Arab Science: Dispelling The Ambiguity

Introduction

In 1883, Ernest Renan gave a lecture at the Sorbonne entitled, “Islamism and Science” (later published by Calmann-Lévy). It was the rationalist credo of a man of science who was familiar with history. Above all, it had the merit and interest of calling attention to an ambiguity, which had not escaped the Semitizer that he was, and which is contained in these words: “Arab science, Muslim civilization, Muslim science”.

This ambiguity has never been dispelled, and it is urgent to do so. Ernest Renan can actually be used in doing so.

His observation is simple: From about the year 775 until about the middle of the thirteenth century, there can be no doubt that there were very distinguished scholars and thinkers in Muslim countries. From this assumption was constructed the idea of an “Arab science,” of a “Muslim civilization” (today named as, “Islam, cradle of civilization”), even of a “Muslim science.” The ambiguity, meanwhile, has far from disappeared.

The Prominent Role Of Persia And Eastern Christians

What happened from the Hegira to the year 775, in other words, during the reign of the first four caliphs? Of course, “Omar did not burn the library of Alexandria;” but the principle that he conquered the world is infinitely more destructive: it attacks scholarly research and the very work of the mind. There is nothing more foreign to what can be called the “philosophy of science” than the first century of Islam.

Under the first four caliphs, there were no intellectual movements of a secular character. Islam was, “in the moment of conquest,” as the orientalists of the 19th century put it euphemistically, that is largely occupied with conquering, dominating, sowing desolation and ravaging the old lands of civilization.

But around the year 750, Persia gained the upper hand. It saw the dynasty of the children of Abbas come to triumph over the children of the Beni-Omeyrra. In other words, Persia chose the Abbasids against the Umayyads. The center of Islam was transported to the Tigris-Euphrates region.

This is where the traces of one of the most brilliant civilizations that the East has known can be found: that of the Sassanid Persians, who defeated the Arsacid Parthians, and took up the torch from the Achaemenids, whose brilliant state had been destroyed by Alexander. This Sassanid civilization experienced its zenith under the reign of Khosrow I Anushirvan. All tradition recognizes him as a great king. He did not just try to merely continue and resume a tradition of art and industry that had flourished for centuries; rather, he added to it an intellectual endeavor of great openness. Driven from Constantinople, the Eastern part of Greek philosophy took refuge in Persia.

Khosrow had books translated from India, which he commanded his personal physician, Burzoe, to personally research. The Fables of Bidpaï constitute one of the sources of our fabulist, Jean de la Fontaine. But this book disappeared when the Muslim armies arrived on the Iranian plateau, when the river, according to tradition, ran black with the ink of books. It was only later that this book of wisdom was rediscovered and translated from Pahlavi (Middle Persian) into Arabic, as Kalila wa Dimna , by Ibn al-Muqaffa, a Persian zindiq who had converted to Islam.

Above all, Christians of all persuasions formed the largest part of the population, for by then Persia was largely Christianized. They were well-versed in Greek science and philosophy, and medicine was entirely in their hands. Bishops were logicians, geometers. Khusrow founded the Academy of Gundishapur, the first medical university, a kind of “Silicone Valley” of its day.

When the followers of Muhammad arrived on the Iranian plateau, they put a stop to all this development for a hundred years.

But a century later, the rise of the Abbasids was akin to a resurrection of the brilliance of Khusrow Anushirvan. The Abbasids were like resurrected Sassanids. Persian troops, Persian leaders were at the head of this revolution. The founders – Abul-Abbas and especially Mansur, surrounded themselves with Persians. The intimate advisers of the princes, the prime ministers, were the Barmakids, a family from ancient Persia, who had converted to Islam late and without conviction. Christians soon surrounded these little believing caliphs – and with a sort of exclusive privilege, became their first doctors. The city of Harran, which remained pagan, and which had kept all the scientific tradition of the Greeks (and no doubt Indian) antiquity, as well as Syriac, provided the new school with a considerable contingent of scholars – foreign to the new revealed religion – especially skilled astronomers.

Baghdad thus stood as the capital of this resurgent Persia. All the great surviving tradition of the Gundishapur school was transported there.

Greco-Sassanid Science

Certainly, the language of conquest cannot be supplanted, religion cannot be completely denied. But the spirit of this new civilization was essentially mixed: The Parsis, the Christians, won. The administration, (especially the police) was in Christian hands.

All of these brilliant caliphs were hardly Muslims, and if they externally practiced the religion of which they were leaders, their spirit was elsewhere. They sought out the learning of India, old Persia and Greece. From time to time, the pietists appeared, and the caliph of the moment sacrificed his unfaithful friends or free thinkers. Then the breath of independence took hold again and he called back his scholars and his companions of pleasure.

The fables of the One Thousand and One Nights have fixed the features of this civilization, a curious mixture of official rigor and concealed laxity, where the serious arts, like those of the joyful life, flourished, thanks to the protection of misguided rulers of a fanatic religion.

The Syrian Christian doctors, continuers of the last Greek schools, well versed in philosophy, mathematics, medicine and astronomy were then employed by the caliphs to translate into Arabic the encyclopedia of Aristotle, Euclid, Galen, Ptolemy – the entire body of Greek science, but also Syriac, and undoubtedly also Indian.

A few more active minds were beginning to speculate on the eternal mysteries, with Al-Kindi in the lead. They were called filsuf; today they say falsafa; and afterwards, this exotic word was taken up within Islam but with a negative connotation. But rationalism prospered there: a sort of philosophical society, “Brethren of Purity” began to publish a philosophical encyclopedia; Al Fârâbî and Avicenna emerged; chemistry continued its underground work.

Muslim Spain took up these studies after the East; the Jews bring an active component of the collaboration there. Men like Avempace, Abubacer, Averroes elevated philosophical thought in the twelfth century to new heights.

This great ensemble which is called “Arabic” is called so only because what it wrote was in Arabic – and again, it also passed through a powerful Syriac corpus, largely destroyed, deliberately, in order to erase the traces of any existence of this Eastern Christianity. In fact, this “Arab science” was above all Greco-Sassanid. And a deep Christian leaven was its ferment.

The Awakening Of Europe

Science should have reached the West through Byzantium. But on the one hand, the treasures that they did not read, the Byzantines did not deign to share, and on the other hand, between the Latin world and the Byzantine world, religious discussions had created a deep antipathy, reinforced by the crusade of 1204. What Europe could not get from the libraries of Constantinople, where the originals were located, she sought out in the often-mediocre translations of a language which did not lend itself to rendering Greek thought, with all its abstraction and its subtleties.

It was through the Syriac and Arabic translations of books on Greek science and philosophy that Europe received the leaven of ancient tradition, necessary for the blossoming of its genius. For Greek science to reach Europe, it had to pass through Syria, Baghdad, Cordoba and Toledo. A poorly translated Greek science was sought out in Spain.

By the time Averroès died in Morocco, lonely and abandoned, Europe was on the rise. But it was predominantly Latin in its culture, and it had no Hellenists. We would have to wait another three hundred years for a Lefèvre d´Etaples, or a Budé.

From 1130 to 1150, an active college of translators, established in Toledo under the patronage of Archbishop Raymond, translated the most important works of this “Greco-Sassanid science in the Arabic language” into Latin. From the beginning of the thirteenth century, the Arab Aristotle entered the University of Paris. He had earlier entered the orbis litterarum through Boethius, but Boethius was not able to translate anything more than the Organon.

From around 1275, two shifts appeared. The first saw the Muslim countries enter into a state of the steepest decline. The second saw Western Europe resolutely take the path of the scientific search for truth. By the time Averroes became famous in the Latin schools, he was entirely forgotten by his co-religionists.

After the year 1200, there was no longer a single renowned philosopher within Islam. From 1200, philosophy and science were abolished in Muslim countries: philosophical manuscripts were destroyed (they burned the books of Averroes). Astronomy alone was tolerated to determine the direction of prayer.

Then the Turks took hegemony of Islam and manifested a complete lack of philosophical and scientific spirit. Apart from a few rare exceptions, like Ibn-Khaldun, Islam no longer had a broad mind. It killed off science and philosophy in its midst. It also killed a lot of men, women, children; and when it didn’t kill them, it oppressed them.

Among all the philosophers and scholars, only one was Arab: Al-Kindi. All the others were Persians, Transoxians – people from Bokhara and Samarkand (in other words from Central Asia), and Spaniards – from Cordoba, Seville. They used Arabic because it was the language of the dominant who had imposed themselves. In the 14th and 15th centuries, historians or historiographers of Islam were compilers and translators of encyclopedists – they did not innovate. But this corpus would reach nascent orientalist science, through Antoine Galland, then stationed in Constantinople. And, above all, thanks to the compilation work of Barthelemy d´Herbelot, the author of the Bibliothèque orientale.

Giving Arabia credit for science and philosophy is like giving credit for Latin Christian literature, the Scholastics, the Renaissance, the science of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to Rome, because it is written in Latin.

Arab Science Or Muslim Science?

This science was not Arab. But was it Muslim? No, because this movement was the joint work of Persians, Christians, Jews, Harannians, (inhabitants of Harran), Ismailis and Muslims (who inwardly revolted against their own religion). This great movement received nothing but curses from Orthodox Muslims: Mamun was damned by theologians (the misfortunes which afflicted his reign were regarded as punishments for his tolerance of doctrines foreign to Islam). It was not uncommon for those who cultivated these studies to be called sendiks or zendiks – they were beaten in the streets, their houses burned down, and often the authorities put them to death.

Islam had always persecuted science and philosophy. Then it ended up suffocating both.

We must therefore distinguish three periods. The first, from the Hegira to the 7th century, is a period of conquest and crimes. But also barely concealed disbelief. The first Arabs, who joined the movement hardly believed in the Prophet’s mission.

Second, from the 7th to the 12th century, Islam, undermined by sects and tempered by a species of Protestantism (mutazilism) was less organized and much less fanatic than it was in the second age yet to come, and the work of the mind succeeded in maintaining itself.

Third came the absolute reign of dogma, without any possible separation of the spiritual and the temporal.

In the first half of the Middle Ages (the second period), Islam supported philosophy because it could not prevent it, for the it was without cohesion, and thus poorly equipped for terror. The policing was in Christian hands and was mainly engaged in pursuing Alid intrigues.

When Islam gained truly believing masses, it stifled everything. But at the same time, it destroyed the salt of the earth and the leaven which makes the dough rise. It turned conquered countries into regions that were closed to the rational cultivation of the mind. For Islam, research was pointless, frivolous, godless; the science of nature was an offense against God; historical science applying to times before Islam might revive old errors – and applying science to Islam might lay bare the extent of its devastation and its power of destruction and desolation.

Anyone who yet maintains a little lucidity today cannot fail to see the current inferiority of Muslim countries: the decadence of governed states, the intellectual poverty of those who derive their culture and education from this religion alone, and the boundless contempt. for other religions, which then authorizes all persecutions, exactions and the worst crimes of our times. And then there is the treatment inflicted on women. Believing that God gives fortune and power to whomever he sees fit, Islam has the deepest contempt for education, for science, and for everything that makes up the European spirit.

Conclusion

To all appearances, the Muslim world has entered a sort of fourth period. On the one hand, it has a mass of believers who have never questioned their doctrine, and who more often than not know nothing about the Koran which is not translated into their language. On the other hand, it has an army of fanatics. An army, and not just a few intellectuals – determined to do battle with a Europe that for several centuries held the destiny of the world in its hands. But which no longer holds them.

Islam intends to establish the kingdom of Allah on earth, which involves converting all peoples, and bringing the whole world under its own Law, the law of submission and oppression.

Conversion to Islam removes all religious diversity in the world. But not only that – It eliminates ethnic diversity: the Berber, the Sudanese, the Circassian, the Afghan, the Malay, the Egyptian, the Nubian who have become Muslims are that no longer. They are Muslims. Persia alone was an exception. French, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Swabian, Croatian who have become Muslims will no longer be all those. They will only be Muslims.


Marion Duvauchel is a historian of religions and holds a PhD in philosophy. She has published widely, and has taught in various places, including France, Morocco, Qatar, and Cambodia.

(The original article in French was translated by N. Dass)


The featured image shows an imaginary debate between Averroes and Porphyry, from Monfredo de Monte Imperiali’s Liber de herbis, 14th century.

Philosophical Anthropology. Part 1: Giambattista Vico

Introduction

This is the first of a three part “essay” on three thinkers—Giambattista Vico, Johann Georg Hamann and Johann Gottfried Herder—who were pioneers of a more historically sensitive anthropological and dialogical style of philosophy than the philosophies that have done so much to shape and do so much damage in the modern world. Originally what are now three essays were the final part of my book, Idolizing the Idea: A Critical History of Modern Philosophy. When I finally found a publisher willing to take on a book that was deeply critical of both major paradigms of contemporary philosophy, which are commonly (if not very accurately) termed analytic and continental philosophy, they nevertheless baulked at a 200,000-word manuscript by a writer from the academic boondocks with no reputation. I had no choice but to cut the final section, which, was for me the best part.

I had intended to write a second volume in which I would start with them, but when the Postil expressed interest in them, I thought I could spare any potential readers my tendency for prolixity. I only raise this point about their original context as chapters from a book criticising how modern philosophy has repeatedly succumbed to what I call the idolatry of the idea. That is modern philosophies—including ones which insist upon not succumbing to the sweet sirens of abstract ideas by being faithful to history (its spirits or laws) (Hegel and Marx ), or the earth (Nietzsche, and the positivists and empiricists), or Being (Heidegger), or anti-totalism (post-structuralists)—constantly set up some unassailable idea, principle or model which it uses to judge us and our world, and what it repeatedly does is try and squeeze us into the idea. I call this position idea-ist—it is not the same as idealism, because materialists are as much idea-ists as idealists.

I, following the German Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig, who made this same point, also call this the know-All position. For it is based upon the belief that what the philosopher knows is the essence of things, or the All that really needs to be known. Religion is by its very nature dogmatic. And that is its strength—for its proscriptions proceed from (a) God, while our powers of reasoning are limited. That our powers of reasoning are very limited indeed is manifestly confirmed by philosophers themselves who do not agree on much at all, especially the larger questions of the nature of truth, or goodness. After more than two thousand years one may have thought if there were a truth it would have been found and appreciated at least by the philosophers who have gone in search of it.

In my book, I argue that what keeps happening in philosophy is that the questions keep shifting, and this has much to do with why the answers differ so much. I think this confirms the value of philosophy, but it is a confirmation that requires philosophers to have better appreciation of what they can and cannot do well. But such appreciation requires not succumbing to the temptation to think we know the All—and to accept that reality is, to use a religious term, “revealed.”

This in turn also means giving up another common philosophical habit—viz., the dismissal of very important contingencies which impact upon us and our world because the model or principle governing a philosophical position has occluded them. But as soon as philosophers think they know the essence of the world or us or history or whatever they think is the key to it All, they set up an optic of occlusion—and subsequently all manner of very important things become dismissed and widely ignored. Thus, for example, Heidegger dismisses mere empirical history as unimportant so he can focus upon the history of metaphysics and its role in shaping our world, but, as I argued in Idolizing, this is foolish in that it leads to the belief that the only things that matter are what metaphysics has done, or what Heidegger himself takes as an alternative voicing to metaphysics, viz., poetry can do.

I do not wish to repeat criticisms about modern philosophy that I have made elsewhere, but I will repeat one other point I made in that book: the development of modern philosophy has created a metaphysical dyad of “determinism” (we are determined by laws and/or a system), and “voluntarism” (we can make the world and ourselves the way we want). And both of these one-sided views of life are false—and it does not become true by simply oscillating between them as Marx and Nietzsche or the contemporary progressives, who see capital, or gender, sexuality or race as determining people’s behaviour, unless, like them, they can acknowledge it and thus change the world to make it how they want.

Let me be clear, principles and ideas can be very important, and the word idea is a perfectly useful word. Likewise, we have all sorts of ideas about all sorts of things, but in our day-to-day world we can easily distinguish between doing something and having a philosophy about doing something, and we can all see that the doing need not really be subordinate to the philosophy if we want to do it well. I might write on the Philosophy of Education or the Philosophy of Running or the Philosophy of Friendship or the Philosophy of Morals, or the Philosophy of Art and be a terrible educator, runner, friend, person and artist or even connoisseur of the arts. The philosophy is just a means to something—and we and our deeds are the something that we have knowledge for. At its best philosophy can help us organize the information we have—in this sense it can help us think better, but it is not a stand along thing. If someone is a terrible “reader” of affairs or people or the world, philosophy will not be that helpful.

The stuff we think with and about generally does not come from philosophy, unless we are thinking of some very specific philosophical thing; but even then, the information and associations we draw upon which can help us think better even about a philosophical claim or formulation is extra-philosophical. Likewise, although sometimes we may notice something with our senses that makes us reflect upon other associations or information we have and also while some kinds of activities and observations are conducted methodically, a great deal of what comes to mind when we think come from the names and words which trigger our feelings and other associations. And the names and words—and the value and weight we ascribe to them—in the overwhelming number of cases have arisen from collective experience and response to events.

Thus, it is when I speak of idea-ism I am talking of the tendency to take our ideas for the world and our actions as if they were all we needed to know, or even the most important thing. Yet it is obviously the case that the world and action are, with the aforementioned exception when a sensation is decisive, mediated in thought as names and words. I strongly recommend the works of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy and Franz Rosenzweig who have made exhaustive cases for why names matter, and why ideas, and the philosophical fixation with ideas is a dangerous thing. Idolizing the Idea was in many ways simply a detailed account of the history of this fixation within modernity, and it was undertaken because this tendency has gone hand in hand with a more ideocratic and ideologically driven kind of politics and sociality that is making us strangers to ourselves and each other and making us spiritually sick.

The final section of my book was intended to make the case for the alternative to philosophical know-all-ism, and idea-ism that had already been undertaken by Vico, Hamann and Herder. Vico and Herder have widely been hailed as precursors of anthropology, even if their readership is, as with Hamann, almost excusive to scholars of their works, all three are also important figures in the history of hermeneutics. But their importance has generally been pretty limited in terms of the more dominant currents of philosophy. Kierkegaard loved Hamann, and Hamann was also appreciated by contemporaries such as Schelling and Hegel—but most Histories of Philosophy do not devote a chapter to him or Herder, or Vico.

Anyone familiar with Isaiah Berlin will have immediately recognized that they are the subject matter of one of his books, Three Critics of the Enlightenment: Vico, Hamann, Herder, a work that took a previously unpublished essay by Berlin on Hamann and added it to the early book Vico and Herder. Berlin’s discussion of the three is scholarly and judicious, if somewhat uneven. I think he is most comfortable and perceptive with Vico, he genuinely appreciates Herder, but I do not think he conveys just how encyclopaedic and astutely philosophical Herder is, and I do not think he “gets” what Hamann was doing at all.

But my major criticism of Berlin is what I consider to be the simplistic way he sets up two camps, those who are on the side of Enlightenment and reason and science, and those, like Vico, Herder and Hamann who aren’t. Clearly, he has some sympathy with their objections to the Enlightenment, but he sees rampant nationalism and Nazism as the political-cultural progeny of the anti-Enlightenment. I just find this a very unhelpful and unconvincing way to think not only about them and their legacy, but philosophy and ideas and movements more generally. I have no intention of giving a developed critique of Berlin, and I do not want to give the impression that Berlin is all wrong or not worth reading, I will just say that what follows is an alternative to his way of thinking about the three and their significance.

As will be evident from the above, my interest in Vico, Hamann and Herder cannot really be separated from a more general view about philosophy which I have developed over almost fifty years, and which is a view that, to put it mildly, is not widely known or shared. Thus, I beg the reader’s indulgence for the following introductory lead into the essays on Vico, Hamann and Herder, as a way of better preparing him for what it is I am comparing them with when I discuss their contribution.

Hermeneutical Openings For Philosophical Anthropology

With the Pre-Socratics, philosophy commences with questions that seek to identify the overarching principles that equip philosophy for its own particular modality of inquiry. This initial search is for what is “eternal,” what provides an implacable and stable, even static means of orientation. With Plato it leads to a triumvirate of ideas—the good, the true and the beautiful. That we can immediately recognize the three domains of philosophy—moral philosophy, epistemology, and aesthetics—and their underpinning ontology and metaphysics is indicative of the importance of this aspect of the philosophical quest. The “pitch and jag” of questions posed to what are ostensibly answers to these, and subsequently other philosophical questions is, however, responsible for paradigmatic movements within philosophy’s unique “seam of speech.”

Aristotle’s questions ultimately lead him to open up another modality of orientation. This modality focusses upon the “structures” of things. To be sure Plato had brushed against this modality, but he does not delve into it to anywhere near the same degree or extent as Aristotle. While it certainly has multiple implications for morals (and a moral exploration of politics), epistemology, and aesthetics (consider, for example, how Aristotle’s Poetics attempts to identify not only the nature but also the structure of tragedy), it also affects how one thinks about the ontological and metaphysical terrain. For all the differences that come with this new clustering of questions and the answers that then open out into new questions, the quest is not able to throw off completely the stabilizing factors of philosophy itself—Aristotle too appeals to truth and morality and a kind of beauty.

While the early modern metaphysicians and philosophers of nature are generally identified as anti-Aristotelian, and were so in important respects, this particular aspect of philosophical development and importance is not thrown off in the paradigms that encompasses not only philosophers as epistemologically, metaphysically and ontologically diverse as Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Leibniz, Malebranche, Berkeley, but even those who branch out far beyond naturalism and veer into more historical and social considerations. In so far as historical and social analyses appeal to some sovereign idea, principle such as equality, or freedom from domination (as with Marx or the post structuralists), or culture (as in Nietzsche), or a cluster of contingencies, they remain susceptible to questions about the truth or moral character (with the kind of aesthetic emphases that have come to dominate from the latter part of the nineteenth century, “the beautiful” has lost its place as the sovereign idea of aesthetics).

To repeat, then, philosophy itself never completely shakes off the opening pitch of its questions, though what is “jagged” out of the answers will change.

But there is also a third line of questioning and orientation, and it is this line of orientation that takes greater account of social symbolization and semiosis, as it delves more deeply into the socio-historical-anthropological conditions, and the degree of impact and plasticity involved in our world-making. It is not the case that it completely abandons the original pitch, though as it evolves, that pitch dims substantially (this is evident, for example, if one compared Herder’s numerous concessions to the good, true and the beautiful, with his progeny, Rosenstock-Huessy, who has little good to say about these eternal philosophical beacons). The same is true of its relationship to the Aristotelian innovation.

Nevertheless, its own insights and quarries retrieved from its quests redound upon the “eternal” seam, as well as the more structural kind of analyses. But it does make historicity as well as culture take on a far greater philosophical significance. Further, it also creates a far more complicated picture of the problems that we confront than are conjured up by those seeking to solve our problems along more voluntarist lines. That is, the more we enter into this third paradigm the less we are likely to believe that our problems will be solved by placing excessive reliance upon either our knowledge of natural or social “laws,” or the good will and “faith” of those seeking change.

While this third paradigm, philosophical anthropology, does not completely eliminate the horizon of the eternal with its “stablizers,” it nevertheless also opens this up further. For in entering into a deeper appreciation of the social, history and culture, it must look beyond the strictly philosophical virtues and answers, not only to other narrative modes, but also to the importance of names themselves and thus it inevitably goes back beyond “ideas” For it is by responding to the range and chain of names that have left deep enough impressions on us to see their importance, so that we become conscious of the historical dimension of experience.

We should also mention from the outset, as will be developed throughout these three essays, that this should not be mistaken for “historicism” of the sort in which all meaning may only be found by sinking so deeply into historical detail there is nothing left to do but recount those details, or else appeal to them as if they themselves bore all authority for future orientation. Future and past both beckon us in our present. As we shall see in Vico, who is a pioneer of this third philosophical approach, the “eternal” and the structural are not completely overthrown by this new approach, yet, for all that, it remains another approach, replete with different kinds of questions and hence answers.

Vico’s New Science And The Opening Up Of The Idea To Past Ages

A brief comparison of Vico with David Hume is a helpful way to illustrate what is so original about Vico’s approach to philosophy.

Hume had argued that the strict divide between understanding and imagination which had been so important to the metaphysical revolution of the new philosophies was ultimately unsustainable: understanding and reason were not to be divorced so sharply from imagination, passion and impression. The importance Hume ascribed to imagination, impression and association in the context of “common life” thus helped draw philosophy back into the world as we live it, as opposed to what world a thinker wants us to (or thinks that we should) live in. Nevertheless, Thomas Reid’s critique that Hume still hung on to philosophical bric-à-brac that came from the “way of ideas” was important. For having invoked “common life,” Hume wipes away the different forms of life that peoples have over the ages by placing too much weight upon the constancy of human nature. As Leon Pompa recounts of Hume’s position:

Mankind are so much the same, in all times and places, that history informs us of nothing new or strange in this particular. Its chief use is only to discover the constant and universal principles of human nature, by showing men in all varieties of circumstances and situations, and furnishing us with materials from which we may form our observations, and become acquainted with the regular springs of human action and behaviour.

