brief them on the context, content, and significance of the “full armor of God,” which are, of course, the words of St. Paul, found in Ephesians 6: 10-18. Yes, that is a book in the New Testament.

Paul, formerly Saul, was a Hellenized Jew and a Pharisee who converted to Christianity on the road to Damascus. This turning point in his life totally transformed him from a persecutor of Jesus’ followers into Christ’s primary missionary throughout all of Asia Minor. In the Acts of the Apostles and various letters to the churches of the ancient world—which are critical parts of the Bible—he inspired and offered sacred words of God.

The full armor of God that Christians are called upon to wear comprises: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit.

This armor of God is a metaphor that Paul (and now DeSantis) used to remind Christians about the spiritual battle they confront. It describes the protection the Lord makes available to be strong, to share his mighty powers, and to take a stand against the devilish schemes and temptations of this world.

The struggle Paul reminds us of is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers and principalities of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. DeSantis knows his enemies and they are already after him as an heir apparent to Trump.

By suiting up, so to speak, we can, like the governor of Florida, with much prayer and practice, implement the habits of God. What then exactly are these pieces of armor? I am sure the press is curious and dumbfounded when Christians—Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals, Charismatics, Mormons, and the Orthodox branches—use such language, which is their long tradition. I will explain.

The Belt Of Truth

The first and central piece of armor is the belt of truth. It is, by its very definition, what is true and therefore—not false. Every other piece of armor is attached to truth. We live in a constant battle of truth and light against falsehood and darkness. We need to cover ourselves in God’s word—His truth, not man’s lies and ideologies.

The Breastplate Of Righteousness

As a gift of God righteousness protects believers from sinful entanglements. It gives the heart of God. Obedience is the way of the Lord and this breastplate, when in place, provides that protection.

The Gospel Of Peace

Peace is an attribute of the Lord’s very person. In Greek it means a whole character. The Gospels, which brought “good news” also bring forgiveness and access to God through faith in Christ. The result of that faith is a deep and abiding peace. Paul in his various letters constantly reminds believers, often in travail and under persecution, to “stand firm.”

The Shield Of Faith

Taking up the shield of faith refers to the Roman soldiers’ shields dipped in water to extinguish fiery darts. The Christian shield is dipped in the water of God’s holy word. It is replenished and made real by hearing and doing the word of God. Faith is increased when tested.

The Helmet Of Salvation

Salvation is a helmet that comes from trust in the death and resurrection of Christ. It is also realized as a long and slow process of sanctification. The battlefield of the mind is the primary place where the spiritual battle is fought. As Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will.”

The Sword Of The Spirit

This last piece of armor is God’s word itself. It is both offensive and defensive. When tempted by Satan, like Jesus in the desert, followers can find solace and comfort but just as critical, spiritual power, by using this weapon.

The press can now realize how strange and distant this all seems to their radically secular, liberal, atheist minds. This is why they hate devout believers like DeSantis, and conservatives generally. While they make noises about freedom of conscience, in fact, the Left wants the world rid of this and all theological content. For them there is no transcendence and only the material life of the flesh. It scares the hell out of them—and well it should.

In the face of foreign enemies who want to kill or enslave us, the full armor is the key differentiator between America and her communist adversaries. In these times of decadent and predatory cultures of death—from rap music to film to unlawful behavior and abortion on demand—the full armor is the alternative along with the civilized and ordered life, realized in America’s founding and faithfully lived for generations by her people.

In this unprecedented period of continual falsehoods against America—alleging its role in the world as a racist, rogue power—the full armor is the defense of faithful everyday Americans who are besieged and attacked. In our era of leftist politicians engaged in constant deception and pure evil, the full armor is the remnant of a believing past and a call to a better and faithful future. It is the spiritual essence of—making America great again.

Is there any reason why the detractors of DeSantis wouldn’t absolutely fear the full armor of God?


Theodore Roosevelt Malloch, scholar-diplomat-strategist, is CEO of the thought leadership firm The Roosevelt Group. He is the author of 18 books, including, The Plot to Destroy Trump and, with Felipe J. Cuello, Trump’s World: GEO DEUS. He appears regularly in the media, as a keynote speaker, and on television around the world. This article appeared in American Greatness.


The featured image shows an allegory of the miles christianus, from the Summa Vitiorum by William Peraldus, mid 13th century.