This was what enabled Hume, in spite of all his scepticism, to have such “certainty” about his own enlightened faith. We may indeed see certain constants across the ages if we focus upon certain human needs and behaviours—and on occasion it might make much sense to take note of such constants as the desire to survive, or the need to eat, or the extraction of resources and the opportunity costs involved, or the use of the imagination. But there is a serious problem that Hume bypasses, which Pompa raises against Hume’s position:

…such a conception of the nature of ideas is unacceptable when we consider their operation in the social and historical world. Here we are dealing with social agents, and it is impossible for anybody to be a social agent without understanding the concept of the type of social agent in question. One cannot, for example, be a judge or a school-teacher, unless one’s conduct reveals an understanding of what one should do in the legitimate fulfilment of one’s role. Indeed, the requirement is somewhat stronger than this. For not merely is it necessary to know what one’s role involves, but it is necessary also to know that others know what is involved. One cannot, in other words, act as a judge unless one’s conduct both conforms to a shared understanding of the role and to the knowledge that that understanding is shared. For, in the last resort, it is one’s success or failure in being able to show that one has acted in accordance with what one knows to be shared that determines the legitimacy of one’s actions as a judge. Acting in a social role thus presupposes possession of a social concept which one knows to be shared. This need not be something which one can explicate theoretically, but it must be such that one can use it. It is no objection to this that we use the concept of a natural object in order to can use it, should one be challenged, in defence of one’s claim to have acted legitimately in that role.

It follows from this that ideas cannot, in the social world, have only the secondary ontological status which Hume ascribes to them. For an idea to have this secondary status, it is necessary that that of which it is an idea could have existed in the absence of the idea itself. But this is not possible in the case of social agents, for to be a social agent is just to act in accordance with certain conventions and in the knowledge that those conventions are known to be shared. In the social world, therefore, consciousness of such ideas is constitutive: without it there could be no such world.

Unlike Hume, Vico had extricated himself completely from his earlier (Cartesian) mechanistic philosophical influences, and his cognizance of the plasticity of the human imagination and its impact upon sociality ultimately added the dimension of the cadences of lived-time to our self-understanding. While Vico’s New Science is “therefore a history of human ideas,” its novelty consists in the recognition that “ideas” are themselves deeply dependent upon human development. And although, he acknowledges philosophical antecedents in Jean Bodin and Francis Bacon’s recognition of the importance of myth in aiding human instruction, and, even more pertinently, the importance of “following the method of philosophizing made most certain by Francis Bacon, Lord of Verulam,” he transfers the “idea” to “this world of nations;” thus “carrying it over from the things of nature… to the civil affairs of mankind.”

In general, then, Vico observes that philosophy (including Bacon’s) has not hitherto “reflected on and seen” the actual or historical development of human sociality, and hence also it has failed to grasp what we can discover about the growth of the human mind. To understand that development, requires philosophy taking a new methodological step by turning to the signs that humanity over the ages has left behind in its action which provide evidence of “the human will,” that is “all histories of the languages, customs and deeds of peoples in war and peace.” The New Science then proposes that:

…philosophy undertakes to examine philology (that is, the doctrine of everything that depends on the human will; for example, all histories of the languages, customs and deeds of peoples in war and peace), of which, because of the deplorable obscurity of causes and almost infinite variety of effects, philosophy has had almost a horror of treating.

And,

This queen of the sciences, by the axiom [314] that “the sciences must begin where their subject matters began,” took its start when the first men began to think humanly, and not when the philosophers began to reflect on human ideas (as in an erudite and scholarly little book recently published [by Brucker] under the title Historia philosophica doctrinae de ideis, which comes down to the latest controversies between the two foremost minds of our age, Leibniz and Newton).

The method of the “New Science” thus requires a thorough study of the writings of antiquity, primarily Greek and Roman. Moreover, one of the most conspicuous feature of Vico’s astonishing originality in the New Science lay in treating Homer as a key to unlocking not only antiquity, but as an aid for identifying different ages in their decline and emergence—the patriarchal giant age of the gods symbolized by the cyclops, and the heroic, which is the primary content of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey—as well as a close philological treatment of other ancient materials, particularly Plato and Roman authors (Tacitus, Varro, Livy, the Twelve Tables, Plautus, Plutarch). But Vico also finds supporting evidence in what he knows of the Egyptians, Germanic tribes, Chaldeans and Scythians in order to detect what kinds of ideas predominated in different ages. Vico also identifies how the ideas and the institutional contexts in which they emerge relate. The following rather lengthy passage provides Vico’s summary of the core insights into the three different major formative ages that his New Science has uncovered as providing the basic, and recurrent stages of the development of the gentiles:

(1) The age of the gods, in which the gentiles believed they lived under divine governments, and everything was commanded them by auspices and oracles, which are the oldest things in profane history. (2) The age of the heroes, in which they reigned everywhere in aristocratic commonwealths, on account of a certain superiority of nature which they held themselves to have over the plebs. (3) The age of men, in which all men recognized themselves as equal in human nature, and therefore there were established first the popular commonwealths and then the monarchies, both of which are forms of human government, as we observed a short while ago.

In harmony with these three kinds of nature and government, three kinds of language were spoken which compose the vocabulary of this Science: (1) That of the time of the families when gentile men were newly received into humanity. This, we shall find, was a mute language of signs and physical objects having natural relations to the ideas they wished to express. (2) That spoken by means of heroic emblems, or similitudes, comparisons, images, metaphors, and natural descriptions, which make up the great body of the heroic language which was spoken at the time the heroes reigned. (3) Human language using words agreed upon by the people, a language of which they are absolute lords, and which is proper to the popular commonwealths and monarchical states; a language whereby the people may fix the meaning of the laws by which the nobles as well as the plebs are bound. Hence, among all nations, once the laws had been put into the vulgar tongue, the science of laws passed from the control of the nobles…

Hitherto, among all nations, the nobles had kept the laws in a secret language as a sacred thing, for it will be found that everywhere the nobles were also priests. That is the natural reason for the secrecy of the laws among the Roman patricians until popular liberty arose. Now these are the same three languages that the Egyptians claimed had been spoken before in their world, corresponding exactly both in number and in sequence to the three ages that had run their course before them. (1) The hieroglyphic or sacred or secret language, by means of mute acts. This is suited to the uses of religion, which it is more important to attend to than to talk about. (2) The symbolic, by means of similitudes, such as we have just seen the heroic language to have been. (3) The epistolary or vulgar, which served the common uses of life.

One major implication of Vico’s work, that would prove enormously fecund for anthropologists as well as historians, is the recognition that reality is never fully encompassed by the social divisions and allotments intrinsic to a specific type of social reproduction. The imagination and institutions, ideas and experience are so closely bound up with each other, that we need to be conscious of the very different “social imaginaries” of different “life-worlds,” as they would later be called. This is also commensurate with us taking seriously ideas of a pre-philosophical ordering of reality rather than dismissing what does not conform to our more philosophical deliberations as mere delusions or superstitions.

With the New Science, Vico was seeking to become to the social and historical world what Aristotle had been to Logic and Newton to Physics: the discoverer of a great continent of learning, which once entered, forever changes how one sees things. We should also note that while Vico speaks of the will (and thus, as Berlin notes, continues in the Renaissance spirit so eloquently expressed by Pico della Mirandola in On the Dignity of Man), the metaphysic is not one of the subsequent idea-ist and voluntarist offshoots of the “will” which promises to set us free from the burdens specific to an age if we allow it flight (as, say, we find with Deleuze’s de-territorial-ization).

Indeed, the ever-conspicuous metaphysical presence of providence in the New Science militates against this. For its regular invocation in the New Science is in large part to demonstrate a profound truth that voluntarism misses: viz, that what we are doing individually and what we are actually doing collectively, or what we will to achieve, and what we actually leave behind of ourselves are not congruent: “…for out of the passions of men each bent on his private advantage, for the sake of which they would live like wild beasts in the wilderness, it has made the civil orders by which they may live in human society.” In so far as good comes out of our willing this is due to powers beyond our ken, and hence beyond our willing, which Vico identifies as Providence. At the same time, Vico does make the famous claim, repeated by Marx to his own voluntarist end:

…this world of nations has certainly been made by men, and its guise must therefore be found within the modifications of our own human mind. And history cannot be more certain than when he who creates the things also describes them. Thus, our Science proceeds exactly as does geometry, which, while it constructs out of its elements or contemplates the world of quantity, itself creates it; but with a reality greater in proportion to that of the orders having to do with human affairs, in which there are neither points, lines, surfaces, nor figures. And this very fact is an argument, a reader, that these proofs are of a kind divine, and should give thee a divine pleasure; since in God knowledge and creation are one and the same thing.

To be sure many of Vico’s philological readings have since then proved unsustainable. In part this also rested on his mistake that because man makes his world, this world might be easier to know than the natural one–for if anything is evident today, it is that in so far as we are all enmeshed in stories, it is no less difficult to move outside of our story-telling situation to really listen to story that comes from another set of appeals, contingencies and ways of seeing and making reality, than it is to be inducted into the natural sciences.

The latter requires intellectual ability, but the former requires a willingness (that far too few are willing to make) of self-dissolution, of getting out of one’s way and own “identity” so that one can open up to another way of being in and viewing the world. Nevertheless, what still rings true is that ‘the inexhaustible source of all the errors about the beginnings of humanity that have been adopted by entire nations and by all the scholars’ is that “whenever men can form no idea of distant and unknown things, they judge them by what is familiar and at hand.”

For when the former [i.e., ‘entire nations’] began to take notice of them [i.e. the beginnings of humanity] and the latter [the scholars] to investigate them, it was on the basis of their own enlightened, cultivated and magnificent times that they judged the origins of humanity, which must nevertheless by the nature of things have been small, crude and quite obscure.

In the main, and prior to David Hume and Thomas Reid, the mechanistic philosophers believed it their job to rescue “experience” from “common sense,” but what Vico has noticed is how human experiences of times long since passed have been taken as confirming or conforming to more contemporaneous philosophical concerns and manners of thinking, something he sees as particularly conspicuous and damaging in the natural law philosophies of Grotius and Pufendorf. That is, philosophers all too frequently reflect upon other times and ages and find there aught but diminished versions of their own philosophical ideas staring back at them. Vico had also understood the challenges that await the “civilized mind” in exploring the poetic sensitivity, unencumbered by the vast array of accumulated experience that develops with numeracy and literature, the division of labour and urban life. Thus, he urged that the philological philosopher needs to “listen” to the “language” which had helped form the social experience of an age and hence was intrinsic to the understanding and “reasons” of its makers, and which is not to be confused with the “reasons” of philosophers:

…the nature of our civilized minds is so detached from the senses, even in the vulgar, by abstractions corresponding to all the abstract terms our languages abound in, and so refined by the art of writing, and as it were spiritualized by the use of numbers, because even the vulgar know how to count and reckon, that it is naturally beyond our power to form the vast image of this, mistress called “Sympathetic Nature.” Men shape the phrase with their lips but, have nothing in their minds; for what they have in mind is falsehood, which is nothing; and their imagination no longer avails to form a vast false image. It is equally beyond our power to enter into the vast imagination of those first men, whose minds were not in the least abstract, refined, or spiritualized, because they were entirely immersed in the senses, buffeted by the passions, buried in the body. That is why we said above [338] that we can scarcely understand, still less imagine, how those first men thought who founded gentile humanity.

In spite of the magnitude of the task, the worlds of different ages are not completely incommensurable for our understanding, rather we need to expand our ideas and understanding in such a way that we can enter into an appreciation of the making of another age. Above all that means philosophy must take a completely different direction than that required by Descartes and the new metaphysics more generally. Although his reputation would grow long after his death, Vico opened up the importance of method for understanding certain kinds of processes and identifying the patterns that may be discernible within them. Indeed, more generally, one of the great achievements of philosophy is to sensitize us to patterns, and hence orders heretofore unnoticed; the temptation, though to be avoided, is to focus so much upon the pattern that one ignores the great array of discordances, the processes of unravelling and turbulence, the “white noise” and “fuzzy logic” that produces a new pattern completely outside our ken and range of anticipations and expectations. But thinking itself, and not just philosophy, works with patterns, as well as with unique persons, events, memories and actions.

Vico had drawn attention to the fact that different ages with their different institutions were built upon different social imaginaries, and he required that our understanding of the “history of ideas” find access to the very different underpinnings of how ideas were made in different ages. Moreover, he also recognized how these patterns would repeat themselves. This was in recognition of the cyclical nature of societies and peoples–the “gentiles”–whose ideational and institutional formations were not based on the attempt to break the cycles of nature, and the “tyranny” of those cycles. Thus, although Vico also invokes the providence of the divine mind, he only occasionally deploys biblical examples.

Scholars have been divided over whether Vico’s cyclical account of the ages which was limited to the gentile nations was a contrivance for avoiding persecution. But there is a strong argument (developed by Franz Rosenzweig in the Star of Redemption without any reference to Vico) that the covenant at the basis of Jewish existence was a unique decision of a unique people with a unique God, whose revelations occurred through time and whose promise was of a time and world to come.

It is true that one can find in Plato’s Laws the germ cell of the idea of providential gods (“being good with all goodness, possess such care of the whole as is most proper to themselves”), and this is later picked up and developed by Plotinus and Proclus. And although Vico’s conception of God as divine mind is more Greek philosophical than biblical, the fully developed idea of providence–as it is in Judaism and subsequently Christianity–goes hand in hand with the revelation in ‘Song of Songs’ (again Rosenzweig draws this point out) that “love is as strong as death.” Daniel will prophesy that the kingdom of gold will give way to inferior kingdoms until finally the earthly kingdom is no more than iron mixed with clay, but “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.” In the Middle Ages this prophecy underpinned the notion of the church as the translatio imperii, the church as God’s eternal representation on earth, a testament to the defiance of the birth and extinction of human empires.

Irrespective of Vico’s faith, when we turn to Johann Georg Hamann we find, as Berlin rightly saw, a somewhat kindred spirit to Vico in so far as the importance ascribed to language and the imagination serves as a means to waken us to our sociality and historicity. But whereas Vico has tied his project to the “history of ideas” by opening up philosophy to philology, something Hamann is also doing, Hamann poses a far greater challenge in his restoration of the figurative imagination. And whereas Vico retreated to the distant past to show philosophy its shortcomings, Hamann simply had to point to the world around him as it was still being made by people driven by their biblical faith and their figurative imaginations.


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


The featured images shows, “Der Einzug des Königs Rudolf von Habsburg in Basel 1273 (The Entry of King Rudolf of Habsburg into Basel 1273),” painted by Franz Pforr, ca. 1809-1810.

Philosophical Anthropology. Part 2: Johann Georg Hamann, On The Idolatry Of Faith In Reason

There is a great irony in Hume’s fate in so far as the very probablism which he used against religious faith was taken up in Germany by Friedrich Jacobi and Johann Georg Hamann, not only to provide an argument for the inescapable role of faith in life, but also, especially in Hamann’s case, for mounting an argument about the value of the Christian life. So impressed was Hamann by Hume that he translated his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion into German.

The religious Hamann had no delusions about where Hume stood on matters of religion—and in this respect, Hume was on the side of the enlightened, i.e., the enemy who were substituting their metaphysically derived ideas, which is to say, their bloodless version of life, for life itself. Nevertheless, as he would confide to Herder: “Hume [over against Kant] is always my man because he at least honored the principium of faith and took it up in his system.” And to J. Lindner he picks up on Hume’s statement in the Enquiry that because the Christian religion “was at first attended with miracles… even at this day [it] cannot be believed by any reasonable person,” commenting: “Hume may have said this with a scornful or wistful attitude, nevertheless it is orthodoxy and a witness to the truth in the mouth of an enemy and persecutor of the same—all his doubts are proof of his proposition.”

The sceptical Hume, for Hamann, therefore veers into the doubtful territory of faith. Had Hume been a little less prejudiced when roaming around in that territory, he would have had to concede that in it are to be found men and women, like Hamann, every bit as capable of using their reason, and yet also sceptical of reason’s overreach, whose faith, nevertheless, leads them to live the lives they do. In this respect, W.M. Alexander (whose book Johann Georg Hamann: Philosophy and Faith is, in my opinion, the best book, among some seriously good books, on Hamann) observes “Hamann’s problem” is,

the philosophy of his age and how his own thought as a Christian relates to it. How does the Christian exist (and more specifically—in his “authorship”—how does he think authentically as a Christian) in genuine contact with the world. Hamann was one of the first Christian thinkers to recognize that he lived—as did the early Church Fathers -in a non-Christian world—the Church was no longer communicating to “Jews” but to “Greeks.”

The essentially Christian character of Hamann’s thinking stands in striking contrast to what remained an essentially metaphysical position advanced by his friend Jacobi, who had become very famous in Germany with his Concerning the Doctrine of Spinoza in Letters to Herr Moses Mendelssohn. Jacobi had detected the Spinozian (deterministic) influence upon the age, and had countered that faith is an ontological given and a foundation of reason. Furthermore, it was not just, as Kant had argued, a rational element within the moral sphere of life. While an ally of Jacobi with respect to emphasising the inescapable condition of faith in the larger scheme of reason, Hamann was also critical of the latter’s metaphysical philosophizing. Thus, Hamann would pointedly say to Jacobi of his David Hume on Faith: “In the absence of your book I can say nothing further, dear Jonathan [Jacobi!], except to speak of the relation of both of the objects of your authorship to mine: ‘Idealism’ and ‘Realism’ versus Christianity and Lutheranism. Both of the former are, in my eyes, ideal; the latter real.”

While Jacobi, then, wished to ‘demonstrate’ where faith stood in the greater schema of reason and, indeed, philosophy itself, Hamann’s faith was not the result of any philosophical question, but the result of a personal crisis. As a talented young man with prospects, he had been assigned to represent a Riga merchant on diplomatic business. That had proven to be a dead end and after squandering his and the firm’s money on drinking and carousing, and trying to make ends meet as a lutenist, he entered into what was probably a sexual friendship with another young man, whom he subsequently discovered to have received money for sexual favours by a wealthy patron.

Appalled, broke, and solitary he started reading the Bible, and like so many Jews and Christians he came to the realization that it was no ordinary book—but a book that expressed the immediacy of his circumstance and experience, and God’s responsiveness to humanity’s despair and cry. The truths that the book contained, then, were inseparable from the needs and longings and willingness of the reader to respond in kind to God’s love and majesty, which he saw depicted everywhere throughout this book which was part historical chronicle, part testimony, part instruction, part description, and so much else beside. But also, and most importantly, the record of an encounter between the one true loving God and His people, which opened up the believing heart to also encounter the living God, and take up a new life based upon that encounter.

In other words, what Hamann grasped was the fact of faith, and the fact of his faith being tied in with a tradition of experiences and stories and history, and an encounter of exactly the sort that he had experienced. This is obviously a million miles away from what Jacobi was doing, let alone what Kant did when he tackled the problems of God and the soul, and came to the conclusion they were the product of reason’s own dialectical transcendence of our cognitive conditions, a transcendence which is really an illusion, in so far as the conditions only have validity as truth conditions about the things of our world when they apply to the world. This is what Kant called appearances because the things of our world must appear in space and time in order to be experienced. Kant and Hamann had for some time at least been on friendly terms, and Hamann even helped find a publisher for the Critique of Pure Reason (a work, as we see below, he thought completely wrong-headed). For his part, Kant thought Hamann was a Schwärmer, a rapid “enthusiast,” which is, to say, what the British call “a nutter.”

Generally, Hamann’s philosophical contemporaries saw the bible as either a superstitious attempt to make sense of their experiences or a mythic rendering of moral laws—a position which one can only hold until one reads the Bible. Kant read it like this and had to morally reproach Abraham. For Hamann this was missing the whole point, as was the kind of discussion around faith that had involved Jacobi, Kant, and later Hegel: Hamann did not just believe something he read, he experienced his faith completely changing his life. The book made him a different man. Thus, it was not merely a cerebral matter, but a matter of soul, and thus to treat the Bible along the usual lines of scholarly or philosophical interrogation is really to miss what is most essential about it: it would be like saying one had been swimming but one just had not gone into any water.

Note also, that while the enlightened philosophers would question the reality of the object of faith—God—they would treat God as if He were an object, or, as in Kant, once it is conceded that God is not an object like a natural object, as a “mere idea of reason.” Hamann, as with so many of the faithful, does not see God as an object (or idea of reason) at all; God is no more an idea than He is a thing. But, if we are to stay with philosophical language, God is, nevertheless, a condition of reality, not a “logical condition,” but a creator of whom we can only make sense through encounter and engagement. From Hamann’s Lutheran perspective, when we speak of or about God rather than to Him, at least if we are not disposing ourselves as a vehicle of the Holy Spirit, we are already losing sight of Him. This is also why, for Hamann, “if they are fools who in their hearts deny the existence of God, it strikes me as yet more foolish to want to prove him first.”

To repeat, Hamann has invoked God in a completely different manner from the philosophers—for the purpose of the philosophers’ inquiries, God cannot be divorced from the subjects forming their narrative (the philosophers). For philosophers, what Hamann has done by insisting on taking seriously what the book actually does as opposed to what it merely says is to open-up the floodgates that threaten reason (and philosophy) itself. This, as far as Hamann is concerned, not his problem, but their problem, and it stems from their wanting to only look so far at what is going on in our lives and in world. That is, they want to deny God to be as God: what they know is what is—the entire philosophical attempt from Descartes to Kant to lay down what constitutes experience (the laws of nature) is, from Hamann’s point of view, a confirmation of this.

Hamann overturns what he sees as the self-delusion that motivates the enlightenment project—and his thinking returns us to the pre-philosophical disposition. Ancient people did not come to their gods through their powers of reason—because reason, imagination, and world were all intertwined. Thus, too they knew that their gods existed because they were implicated in a world of mutual dependency: sacrifices are as necessary for the gods as for the gods’ responsive beneficence. One might venture that this is as true of the Jews as of every ancient people, as evident in Yahweh’s jealousy and commandment against false gods.

This kind of anthropological understanding renders the kind of clear-cut distinctions of philosophical ideation irrelevant. The kind of truth that this hermeneutical community is engaging with is the truth of their very own existence, which would have no existence apart from the very parables, commands, bonds, and common orientation that is both the content of their faith as well as its condition. Hamann’s faith is, then, indeed the kind of faith to be found in what Hume had called “common-life,” but “common life” as a whole is no longer understood in the abstract as something that can be analytically dissected into the enlightened and superstitious parts; it forms a unity, which is not to say that things people do is beyond criticism—but the pitch of the criticism is always going to come from some human place, and not some ideational “heaven” that can be found by talking and thinking a certain way.

In this respect, Hamann thinks philosophers are victims of their own superstitions. For Hamann, truths that are abstractly constructed, that have not developed within time, literally have no life. Likewise, metaphysical “truths” are at best conjectures, and typically spurious. Only what has life can be true. As Alexander rightly says: “Truth,” for Hamann, “is not primarily and most authentically an idea or text of written words but a concrete historical life.” Likewise, “truth is not an academic possession: it unfolds only in the transition of a lifetime… ‘Truths are metals which develop under the earth.’”

The notion that truth is something that is revealed over time—“by their fruits you shall know them”—requires taking our temporality and historicity seriously. This, in turn, requires conceding that we do not engage with eternal “ideas,” for such an engagement is purely beyond our ken. We and our ideas grow, and hence reveal themselves for what they are in and through and over time—our climbing high to espy the “all” is sand-castle-in-the-air stuff that brings us crashing down to earth. From this perspective, the Platonic cast of mind shares with the metaphysics of modernity a view of the cosmos in which the eternal order of mathematics takes a particular pride of place, but for all that way of thinking can achieve by way of construction and contrivance with merely material “substances,” when it comes to what we hold important in our lives, what we believe in, then, at best, it may be an ancillary, but at worst, it is an elimination of who and what we are. The elective affinity between mathematical and metaphysical thinking is an affinity that draws us away from what we sense and feel, and want.

What we find in Hamann and ultimately makes his legacy so powerful and fecund, is the combination of a resolutely anti-metaphysical disposition with a great sensitivity for the kinds of problems (if not the answers) that are genuinely philosophical. Moreover, because, for Hamann, “All of our knowing is piece-work and all human rational foundations consist either in faith in the truth and doubt of the untruth, or faith in the untruth and doubt of the truth,” we cannot simply divide the world into what conforms to faith and what conforms to reason, as if this kind of bifurcation somehow conforms to some kind of objective disjunction.

Hamann’s antipathy to bifurcation makes him an important influence upon figures such as Herder, Hegel and Schelling for whom dualism was always the source of a more fundamental philosophical problem than a genuine solution. Moreover, for Hamann: “faith is no work of reason, and therefore is subject to no attack by the same, because faith as little happens through reasons as taste and sight.”

The question of the relationship between faith and knowledge and/or reason, and the nature of the relationship between the two would become a key one of the age. Kant would argue that freedom was a matter of rational faith, and that the reason behind identifying the limits of knowledge was primarily to enable that faith so that our sense of moral duty would preside over what merely is by nature. Hegel saw the problem as a symptom of the divided nature of the modern self, which sought knowledge, but could not bear to reconcile itself with the conditions of its own actual achievements of freedom, seeking solace in a beyond accessible to faith, but ultimately a mere empty “should,” ever out of reach and unrealizable.

Hegel’s brilliant critique of the antithesis between faith and knowledge/reason in Faith and Knowledge and tirelessly repeated throughout his corpus makes perfect sense when directed at Kant, Jacobi, Fichte, Schleiermacher, and even Schelling (in so far as he commences with the Absolute’s being and (un-, or dark) ground). For they are indeed operating with conceptual dualisms within a system, and hence too each was seeking some ground or rationally defensible starting point for what was always a metaphysics. But it does not touch Hamann. For Hamann has no interest in providing a rational basis for faith; he has no system. Christianity is not a philosophical system, even if theologians may wish to bring rationality to it for coherence.

The unity of a life is more akin to the kind of unity a body of faith displays (with members in division) than a philosophical system which, from the outset, requires conceptual or ideational consistency. Hamann commences with the fact of his faith and then clarifies how it shapes his life, and the lives of others who live in their faith communities. This is an anthropological move that differs from the neo-Hegelian anthropology of Feuerbach and the young Marx, insofar as the neo-Hegelian appeal to community, freedom, equality is always to an ideational end that motivates the anthropological aspect of their thinking. Hamann, however, emphasises the common anthropological condition, and then compares different bodies with their different faiths (most specifically philosophers and Christians like him).

Just as Hamann’s discussion of faith and reason is distinctly un-metaphysical, his observations about reason is not itself dependent upon an adequate logic of demonstration: reasons come after the fact. As he would write to Kant: “I must almost laugh over the choice of a philosopher for the purpose of bringing about in me a change of mind. I look upon the best demonstration as a reasonable girl does a love-letter.”

While, then, Hamann’s insight about faith and common life is far closer in spirit to anthropology than philosophy, it nevertheless has implications for philosophy, implications which would “rein in” its rationalist tendencies. This is well brought out in a letter to J.G. Lindner, where Hamann would paraphrase (or slightly misquote) Hume and critically compare the enlightened faith in reason with Jewish faith in the Law, and both with Paul:

“The final fruit of all philosophy is the noting of human ignorance and weakness.” This same function, which is related to our powers of understanding and knowledge, shows us how ignorant we are just as the moral shows us how evil and shallow is our virtue. This cornerstone at the same time is a millstone which shatters to pieces all his sophistries. Our reason therefore is just that which Paul calls the Law—and the Law of the Reason is holy, just and good. But is it given to us to make us wise? Just as little as the Law was given to the Jews to justify them, but to convince us of the opposite: how unreasonable is our reason, and that our errors are to be increased by it, just as sin increased by the Law. If everywhere Paul speaks of the Law one puts “reason” (this “law” of our century and the watchword of our clever heads and scribes), Paul will speak to our contemporaries.

For Hamann, when it comes to the kind of knowledge we most need, he wrote to Jacobi: “Sense and history are the foundations and ground—be the former ever so deceptive and the latter ever so simple, I still prefer them to all castles in the air.” Our circumstance is such that what we can think is always either revealed, fragmented, or abstracted: “A reason which acknowledges itself as a daughter of the senses and the material, behold! this is our religion.”

To make thought something more real than the senses is itself to commence a train of abstraction that can all too swiftly leave our language and traditions which have been the means by which collective sense is formed. It is philosophy that, according to Hamann makes “castles in the air.” Or as he put it in another letter to Jacobi—philosophy carries on with “empty shadow-boxing with ideas and speculations against data and facts, with theoretical deceptions against historical truths, with plausible probabilities against witnesses and documents.”

Although all the most reputable Hamann scholars recognize that dismissing Hamann as an “irrationalist” is nonsense, if by that we mean that he does not think reason has any role to play in a life. Beiser puts the matter succinctly when he points out that “The stumbling block of all irrationalist interpretations of Hamann is therefore nothing less than the central thesis” of Hamann’s Socratic Memorabilia: that faith is neither rational nor irrational since reason cannot either prove or disprove it.

What Hamann does is something that no serious philosopher should, or even can, simply dismiss: he identifies reason’s limits as deriving from its dependency upon existence itself, community, history and language. He is not arguing that we should deny what we know or what can be known—but reason is an activity or operation taking place within our lives (a point taken up by Kierkegaard and existentialism more generally): to hypostazise it is to beguile ourselves into thinking that we really know all we would need about what is going on in life, and that we are not surrounded by genuine mysteries, which in Hamann’s case are given meaning through his faith in God and revelation.

For Hamann, one of the more persistent errors of philosophy is to treat reason as “real being,” which it is not, rather than as an activity which we undertake. As he wrote to Jacobi:

People speak of reason as if it were a real being, and the dear God as if the same were nothing but a concept. Spinoza speaks of an Object causa sui and Kant of a Subject causa sui. Until this misunderstanding is removed, it will be impossible to understand one another. When one knows what reason is, all discrepancy with revelation ceases.

Conversely while philosophers may ceaselessly dispute about what reason is, people of faith harken to their God and build their world around that harkening. To be sure once matters of faith becomes theological problems, the same problem occurs; but, if viewed with a more ancient eye, the issue of theological dispute can also turn around the matter of “which God?” is appealing to us and demanding our response—the God that creates, reveals and redeems, or a supra-human (diabolical) power that may be merely devouring us?

In this respect, Hamann’s position can be buttressed by an insight that plays a pivotal role in the work of Rosenstock-Huessy, a genuine progeny of Hamann. For Rosenstock-Huessy saw the problem of his age was not just that people did not believe in God, but they did not have any clue about the gods; only once one concedes the reality of gods—a reality that is witnessed in behaviours, for the gods are not under our command—is one in a position to understand God. For originally the gods are recognized and named, and their communal importance assigned so that they can be followed, summoned, supplicated to, and obeyed (or disobeyed). I will take up this point below.

For Hamann the discrepancy between reason and revelation ceases because revelation deals in contingencies, not metaphysics, which deals in the Absolute. The nature of the Absolute would become the centre of philosophical gravity for post-Kantian idealisms, but Hamann already recognized the problem of this philosophical move before it even takes place when he writes to Jacobi: “Being, faith, reason are merely relations which are not to be dealt with as absolutes; they are not things, but pure academic concepts, signs for the understanding, not things to be admired, but means of helping to awaken and fix our attention.”

If one thinks that the truth of life’s meaning is disclosed through reason itself, then Hamann’s position is absurd. Though it is precisely this question of what reason is and what it can really do that runs through Hamann’s critique of metaphysical thinking. While it is commonplace for philosophers to present people of faith as ignorant, or superstitious dupes as opposed, for example, to Dennett’s “brights,” Hamann’s contrast between the God of “rational salvation” and the “God of historical revelation’ is the contrast between ahistorical abstract thinking taking its cues of truth from “nature” and an historical hermeneutical community taking its orientation from a tradition and its symbols grounded in mystery, creation, miraculous contingencies, covenant, prophesy, love, hope and faith in salvation. The enlightened philosophers can only construe all this through a process of “denuding,” so that what is left is mere “nature;” or rather those features of nature, which accommodate the framing required by the experimental and mathematical conditions that render it a totality of laws.

Spinoza’s breaking down of the emotions into natural drives, which then, along with other natural circumstances, are invoked to make sense of the Bible, exemplifies the process. It is, though, the substitution of a history based upon the understanding as opposed to the history of the imagination, the substitution of what exclusively conforms to law for what is frequently parable, and the substitution of one community’s orientation—the philosophers’ community—for the communities of the Jewish and Christian peoples.

For Hamann the failure to grasp that historical nature is not mere nature, but one in which symbols, imagination, and the gamut of semiotic triggers bind and form communities is a mere prejudice of enlightenment philosophers, and illustrates a major difference between the depth of knowledge about the nature of people and life within the religious tradition that the enlightened are simply blind to because of their own prejudice. Thus, of Lessing’s Education of the Human Race, he writes in a letter to Herder:

A week ago, I took up the Education of the Human Race for the second time… Basically the old leaven of our fashionable philosophy: prejudice against Judaism [i.e. anti-historical]—ignorance of the true spirit of the Reformation [i.e. knowing only philosophical self-salvation].

Another major reason why Hamann is considered an early existentialist is because he revels in the absurd—in a manner that suggests a deep affinity with the British author Laurence Sterne—and he turns the tables on those who would take the absurdity of existence as if it were somehow capable of receiving a rational explanation. And he does this in all manner of ways, from the (seriously) playful nature of his authorship, to his position on language as a miracle, to his critique of the enlightenment as a form of idolatry. The great irony of the power of Hamann’s thought is that it plays the “fool” against reason’s majesty and might, only to expose the threadbare nature of that majesty. Philosophy engages in a substitution racket and takes unreal things as real things—and then it criticizes things we know through the very lives we live, because they do not conform to the unreal schema we have created.

Of course, Nietzsche will make this same point—but the real assessment of any comparison between Nietzsche and Hamann revolves around what one thinks of their respective faiths in the superman or Christian life, and it must be said, Nietzsche’s and Hamann’s radically different views over what the Christian life entails. Hamann would undoubtedly find in Nietzsche’s (and Heidegger’s) reading of Christianity an ahistorical fantasy. Both Nietzsche and Hamann, nevertheless, concur about Platonism being an “enemy” of life, and Hamann’s admiration for Socrates does not extend to the legacy of his greatest pupil, which he sees as an being inimical to Christianity: “Platonism is not the friend but the enemy of Christianity.”

Bearing the above in mind, then, it is true that Hamann was opposed to placing faith in the abstract “reason” of imagined “forms.” And he wrote to Jacobi that “the entire Kantian construction appears to me to rest upon the idle trust that certainty comes ex vi formae [by the power of forms].” Which is to say, he saw Kant’s entire undertaking of the transcendental delimiting of the legitimacy boundaries of our experience in the Critique of Pure Reason as completely wrong-headed.

For the mind to try and understand itself through self-reflection and the study of the “mind” is akin to someone thinking that fish are produced by a fishing rod, (the same analogy is also apposite for understanding why Hamann objects to naturalist attempts to understand language of the sort that he thought his close friend Herder had foolishly undertaken). Why the mind is more knowable than language and experience is itself, though, due to a mistaken faith. And this faith in the mind’s power to oversee itself, is, for Hamann, a blind and blinding faith that suffocates and smothers “life” with its own limited understanding and glaring light. As he would write to Herder: enlightened reason is the reason of “sadduaic freethinkers;” and their “reason is untruth, a superstition.” “Sound reason” exists in their “imagination.” Thus Alexander perceptively observes:

Hamann can sum up his authorship as an “exposure [Entkleidung] and transfiguration” of those who attempt “a violent unclothing [Entkleidung] of real objects down to naked concepts and bare intellectual entities, pure phantoms, and phenomena.”

And,

Hamann’s purpose is to challenge “the despotism of Apollo” [“God of wisdom” i.e., philosophy] which “fetters truth and freedom in demonstrative proofs, principles and conclusions” (II, 272). These things only distort truth, which is not enshrined in any consistent combination of ideas. Truth is the life which became flesh and the Spirit which “justifies and makes alive” (III, 227). God gives life to us in a unity which does not come before us dissected into intellectual abstractions. In His revelation of Himself He concentrates Himself in the unity of one human person. Not only in his thought, but in his style as well, Hamann tries to reflect this concentration and this unity. His style is its own symbolic attack on that way of thinking which “prefers the conceivability of a thing to its truth.
Truths, principles; systems I am not up to. Rather scraps, fragments, crotchets, thoughts.

I might also add here that the similarities between Hamann’s and Nietzsche’s critique of metaphysics and their eschewal of “naked” truth cannot be overestimated—but Nietzsche, unlike Hamann, hails a new metaphysics of will to power because he wants philosophers to be the value creators of the future. For Hamann, the idea that one can philosophically will a culture would be just one further symptom of the derangement of enlightenment faith.

In so far as Hamann is correct to recognize that the “Greek” (i.e., philosophical) mind, with its various “ideas,” names, and way of going about its business had culturally triumphed over the “Jewish” and early Christian spirit, Hamann had no choice than to “speak Greek.” Although he mixed it up with babble and strange tongues to both engage and confuse minds dealing with clarity and distinctness in a world full of lives which rarely offers either. That is, to truly take on what he saw as becoming the dominant faith of the new age on whose cusp he lived, any criticisms which might be heard by the younger generation had to be, at least partially, philosophically shaped. Yet the purpose of his speaking philosophically was to draw philosophy into another, more hermeneutical rather than “rationalist” or metaphysical “camp.”

Moreover, it was not that he thought all philosophical thinking was useless, a point made obvious in his Socratic Memorabilia that shows his serious respect for philosophy which was genuinely inquisitive, yet sufficiently humble to accept reason’s aporias, rather than engage in elaborate rationalisation and abstraction which swiftly becomes an idol of one’s own making. To his friend Lindner he wrote:

An ancient king of Israel believed in an old witch who saw gods mount up out of the earth. Since then, our philosophers have tightly closed their eyes in order not to have to read any distractions to the detriment of nature, and have folded their hands in their laps to pamper their beautiful skin; and it has rained castles-in-the-air and philosophical systems from heaven. Whoever would work his land or build houses, dig up or conceal treasures, must dig in the womb of the earth, which is the mother of us all.

Alexander cleverly observes three major ways in which philosophy appears in Hamann:

Hamann uses the term philosophy in at least three different senses which taken together, point to Hamann’s distinctive conception of philosophy and faith.

1. Philosophy understood as against faith, or as another faith. Often “philosophy” in Hamann means “false philosophy.” Philosophy here is “idolatry.” If he thought of “Rome” and “papacy” as cryptic symbols for the new philosophical “despotism” of the Enlightenment, then perhaps he also spoke of this philosophy as anti-Christ …

2. Philosophy understood as before faith, or better, before Christ. Philosophy here is “ignorance.” This is philosophy which is not yet Christian, but is not anti-Christian or incompatible with faith. Its symbol is Socrates.

3. Philosophy understood as in Christ, or as thinking “from faith to faith.” Philosophy here is “love of the LOGOS.” Much of what he calls “philosophy” in this sense would in modern usage be called theology. An example is in his letter to the Princess Galitzin, December 1787: “Herein [in Jesus Christ] consists the Alpha and Omega of my entire philosophy. More I know not, and do not wish to know.”

What is most original is that Hamann had, at the time of the Enlightened philosophy’s greatest self-assurance, opened up the meaning of philosophy in such a way that we may legitimately inquire after the religion of a philosophy, and not blithely accept the enlightened reading of religion as the outer shell of a philosophy, which could be understood by the “natural reason” of the philosopher, and thus turned against those world and self-making aspects of religion which could be relegated to mere “superstition.” With this insight Hamann had thrown out a philosophical challenge to philosophers from Spinoza through to Hume and Voltaire et. al.

But while Hamann’s madcap style and provocations would ensure acclaim amongst philosophical and literary luminaries, such as, Herder, Goethe, Schelling, Hegel (up to a point), and Jean Paul, his erstwhile friend Kant would fail to recognize anything of genuine philosophical importance in Hamann. And he would write his Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, as if he were oblivious to the significance of his former friend’s challenge, and provide one further enlightened rationalisation for religion being morals for people who could not take their medicine straight, as rational ideas, but who needed the hoopla of ritual to ingest it. But, for Hamann, it was actually morality itself as an object of reason, and (again) the philosopher’s substantiation of a thought process into a “faculty” that was genuinely phantasmic and idolatrous. As he would write to Herder after reading Kant’s Metaphysical Elements of Ethics:

Instead of Pure Reason the talk here is of another phantom of the brain and idol: the Good Will. That Kant is one of our shrewdest heads, even his enemies must admit, but unfortunately this shrewdness is his own evil demon, just as is the case with Lessing; for a new scholasticism and a new papacy are represented by both of these Midas ears of our glorious age.

Just as Hamann saw philosophy in anthropological terms, his hermeneutical apologetics of Christian faith is such that it exposes any such enlightened reductions as vacuous precisely by illustrating how faith orientates, and hence how different faiths orientate differently. Thus, even if one does not share another’s faith, one at least will be able to see how faith incarnates a life and a life-world. This would be an insight that would be of decisive importance for Herder.

Of the various orientations and emphases that lay behind Hamann’s insight into where faith fits in life, one of the most elemental that has important implications in more standard philosophical theologies is his (Lutheran) overturning of the more traditional theo-philosophical account of the “nature” or character and “directionf of the relationship between humans and God. The Greek movement toward monotheism, which would be so fateful in the neo-Platonic and neo-Aristotelian traditions and that wing of the Christian tradition that had been deeply influenced by those traditions, had all identified the soul’s spiritual journey as a process of transcendence, an upward movement of the soul to a God who Himself is characterized by his “transcendence.”

In response to this Hamann makes the obvious point (though one that is rarely expressed within philosophically shaped theologies) about the Jewish and Christian God that “is the basis of all his [i.e., the philosopher’s] attacks” on “natural; theology” and “natural religion”, viz., that, within the biblical narratives, it is not God’s transcendence that is the all-important issue for understanding the human predicament in relationship to God, but God’s “condescension.”

When theologians and philosophers refer to God’s transcendence, a term that evolves out of the Greek philosophical mind rather than biblical tradition, and when they refer to transcendence, without focusing upon the greater mystery of condescension, for Hamann, they not only misconstrue God, but they foster an exaggerated and idolatrous faith in the power of the world. For transcendence, as Alexander sums up Hamann’s position, is “world-oriented,” but the “symbol of ‘condescension’ is God-orientated.” That is the theo-philosophical emphasis upon God’s transcendence means that He is conceived, in the first instance, in relationship to the world, which appears familiar to us. Alexander also uses the example of baroque art to brilliant effect to illustrate what Hamann’s sees as what is at stake when we focus upon the relationship between God and humans as one of transcendence, rather than “condescendence:”

A glance at the art ruling Hamann’s age instantly reveals the source of Hamann’s instinctive objection: its world is one in which reason’s confidence in its position, its powers and its cosmos are self-secure. The world is more real than God. Everything Hamann protests against is here: it is a world in which reason demonstrates its dominance over every nook and cranny of reality. Ornamentation and artistic ramification testify to its self-confidence. No area is beyond its all-shaping power. When God in His “transcendence” is represented, it is “transcendence” (as in Sebastiano Conca’s “David Dancing Before the Ark”) over an otherwise “solid” earth. There is no question here as to what reality is utterly prior—it is man’s world and the human reason which has shaped it—and no amount of “height” in the painting can improve God’s “status.” Divine infinity has disappeared and only a domesticated variety remains.

Alexander adds that commencing with the “world-orientated” theology turns “all symbols into irrational assertions, and theology has simply asseverated that we must be content with this irrationality.”

By starting from the familiar, as natural theology does, to the unfamiliar, we have immediately reversed what Hamann sees as the far more profound insight of revelation; for what we do in the world with biblical faith is commence with something mysterious that is disclosed through parables, stories, commands etc. Moreover, for Hamann, the whole point of the Bible is revealed through how it speaks to its faithful, and the living power it reveals to those who are prepared to build their lives and world through faith in that power. Thus, for Hamann: “Every biblical story is a prophecy which is fulfilled through all centuries and in the soul of every man” (1,315). But also, “Every book is a Bible to me and every occupation a prayer”’ And “All the miracles of the holy scriptures happen in our souls” (I, 78). In other words, Hamann sees the universe as one that is pregnant with meaning. Of course, so does the schizophrenic, but the “gamble” of faith (to draw upon Pascal) lies, for Hamann, not in the origin—for faith in something is inescapable—it lies in what that faith engenders in a life and in a community.

One of the more remarkable features of the Western world today is that while the academic mind so frequently serves the enlightened ideals of freedom, equality, and justice, it has largely accepted the importance of culture as a primordial and positive force of identity. We shall briefly return to this point in our discussion of Herder, but here I simply wish to underscore that Hamann was living at a time when Western culture was undergoing a seismic shift due to philosophy extending into the various domains of human being, which up until relatively recent times it had little, or at best, as in the church, an ancillary role to play.

He had grasped that the world of Christendom and its culture was being swallowed up into a world bathed in philosophical glare. He was not a romantic wanting to revive medieval Christendom, as say Novalis or Frederick Schlegel, or Franz von Baader would become. And he did not idolize culture itself. But what is interesting is that the kinds of arguments he is raising about peoples and their faith, arguments developed and expanded along somewhat similar lines by Herder in applying them to cultures (though I think Hamann always the more radical, consistent mind), have been accepted not only by the more anthropologically inclined and in the humanities more broadly, but in society’s ideas-brokers at large.

Yet when it comes to the West itself, the victory of the enlightened mind is intrinsic to the general historical amnesia, and often sheer hostility, to Christian symbols and history. Hamann’s importance is that he taps into the experiential dimension that makes sense of Christianity as a personal and collective act, by constantly deploying biblical examples to illumine (genuinely enlighten) everyday as well as more perennial kinds of experience.

To put this slightly differently: today we can all accept that the imagination, history, language, and faith of people matter more than the reasons we impose upon them (which is not to say that we have to accept, as Gellner and others have feared that this leaves us without any means of critical judgments about cultural practice). That is, we think culture matters. Hamann opens up the door to why and how faith matters culturally and personally.

For, while Hamann is “up front” about his Christianity and Lutheran outlook, an outlook he not only did not assume his readers shared, and which many of his readers did not share, Hamann undertakes to be a thorn in the Enlightenment, a kind of Christian Socrates against the enlightened philosophers, who, for Hamann, are the sophists of his own time. They come with their own theological dogma and faith in their reason to deliver salvation, which though is largely hidden to them because they think they serve truth, and that the world will be saved through their works. But their truth is a lifeless idol.

What has taken the place of divine infinity is now reason’s infinity: its infinite capacity is the corollary of its absoluteness—whether as a heuristic (Kant) or substance (Hegel) makes no difference to the essential point Hamann recognizes. What, though, is meant to be the philosophical display of reason’s supreme majesty, is, for Hamann, really indicative of the mayhem of the age, a mayhem in which the every-day truths of every-day life are maimed by abstractness.

The most fundamental act of intellectual maiming, for Hamann, occurs through the philosophical cleavages which purport to deliver rationally pure forms and classifications. Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, as the name of his short essay on Kant clarified, was symptomatic of this delusional obsession with purity. As Hamann presents the problem, the increasing ascension of philosophical purity has occurred over time at the expense of the most elemental features of human sociality: tradition, custom, belief, religion, law-making, and ultimately language itself.

The first philosophical purification consisted in the partly misunderstood, partly failed attempt to make reason independent of all tradition and custom and belief in them. The second is even more transcendent and amounts to nothing less than independence from all experience and its everyday induction. After a search of two thousand years for who knows what beyond experience, reason not only suddenly despairs of the progressive course of its predecessors, but also defiantly promises impatient contemporaries’ delivery and this in a short time, promises also, of that general and infallible philosopher’s stone indispensable to Catholicism and despotism. Religion will submit its sanctity to it right away, and law-giving its majesty, especially at the final close of a critical century when empiricism on both sides struck blind, makes its own nakedness daily more suspect and ridiculous.
The third, highest, and as it were empirical purism, is therefore concerned with language, the only, first, and last organon and criterion of reason, with no other credentials but tradition and usage.

Yet again, we see a Nietzschean trope—“be true to the earth”—already deployed by Hamann against the destructive incursions of metaphysics into the most elemental features of social life.

Such talk as reason’s grounding or basis alludes to its capacity for building a tower or ladder to better understand the ways of God, the term which still worked for the deists, and, with German idealism, would become equivalent to or more often subsumed under the term the Absolute, before the Absolute would, with Fichte and the neo-Hegelians, and Nietzsche, become the imposition of the human will. For Hamann this overweening ambition and self-idolization—addressed in the story of the tower of Babel—could lead to nothing but disaster.

With great prescience he would see that the disaster would be driven by morality—which was just a veneer for the self-belief that people have in being able to dictate to God’s creation—i.e., life—how it should be: In a letter to Hartknoch he speaks of “our moralistic century” and in another to Jacobi he writes of the “moralistic” enlightened free thinkers as “apostles of lies.” And to Johann Steudel, he refers to “the moralistic generation of vipers among the Pharisees.” This is but one more example of Hamann’s turning of the tables on the men who believed that their own light would save the world—for it is usually Christians who are presented (and indeed often guilty of) grim and earnest moralizing.

For Hamann, “morality, bourgeois righteousness, industrious community service and charities” fueled the problem of evil—and he countered with the simple faith that “Christ is the door.” I think the following sentence will also resonate with those who cannot stand the virtue signaling that has become so widespread and which emanates from people who want for nothing, and who live off the ill-gotten (for they themselves keep saying how ill-gotten everything in the West is) gains of their forefathers, but seek ever more adulation for being who they pretend to be: “A strict moralism appears to me more vile and stale than the most capricious ridicule and scorn. To turn the good inward, and to show the evil outwardly—to appear worse than one actually is, to be better than one appears: this I hold for one’s duty and way of life.”

While Hamann is not strictly a political philosopher, he could see that what the enlightened philosophers were spreading was a suffocating web of tyrannical moralising. Thus, Alexander writes: “The ‘philosophical century,’ a proud epithet to the illuminati of the eighteenth century, Hamann uses as a term of opprobrium. He speaks of the ‘Babylonian philosophy’ which stands under the Confusion of Babel. It is the new “despotism,” a ‘metaphysical, moralizing’ Catholicism, ‘which has its seat in the very place [Berlin] where such an outcry is raised over the papacy.’”

More important than the nausea he felt at the philosophical sycophancy directed at Frederick the Great, and Frederick’s own taste for vain-glory was his prophetic sense of the hellish future emerging from the idolatry of reason’s light. In 1762 when the following passage first appeared it may have seemed the ravings of a lunatic, but in 1794 it was nothing if not prescient:

Nature works through the senses and the passions. But those who maim these instruments, how can they feel? Are crippled sinews fit for movement?—Your lying, murderous philosophy has cleared nature out of the way, and why do you demand that we are to imitate her?—So that you can renew the pleasure by becoming murderers of the pupils of nature, too—Yes, you delicate critics of art!, you go on asking what is truth, and make for the door, because you cannot wait for an answer to this question—Your hands are always washed, whether you are about to eat bread, or whether you have just pronounced a death-sentence.

Such prophecy, for Hamann, stands in the closest relationship to what it was he saw as the real meaning of Enlightenment: a power grab by abstract moralizers who want to become the guides and guardians of their new world. In his Letter to Christian Jacob Krauss he responds to Kant’s essay, “What is Enlightenment?” with its “Sapere aude!” and Kant’s claim that enlightenment is the emergence of people from their “self-incurred tutelage.”

Hamann immediately “smells a rat;” for who is it who espies those in need of emancipation, and what is their role in the process, and what benefits accrue to them in terms of office, profession, prestige and such like? I quote at length because it is such a powerful indictment of the Enlightenment, which comes armed with its own mythology, and which has been used to judge all other mythologies but its own, which it seals with the sanction of a reason that is naught but its own conjuring:

Who is the other lay-about or guide that the author has in mind but has not the heart to utter? Answer: the tiresome guardian who must be implicitly understood as the correlate of those who are immature. This is the man of death. The self-incurred guardianship and not immaturity-
Why does the chiliast deal so fastidiously with this lad Absalom? Because he reckons himself to the class of guardians and wishes thereby to attain a high reputation before immature readers. The immaturity is thus self-incurred only insofar as it surrenders to the guidance of a blind or invisible (as that Pomeranian catechism pupil bellowed at his country pastor) guardian and leader. This is the true man of death-
So wherein lies the inability or fault of the falsely accused immature one? In his own laziness and cowardice? No, it lies in the blindness of his guardian, who purports to be able to see, and for that very reason must bear the whole responsibility for the fault.
With what kind of conscience can a reasoner [Raisonneur] & speculator by the stove and in a nightcap accuse the immature one! of cowardice, when their blind guardian has a large, well-disciplined army to guarantee his infallibility and orthodoxy? How can one mock the laziness of such immature persons, when their enlightened and self-thinking guardian-as the emancipated gaper at the whole spectacle declares him to be—sees them not even as machines but as mere shadows of his grandeur, of which he need have no fear at all, since they are his ministering spirits and the only ones in whose existence he believes?
So doesn’t it all come to the same thing? Believe, march, pay, if the d[evil] is not to take you. Is it not sottise des trois parts? And which is the greatest and most difficult? An army of priests [Pfaffen] or of thugs, hench-men, and purse snatchers? According to the strange, unexpected pattern in human affairs in which on the whole nearly everything is paradoxical, believing seems harder for me than moving mountains, doing tactical exercises-and the financial exploitation of immature persons, donec reddant novissimum quadrantem [till they have paid the last penny].

In this sense, then, the understanding and use of reason is itself corrupted, and philosophers who would have reason devour way more than it can chew, and in their devouring prepare the world for a new kind of hellish tyranny, concealed under the birth lights of rational progress.

In depicting Hamann’s critique of the Enlightenment, let us take up again the earlier point about the gods and the life-worlds of pre-philosophical peoples so that we can bring into sharp relief the world of faith in reason’s ideas and faith in gods. For Hamann is not for a second claiming that we should deny what we know to be true. But (again Nietzsche makes the same point but in a more palatable way to a readership hankering to display its creative genius in world-making), he contrasts one world, which divinizes its ideas without conceding that it does this, with another, which rests on faith about a God it obeys and whose way are miraculous and hence never completely rational or comprehensible.

And he finds no compelling reason whatever—precisely because he takes experience and history as the touchstones of reasons about human matters—for rationalized principles to be taken as completely truthful of anything about us or our world. Whereas Kant had thought he had demonstrated, in defense of human dignity, that the very form of our reason is the clue to how we generate a moral content so that we are not (at least in thought) beholden to the limits of our nature and world, Hamann sees nothing but lunacy in such an aspiration.

Again, the comparison with Nietzsche is apposite: Nietzsche had stressed that behind reasons of value we would find nothing, at least nothing other than a will to power. But for him that meant he and the higher men should see nihilism as an opportune condition so that they could then create a higher culture and breed supermen who would give meaning to the earth.

Hamann would have been caught between nausea and laughter had he read Nietzsche: nausea at the sickening nature of the arrogance and all the deluded blather about great men, and heroes that was so typical of 19th century romantics fearful that the world in the making was as Nietzsche had put it, one fit for nothing more than “hopping fleas;” laughter at the kind of people who sit around and fancy in all seriousness and pomposity that they can provide the conditions for human greatness. He would, though, I think we can safely say, have loved Chesterton’s depiction of the superman as the feathered creature living in Croydon who was so sensitive that a breeze could kill him.

Hamann perhaps speaks more forcefully to us today than to his contemporaries. For we have witnessed what forces the attempt to replace gods with reasons and political actions of the sort pushed for by Nietzsche and Marx have unleashed. And we can also see that the less eschatological rights-driven attempt to replace this world with a morally absolute one, while having success in the West, is not at all embraced in cultures, where traditional values and figurative speech and imagination still are very much alive.

The only God that reason ever overthrew was the God of reason, but that God was itself a philosophical/metaphysical creation. Yet it was the case that as the faith in abstract ideas grew, as people have become more caught up in and satiated by material success, as, to use Weber’s terms, instrumental reason contributed to the disenchantment of the world, Western people have cared less for a “language” and for rituals in which the “gods” were called upon.

But the world’s mysteries do not stop because we are less conscious of them. The pre-moderns, which is to say a great number who inhabit the globe today, had accepted and still accept that the world is full of mysterious powers and thus told stories about their gods. And their gods were the living powers which “overpowered,” or “ruled” over them, and hence the powers to which they supplicated themselves.

Again, let me turn to Hamann’s greatest and most original “pupil” of the twentieth century Rosenstock-Huessy, a thinker who like Hamann challenged the security of the modern mind by his persistent recourse to ancient symbols and “names” to enable it to see with different, and more attuned eyes what was happening in the pre-modern world and to the selves it was shaping, in order to better see what moderns were oblivious to in their own destructive doing. The echoes of Hamann loudly resound in the following passage addressing the perennial and existential nature of human supplication and “divine” invocation by Rosenstock-Huessy:

Manifold are the powers which raise their voices in man. Anything may become his “god”, anything his ‘world.” Atheists, for example, may bring the “concept of God” before their tribunal in the name of their own God, matter. In other words, their God is matter, and their doubts and questions are aimed at a dead thing, the definition of theology. But this heckling of theological concepts has little to do with the name of the living God. A God is present in the materialist’s question as in any other. God is not a concept. He is always a person, and he bears a name. The name in which we are asked to ask others.
For instance, when I ask a sportsman: “How may a good sport do such and such a thing?” I invoke the power of sport. The sportsman in question shall not justify himself for my personal satisfaction. He is summoned to satisfy “Sportsmanship” and Her imperative. I am evading the disagreeable situation of somebody setting himself up as in authority, but putting the Sport on the higher level and myself remaining on the same human level with the other fellow. Yet there can be no doubt that I am relying on the existence of two levels, one of human democracy, the other of ruling powers….
The power who puts questions into our mouths and makes us answer them is our God. The power which makes the atheist fight for atheism is his God. Of course, God is not a school examiner. Man never gives his real answer in words; he gives himself…The gods whom we answer by devoting our lives to their worship and service ask for obedience, not for lip-confession. Art, science, sex, greed, socialism, speed—these gods of our age devour the lives of their worshippers completely.

That the gods preceded man, and that, historically, polytheism precedes monotheism are both indications of how the ancients sought to make sense of their worlds and their selves. Monotheism was, inter alia, a cry for the concordance of these powers to cohere and life and death to be under the dominion of a higher justice and goodness than evident in our mortal experience. This cry for concordance is partly addressed in Egyptian, Greek and Roman mythologies, where the gods belonged to a common “household,” so that these living powers and mysterious surprising forces, for all their discord, share the same “dwelling.” The polytheistic residues are evident, as Rosenstock-Huessy also observes, in the plural Elohim expressing, for the Jews, “the divine powers of creation.”

The modern rebuilding of everything from scratch, the mind’s year zero of Descartes et. al. is at once a reversal of how life has been experienced, and figuratively represented by pre-philosophical people, as well as an occlusion of our fragility and dependency. The initial anti-historical bent of Descartes was quickly replaced by a combination of models and axiomatic philosophical mythical history, so conspicuous, in the social contract theorists, that were indicative of the new myth-making of those relying upon their “natural reason,” and who would interpret history as not only a repository of myth, but as a template for their own projections which were meant to grasp what was really happening in order better to fix it with their philosophies. That is, they preferred their stories to those who had made the past, and reconfigured them in such a way that the earlier stories would fit the templates and models of those who “understood” more and came later, and whose energies were devoted to making a new kind of future.

But if we rely upon our understanding to provide “meaning” of the past we are inevitably drawn back into the mythic. That generation upon generation of historians will revise previous findings of the past as they get closer to the “truth” is invariably the result of the new quest and questioning being posed to the “facts” of the past. But the new quest with its own certitudes—such as the certitude of knowing what is involved in the creation of a less oppressive or more just society (in spite of philosophers ceaselessly disputing the principles and assessments as much as historians dispute the roles and “weights” of different causes and meanings of events)—is itself but the identification and valorisation of ideas of orientation and value that reflect faith in the new god.

Historical knowledge ostensibly provides a firm foundation alongside reason, but its mythic dimension is the inevitable result of us not simply deriving meaning from events, much less interpreting an event as just a collection of itemised or catalogued facts, but us drawing upon events to support the meaning of the world we inhabit. Thus, Hamann surmises against Viscount Bolingbroke: “Perhaps the whole of history is more mythology than this philosopher thinks, and like nature a sealed book, a cloaked witness, a riddle which cannot be solved unless we plough with some other ox than our reason.” And, “The field of history has always seemed to me to be like that wide field that was full of bones, and behold, they were very dry. Only a prophet can prophesy of these bones that veins and flesh will grow on them and skin cover them.”

The reference here to prophecy stands in the closest relationship to another invaluable insight of Hamann, viz., that as we are ever poised between past and future, and as future is making us as much as past is forming us, we are as much implicated in the quality of our prophetic capacities as in our observational ones. Neither our prophetic nor observational capacities are substances. But they are all part of a more general sensorium which informs our understanding, even though we understand very little of how we understand, let alone prophesy, or mediate between past and future.

Our knowledge is indeed in part, and our prophesying in part; united, however, it is a triple cord that is not quickly broken. If one falls, the other will lift up his fellow; if the two lie together, then they have heat. What would all knowledge of the present be without a divine remembrance of the past, and without an even more fortunate intimation of the future, as Socrates owed to his daemon? What would the spirit of observation be without the spirit of prophecy and its guiding threads of the past and future? It rains its gifts on the rebellious also, that the Lord might nonetheless be and dwell among them incognito without their knowledge and will.

And,

Despite the authority of the intellectual universe into presence and absence, I do not pretend that these predicates are anything more than subjective conditions by which no actual duplication of the objects themselves is substantiated, but rather merely a relationship of the diverse views and sides of one and the same thing to the measure of the inward man which corresponds to them, to his negative, variable, finite power which is incapable of any omnipresence because this is the exclusive property of a positive immeasurability.

Likewise, the spirits of observation and of prophecy are expressions of a single positive power which cannot be divorced by their nature but only in thoughts and for the use of thoughts; they in fact mutually presuppose themselves, refer to each other, and have effects in common. Hence when I compared the present with an indivisible point, the duplication of its power and its close connection with the past, as effect, and with the future, as cause, are not at all cancelled.

The enlightened philosophers had indeed put themselves in the role of prophets through their intimation that knowledge in accordance with the philosophical strictures they placed upon it would yield a more benign future. But knowledge is a vast, indeed boundless field, when it comes to trying to identify precisely what will come of what we do. The enlightened philosophers were only as good as the lights by which they operated, and those lights were (to rephrase Pascal) as much of the heart as of the head, the question that Hamann keeps throwing at these philosophers and their philosophers is simply: how much do you really know about the human heart and the human circumstance? Is it really better than the vast compendium of observation across ages, types of people and circumstances, the concatenation of contingencies gathered within the Bible?

Of course, this earlier “knowledge” is not method-dependent, and hence “unenlightened,” but are Spinoza and Descartes, Rousseau and Kant et. al. really more insightful about who and what we are than the biblical authors, or artists such as Homer or Shakespeare? Some do concede they are. But there is no compelling grounds to concede this. Further those who use philosophy to prove the superiority of the philosophical approach to value and existential meaning are only compelling to those who already share their faith in philosophy’s power.

As we saw with the founding of the new metaphysics, it initially takes off by studying nature and reason as such, before moving into ethics, politics, aesthetics etc. But Hume had raised the issue whether the science itself really needed the metaphysics (even though he still drew upon it). For his part Hamann, like Pascal, had the good sense to know that the study of natural science (a subject which he seems to have taken little interest in) was completely irrelevant to the kinds of claims he was making.

On the other hand, he made the critical observation of the Cartesian and post-Cartesian view of nature that is at once the kind of pre-philosophical observation any person sensitive to “nature” could make, and also central to the phenomenological critique of reductive naturalism and its metaphysics. The following collection of citations from Hamann all bring out different features of this insight, and give a sense of how important it is to Hamann:

Only a “bloody-lying philosophy” pretends this is all to nature, and thereby sets nature aside
Nature is an equation of an unknown quantity, like a Hebrew letter without vowel-points. It is a book, a letter, a “fable.” It takes more than physics to exegete her).
The great and small Masoretes of philosophy have poured over the text of nature like a flood. Must not all her beauties and riches be reduced to water?
Is nature a matter of “single, natural points to which everything reduces itself? Does everything consist of mathematical lines?”
Nature groans under such tyranny and longs for the day when it will be free of man’s fallen condition.

Just as Plato had moved from the study of the cobbler to reasoning about how we should live, and the nature of the entire cosmos, the new philosophical idea-ism had quickly moved from the study of “nature” and “mind” to all else beside. But such a move requires ignoring the very different (to use Wittgenstein’s formulation) “rules” of different “language games.”

And it is precisely when we take stock of the unavoidable fact that reasoning, whilst not denying ‘blazes’ of insight, or the mute thereness of all manner of contingencies, nor, even, the importance of silence in reflection, is operating in a world made by and smothered in the calls and behests, the promises and decisions, the education within a “problematic” and field of learning with its historical development, and concatenation of support structures, professional opportunities, that is to say in the vast formative, triggering, incubating and commanding powers of language enmeshed in assigned roles and circumstances, the understanding of which circulates socially.

As Hamann would write: “If I were only as eloquent as Demosthenes, I would need to do no more than repeat one phrase three times: reason is language, Λόγος; this marrowbone I gnaw and will gnaw myself to death over it.”

Hamann’s conviction that reason cannot be divorced from language, and that human life is so bound up with language that one cannot “transcend” it to make any sense of actual lives, and “life-worlds” stands in striking contrast to the idea that the mind “uses” language as a tool is an elementary, albeit widely held belief that is found in philosophy. Whether Hamann followed all the conceptual twists and turns of the first Critique and how they related to Aristotle, Leibniz, and Newton is impossible to gauge from his pithy critique of Kant and comments expressed in letters, but he certainly recognized immediately that Kant had treated reason as if language were not intrinsic to reason or even the world. Commencing with a paraphrase of Kant’s question, he observes:

How is the faculty of thought possible? the faculty to think right and left, before and without, with and beyond experience?—then no deduction is needed to demonstrate the genealogical priority of language, and its heraldry, over the seven holy functions of logical propositions and inferences. Not only is the entire faculty of thought founded on language, according to the unrecognized prophecies and slandered miracles of the very commendable Samuel Heinicke, but language is also the centerpoint of reason’s misunderstanding with itself, partly because of the frequent coincidence of the greatest and the smallest concept, its vacuity and its plenitude in ideal propositions, partly because of the infinite [advantage] of rhetorical over inferential figures, and much more of the same.
Sounds and letters are therefore pure forms a priori, in which nothing belonging to the sensation or concept of an object is found; they are the true, aesthetic elements of all human knowledge and reason.

That Kant had privileged mathematical physics over the vast expanse of the world “experience,” thereby creating a hiatus between “morality” and “experience,” each with their own transcendental foundations adding support to metaphysical principles, whilst also making the faculty of (aesthetic and teleological) judgment a mediator between two worlds, is completely in keeping with the Cartesian break with experience as historical. Thus, conceptualisation of experiences in Kant, governed by the understanding in conjunction with its intuited representations, draws upon a mental disposition to reality, which has nothing to do with the actual social processes involved in the demarcation of different spaces of investigation, role reciprocation, and the great amalgam of activities and other dispositions (mental as well as physical and social) where tradition and language reinforce each other. But it is precisely these kinds of convergences that Hamann notices. Thus, in his Essay on an Academic Question, (published under the pseudonym Aristobulus) Hamann writes:

The lineaments of a people’s language will therefore correspond with the orientation of its mode of thinking, which is revealed through the nature, form, laws, and customs of its speech as well as through its external culture and through a spectacle of public actions.

It is through speech that we take notice, that we form not just groups, but communities beholden to publicly declared commitments and associations, thereby leaving the eternal present of mutability or more elemental languages of mere animality, and move between past and future, as generations may “feed off” the discoveries and legacies, as well as errors of the past. “Speak that I may see you!—This wish was fulfilled by creation, which is a speech to creatures through creatures; for day unto day utters speech, and night unto night shows knowledge.”

But, for Hamann, speech does not thereby elevate us to the all-seeing position of a Zeus, or deist’s philosophical God, which the philosopher would love to reach, and which may free us from error. On the contrary,

To speak is to translate—from an angelic language into a human language, that is, to translate thoughts into words—things into names—images into signs, which can be poetic or curiological, historic or symbolic or hieroglyphic—and philosophical or characteristic. This kind of translation (that is, speech) resembles more than anything else the wrong side of a tapestry:
And shews the Stuff, but not the Workman’s skill, or it can be compared with an eclipse of the sun, which can be looked at in a vessel of water.

Or, as Paul put it, we experience the world as through a glass darkly. And while our senses do indeed convey information to us, it is our galvanization of collective and collaborated experiences that enables us to make sense of our senses. Thinking that reason somehow provides the all-knowing vantage point, makes no sense at all to Hamann, because reason can only work with the materials at its disposal, and apart from sensation it is primarily language. Thus, he writes to Jacobi:

With me it is not so much the question: What is reason? but rather: what is language! And I take this to be the basis of all paralogisms and antinomies which it is customary to lay at the doorstep of the former [the reason]. Thus, it happens that one takes words for concepts, and concepts for things themselves. In words and concepts no existence is possible which applies simply to things and matters of fact.

Language is simultaneously the storehouse, retriever of all past knowledge and past experience, as well as what activates so many of our moods and aspirations for the future—it speaks from and of the inner as well as the outer. We did not make language any more than we made our hands or feet or heads. Yet, at the same time, and somewhat paradoxically, we are making and remaking it all the time, just as it is making and remaking us. It is the source of our reason as much as the source of the abuse of reason, and much else. But it is also miraculously bestowed, rather than willed, and it grows and activates far beyond any limits of intention. It is alive with spirit. The divine word and the Holy Spirit are, for Hamann, both intrinsic to the faith that is deeply experiential and antithetical to a more abstract way of thinking based-on separating our participation in life from life as objectified.

Hamann had seen and amply demonstrated that the seam of biblical speech fitted the very condition that anything real has: potency. And the reality of something is its truth. Plato had conceded that even as he attempted to bifurcate reality into the higher and lower, the idea and that which participates within it. As did Aristotle, who distanced himself from this dualism of Plato, as he tried to conjoin the aspects of what made the real in such a way that it would remain within the province of philosophy. This required designating what was substance and what mere accident so that we could compare and inquire into substances.

But both Plato and Aristotle elevate the mind and definition in tandem with the idea and substance. The proof, though, of a process resides neither in our understanding nor defining—again that is what Hamann knew and appealed to. Of course, there are philosophers in moral philosophy who follow some variant of Kant’s dualism in which the truth of a principle is in its rational grounding—the world and all in it hence must be shrunken in order to conform to an overarching morally rational principle. Which only serves to show exactly what Hamann knew—that a madman is not to be divorced from the contingency he loves by the demonstration of his madness. He or she must be won over by loving another contingency.

Hamann plays the madman because he thinks we are all a little mad, and the maddest are those who believe in their own purity and rational certainty; they have found the perfect means of convincing themselves that the unreal is real. Contingency, though, including the contingency of our feelings, memories, “prejudices,” schooling, allegiances etc. are enmeshed in our convictions and willingness to change our minds.

Hamann grasped that the way the world is spoken of becomes the way the world is: this speaking is through commands and decisions, oaths and affirmations, loyalties and obligation, the creation of masters and protectors and commanders. When the heart goes bad, it may still, indeed, in some cases only then open itself enough to be saved, which is a Jewish and Christian idea; but to believe that the heart might be able to escape sin, that it will not mess-up, is a philosopher’s moral fantasy, that rests upon principles and ideas being substitutes for who we really are, what we do and what we believe, and what tempts us and what saves us.

The Enlightenment with all its hope has been one current in the formation of a modern world that for many is experienced as a hopeless, loveless, isolating, selfish enterprise. Just as language is the clue to our world making, to how we beckon and call, describe, and evoke, draw others into social projects whether to hold a meeting, build a bridge, follow a career, go to war, make a law, buy a product and engage in any number of actions, the poor use of language is also responsible for all manner of errors and seductions. It is not that we think without language, but the language we think with may not be its best usage.

The philosophers of the Enlightenment elevated the mind, but generally either ignored or objectified language as in the study of linguistics. This is because it puts demands upon the world to be represented in sufficient clarity and distinctness that we know what things really are, as opposed to what we merely think and say they are. Mystery dissolves under the glare of enlightenment. And the danger of the idea of enlightenment itself was that it tore us out of the traditional gatherings and collective experiences and the sediments of that gathering in language and promised redemption through abstraction.

To be sure, the radical nature of the search for light had taken on such momentum because of the scale of carnage of the religious wars and Thirty Years War, as well as the new pathways of life that accompanied the Reformation, and the new modalities of social power which required political articulation. While, then, the Enlightenment was itself a reaction to, and symptom of a tradition in crisis, the fact was that Hamann could also see a catastrophe of enormous magnitude incubating in the solution, which is why he sought to temper the philosophical abstractions that were carving out a new future with the more figurative traditional spiritual stock and forces of Christian culture.

Hamann’s friend and admirer Herder would attempt to bring those “forces” of culture back into philosophy. In this respect he more than Hamann continues in the vein of Vico.


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


The featured image shows, “The Cult of Reason being celebrated at the Notre Dame, Paris,” anonymous engraving, 1793.

The Wit Collection: Art History Jokes 7

Again, I selflessly offer valuable hints on how to grasp the majesty of these jokes, invaluable for those unfortunate enough not to be of British origin.

Sir Ken Dodd was an anarchic, energetic comedian with his roots in the music hall and Liverpool, albeit with a touch of the Surreal about him. Margaret Thatcher was an unlikely fan. Bernard Leach (potter) and Barbara Hepworth (sculptor) were near neighbours for many years in St Ives, their modernist good taste positively suffocating. Painter Patrick Herron was another neighbour and friend. The legendary Clement Greenberg went to visit them; and I like the notion of him gulping down a Cornish pasty.

Across the pond, the original version of ‘Nobody’s Child’ was by US country legend Hank Snow; a mawkish cover by Karen Young was a big British hit in 1969. At school, I would sing it word (and note) perfect, nude, in the changing room after swimming, oblivious to the jeers from vulgar boys. For a hefty fee, I am willing to stage a comeback appearance…


What did Clement Greenberg say to the angry St Ives School critic attacking the Ab Ex’s as charlatans?
Keep your Herron.

Sir Ken Dodd, in a cavalier mood.

What was Sir William Orpen’s favourite pop song?
Nobody’s Child.


Who is the Newnham College, Cambridge, First VIII captain who proudly traces her ancestry back to a great architect?
Miss van de Rower, and it’s now the First IV because fewer are more!


Two good UK car registration numbers for feminist art historians:
MOR150 MAR150L
And one for a gothic revivalist:
PUG1N


Surprising as it may seem, Bernard Berenson was a big fan of Ken Dodd. This was reflected in the farewell greeting he would invariably dispense to visitors to his opulent Tuscan villa:
Tatti-bye, everybody, Tatti-bye!”


Dr Stocker’s admonition to Van Gogh’s rather glum Potato Eaters:
Hey, cheer up guys, those are great organic, freshly dug Jersey Bennies, and you’ve got crème brûlée for afters! (Mark Stocker is a Van Gogh fan, but Vincent van Gogh was a great painter).

Vincent van Gogh, The Potato Eaters.

What did the Telegraph book reviewer call the Marxist art historian T.J. Clark?
The Absolute Bore.


How would you describe the intellectual condition of a Berkeley art history student on their Italian Summer School Semester, c. 1968–69?
Ruskinian, i.e. Stoned in Venice.


What is the name of Lucian’s masterpiece of a young lady in her underwear?
A Freudian Slip.

Lucian Freud, Girl with a white dog (the closest you get to a Freudian slip).

Conversation between two doctoral students of Abstract Expressionism:
‘This painting is black and white and red all over.’
“Well, it’s a bleeding Kline, innit?!”


Barbara Hepworth to Bernard Leach:
“So, whassup today, Bernie?”
“Just pottering around!”


It’s Christmas in Berlin, 1913. What does Santa say to Kirchner’s street-walkers? Ho! Ho! Ho!


MOMA’s new head of Comms, naturally a great Greenberg admirer and foodie, has just come up with a winning new promo slogan:
MOMA: Avant-Garde and Quiche!


Dr Mark Stocker is a former academic and art curator who lives in New Zealand. Besides his jokes, he has 230 marginally more serious publications, many of which are on Victorian public monuments, numismatics and New Zealand art. His book When Britain Went Decimal: The Coinage of 1971 will be published by the Royal Mint in 2021.


The featured image shows, “Selbstbildnis, lachend” (Self-portrait, Laughing) by Richard Gerstl, paintedsummer/autumn, 1907.

Education As Provocation: A Conversation With Konrad Paul Liessmann

This month, we are so very pleased to have a conversation with Professor Konrad Paul Liessmann, the renowned Austrian philosopher, essayist, and cultural critic at the University of Vienna.

The Postil (TP): Welcome, Professor Liessmann, to the Postil. It is a great pleasure to have you with us. Recently, your book, Bildung als Provokation (Education as Provocation) was translated into French as La haine de la culture. Pourquoi les démocraties ont besoin de citoyens cultivés (Hatred of Culture: Why Democracies Need Educated Citizens). The difference between the two titles is interesting. Could you speak to this difference? Is there a connection between education today and a “hatred of culture?”

Konrad Paul Liessmann. Photo Credit: Heribert Corn.

Konrad Paul Liessmann (KPL): There is this connection. Culture, in the sense of the great works of world literature, music and the visual arts, was banned from education. The only thing that now counts in education, therefore, is competencies; dealing with the great documents of culture is hardly relevant anymore. This is also the result of a “hatred of culture,” an attitude that wants to make it easy for everyone and denounces as elitist any argument that requires concentration, knowledge and effort. That doesn’t mean that this culture should be adopted uncritically; but without this culture all education is empty.

TP: How do you understand culture?” Do you think we have lost culture?

KPL: Of course, there are the most varied of provisions of culture. One can start from a concept of culture that turns everything into culture that people somehow do regularly, ritualized and in a formed way—in this sense one can speak of a culture of beer drinking as well as a culture of war. But one could also start from a narrow concept of culture that only accepts those forms of culture in which that tendency towards reflexivity and aestheticization has become independent. That could best be called “art.” Indeed, no one wants to reduce culture to art anymore. One would rather “expand” the concept of art and allow it to coincide with the expanded concept of culture. However, it was only the elitist concept of culture that was limited to artistic activity and associated with an exquisite quality standard that made it attractive for its expansion. The fact that even the stupidest TV show wants to be culture only makes sense if you want to peck at the aura of a term that you simultaneously negate with this claim.

However, the concept of culture also suggests other interpretations and differentiations. In its original meaning, culture has, strangely enough, three opposing terms that say more about it than laborious definitions of the term culture itself: nature, barbarism, and civilization. Culture can only be determined on the basis of these and in contrast to them. Culture is originally, in its derivation, from “agriculture,” that is, worked nature. Furthermore, culture is the work on human nature. What is still raw in people, i.e., na-ture, is cultivated and refined with regard to the actual purpose of the human: autonomy and freedom. Culture always has a strong aesthetic component. Culture is always freedom from necessity, a game of fantasy and imagination, and not the practice in the practical constraints of the digitalized competitive society. In this sense, it could be that we actually lose culture because we only see everything from the point of view of usefulness.

TP: Education, of course, is the primary focus of your book. But education now means so many different things. How do you understand education?

KPL: The beautiful German word Bildung has a wide variety of meanings. Of course, this includes essential aspects of upbringing (“Education”), but the imparting of scientific, cultural, aesthetic and historical knowledge is also part of education for me. And finally, education also has a lot to do with self-education, with the formation and cultivation of mind, body and soul, with the development of dispositions and talents.

TP: There is much talk about “skills” and getting students ready for jobs (which are non-existent). Do you think universities are betraying young people because they are training them to be obsolete?

KPL: Our dynamic world no longer allows precise predictions about the world of work of tomorrow. So it is hardly possible to train young people for a certain profession. Universities shouldn’t do that either. Universities should offer a scientific education that represents a solid basis for future prospects.

TP: You offer a very pertinent quotation from the German philosopher Peter Bieri, who also writes novels under the pseudonym, Pascal Mercier – “…the educated person reads books in such a way that they change him?” Could you speak about this “change?”

KPL: Well, Peter Bieri talks mainly about reading literature, novels, short stories, poetry. According to his thesis, the reader of literature learns how to talk about the way people think, want and feel. The reader learns the language of the soul. He learns that one can feel differently about the same thing than he is used to. He learns new words and new metaphors for mental events. Because his vocabulary, his conceptual repertoire, has grown, he can now talk about his experience in a more nuanced way, and this in turn enables him to feel more differentiated. Whoever feels more differentiated, who now has words for complex feelings, has changed through reading. Reading helps to better understand other people, other situations in life, strange worlds. Precisely because this is so important in a diverse world, I don’t understand why literature is disappearing from schools.

TP: Do you think education is secular redemption?

KPL: No, I do not think so. But very often it is pretended that all the problems of our world are solved if enough is invested into education. In no area of life is there so much hope set as in that of education; there is no authority that is trusted as much as education. Education is a sought-after resource for countries with few natural resources in global competition; education is seen as a medium with which girls, migrants, outsiders, lower classes, the disabled and oppressed minorities are to be emancipated, promoted, integrated and included; and education should protect young people from being seduced by drugs, the Islamic State, and protect them from the populists. Education is supposedly the means by which prejudice, discrimination, unemployment, hunger, obesity, anorexia, AIDS, inhumanity and genocide is prevented—the challenges of the future are met and children are happy, and young sdults should be made employable: But none of that is possible. There are far too many expectations placed on education— and that is why one is always disappointed in education.

TP: Technology has given modern man much leisure time – but modern man is also forever in a rush, never having enough time for anything. Could you explain this paradox?

KPL: I think modern technology is ambivalent: it gives us freedom and makes us dependent. This also characterizes digitization. Any relief will be undone by the variety of possibilities that this technology offers and that we want to exhaust. That’s why we’re constantly rushed because we don’t want to miss anything. And we don’t want to miss anything because we no longer have any idea what is really important in our life. I hardly exlcude myself from all this. Technology has a great seductive power—we forget how much it makes us slaves to our machines. The machines should serve us and not we who should serve the machines.

TP: Will technology make institutional education unnecessary?

KPL: I do not believe that it will. The current corona crisis in particular shows how important schools and universities are. Learning is primarily a social process; meeting people is constitutive for educational processes, not working through programs.

TP: You mention the term “pseudo-scientificization of pedagogy” used by the philosopher Julian Nida-Rümelin. Could you explain what this means?

KPL: We have a fundamental problem with the scientification of professions that could be viewed more as craft, such as education. A good teacher doesn’t have to be a good scientist, and a good scientist is by no means a good teacher. Nevertheless, I believe that in a modern knowledge-society, teachers in schools need scientific training, because the sciences are the basis of teaching. The fact that so much fake news and conspiracy theories are circulating today also has to do with the fact that we don’t know enough about how knowledge is produced and communicated.

TP: You make a very powerful statement in your book—“No, education alone cannot change a society.” What led you to this conclusion?

KPL: If you will permit: the historical experience. The current balance of power is reflected in every idea of education; the hope that the youth will do better one day has still been disappointed. Social changes result from social and economic tensions, from technological innovations, and, yes, also from wars. Education alone can do little here. And yet I do not give up the hope that educated people treat themselves, treat others, treat the environment a little more carefully than is currently happening.

TP: There is a very intriguing chapter in your book, entitled, “Europe Considered as Fine Art. Towards an Aesthetics of a Continent.” How should we understand this?

KPL: The idea was, based on the famous book “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts” by Thomas de Quincey, not to look at Europe from an economic, political or bureaucratic point of view, but rather from an aesthetical one. How does a colorful map of Europe from the Middle Ages, the 19th century and the present affect us? What role do the great authors from Homer to Shakespeare to Flaubert and Dostoevsky play in our conception of Europe? What significance does “absolute music” have as a genuine European invention for European consciousness? Is it a coincidence that the “European Anthem” goes back to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony? And what do metaphors from architecture, such as, the talk of the “common-house Europe” mean for our self-image? I wanted to pursue these and similar questions.

TP: You also make an essential difference between art and science. Do both exist for the “betterment” of “society?”

KPL: No. They do not exist “for” the betterment of society. Because art and science have to be free and autonomous, only then do they work well. If they are subjected to other purposes, no matter how desirable to us, art and science will be corrupted. Ideology and morality therefore have no place in art and science. But as an expression of freedom, art and science can also be a model for what a sovereign and self-confident human life could look like. But: art is not science and science is not art. Art is committed to imagination and aesthetic form, science to empiricism and rationality.

TP: In your invigorating discussion of revolution, you talk about Henning Ritter’s Die Schreie der Verwundeten (Screams of the Wounded). Why are revolutions cruel?

KPL: I don’t know. But they are. All. Every revolution has betrayed its goals and ideals. Perhaps this is due to a fatal logic: because revolutionaries believe they are on the right side of history, they consider anything to be permitted in order to achieve their goals. Whoever considers everything to be allowed because the end justifies the means becomes cruel, evil, inhuman. We must distrust revolutionaries of all shades.

TP: You call modern democracy “an administrator of poverty.” That is both a marvelous and a disturbing phrase, given the ease with which censorship is now applied and the strict control of speech (especially in English-speaking countries). Is this the result of the “mercantilization of society and life,” to use your apt term?

KPL: This question touches on several aspects. The modern, democratic state becomes an “administrator of poverty” insofar as we see it primarily as a welfare state that is supposed to alleviate the worst negative consequences of economic and ecological developments. The state is no longer a center of power, but a compensation institution. This can be seen clearly, for example, in education policy, which has actually become social policy under the keywords “equity of opportunity” and “equal opportunities.” And the state is increasingly understood as a moral institution that has to ensure that people speak correctly, think correctly, love correctly, eat rightly and act correctly. Sometimes nudging is enough, sometimes it leads to regulations and prohibitions. This undoubtedly restricts human freedom. In addition, we model our lives in principle according to the model of the market, according to the model of companies. Professors become knowledge-managers, lovers become people who invest emotions with the hope of high returns.

TP: The structure of the “political party,” you state, has fallen into a crisis as a political model. Do you think such political parties have a future?

KPL: Well, I am not advocating the abolition of parties, I just see how the traditional big parties—bourgeois parties, social democratic parties—get into a crisis and new parties emerge faster and faster, which can also quickly disappear. This has to do with the fact that people are no longer clearly defined socially and culturally. Changing interests lead to changing political representations. As the name suggests, parties correspond to a part of the whole; a democracy should be able to identify itself in the interaction of the parties. But you can imagine a democracy—as in antiquity—without parties, even without elections: you can also draw lots for important functions among the citizens.

TP: The idea of “limits” or “borders” is an important one in your thought. How should we understand these two terms, and is there a connection between borders and education?

KPL: Border in a double sense (“limit” and “border”) plays an important role not only in my thinking, but also in thinking in general. Without drawing boundaries, we cannot think; every “definition” is such a boundary. Boundaries teach us to differentiate, and boundaries mark differences. But limits are also an instruction to act: up to here and no further. And I could go on. Limits can therefore always be postponed, changed, exceeded. Borders therefore arouse curiosity; they refer us to the neighbor on the other side. This is also important for education: boundaries never divide absolutely, but they show what is here and what is there. And in a political and legal sense, borders have been invented to protect the weak. The strong do not need limits. “No borders” used to be the battle cry of aggressors. I don’t know if it’s really any different today. Of course, one shouldn’t draw rigid, inhumane boundaries. But without borders, our thinking and the world sink into chaos.

TP: “Anyone who thinks is fundamentally intolerant.” Could you explain this interesting phrase, and is the work of the intellectual still relevant?

KPL: The sentence sounds provocative, but it isn’t. The thinker is concerned with, arguable, justifiable insights, with the claim to truth. Tolerance is a wrong principle in science. As Karl Popper already taught, one has to do everything possible to falsify hypotheses and theories, i.e., to show that they are false. Theories only acquire a certain plausibility if this does not succeed. Thinking can and must be intolerant because it is not about the tolerance of other opinions, but about the search for truth. Tolerance would mean that we would no longer be able to recognize errors. That would be fatal. Intellectuals have the task of making that clear. Tolerance is only required in questions of religious belief, not in questions of scientific truth.

TP: In the final chapter of your book, you call for a “new Enlightenment.” What will this “new” Enlightenment look like?

KPL: My point is that the new Enlightenment should build on forgotten dimensions of the old Enlightenment. In this context I recall a contemporary of Immanuel Kant, the German-Jewish philosopher, Moses Mendelssohn. For Mendelssohn, enlightenment, i.e., science and rationality, was one aspect of general human education. The other side was culture, i.e., art and emotion. We have to learn again to think together the many dimensions of man. That also means that education has to educate itself about itself.

TP: Are you hopeful about the future of the West?

KPL: The philosopher Günther Anders, who spoke about the “antiquity of man,” once remarked: Hope is just another word for cowardice. If the ideas of European humanism are important to us, we should do everything we can to assert these ideas; that does not exclude criticism and self-criticism. But if we want to say goodbye to them because we are falling back into tribal structures, or want to submit to the dictates of the digital industries, we can do that too. In both cases there is nothing to hope for.

TP: Professor Liessmann, thank you so very much for your time. It has truly been a great pleasure and honor to speak to you.


The featured image shows, “Portrait of a Young Scholar,” attributed to either Jan van Scorel or Maarten van Heemskerck, painted in 1531.


Translated from the German by N. Dass.

“Well, Who Ya Gonna Believe? Me, Or Your Own Eyes?” Leopold Tyrmand: The “Cabal” and the “Media-Shangri-La”

The following points were the lead into the Daily Mail’s story on January 26 2021 about the findings of Edelman’s 2021 Trust Barometer:

  • New data from Edelman shows that American trust in media is at all-time low
  • 56% believe that journalists and reporters are purposely trying to mislead
  • 58% think news organizations are more interested in ideology than facts
  • Only 18% of Republicans trust the media versus 57% of Democrats
  • As a whole, 46% of Americans of all political stripes say they trust the media
  • Media trust is at lows around the world indicating a global phenomenon

In the United States this figure is more or less on par with the percentage of the population that believed that the outcome of the 2020 USA election was the result of foul play. While journalists may be disappointed by this lack of trust, given that from the moment of Donald Trump’s election victory in 2016, they shifted from opposing his candidature to all-out war with him and those who did not represent their interests or view of the world, one can only ask: why would they be surprised?

If the journalists were to be believed, then Trump had not only colluded with Russia to win the White House in 2016, he and his followers were white supremacists. His racism was such that he banned Muslim immigrants for merely being Muslim immigrants, and was happy to put Latino migrant children in cages because they were Latino migrant children. Who could not see that he was a monster? Then there was his sheer incompetence—his handling of COVID directly led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. Who could not see that he was a complete idiot? Surely, it was utterly immoral to let the fate of the world hang upon his deranged and deplorable supporters having the numbers on election day.

And so it was, as an intrepid reporter for Time magazine on February 4th, informed the world, in a sentence that would be endlessly repeated by conservative bloggers and Youtubers who were not allowed to say that the 2020 election had been rigged: “a well-funded cabal of powerful people, ranging across industries and ideologies, working together behind the scenes to influence perceptions, change rules and laws, steer media coverage and control the flow of information.”

As the author of the piece, Molly Ball, spun it, thanks to their tireless efforts in making it easier to vote, democracy was saved from a tyrant. Other journalists had been routinely comparing the tyrannical Trump to Hitler, so she did not need to repeat that historical analogy; though the historian Timothy Snyder, who knows a thing or two about the holocaust, had said early on in the Trump presidency that the comparisons with Hitler might be a little overblown—Mussolini was closer to the mark.

To the Trump haters who appeal, when it suits them, to “the science,” who “fact check” every joke or exaggeration that Trump has ever made, and who see the need for a Reality Czar to deprogram the members of the Trump cult, the minor fact that Trump had not imprisoned any journalists, or any other of his political opponents for that matter, was of no consequence. As for the dribbling deranged deplorables—likened by the actor Sean Penn and FBI Director James Comey to members of Al Qaeda—who, on election night, thought that their votes might just have been discounted or put in the Biden pile along with the votes of convicted felons, illegal aliens, people of no fixed address, the dead, and the never having existed, Big Tech joined the forces of older media in censoring and denouncing them.

The whole idea that this “cabal” was a “cabal” rigging the vote was a conspiracy theory spread by QAnon. Given that the sibylline utterances of Q were bat-crap crazy and that nothing Q had ever predicted actually occurred, the identity of Q came down to one possibility—Q was someone who was dedicated to making Trump and all of his supporters look like idiots. That left the following possibilities about who came up with Q: either someone having a laugh at the expense of the small band of deplorables with unlimited gullibility, or a Democrat, or a never-Trump shill.

It may well be that the reason so few journalists had so little interest in genuinely investigating why half the United States did not think like they were supposed to think was sheer laziness—for finding them would mean going and talking to people beyond the bars, clubs and restaurants frequented by journalists from New York, Washington, Portland, Los Angeles, or San Francisco. It would have required journalists going to very unpleasant places and hanging out with a bunch of weirdos and white supremacists—yuk!

Given the way the word “racists” was thrown around so frequently as the answer to the question, who actually voted for Trump, it is only reasonable to think that if laziness were in the mix it was ideologically induced laziness. The same question arises about Q. Is it because of laziness that none of those intrepid reporters, who turned up to all those press conferences to give Trump a good piece of their mind, were interested in finding out who Q was? Or, was Q an ideological gift that just kept on giving, something that only completely came to the fore after the election, when anyone who called for an election audit was said to be just repeating that crazy election conspiracy theory invented by Q?

In a world where an ideological trope—racism, sexism, Islamophobia, transphobia et al.—explains all the great social and political problems of the day, and hence is ever ready at hand to tie a story together, it all made sense that if people were crazy enough to support Trump they must be crazy enough to believe in Q; and hence if they are crazy enough to support anything Q says then they are crazy, though even if they have never heard of Q, they are still stooges of Q, who is a stooge of Trump, who was Putin’s stooge. And if you don’t believe that, you believe in conspiracy theories. It is a serious question: how much recreational drug use contributes to this way of thinking amongst our educated elite?

Or, to put it another way: why would the media-entertainment, sport and big tech moguls, celebrities, academics, global financiers, wall-street brokers, captains of industry, trade-union officials, journalists, and other societal and economic “leaders”—in sum, the “cabal”—who ranged from those who openly called for Trump’s assassination, to those who just wanted him beaten up, to the moderates who just wanted him impeached and banned for life from social media access or ever holding political office—tolerate Trump’s deranged supporters having their vote counted?

But lest anyone think that any of the “cabal” were thinking along such logical lines, Molly Ball (our intrepid reporter) set the record straight: “They were not rigging the election; they were fortifying it.” Yes indeed, democracy was fortified by a raft of changes to voter eligibility, the process of voting, as well as the security protocols surrounding voting. Most significant was the easing of conditions of mail-in votes, with a number of states changing early voting and voter deadlines rules, and “simplifying” or scrapping altogether requirements for authenticating voter ID and ballot signatures. All of which just happened to make it much easier for a third party to tamper with a ballot. In some states the security around voting was less than is needed to buy a beer in the USA. “Fortifying” the election would also explain the videos of the unsealed boxes of ballots being found or delivered at all those weird times, and the multiple tabulation of ballots performed in the wee small hours when scrutineers had been sent home. To such non-evidence, journalists, in unison, repeated the immortal line of that great metaphysical rationalist Chico Marx: “Well, who ya gonna believe? Me, or your own eyes?”

Let us, though, imagine for a moment that the above survey results came from the 1950s: in light of the very different values that most people in the USA shared then, would the journalists of today think such widespread mistrust in the media had been a bad thing? For the values that most journalists and other urban professional groups supported back then were pretty much the values Trump and his supporters defended in 2016, viz.,

  • that citizenship was not the right of someone who entered the United States by illegal means;
  • that the national partnerships, especially between labor and capital, and the national interest had to take priority over global partnerships and global capital and the economic well-being of other nations;
  • that the key to the nation’s welfare was an environment in which access to employment was a major priority;
  • and that citizens of the United States could and should peacefully resolve their problems rather than treat other Americans on other aspects of their being, such as, race, gender, or sexual preference.

That is, it is hard to argue that the progressive journalists of the 1950s, who generally thought that most other journalists were mere mouth pieces of America’s ruling class interests, that is, the journalists who went along with the Soviet depiction of the United States as a cauldron of racial and working-class oppression and hatred, would have been anything other than heartened to see that the population did not accept the ideological propaganda of their bourgeois colleagues.

Leaving ideology aside for a moment, one might reasonably argue then—as now—that there is something else that one might consider in more normal times, if one were seriously interested in whether people should believe what journalists tell them. And that is the question of the competence of journalists to investigate a story thoroughly. I hardly think it would be a bad thing for the majority of the population to suspect that journalists are not particularly trustworthy, because, said people recognize that journalists like most people take short cuts, and soft options, and generally are neither overly bright, nor overly industrious.

I think most of us find that if we want a good tradesman, a good doctor, a good dentist, a good lawyer, it is better to ask around than take pot-luck—because we regularly come across people in professions and trades who are not very good at what they do. Why would journalists be an exception? I doubt that most people have ever thought that journalists are naturally wiser, smarter, more industrious or less prone to error and prejudice than other people. When it comes to political reporting, it is also obvious that most political journalists think like their colleagues and people who have had a similar education to them. And they nearly all think they are entitled to set the agenda for how the world should be.

As for their education, journalists are just as likely to have been taught by people who are also not overly bright or thoughtful. By bright and thoughtful I mean someone who is not only naturally gifted, but someone who is really hungry to know stuff, someone with a wide range of interests and curiosity, someone who looks at issues from vastly different and contradictory viewpoints, someone who is not only open-minded, but who is willing to be, and who admits to being, wrong. Such a person is far better placed to identify connections and associations that others fail to notice because they are not prisoners of their own vanity, nor of a consensus, whether that consensus be disciplinary or ideological in nature.

In the fifty or so years of my life spent as a university student and university teacher, I encountered plenty of naturally gifted minds, but I met very few bright or genuinely thoughtful people who taught Humanities. Most that I met read little outside of their area of “expertise,” were far stronger in conviction than in curiosity, had not significantly changed their minds on the issues that they taught and studied since their graduate days, were prone to vanity, loved to “critique,” but hated to be criticized, and generally enjoyed being with people who thought just like them.

For most of them being a good teacher amounted to them being enthusiastic in encouraging their students to think just like them. It can hardly be expected that those who prepared to be journalists by going to college would end up being particularly bright—their chances of even getting a degree requiring that their ideas generally conform to the narratives of their teachers, just as their chances of getting a job also required a conformity of values and social and political outlook with their fellow journalists and editors.

In so far as the class (covering a range of occupations) that crafts, instructs and monitors narratives which have social and political efficacy are almost universally subject to the same norms and processes of socialization, it is not surprising that those who have gone to college and received their information from the media, believe what they read or hear and watch when it is prepared by people who think just like they do—all of which conforms to the ideas and associations that they identify with, routinely discuss, and have reaffirmed in almost every social setting.

This is no less the case in my circle of friends, most of whom have been fairly well educated, have firm political convictions (which I do not remotely share) about how to make the world a just and fair place. Most of them, like other well-educated Western peoples, receive their information from such seemingly “reliable” and professionally run outlets, such as, the New York Times, the Guardian, or (here in Australia) the Australian ABC.

I realize that I have been very fortunate in that my political teachers have been people like Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, Tacitus, Augustine, Hobbes and such like (who mean nothing to most of my friends), rather than Rachel Maddow, Don Lemon, or the writers at BuzzFeed or Mother Jones and their Australian equivalents. But even when I am with fellow academics who are reasonably well read, when it comes to politics, many of them sound much more like Maddow and Lemon than Thucydides, et al. And I rarely meet anyone who is remotely interested in thinking what would a Thucydides have made of this event—anyway he was just another white guy.

Like most of my friends, most academics I know do not think that there has been anything wrong with the behavior of the media, or Big Tech, or universities, or schools, or publishers, or human resource officers, or celebrities, or sports administrators, or high ranking figures from intelligence agencies and the military, who have routinely denounced, “de-platformed,” silenced, sacked, harangued critics of ideas that have become part of the contemporary consensus of the class that instructs and informs the rest of us about ideas and values.

My suspicion, though, is that more than half the population—that is the people who expressed their mistrust of journalists—think that our social and political elite are rotten, and not just victims of natural human failings, such as, laziness, incompetence and arrogance. They think this because they see that there is no area of their life that the state and corporate world has not conspired (I use the word deliberately) to politicize and make subject to some authority or other that can destroy one’s reputation and livelihood. That is to say, more than half the adult population of the United States believes they are now living in an increasingly totalitarian society—and the rest of the West is not far behind. Sure, they know the difference between the USA and a country that harvests the organs of their criminals, but many would also point to the harvesting of body parts of the unborn to say, make COVID vaccines, as something equally horrifying and unimaginable a couple of generations ago.

What is not as clear is the exact moment at which all the main institutions of the nation were controlled by an elite that chose to sacrifice freedom of thought and freedom of expression for a program, which they represent as justice. What, though, can be said with certainty is that the moment was the outcome of the victory of ideas that had some, albeit very minor, support in the United States amongst intellectuals even prior to the Russian Revolution, but by the time of the 1960s had swept up a great part of the student body at its most prestigious institutions of higher learning.

By the time Alan Bloom published The Closing of the American Mind in 1987, the radical ideas of the 1960s about human emancipation, how power is constituted and how it can be transformed to achieve greater emancipation had not only changed the university curricula within the Humanities, but the entire mindscape of a generation who now typically thought in terms of identity and diversity (understood as group identity which being a fundamental characteristic to be considered when employing or judging people). Bloom had identified what had become known around the same time as political correctness within the universities. What was less obvious then was the extent to which other institutions had succumbed to the same set of bad ideas.

As someone who observed the Trump presidency from very distant shores, the one thing that I thought his presidency had achieved was not only the exposure of the complete corruption of the media, and its willingness not only to lie, but to suppress the truth (the Hunter Biden lap-top was simply one egregious example of the media’s conspiracy of silence to get their man up), but to take the media head on. It may have not been as exceptional as we might wish to think, for media owners, and editors, prior to Obama taking office, to kill an investigation that might uncover a scandal that harmed their own political interests and investments. But when Obama became the commander-in-chief, as Jack Cashill has detailed in his Unmasking Obama, it became routine for what he (picking up on Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451) calls the “firemen” to protect the president from unwanted facts by “defaming opposition journalists, mocking their work, exposing their past sins, trivializing their information, and twisting their facts, among others.”

And while the media repeatedly said Obama’s presidency was scandal free, the fact was that just as he had firemen to burn the news, he was, as Cashill writes: “Like England’s Henry II, who reportedly said of Thomas Becket, “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest,’ Obama seems to have led by way of suggestion. His henchmen and women did the dirty work. They sent Nakoula Basseley Nakoula to prison for making a video. They watched in silence as Lt. Col. Terry Lakin was dispatched in shackles to Leavenworth. They had James O’Keefe and David Daleiden arrested for undercover reporting. They cyber harassed reporter Sharyl Attkisson. They used search warrants on reporter James Rosen and several Associated Press reporters. They punished whistleblowers. They helped frame George Zimmerman and Officer Darren Wilson. They used the IRS to crush the Tea Party. They turned a blind eye to the New Black Panther goons. They conspired to clear Hillary Clinton of criminal charges. They discouraged all serious investigation into the death of Seth Rich. And even before the election, they breached Obama’s passport file and probably doctored it.” And they could do all this because the media was cravenly abetting in its silence and “fact-checking” to ensure the dreamer-in-chief was presented as the great unifier; and when Trump won the election, the same firemen and enablers had to breathlessly report on fires that more often than not were of their own manufacturing. And they thought that the public would not notice—and, to be fair, their public didn’t.

Some thirty years ago I realized that journalists were not that bright, tended to be ideological, and rather lazy – which is to say I saw them as much like the academics I knew (don’t get me wrong I am fairly lazy and pretty slow—I just hate ideology). But I had not equated the New York Times with Pravda. That was my mistake (being slow, I am also not that bright).

I only wish that as I was starting what would become my academic life, I had read and had had the wherewithal to really absorb an essay published in 1976 in the American Scholar, by a Polish émigré, Leopold Tyrmand, entitled, “The Media Shangri-La,” which exposes how corrupt and pernicious to US democracy the media was even in the mid-1970s. To my shame and regret, I had not even heard of Tyrmand till my friend, Zbigniew Janowski, who regularly shakes me out of my tendency to sloth, suggested I should read it and reflect upon.

Before discussing the essay in a little more detail, I should mention that two brilliant and important books by Tyrmand. One is as perceptive a book on life within communism as has ever been written—The Rosa Luxemburg Contraceptives Cooperative: A Primer on Communist Civilization. The other, Notebooks of a Dilettante, is a fascinating and brilliant series of observational vignettes on American life. One observation from Notebooks is particularly pertinent:

“Even among trained Kremlinologists in this country, there persists a common belief that the upper class in communist society is made up of party members, government officials, high-ranking military people, and industrial managers. Nothing could be further from the truth; these people are the rulers; those overburdened with work, gross, coarse, very limited, “half-or-quarter intelligent (as we call them), undemanding where a better life is concerned. They live modestly, work fourteen hours a day and are early victims of heart disease. The real upper class are those who serve them—the cynical intellectual, writers, artists, journalists who sell a preparedness for every lie in return for money and lack of responsibility… They get in exchange material prosperity, extensive travel to the West paid by the state, intensive sexual dolce vita, made possible by their exceptional social position.”

Communism and its mutation of progressivism was the invention of what Tyrmand calls the real “upper class”—those who live off the making and monitoring of narratives which the rest of us should live by. I don’t think the “rulers” in the West today have quite the grim life that Tyrmand ascribes here to the communist “rulers” he describes, but his depiction of the group he identifies as the “upper class” is very accurate—it is the class of people who talk, write, play, and want to be renumerated for telling others what and how to think and what and how to behave in the world.

  • They are generally not interested in the hard sweat and compromise of policy and diplomacy;
  • they are largely averse to risk;
  • they do not wish to spend their time doing anything as boring as orchestrating and overseeing the productive deployment of material resources;
  • they like reading, writing and gas-bagging, especially with people who think just like them;
  • they are happy to morally condemn capitalism whilst designing (albeit without any detail) a new society in which capital would not exist; yet their interests align with those who do know how to attract massive amounts of capital and generate great wealth.

These are Nietzsche’s higher men and women, who (unlike Nietzsche) have discovered that if they purport to make the world equal, they will ever be served by clients who depend upon them—hence they are post-Marxists, and being post-Marxist means that they divide the world into oppressor and oppressed, and they receive the resources they need to live how they wish by instructing us all how not to oppress each other.

This conveniently fits the interests of that class of entrepreneurs and investors who want a compliant work force to produce what they think will be most profitable. This is the class of people who ensured that Trump and his goons did not destroy democracy. Of course, one only has to look at how the same people not only spoke about Ronald Regan, the Bushes, and a man who became a real sweetheart to them, John McCain, to realize how vicious they become if anyone stands in the way of their plans and interests.

Trump should have been the easiest of targets, and should have folded long before the 2016 election: he was a philanderer and cad; he was crude; he was vain; he was loose on detail; he was thin-skinned and petty, given to vengefulness over the most minor of slights, and seemingly incapable of circumspection. He constantly brought people into the administration who betrayed him and his program, and he frequently lost or turned against people who either loudly supported him, or were even brought onto the team with great fan-fare. This, though in large part, has to do with the class nature of the swamp problem that Trump had been elected to deal with.

Ann Coulter, who had supported him with such enthusiasm but was furious about his treatment of Jeff Sessions, called him out for being lazy, though—as someone who understands a thing or two about laziness—I doubt if sloth would really be brought up against Trump on Judgment Day. I think a more impartial observer might just note how many fronts Trump had to fight on because he could not find a supportive administration. In any case, for all Trump’s human flaws—he was no media pushover. At every opportunity, he called out journalists for being liars. And his supporters loved him for it. And as that happened the journalists and Democrats became ever more hysterical—they quite literally preferred to watch cities burn in “mostly peaceful protests” than have Donald Trump restore law and order.

The thing about any real democracy is that no one really gets what they want. When, though, people are unprepared to sacrifice what they want on behalf of a good that has been reached through contestation by accounting for differences in interests, then democracy itself is simply an impediment to an interest. Naturally, an elite of educated people think their interest is irreproachable. Hence, nothing is more evident to our elite than the “fact” that they are the incarnation of the good, the true, and the beautiful; and their mission in life is to guide the rest of us in ways in which we can all benefit from their goodness, truth and beauty.

Along with universities and schools, the media are our great saviours. And, as it so happens, they have managed to almost all line up as members, or outspoken supporters of a political party, which provides the program, policy platform, and plenty of jobs, and government funding for those who share its interests. Which is why Trump supporters have been saying for four years, the media is now simply the mouthpiece of the Democratic party—and, again, no wonder more than half the country does not trust the Media.

Workers in the Media claim to represent the public interest—when I first wrote this sentence, I had used the term the “national interest,” but it is incorrect to think that journalists care about the “national interest” when they are no longer in favour of national borders and hence of national sovereignty. The idea that there is a public interest which can be discovered and represented by anyone other than an elected representative, or, failing that, someone appointed by elected representatives, is very dubious indeed.

Though, one of the most dubious ideas that has, with the acceptance of the narratives and norms of identity politics, been presented as self-evident is that a person who shares a particular feature with others—gender or sexual identity, skin colour, etc.—is ipso facto a representative of others with that same characteristic. Thus, a presidential victory for a woman, say Hilary Clinton, would have been a victory for all women. Apart from this line of thinking being very self-serving—you should vote for me, Hilary, because I am a woman and am able to express policies that are beneficial to all women, etc.—it is obviously so silly that it was only believed by those women who shared the same values and wanted the same political things as Hilary Clinton did—as was obviously the case when Sarah Palin was mercilessly mocked by women and men who did not share her politics, and never hesitated to think for a moment that her gender made her a representative of women’s interests.

Conversely, we know that even the people who insist upon representation based upon identity are quick to jettison the primacy of identity when someone who is a black, woman, Muslim, gay—whatever—departs from the normative script about how a black, woman, etc. should behave. It is, then, understandable why a US citizen would say that the policies or pronouncements of the president do not represent what they think or feel, or their interest. But journalists are no more representative of the public interests, than butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers. Indeed, the one thing that is glaringly obvious is that their life-experiences have nothing in common with a large section of the public.

The larger media organizations also appoint the people with the best educational pedigree, which is to say, and to repeat my earlier point, that they appoint people who think like the people who trained them in how and what to think about social and political issues. And although academics generally claim they encourage independence of thought—they rarely do. From the perspective of an academic, whose bread-and-butter commitment and economic renumeration are built around identity, someone who argues against the idea that women or blacks or LGBT or Muslims or whoever, experience the world as an oppressed group is simply not thinking.

Given that much more than half the population do not think like “identitarian” academics, bureaucrats, or activists indicates that at least half the population are not thinking—which is why, amongst other things, incorporating critical race theory into the training programs within public institutions and private corporations, having policies on pronouns, ensuring that hetero-sexuality and cis-gender-ism are de-legitimized within the school system are so important for making the rest of society get with the program. Thus, too, any journalists who do not go along with the various ethical proscriptions against values, which are now “obviously” conservative, white-supremacist, sexist, etc. must not be employed, and if presently employed, they have to be fired. Journalists, though, are only part of the “cabal”—to use Molly Ball’s phrase again—students, and indeed anyone with a moral conscience, is required to report on anyone who might say or think such things.

But the progressive sense of morality is as haphazard as it is bizarre as it is self-serving. Our journalists feel it their duty to scout out and destroy any non-black (they do not like—double standards are rife, of course) who somewhere, sometime used a word, irrespective of context, which is endlessly spouted in rap or street talk, while having no interest in the role that our Hollywood moguls, the super-rich, celebrities, rock stars, and well-heeled urban professionals play in supporting an illegal product, the production of which is predicated not only upon the murder of tens of thousands of people, including women and children, but the corrosion and corruption of states.

The journalists, who joined the celebrities who made such a moral to-do about open borders, rarely (if ever) connected the refugee problem with the recreational drug issue and the class of people who it involves—to be sure, not only, but primarily, its audience. The moral line, though, whilst haphazard in terms of content, is consistently self-serving—the greatest moral enemies, who must be hunted down and destroyed, are those who speak out against the progressive spin and program.

This too is why Big Tech had to get in line with universities and other corporations, who have an ethical brand/image to protect and ensure that none say things that are hurtful and harmful, whether it be racist, sexist, Islamophobic, etc. Journalists play their role by identifying anyone who is caught saying or doing something racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. Thus, the never-ending daily stories outing “Karens,” racists, homophobes, etc. It does not matter whether the culprit is famous or not—they will soon be infamous, and have their life pulled through the media, so that they will in all likelihood lose their job.

Though, given that celebrities and sports stars belong to the good, true, and the beautiful, the program benefits drastically by discovering that sometime, somewhere, some high-profile figure did something, or said something contrary to the speech required of the program. Of course, people being what they are, some get more chances than others. Biden and Bill Clinton were held to very different standards on the matter of sexual harassment than various other characters who lost their reputation and livelihoods for deeds far less nefarious than these two presidents were accused of doing.

In a previous age, accusations alone were not generally seen by journalists as adequate for destroying someone’s reputation and livelihood (though the press has always been willing to use this in exceptional circumstances, now it is commonplace).

So while the media has always had its nefarious tendencies, those tendencies were more easily mitigated by its more limited reach. That reach and media scale, though, have expanded over the decades to fill in the gaps left by a world where in the larger cities people’s daily lives are increasingly confined to smaller areas of “thick” social connections. Thus, the disparate levels of trust in the media are connected to the kinds of daily social interactions people have in larger urban centres in comparison with those of people in regional and rural areas. The urban centres are full of people who think they are very intelligent because of what they read, watch, and repeat to others who share the same sources of information and make the same associations—”How could you distrust The New York Times?” they think, shaking their heads in disbelief, when they watch some redneck say things they have long since branded as racist, dumb, or part of a conspiracy theory?

But those who don’t spend their free time watching movies, tv, or reading the newspapers because they think they are garbage, having little to do with reality draw upon a very different set of life experiences. Their experiences make them think: “How can those people push their heads so far up their own behinds they do not see the obvious craziness of what they are saying?” And, as much as it is a surprise to the city slickers, they don’t much care for people who don’t know them, calling them racists and rednecks and imbeciles.

They also don’t roll over and lie down and grovel when a wealthy group of people who have gone to the best schools, earn very good money, and are mostly white, berate them for being white privileged, even though most of them are struggling to meet their mortgage, car payments, kids’ school tuition, etc. They could not choose their colour and most of them have done their best with the far more limited choices at their disposal than the smarties who have gone to Yale or Stanford and speak of them as human trash. They put in to their communities, they are generally good mannered and friendly to strangers, and do not bear people ill-will without cause.

Of course, they know they have their share of bad eggs; but they generally know right from wrong, and don’t dream up smart phrases so that they can no longer tell one from the other. Calling killing a baby “planning one’s parenthood” takes real sophistication and does far more danger to one’s sense of reality than merely taking the sting out of one’s conscience—as is evident when the serious moral dilemma of sacrificing a child to save a mother’s life is put on the same moral plane as the argument that a growing creature in the womb is nothing more than a finger nail. But that is where our “learning” has taken us.

The deplorables might not have gone to these palaces of learning, but they know a con when they see it—they know the people who mock and belittle them can no more have gone to the best schools and been oppressed than 2 plus 2 can make 0. So they also are perfectly able to recognise that when someone says that any member of an oppressed group should be believed, he doesn’t really mean it. They know that the people who say this are habitual liars, who have so lost their moral compass that they do not know they are habitual liars. Hence they do not even notice how haphazard they are in applying their moral standards—if you have the right politics and if you have the right friends your past manslaughter (for the young Ted Kennedy), past black-face (Trudeau) won’t count any more than your sexual harassment.

As night follows day, moral violations become increasingly stupid—cultural appropriation, micro-aggressions join the kind of offences that Lenin, Stalin and their henchmen had to dream up to clear away the old elite to make way for the new. To know what is expected, thus, becomes impossible to consistently maintain. Likewise, the equivalent to the once good old Bolshevik has been discovered to be an enemy of human kind—they may think biology matters, they may have thought it was funny to display their lack of rhythm or inability to do black street talk, they may have dropped a wrong word in a joke. They will all be denounced—or if too important, the media will ensure that their past crime will disappear—all who are found out will publicly repent, hoping they can maintain their career and fame and/or status—and if they do get a second chance they will be at the front of the queue at the next public denunciation. Some will be cast into oblivion and their past deeds will go the way of Eric Coomer’s anti-Trump Facebook posts.

Again we can all see this; but one group has enabled this and thinks it is the way to making a better world; while those who have not lost their minds wonder what planet someone is living on who thinks that good grammar or wearing a sombrero to a fancy dress party is racist. And again, the fact that journalists as well as the rest of the cabal cheer along with this, only shows people who have real connections, relationships, commitments and concerns that they are completely devoid of any understanding of real suffering and real humanity. The old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” might have simplified the matter; but when kids were taught it and chanted it in schoolyards around the country they were reminding themselves and each other that they were resilient and need not wilt when someone said something mean about them.

There is, though, no wisdom in believing that people are so fragile that they will be shaken to their very core and might never recover from a mean or stupid slur. Contrary to what the average journalist and college teacher now seems to believe, people do not need an endless set of protocols, laws, and punishments to stop everyone saying mean or stupid things. People are generally very capable of telling people who are rude to shut up. But an elite who live off instructing people in how to behave need to amplify the pain and sorrow along with the scale of meanness so that it includes entire groups. They target groups by promising to deliver them from the pain of humiliation, and they offer careers to a small number who they can get into the club; but most of what they deliver are words, dependency, family break-down, and impoverishment at an economic and spiritual level.

What I have just described is familiar to everyone—the program is articulated and pushed by all manner of people in all manner of professions and though it is paid for, and backed up by punishment, its success come from the fact that the class which aims for total control of information, normative narratives and associations is every bit as socially powerful as the clergy were within Christendom (the blogger Curtis Yarvin, aka Mencius Moldbug, speaks of its core ideational commitment being akin to the Cathedral). Just as the Church was both the expression of the faith of its members, and a vast employment agency, the political success of the new clerics of the new faith has been in not only creating ever more employment opportunities within the public and private sector to expand their faith, but increasingly ensuring that people who do not embrace the faith become unemployable, and denounced (indeed it is telling just how often the word “denounced” is used today).

There is no real division over the facts about some people losing their careers for saying or doing certain things. But people are deeply divided over whether this control and suppression of speech is a good or just thing. Likewise, people are deeply divided over the key tenets of social justice, including the idea that a specific aspect or personal feature constitutes an identity. That idea, in turn, has becomes central to the demand about how to think about people who share the same features. But if one thinks this is a really bad idea, then none of the attempts to distribute opportunities and resources, based upon that essential feature (that essence), amount to anything other than bad outcomes.

Likewise, no matter how much one bullies or denounces them, many people simply cannot accept that the way to solve certain social problems has been best laid out by critical race theorists, queer theorists, post-colonialists, et al. Likewise, many people simply do not accept, in spite of being told repeatedly that they are stupid or evil if they don’t see all women, or blacks, or LGBT, etc. as more or less all the same because they are women, etc. One does not have to be a poor white to think Oprah is full of it when she identifies herself with the most oppressed people in America because of her race. One does not have to be white to think that not all whites are racists. One does not have to be a man to think not all men are rapists.

Likewise, one does not have to be gay to think gay people should not be persecuted. And people may disagree with the rights of a gay couple to be parents without wanting to harm gay people—whether rightly or wrongly they can provide reasons for why any child might be better prepared for life by having a mother and a father. On this, and everything else besides, people see things in very different ways; and lots of people do not like being told how and what to think. But for those who not only like being told what and how to think, but who like telling other people how and what to think, these people are the problem. And they should go and get a good education, and if they cannot get into a college, they should watch the tv shows and movies which tell them how to behave, and watch, listen to or read the right (I mean left) media.

All of this which is clear now to anyone who does not like the program, nor much care for screaming youth burning down buildings in the name of racial justice, nor journalists telling them that the looting and arson they have been watching is mainly peaceful, or telling them that Antifa members smashing windows in the Capitol as they marched with MAGA supporters were not Antifa people, was obvious to Tyrmand back in 1976. He wrote then that the media in the USA had not only “appropriated, and mastered all the potentialities and subtleties of contradiction,” but had “monopolized” them so that “nobody will be able to effectively contradict the media.”

By the 1960s, he observed, the media, had already “transcended the traditional areas of influence—politics, for one. Larger targets were sought, perhaps the American soul or the totality of American life, so that either of these could be encompassed and shaped according to commandments that were never made clear, but no doubt existed.” To this the only qualification I would add, is that politics had been redefined in the 1960s to coincide with the personal.

The divide taking place in the United States was between those who were controlling narratives, and the ordinary people who smelled something very fishy going on in the stories they were reading and hearing. Given that there may be readers who cannot access this essay, I quote at some length:

“In the democratic ethos, we try not to hate but rather to despise, scoff, disbelieve; bigots hate, but normal people are disgusted by something or can’t stand it. In totalitarian countries, normal people hate in ways that denizens in democracies are unable to comprehend. It is a dark hatred rooted in the necessity to live at the unmerciful mercy of those who hold an unassailable monopoly on governing, informing, and, speaking out. Sometime during the sixties, a similar revulsion sneaked into the feelings of many Americans. The suspicion that “that you can’t beat them whatever you do,” which seemed to have been forgotten since the pre-labour union subjugation to the company store, made its reappearance as the people took a stand against the gemmating power of the media. Vietnam, student unrest, the Black Panthers. Permissive mores, and Watergate—coupled with the absence of any serious and sustained expression of opposing views—triggered in many people something stronger than disgust. The official beatitudes of the freedom of the press were trumpeted as articles of faith and key to Americanism. And the more these were preached as our common good, the more obvious it became that not everyone can bask in them; that among all of us who are free to express ourselves, some are freer than others, and to such a degree their freedom becomes out enslavement. Against this accusation, the editor barons would understandably reply that nay limitation they imposed must be looked upon as. a technicality, such as not enough space to present contrasting views, whereas any demand for checks and balances from them would signify an eventual collapse of liberty. It became clear that if truth is the victim of censorship in the totalitarian state, in America it falls prey to the manipulations that breed bitterness, a sense of bondage, and finally, hatred. Of course, the hatred can’t be ascribed to too many—only those who care about accuracy and equity and are tormented by it.”

I think it fair to say that since Tyrmand wrote this essay, the hatred expanded along with the sense of self-righteousness of journalists, which had, in turn, grown along with the self-righteousness and certitudes about the obstacles to emancipation and justice within the universities. Then came the Internet and cable TV. Millions turned away from the traditional media to find a platform. Trump was not only far savvier than any other politician about how to use social media, but he also gauged who was using it and why.

Trump-haters and Democrats seem to have never understood the extent to which people turned to Trump simply so that they could think independently, simply because they were sick of friends, family and everyone else in their circle telling them X, when they themselves were curious enough to get onto the Internet and discover if what was being said about X was truth or lie. People discovered there were lots of lies—lots of fake news. Or as Tyrmand said back in 1976: “All in all, the idea of information has been reduced to the attitudes of modern liberalism.”

Thus, when the gay New Yorker and former liberal Democrat, Brandon Straka, put up his story on Youtube about how he was ostracized and bullied by his liberal friends when he could no longer reconcile what he saw and heard with his own eyes and ears with some of the claims being made about Donald Trump, his video went viral. Hundreds of people quickly followed and made similar videos telling their stories—some were gay, some were trans, some (quite a lot in fact) had voted for Obama or been strong supporters of Bernie Sanders in 2016 (some had even worked on his campaign). To be more precise, they all told the same story: as soon as they reported back to their friends and family that they had discovered on the Internet something which indicated that what they were all accepting as a fact was not a fact, they were bullied and ostracized, attacked on Facebook, or Twitter. They just needed a platform to connect with people who had been ostracized and bullied in the same way; they wanted to be reassured that they were not mad.

BuzzFeed quickly informed its readers, in all seriousness, that the videos of the Walkaway movement, as it became known as, were created by Russian bots. And as much as BuzzFeed, CNN et al. wished to brand as fake-news, the narratives, information and even experience which they wished to discredit, it was the extent of their own collusion in the Russia election interference narrative and such eagerness to find Russian bots as BuzzFeed had found that was pivotal in people refusing to read or watch fake-news, and dive deeper (the term “deep dive” became commonplace, along with such terms as, “go down the rabbit-hole,” “red -pilled”) into the seemingly endless investigations people were conducting from basements where they would interview people and find audiences from all over the globe.

What was becoming apparent, is that the Media had followed the universities in losing any authority with well over half the country. And again, anyone whose livelihood and prestige were based upon the status of where they had received their education or where they were working was directly affected by this rebuke. Naturally they would get angry and bite back. They were losing clients.

The theme of client loss was astutely and repeatedly and very vocally picked up by black youtubers like Candace Owens, Kevin from Kevin’s Corner, Karen Kennedy, Jericho Green, Anthony Logan, Diamond and Silk, the Conservative Twins and many more—their common message is that the Democrats are the plantation party, that they make permanent clients of blacks, and that the way to a better life for black Americans is not to be found by black men not taking responsibility for their families, turning to crime, becoming a crack addict or selling drugs in the neighborhood. Nor is it to be found in welfare money or other freebies and white leg-ups, like easier entrance conditions for college, which all cement one into a clientelist position. They know that the reason why anyone—except the lucky few, whose inherited fortune may cost them their soul—gets ahead is by behaving well, putting in an effort, going to school and working.

Generally, they don’t like white college kids urging on rioters to loot stores owned by blacks as well as whites. They don’t like poor blacks being the means by which some white or even black college kid gets credit in their social justice class. They don’t like seeing black neighborhoods destroyed, and creating the conditions of gentrification for people from elsewhere to later capitalize on by swooping up cheap property. And they also do not like what they see as the genocidal culling of the black population by abortion becoming a key plank in the Democrats’ social policy.

Thus, their refrain is: white liberals deploy the narrative of systemic racism and white privilege to beef up their own privilege, and they are prepared to sacrifice everything about America that has made it a wealthy and relatively free nation to achieve their ends. They do not think that the expanse of blacks into the middle class is insignificant or bad—what astonishes them is how ignorant so many white ostensibly educated people are who have no idea of the demographics of the blacks in the middle class or even below the poverty line.

In sum—they smell a rat—they call it (as anyone knows who listen to these pods) the “DemocRat.” No wonder they are called Uncle Toms—if too many blacks thought like this, the game would be up. In fact, the game would be up if too many people of any color, ethnicity, shape, or sexual proclivity just happened to think more along the common sense lines of Mum or Pop who work in a café, or a gas station, or run the corner store, than along the zig-zags and spaghetti-rationales coming out of the educated places which cost you a hundred grand or so to learn what to think.

Again back in 1976, Tyrmand asked the simple question: “Why should a tidy old lady who does not believe in welfare, and feels that democracy ought to defend itself against dictatorship, be called ‘pig’ by a mob of untidy wild-eyed detractors with hackles up?” The same mob, though now far more poorly dressed, were out in full force over last summer burning stores and looting in the name of George Floyd.

One image around that time, I found particularly arresting: it was of a young, white woman, possibly late teens or early twenties, yelling at MAGA supporters who were trying to protect their neighborhood from being burned to the ground, screaming, “I hope they rape your children and kill you.” It was the kind of derangement that the most of the media did not bother reporting, because there was nothing strange or wrong about it: she was fighting for the same things as “the cabal”, unlike that schoolboy with the MAGA hat who was hateful to a native American (the ethnic identity was very important) dancing around playing a loud drum and staring him down: the hateful act consisted of—looking back at him!

BLM’s call for defunding the police and opening up the prisons as the race riots (mainly led by white college kids, or the feral off-the grid dropouts who think the way to freedom is to burn the lot down, while waiting for blacks from the underclass to up the ante and be the visible face of the looting) was but a repeat of the refrain from the 1960s and 1970s. Their social vision was the legacy of 1960s and 1970s anti-establishment radicals who are now establishment educators, such as Angela Davies; she supplied the weapons that killed three people in the attempt to free her lover George Jackson from prison, and she is now a Professor at the University of California; Weatherman founder Bill Ayres—he was a partner with Obama in the 1990s in the education foundation he had initiated, the Chicago Anneberg Challenge, and it was from Ayres’ house that Obama launched his first senatorial run; and, one last example, Eric Mann, also a Weatherman leader, who had been imprisoned for conspiring to commit murder, and is now a full time activist and speaker whose star “pupils” include Obama’s green energy “czar,” Van Jones and BLM founders Patrisse Cullors and Alicia Garza. The list goes on and on.

Again Tyrmand’s observation about how the journalists of the 1960s had sided with the criminal class, and prison rioters, by blaming social conditions for their existence is perfectly apt for today’s journalists: “They would never mention that the prison rebellion by now an American folklore staple, is an offshoot of latitude and permissiveness…Over the last quarter-century, the liberals and their press have had their way with crime in America, but neither expanded welfare nor the most lenient judicial and penitentiary procedure have brought anything but the wildest proliferation of violence.”

The following passage by Tyrmand encapsulates what he calls “the deviousness of the factoid” of the contemporary journalist when it comes to the matter of race in a story:

“Time once reported how a black man in Detroit, in a fit of rage, killed his factory foreman and two other men. The story was peculiar in tone: the magazine did not condone the killing, but its social conscience extended to a comprehensive discussion of why this would occur in a racist sweatshop. Shortly thereafter I met on Broadway a Time editor I knew. When I conveyed my doubts to him, he replied: ‘The most amusing thing is that one of the victims was black too.'”

In sum, Tyrmand realized that the liberal position in the 1960s was already being shaped by radical journalists, writers and hip philanderers who lionized terrorists, prisoners, and murders, including those of your more garden variety thug, such as, Jack Abbott, as well as ones with a more far reaching-social program, like Huey Newton. Since then, though, that view of the world has now become the norm among the elite. Thus it was that Trump voters were only showing their ignorance when they took Antifa’s existence and destructiveness seriously. Antifa, as Joe Biden astutely noted, was not an organisation but an idea—which is, by the way, straight from Antifa’s own program.

Though the powers that be at CNN, NBC and Australia’s ABC unwittingly confirmed, when they paid for camera footage from an Antifa activist’s “live shooting” of “the insurrection” of January 6, that Antifa has human members and not just ideational ones. Indeed, had they been interested in finding out how Antifa is paid, or who is in it, and which journalists go along with it, they might have bothered to interview conservative youtuber and business man, Joe Oltmann who had done the kind of thing one used to associate with journalists: he went undercover to get a story about which journalists had connections with Antifa.

In that meeting he stumbled onto an even bigger story that the media would only ever refer to as a conspiracy story, if ever it was even mentioned: the director of product strategy and security of Dominion voting system—yes, the system used in over twenty-four states in the 2020 election—had been merrily posting on Facebook Antifa’s program, along with his vitriolic hate toward Trump and his supporters. They have since been disappeared. Oltmann says that he heard that director—Eric Coomer—say at that meeting there was no way Trump could win—he had, reported Oltmann, made “effing sure of that.”

It is possible that Oltmann may not be telling the truth, though having watched hours and hours of him on Youtube, he strikes me as far more believable than most journalists and politicians, who want to tell us what we must think not only about the election of 2020, but pretty well everything from the weather to geopolitics, and how to solve problems of race and poverty (which amounts to, believe what we say and vote Democrat).

But of all his many masterful insights, the one point that Tyrmand makes which speaks so much to our time is the way in which Media has set itself up as the Ministry of Truth. I could not agree more with Tyrmand’s observation that governments “in democracies are disposable.” This indeed is the very reason why democracies as such are more important than the government within them. Policies can be right or wrong, they can serve this or that interest, and they can be changed—which is not to say that changing them will always be easy.

But when the press supports a government or some set of policies which are no longer beholden to democratic processes, then this an altogether bigger problem.

There are many policies which have long since become unhinged from any democratic input, but the one that had most impact in so far as it led to Trump’s election and the compete upheaval within the Republican Party was, of course, immigration. (There have, though, been plenty of Republicans who have no idea of what has occurred and think they can continue to remain in power by being the diet version of the Democrats).

The battle over illegal immigration is really a battle over the power of demographics. Just as it is commonplace for states to engage in ethnic or religious population shifts, to dilute the political power that flows from a particular group’s demographics; an elite that has lost its base must dilute the power of the old one by recruiting a new base. This is as much an occurrence in Western Europe as in the USA. And just as multiculturalism was an elite consensus policy rather than a party plank in an election platform, the widespread tacit acceptance of illegal aliens within the country and the workforce was never subjected to electoral decision—and this was as true for the Republicans as for the Democrats.

After Trump’s election, though, the tactic was vehemently defended by the elite and the media by calling those who wanted national sovereignty, racists. Thus, too, the substitution of the word “migrant,” a word whose meaning contains the tacit ring of legality, for what had long been the descriptive term for people who refused to comply with legal entry requirements to the country—”illegal alien”—was orchestrated by the media and Democratic Party. It was a typical elite tactic—and it is seen as such by the base, who are not so stupid that they cannot see that their displacement is a major piece in the elite’s program. This is also why it was the most important reason for people who wanted to retain what little socio-economic power they still have and who have suffered from the destruction of their communities, the rising crime caused by a great influx of people with nothing to lose or little to fear from the police and legal system (which tacitly and often overtly condones their presence) to ditch the old Republican-style elite politics for Trump.

The media has always been mendacious and duplicitous and journalists lazy, and pretty sure that they know best—but the monumental lies the media has engaged in the past four years were simply more rabid because Trump’s base was fighting back. But as Tyrmand observes, the monumental lie was part of the media’s arsenal fifty years ago:

“As of now simplisms are secondary; monumental fallacies get erected; The managing editor of Time says coquettishly in an interview: ‘We could never quite figure out whether we were part of the Establishment, and if so, how to deal with ourselves.’ An absolutism firmly in the saddle begins to mince and simper, The Democratic Big Brother longs for love and camaraderie.”

I would just add that none any more is in doubt whether the media represent the Establishment. And as the Establishment, it knows that its job must be to ensure that certain truths never see the light of day. Yet fortunately for those who think that being brain-washed is having a moral conscience, is it a lie if the person ensuring that a truth does not see the light of day simply makes sure that no one actually investigates it because it is beneath them? (The sneer, the snoot, the guffaw and the eyeroll are the ever-ready-to-hand responses to anyone who thinks that they can quote any old conspiracy theory that has not been sanctioned as newsworthy by real journalists). Such was the key response of the media to the Biden family’s interests in Ukraine and China.

There was no shortage of evidence about Burisma, or Hunter Biden’s qualifications, or the family connections with China, or Joe Biden’s role in the show. It just wasn’t to be found in CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, Washington Post, etc. and none of the journalists who worked in such places were interested in following up on the kind of information that Peter Schweizer or the Duran were regularly digging up—it was far more important to find out if someone else might have used the “n” word somewhere sometime.

Reading Tyrmand, whilst watching the moral and intellectual collapse of Western institutions, is a bracing affair. It reminds one how long the collapse has been going on. I very much doubt that even five or six years ago almost half the country would have thought that a coup could have taken place via election fraud. In spite of the media and Big Tech and academicians insisting that this is crazy talk, half the population believes it, and the question of which “evidence” is to be believed has been shut down, along with the de-platforming of ever more people from social media companies. The fact that the New York Times could publish an op-ed piece calling for the government to appoint a Reality Czar to eliminate “disinformation,” or that journalists say without blushing for shame at their own stupidity that millions of people need to be “deprogrammed” illustrates why the moral and intellectual collapse in the US is from the head down.

The biggest problem of all, though, is not solved by knowing how dumb and dangerous the ideas that are now the bread-and-butter beliefs of the elite in Western democracies generally and not just the US. The biggest problem is that all elites are bred over generations, and that the bad ideas that have been accumulating for more than two generations are now so instantiated in the universities, media, the schools, business, in legislation and political parties, and have become central to the way so many people speak and think, it is hard to envisage how they can be undone without it playing out to the bitter end.

Unfortunately, the bitter end also involves the geopolitical advantage that is created for enemies of the Western world who are the real beneficiaries of Western liberal democracies tearing themselves apart. Our species pays heavily for its sins—we think we are building a tower to heaven, but we fail to see all the pieces of what we are making, and by the time people can all see that what we have been making and are now using is a giant scaffold, it is too late: the propaganda merchants, the informants, judges, prison guards, executioners, et al. are already stakeholders in a system that they service and which pays their wages.

It is a great tragedy that our university teachers and journalists, and the elite, as such, think that their simplistic principles and programmatic solutions will solve the “problem” of oppression and thereby fortify the bonds of communal solidarity—and they really think they can achieve this globally. They are so arrogant and ignorant, they seriously think that Africans, Indians, Chinese, Central Asians, and Muslims—almost everyone outside the USA except Western Europeans, and other “satellite allies” such as Australia—love them and what they are doing. Communal bonds, though, are not the expression of abstract systems of ideas, but ultimately of human hearts; and human hearts, being susceptible to pride, sloth and the other deadly sins, are far easier to corrupt than to nurture and nourish through love, charity and forgiveness.

Were our ideas-brokers more attuned to the fragility, endless mutations, tragic colliding contingencies, and shreds and shards of decency and conviviality, and were they less sure of their own intelligence, far more skeptical of their ability, and more willing to reign in their ambition, they might just be a little better in understanding how vastly complex the forces of evil are, and how little any of us know, and how rarely our plans turn out the way we think they will.

Gaetano Mosca’s magnificent book Ruling Class makes the compelling case that all societies have a ruling class. The problem with our ruling class is that while they relentlessly screamed and shouted that a real estate mogul and reality TV star, who at least knew what half the country was thinking, was unfit to rule, the last four years have proven that they are the ones who have shown to that same half of the country at least how unfit they are to rule.

Their unfitness is all too evident in that the best candidate of their preferred party was someone:

  • who had pulled out of an earlier run because of plagiarism;
  • someone who had sung the praises of Democratic senator and one time KKK member Robert E. Bird (if the Democrats were consistent in accepting that we all make mistakes, this might not be seen as so egregious);
  • whose own Vice-President pick had implied was a racist during the Democratic run-offs – actually Fact Checkers provided the appropriate nuance for all the idiots who could not gather the sophistication of her criticism, which did not actually amount to racism: “Contrary to claims in viral internet posts, Sen. Kamala Harris did not call former Vice President Joe Biden a ‘racist’ or a ‘rapist.’ Rather, she has been critical of Biden’s position on busing to integrate schools and comments he made about segregationist senators, and she has said that she believed women who accused Biden of making them feel uncomfortable.” She did not call him out, though, for the sheer stupidity of statements about racial groups he seemed to endlessly conjure up to no specific end;
  • whose creepy hair sniffing and age inappropriate wink-wink banter with children could easily have made him tabloid mince meat;
  • whose claim to believe all women did not amount to a woman who accused him of sexual assault.

And that is before one even starts on the family corruption. The media have tried their best to cover up the China, and Ukraine money trails – but for anyone interested they might also want to look into “S.Res.322—A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate on the trial, sentencing and imprisonment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev” and wonder why he was doing the biding of Russian oligarchs charged with tax avoidance. Normally one would not need to point out that Putin being an autocrat does not make these two plutocrats “good guys,” but with the successful rebooting of the Cold War it would seem that any opponent of Putin is on the side of the angels, irrespective of how much blood money is on their hands.

And, finally, there is the whole question of his mental state. Although the media made much of the question of Trump’s mental health, some half of the country could see that one guy could speak seemingly endlessly off the cuff to large crowds which had a party atmosphere, whereas the other conducted a campaign from the basement, and when he did go somewhere, one wondered where was everyone. And when he did something, the problem for his minders was not so much that he might babble something not coherent enough to do the grammatical damage that a sentence of Trump’s might do, but that he just might end up saying something grammatically correct, such as: “We have put together, I think, the most extensive and inclusive voter fraud organization in the history of American politics.” I am sure that many people did not know which was more hilarious—him saying that or that Fact Checkers had to say that, yes, he did say that, but the context indicated that that was not his intention and that he had misspoken.

All of this amounts to the fact that if the election were merely fortified and if Joe Biden was seen as the savior not only of the nation but the global order, then the USA and the world were in deeper trouble than anyone had heretofore imagined. Nevertheless, the media band played on and saw to it that we could all get behind “our Joe,” as if he knew exactly what he was doing – surely, the media line went, he had proved himself by his more than fifty years of public service by doing… apart from making himself rich, and bragging about his biff ability, none of them—or the rest of us—seemed to really know. The way the media spun it and even people way down here in Australia bought it, it was a choice between Trump and preserving everything good about everybody’s way of life on the planet: back to Paris, closing down coal mines, stopping fracking, boys being girls competing in school sports with girls and using their bathrooms, critical race theory shoveled down the throats of public servants, China back in the saddle as the chief beneficiary of US trade mishaps and geopolitical stuff-ups, getting those employed minorities back into their client position and the whole caboodle of what had been all going so swell until that Hitlerite orange turd stuffed it all up by wanting to get all Americans to work, get a better trade deal with China, apply the kind of immigration policies that are pretty well standard in every Western country, provide cheaper pharmaceuticals, avoid foreign military interventions, provide better support for the widows of veterans, and generally better pay for the armed forces, and greater support for the police, and defend traditions, such as, standing for the national anthem, and having the temerity to want to protect statues and the names of military bases of people who fought on the side of the confederacy.

And finally when “our Joe” won there was only one more hurdle: inauguration day. I heard a podcast from the American Mind where the discussants were saying how the spookiness of the image would be long remembered. Certainly the inauguration was unforgettable – an almost deserted Capitol, fenced in by razor wire and guarded by over twenty thousand (vetted) national guards protecting a masked inauguration from the great fear of another insurrection of those deranged Trump supporters, who all called for law and order, when the Democrats carefully explained why it was just and righteous that people express their rage against racism, why it was constitutionally wrong to use the national guard to stop looting and burning, why the party should defund the police, and provide more community education left-wing blah blah blah. And yet again at least half the country simply could not believe this was America; those who wanted this outcome saw only good things. Fox journalist Chris Wallace gushed it was “the best inaugural address I ever heard” – it was “part sermon, part prep talk.” The religious character of the whole show was a pretty common theme among the journalists—who gave the impression that they were as knowledgeable about authentic religious experience as Joe Biden seems to be about his own Church’s take on abortion.

So, while almost all the journalists were deliriously celebrating their victory, and while victors were soaking up and sniffing up the spoils that lay before them through their fashionable masks, relieved that all could now proceed according to the right way history should go, with them doing the driving, millions of people who would never have made it through the razor wire and guardsman, not because they were itching for a violent insurrection, but because they belonged to the other side—the outside—saw a greedy, self-serving, deluded bunch of grifters, bag men/women and non-binaries, liars, sycophants, and know-alls, prepared to do and say any and everything to get their way.

More charitably, and in some ways more importantly, they saw an elite who had lost touch with their support base. In part that is something of a consequence of the kind of elite a modern democracy produces: it produces an elite whose members do not especially think of themselves as an elite – they can have enormous wealth and influence, can go to the best of colleges, and yet because of a specific feature they may have – it all comes back to the same basic list: who they like to have sex with, or their skin colour, or religious heritage, etc.—can represent themselves as victims of more powerful forces. Indeed, it is almost a prerequisite of being an acceptable member of the elite to have some feature of one’s self which is on the “disadvantaged” list.

Being blind to oneself is the first step on the road to a completely fantastical view of reality. And that is what separates the elite as much as anything from the support base whose life-world is built upon day-to-day practicalities like putting food on the table for one’s family. Of course, everyone has to have food, but the elites are elites largely by virtue of assuring that the food will be there for them first.

Just as societies all require elites (contrary to the nonsense that the elite itself endlessly writes about the “common,” the “democracy to come,” or, “fortifying democracy”), the issue is whether the elite actually provides a service to its base. When it doesn’t, it may hold onto power for a substantial period of time, but to do so requires permanently surrounding itself with the equivalent of razor wire and the national guard, and doubling down by persecuting those who see them for what they are. When though the opposition is at least half the country that is quite a difficult trick to pull off. Communist countries managed it for two or so generations.

What also makes it difficult are the surrounding geopolitical forces which gravitate to the weakened state like vultures to carrion. These invariably unsettle the best laid plans of a group determined to control its internal opposition so that it either has to make diabolical pacts with, and/or errors of judgments about, its enemies. In either case it seals its fate. The USA had been a masterful practitioner of taking advantage of its enemies’ internal turmoil; but now its elite have ensured the continuation of that turmoil. One only has to note how the Muslim Brotherhood, whose end-game is a universal caliphate, had been rebranded as “moderates” under Obama’s watch.

Generally the success of the present elite has gone hand-in-hand with a complete overhaul and politicization of the military, intelligence and local policing agencies. The brazenly partisan justification given by officials and former officials from the FBI and CIA for the surveillance of Trump and members of his team in the presidential run showed anyone who believed in the old USA that non-elected officials believed they were the true representatives of the will of the people; and as such the people should comply with their will. Meanwhile the media had done everything it could to support its “deep state,” regularly feting officials and getting them to write op ed pieces or give interviews justifying why they were the real protectors of democracy and hence were largely operating against the president’s interests and orders. As bad as the press were back in the 1960s, journalists could at least see that non-elected state officials should be beholden to the electors and constitution.

The account I have given of what the media have enabled is dire. But it would be remiss not to note that half the population or so recognize that this America and its elite are rapidly destroying the great achievements of old America—independent mindedness, initiative and inventiveness, and the formation of solidarity across racial (an achievement to be sure that required a civil war), class, and religious lines, an America, that is, where people from so many hells-on-earth would do anything to share its blessings and fruits. They do not, as the elite insist, wish to denigrate or humiliate or confine to servitude black or any other people, who live by the law and contribute their energy to making a nation which used to be the beacon on the hill.

The success of the elite in capturing all the major institutions of the nation is serious. Though, perhaps not hopeless. Institutions naturally deteriorate over time, and either they are rejuvenated or die. Within the media, when AM radio was all but dead, Rush Limbaugh discovered an opportunity, and created a power-house that gave voice to millions who thought they had none. Youtube has also provided all manner of opportunities that provided an alternative to the lazy hacks, liars, and “firemen.” Though its success has bred reaction, which in turn has opened up new platforms. There can be no doubt that monopoly interests will use the present state to shore up not only its own economic power, but its social and political power.

It is not the job of authors or a member of the “intelligentsia” to tell people how to act; but it is evident that the university was the first site of almost complete cultural capture, and that those who believe in the old America will continue to lose their children to the elite that is doing all to destroy their liberty, if they wish their children to study in its elite (and even most of its non-elite) universities. Given the role of universities in being an indispensable site for the social reproduction of the professional classes, it is unlikely they can just be avoided. And those that have been lost have been lost. I see little chance for those who want a restoration without a sizable increase in the number of new universities which are as resolutely determined to provide a curriculum that will cultivate a generation that has not been ideologically brainwashed, and taught that their sexuality, or identity is the most fundamental aspect of their being.

Such a new university must cultivate the qualities of humility, appreciation of our limited knowledge, our tragic, error-prone, our “sinful” nature, whilst also engendering devotion to the tried and trusted institutions and forms of communal life which need rejuvenation—the family, and our places of worship. It must teach people how not to think in large (and quick-fix and ultimately vacuous) abstractions and formulae, but how to be attentive to the kind of practical details which need to be viewed with an open-minded understanding of the various possible outcomes and trajectories of any innovation or policy, legislative intervention. It must foster a spirit of genuine dialogue – though not with the dead and lost souls and ideologues who can only be attracted to a better place by it simply being so much better that they themselves renounce “the devil.”

This, though, also requires employers not employing people who think “woke” and have been corrupted by their “woke institutions.” The political success of the left has come through its culling of its opposition for employment opportunities – that is a smart move, and if the non-progressives do not do this, the progressives will continue their strategy of capture and destroy. On the other hand, what the left has done is lie and cheat; and their monuments are their ruins.

I think unless there is a willingness to build new universities, new schools, new tech platforms etc. That is, if there is not a willingness for people to build anew, this cultural revolution will not simply peter out, at least not until there are many dead. All the builders are taking a giant risk and of course, there are many doing this right now.

The risk might even lead to the break-up of the USA, which would be terrible, though less terrible than having it ruled by people who are ensuring mass destruction. Such a change will take at least a generation, probably two—which is how long it took to make an elite who have taken control and draped the Capitol in razor wire, as they protect themselves from figments of their own imagination with politically vetted troops.


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


The featured image shows, “The Yellow Press,” an illustration by Louis M. Glackens, October 12, 1910.

A Few Words About Andrzej Walicki

Every philosopher thinks one thought throughout his life. This thought usually comes in the form of separate words. Therefore, from the rich thought of Andrzej Walicki, I will choose a few words which gather together, I believe, his thinking and his life, together with an attempt to prove that there are no pure concepts, that each of them is “bogged down” by life.

Russia

Nineteenth-century Russian thought, as expressed in politics and literature, as well as Polish-Russian relations, is the central theme in the life of Walicki. Before becoming a world-renowned historian of ideas, he studied Russian philology at the University of Łódź, where he found himself, entirely by accident. In 1949, for political reasons, he did not get admittance into philosophy or Polish studies. A year earlier, they had imprisoned his father, Professor Michał Walicki, an eminent art historian, and the children of those convicted, after the war, had most avenues closed to them, in many areas of social life.

Andrzej Walicki.

In the Walicki house, despite the Bolshevik threat, Russia itself was not hated, for Russia was carefully separated from Bolshevism. More than that, for the young Walicki, Russian literature and thought were an effective antidote to Stalinism. “I felt threatened not by ‘Russification,’ but by ‘Sovietization,’” he recalled in later years. He admired Russia and felt at ease with it. We owe him wonderful works on Turgenev, Dostoyevsky, and so many others. I think that in his creative intent, he sought to teach Russia about Russia. Since the Crow tribe could relearn their own long-forgotten “Sun Dance” from the Sioux, their opponents, so too the Russians can learn something about themselves from the Poles. “I am writing more for Russians than for Poles,” we read in a letter by Walicki to Czesław Miłosz, from December 1960, “although, I know that they will not be reading me. I would be happy if I could help the Russians regain their most valuable tradition, the lost and battered tradition of moral anxiety.” (These letters are known as, “Encounters with Miłosz,” but they have not been translated into English).

I myself have traveled to Russia many times with the same intention. From the Russians, I absorbed things that would take me two lives to assimilate in a book, not to mention that someone would first have to point them out to me. Then I learned to place them within the Russian worldview, which was only possible in Russia. At the same time, I tried to stop them from thinking about their own cultural backwardness within Europe, warning them against the bane of “xero-modernization.”

My friend Yana Brazhnikova—I remember it very clearly—gave a lecture, at a conference organized at the Russian State University for the Humanities, in Moscow, about the national affiliation of philosophers. It was very interesting, but at the same time it detracted me from the great intuitions the lecture contained by frequent mention of the name, “Jacques Derrida,” a name that protruded from every second sentence. When I asked my friends about their concern with this whole postmodern business, I found out that when Derrida visited their university, he seduced them with the confession that it was only in Russia and thanks to the Russians that he understood that the words drug (friend) and durgoi (other) could actually be derived from the same root.

I argued that no postmodernism, or any other “ism,” is needed by the Russians to understand who they are. So sometimes the wonderful culture of Russia must be discovered even in opposition to it, especially against those who prefer others to their own. Such a perception of Russian affairs was familiar to Walicki, who believed that “the Russian intellectual elite cannot directly “jump” from Stalinism to Europeanism; that its heritage is too great and its historical experience too terrible and too important for humanity that it can ignored even for a moment; that Russians should think about fully assimilating their cultural achievements and experiences only when they return to their own roots, and reacquaint themselves with their own culture, only when they ‘peel back’ their tragic history.”

Andrzej Walicki has written many books about Russia. The most original of which are The Slavophile controversy. History of a Conservative Utopia in Nineteenth-Century Russian Thought, and the most important is the synthetic The Flow of Ideas: Russian Thought from the Enlightenment to the Religious-Philosophical Renaissance. The latter work was a real challenge for experts in Russian social and religious thought. An outstanding Russian scholar, Grzegorz Przebinda, did a lot to outbid Walicki’s masterful argument (“A dispute on God and Man in Russian philosophy”). Whether Przebinda managed to succeed is a topic for a separate discussion.

“’Allow me,’ Yevgeny Pavlovitch was protesting warmly. ‘I say nothing against Liberalism. Liberalism is not a sin; it is an essential part of the whole, which without it would drop to pieces or perish; Liberalism has just as much right to exist as the most judicious Conservatism. But I am attacking Russian Liberalism, and I repeat again I attack it just for the reason that the Russian Liberal is not a Russian Liberal, but an un-Russian Liberal.” I think this passage from Dostoevsky’s The Idiot makes the point. There is no such thing as Russian liberalism. And, if there is, it has proved its utter irrelevance in the person of the “non-Russian liberal, Professor Gradovsky, a polemicist when it comes to Dostoyevsky, whom he commemorated in the Writer’s Diary. So, if it weren’t for Dostoyevsky, not a soul would have noticed his presence. Walicki’s textbook is also silent about Gradovsky.

A separate thing is the matter of the law in force in the Russian Empire. It certainly seems to be something different from the legislative regulations adopted in Western Europe. Distrust of the excessive formalism of codes, spontaneity inherent in community behavior of the Gemeinschaft type, chronic disappearance of all forms, which is characteristic of the Russian feeling of reality; and, thus, the lack of any logical discipline.

All these factors have contributed to the formation of a direct bond between Russians, in which only the warmth and beat of the heart is important, and sometimes the antipodes of these states of mind. No wonder that in such conditions, there is no difference between a situation in which someone lends money to someone, and a situation in which it is just given to him. It was precisely this kind of difficulty that a certain Keller, a shady figure, a bit of a boxer, a bit of a drunk, was put before this kind of difficulty by Prince Myshkin. In a word, an adventurer who demanded a loan from the prince on unclear, quite fantastic terms.

Years ago, I read Quentin Skinner’s instructive book Forensic Shakespeare, in which the author analyzes the statements of Shakespeare’s characters in terms of judicial rhetoric. It turned out that many such statements could be applied in court practically unchanged. I think that with no less fascination, I would read the book, Judicial Dostoevsky, if it were written. But what do Lebedev’s passionate court speeches have in common—with the idea of such a book—with the positivist legal system, which was slowly adopted in Russia, in a crippled form? Could the hysterical, “apocalyptic” philippics with which he appeared before the courts have anything to do with the liberal understanding of law as understood by the heroes of Walicki’s book?

There is, however, another good reason why the book With Dostoyevsky at Court could be written. It was indirectly pointed out by Józef Mackiewicz in one of his letters to the editors of Kultura, when he wrote that “Emperor Alexander II, implementing his famous reform of the judiciary in 1864, issued at the same time a ‘publication’ which allowed for the publication of whatever was happening, or spoken in court proceedings, without any deletions. And in the non-parliamentary, deprived of political freedom, autochthonous Russia, there appeared in print such speeches by lawyers, for which, not only in Soviet Union, or the People’s Republic of Poland that they would all be put up against the wall or be sent to prison; and even in Piłsudski’s Poland, inevitably to Bereza Kartuska. Naturally, individual freedoms that existed in the nineteenth century, and under the tsarist autocracy, today, in the age of collectivized thought, it is difficult even to dream of. But it’s not about dreams; it’s about saving the remaining margin.”

And this is probably the essence of Walicki’s book on the Legal Philosophies of Russian Liberalism: saving the remaining margin.

Patriotism

Reading Andrzej Walicki’s study on the particulars of Polish patriotism, which he published in 1985, left a permanent mark on my own awareness. I know that the author worked on his thesis at the beginning of the political transformation; but for me his views were perfectly clear already in the 1980s, when I read them, thanks to a brochure printed on a dplicator, the publisher of which was the Solidarity Social Movement, “KRET.”

The old Poles—says Walicki—had the best political system in Europe. It was so perfect that people were afraid to change anything in it. “A nobleman in the farmstead equal to the voivode”—it was repeated—equal before God, but more importantly—equal before the law and against others like him. After all, evil does not sleep, and if there is something as perfect as a system of noble democracy that combines the features of direct democracy with a system of political representation, there will be something or someone that will disturb the smooth functioning of the whole organism. And it was precisely for fear of the inevitable political change that the institution of the veto was introduced in the Republic of Poland. It did not open the way to the madness, as we were persuaded in the People’s Republic of Poland in history lessons. The veto was a means of defense of ancient republican values, taken by Poles straight from the Romans. “The requirement of unanimity prevented this danger, although it also limited the freedom of reformatory actions of the Sejm. But that was also the point. The right of veto was not supposed to guarantee the independence of the court from an individual. On the contrary, it was a guarantee of the inviolability of the system, treated as a perfect expression of the collective wisdom of the nation.”

As many as 10 percent of Poles, mostly identified with the nobility, took part in the political life of the time. Considering that in England it was only in 1832 that the number of those entitled to vote was 3.2 percent, and under the last King Louis Philippe I it was only 1.5 percent of the politically active French, Poland’s position in Europe, measured by the degree of active participation in public affairs was very high. In other words, in the 17th and 18th centuries, Poland was the freest country on the whole continent. And it was freedom “in the state,” which was different from negative freedom, freedom “from the state.” This negative freedom, organizing the space in which capitalism could be born, was incomparably smaller in Poland (only in Russia it was not there at all). In countries such as England and France, ordinary people had more freedom to move from place to place than people in Poland; they also had greater freedom in disposing of their property, and even—due to the media market emerging in Europe, in which the modern citizen was raised—greater freedom in using words.

Rigid adherence to conservative republican values made Poland mediocre, secondary, more primitive, uncompetitive and non-modern. Does that make it worse? It depends on who is looking at what and how they evaluate it. If the correct direction of human activity is to conform to the “emerging,” mercantile values, Poland, through its love of republican freedom, got on the wrong horse and history very quickly condemned it. Walicki writes about it as follows: “There was, however, also the other side of the coin. The republican-democratic tradition existed in Poland without capitalism and without individualist-liberal values favoring capitalist modernization. Poland has not passed through the school of the Puritan work ethos; its nation-building elite (the nobility and then the intelligentsia) did not develop ‘bourgeois’ virtues, such as thrift, frugality, did not learn to treat individual economic activity as a higher calling and to respect the successes achieved in it.”

After all, Walicki forgets to add that the same capitalism, obviously linked to Amalthea’s horn, spat out miasmas that became the source of all modern plagues, with communism and anti-Semitism at the forefront. A state which ignores civic values in its act of self-determination must refer to values alien to the republican spirit—money and ethnos. “Whether we like it or not—we read in the traditions of Polish patriotism—in the 20th century, and especially in its decline, there can no longer be any doubt that all over Central and Eastern Europe, modern nations were formed on a linguistic and ethnic basis—cultural, and not on a historical and political basis, and that Poles are also no exception in this respect.”

With Poland regaining its independence in 1918, everything began to fall apart: the republican love of freedom was transformed into fanfaronade and national megalomania; and 19th-century Polish messianism became an instrument of spiritual and political control over the newly emerging nations with whom Poland used to make the Commonwealth. “Thus, the combination of the heritage of noble democracy with the heritage of Romanticism,” writes Walicki, “strengthened the psychological maladjustment of the Polish national elite to the necessary process of economic modernization.”

My Russian colleague, Taras Szijan, also pointed to the meanderings of Polish patriotism. We had a conversation on this subject while taking the Moscow metro. I told him with nostalgia about the old, strong Poland, which gave the “Russkis” small comfort. A colleague, undaunted by the typically Polish megalomania, replied that there was no Poland back then—there was the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and it was probably not the same. I had to admit he was right. Then, lowering his voice, he began to tell how proud he was to be a Russian and that the USSR was still Russia, maybe a little lame, but still Russia. Then I said something like this: “If you are so proud of it (our conversation in Russian was heard by a few outsiders), why are you whispering it to me?”


Piotr Nowak is Professor of Philosophy at the Bialystok University in Poland, and deputy editor‐in‐chief of the annual Kronos. Philosophical Journal. He is also the author of many books, including, The Ancients and Shakespeare on Time: Some Remarks on the War of Generations, and more recently, Violence and Words. Political Philosophy of Hannah Arendt.


The featured image shows “Prayer before the Battle of Racławice,” by Józef Chełmoński, painted in 1906.

America’s “Dreyfus Affair”

In an open letter published on the 13th of January 1898 in the paper L’Aurore, and written by the famous writer Émile Zola, entitled, J’accuse, injustice was exposed. A rigged court martial had just acquitted a guilty man to cover up the brass’s wrongdoing.

Accusing the French government of anti-Semitism and unlawful actions it pointed out gross judicial errors and lack of evidence in the jailing of a French general staff artillery officer named, Alfred Dreyfus.

Dreyfus was a mid-level officer from a prominent and prosperous Jewish family. He was dubiously accused of espionage—working with the Germans on the flimsiest hearsay evidence. In fact, he was framed based on what turned out to be a forged document—evidence would later conclude that the leak came from an infantry officer.

In other words, Dreyfus was just a scapegoat. This series of sordid 19th century events occurred in a climate of hatred, bigotry, intrigue and mass murder.

In questionable proceedings, Dreyfus was found guilty of treason. The secret court martial denied him the right to examine the very evidence against him—pleading national security, the piece that secured his conviction wasn’t publicly revealed. War itself would break out, said the brass, if this information was published. Stripped of rank, his regimental officer’s sword was ritually broken in front of the officer corps and a crowd of spectators. Stripped of rank, the army sent him off to Devil’s Island, a remote penal colony in South America.

Retried some years later he appealed yet a third time and obtained an annulment. Late in 1906 Dreyfus was awarded the Cross of the Legion d’honneur. It was given for a soldier who had “endured an unparalleled martyrdom.”

The entire affair caused quite a stir and considerable societal upheaval. Zola himself became the target of libel and was found guilty. To avoid imprisonment, he fled to England. His own Légion d’Honneur was removed for writing “J’accuse.”

Ever since, the term, “J’ accuse” has become a common expression of outrage and accusation against someone powerful.

Donald Trump is today’s—Alfred Dreyfus. And we have all become enemies of the illegitimate Woke State.

Trump, too, was framed by a fraudulent Steele Dossier paid for by the Clinton Democrat machine and fabricated by the opposition research cabal, Fusion GPS. It was then weaponized by intelligence agencies and federal law enforcement and used to spy on both Trump and his campaign. As Zola says about Dreyfus’ imprisonment, the severity of the abominable acts which put Biden in the White House grows hour by hour.

In my book, The Plot To Destroy Trump, I described that (first) attempted coup in grainy detail outlining all the forces at work to depose a duly elected leader. Third time’s the charm! Trump’s term was completed without being interrupted but his re-election could not be permitted. A coup!

It should be transparent now just how this machine, aka the deep state, operated in a calculated orchestration to subvert the presidency of Donald Trump. They did so from the moment he announced his candidacy. They first called for his impeachment on the very same day he was inaugurated in January of 2017.

And the lengths and depths the media stooped intentionally to distort this story for ratings—whether through viewership, clicks, likes, or shares which translated into more ad revenue—was absurd. Even in victory, there’s no end in sight to their duplicity.

And yet, as we’ve seen through this complicated, tangled story—a story that is truly stranger than fiction, because much of it actually is fiction—the media is just one of the many cogs in this machine that is capable of taking a seedling of information and, through a game of telephone, grow that seed into a great big redwood of a story: a literal Red November. It was a profound hoax formed in a set of lies used as disinformation with the installation of a Manchurian candidate through color-revolution tactics on American soil, by operatives who aren’t allowed to operate in America.

Trump suffered constant denigration and biased hatred over five years. He was called a “liar” and far worse more times than can be counted. He was mocked and accused constantly of white supremacy, bigotry, racism, sexism, xenophobia—you name it. None of it true.

His first impeachment,based on a phone call, was cooked up by a fake whistleblower and was a total sham. His unconstitutional second impeachment had no due process, no evidence, no hearings and resulted in yet another acquittal in the Senate. It was frivolous and based on doctored findings and the venal vengeance of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

She is a truly evil, vindictive person and the worst Speaker of the House of Representatives in American history. The San Francisco Democrat is the product of corrupt Baltimore politics where her father was a notorious mayor. Her wealth is ill-begotten and her pseudo-Catholicism a showcase for virtue signaling.

Yet the accusations continue.

Trump’s enemies know no boundaries. They hate his populism, his effectiveness, and his electoral prowess. They detest his supporters and want to cancel more than 75 million of his voters and de-platform them from all social media. Yet it hasn’t worked. It has backfired.

They want him gone so badly because the blue-collar billionaire turned politician defeated their established ways. They were willing to do literally anything to banish him and keep him from ever running or endorsing any candidate for office again. They have failed, yet again, but not for lack of trying.

The United States does not have a Legion of Honor but if we did Donald Trump should receive its highest award for “political martyrdom.”

In the words of Emile Zola (translated from the French), “I accuse General de Pellieux and Major Ravary [insert, Nancy Pelosi] of having carried out a rascal investigation, by which I mean an investigation of the most monstrous partiality, of which we have, in the report of the second, an imperishable monument of naive audacity.”


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 appears regularly in the media, as a keynote speaker, and on television around the world.


The featured image shows, “The Peril of France—At the Mercy of the Octopus,” a print by Louis Dalrymple, published October 26, 1898.

The Dissidents’ Rights And Wrongs: The Case Of Jordan Peterson

This month, we are so very pleased to present this excerpt from Zbigniew Janowski’s new book, Homo Americanus: The Rise of Democratic Totalitarianism in America, which is published this month by St. Augustine’s Press. It’s a book that undertakes an unflinching analysis of the future of America.


In contrast to hard totalitarianism, the soft, democratic version does not seem to create dissidents, and thereby the wider opposition that might resist it. If opposition does happen to emerge, it is quickly condemned as sexist, misogynist, racist, etc., and almost never given mass support. Communism, on the other hand, produced legions of dissidents. The names of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Josif Brodsky, Gleb Jakunin, Andrei Zacharov, Alexander Zinoviev, Vladimir Bukowski, Adam Michnik, Jacek Kuron, Vaclav Havel, and Milovan Dzilas are only a handful of the best-known. To them, and to those who supported them, it was obvious that they fought evil, and they were willing to risk and even sacrifice their lives to do so. Yet importantly, they knew they had the quiet or open support of the overwhelming remainder of society. It was almost an instinctual recognition that totalitarianism is evil, and it was the realization of its evil that created the opposition.

The rejection of communism was, among other things, an attempt to free one’s mind from ideological enslavement in order to reclaim the idea of right and wrong, good and evil—and all this was accomplished independent of politics. Politics was thought to be subservient to values, and as things stood it was clear that politics could corrupt our understanding of what is good and right. The suffering and death of victims of the new totalitarian regime was one reason to believe that good, truth, and justice are not relative, and there was no compromise to be struck. The opposition manifested itself either as a private and quiet attitude of ordinary people, or in open and loud protests of the opponents. Different levels of participation depended on the courage of each individual, and the willingness to take the risk. The most courageous of them became dissidents. They were admired and venerated by the quiet majority. In contrast to the masses under communism, the democratic masses are not just quiet, but seem to be almost deaf to a moral call, and often act as if they reject morality altogether.

2.

According to classical Christian metaphysics, evil is privation, or lack of good; it is a force to be found in man, in his perverted will. It was understood that the role of the State is to constrain evil tendencies in man, or, as the Greeks believed, the task of politics was to create conditions for the development of virtues. As Aristotle wrote in the Nichomachean Ethics, “The function of a lawgiver is to make citizens good.” Such understanding of evil and the role of the State was rejected by the liberal thinkers. The writings of John Stuart Mill, probably the most representative of the liberal doctrine, are virtually peppered with the word “evil.” However, the reader of his writings quickly realizes that its meaning departs from the traditional—classical and Christian—understanding of it. Hundreds of sentences in which the term “evil” occurs in Mill’s writings allow the reader to infer that evil is of a social nature, and is the result of unequal distribution of power. The terms “fairness” and “social justice,” which definitively entered socio-political vocabulary in the 1950s made this a reality. “Fairness” and “social justice” came to signify the situation in which no one has more power than someone else, or that someone does not have more goods than others. Even elevating people out of poverty to the unprecedented level of material well-being and limiting abuses of judicial system are not satisfactory to those who think of evil the way Mill conceived of it.

The shift from a metaphysical conception of evil to a social one stems from the liberal understanding of power. Power, as Mill famously remarked in his argument for freedom of speech, is illegitimate, and therefore evil. Thus, for example, “[The power] of the aristocracy in the government is not only no benefit, but a positive evil.” Similarly, the power of husband over wife, of parent over child, etc., are evil as well. Good, on the other hand, is what diminishes the political power and social authority. The purpose of diminishing authority is to expand equality; and because progress is part of a historical process, as history develops so does the scope of equality. At the end of this historical process, as Mill says in the conclusion of his Utilitarianism, we will witness a slow death of aristocracies of race, sex, and color. Looking at things from today’s perspective, Mill must be given credit for understanding the consequences of his own doctrine. He predicted that as long as there is still a single minority “left behind,” to use contemporary vocabulary, the fight against authority will continue. And it does.

However, socializing the idea of evil turned out not to be without serious consequences. In his discussion of fairness as an ethical principle, Erich Fromm notes that the principle of fairness “is the ethical principle governing the life of the marketing personality. The principle of fairness, no doubt, makes for a certain type of ethical behavior. You do not lie, cheat or use force… if you act according to the code of fairness. But to love your neighbor, to feel one with him, to devote your life to the aim of developing your spiritual powers, is not part of the fairness ethics. We live in a paradoxical situation: we practice fairness ethics, and profess Christian ethics.” Nothing could be further from truth. Today, sixty-five years after Fromm wrote the above words, we hear the leaders of Christian Churches and Reformed Jewish synagogues announce the same message about social justice and hardly a word about our individual responsibility for our next-door neighbor. The answer to the question of how we reached the point of turning away from the individual man and his responsibility within a social collective, toward impersonal help in the form of high taxation, can be traced to Mill’s writings.

Mill’s understanding of the nature of the historical process is similar to that of Marx and Engels, according to whom “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” In Marx, it is the class of the capitalists who oppress the workers, whereas in Mill the oppressed classes are minorities. Once we accept such a view of history, we must come to the conclusion that the goal of politics is to end inequality. Accordingly, those who either attempt to slow down or stop the progress of equality are perpetrators of evil. In other words, those who fight authority (of whatever kind) fight oppression, and are therefore on the side of good and right, whereas those who uphold the status quo are oppressors who are on the wrong side, are evil.

The idea that authority is evil must sound strange to someone who thinks of evil as a destructive or corruptive moral force to be found in man. But this is what Mill rejected. He socialized the moral right and wrong, and in doing so Mill denied them their former metaphysical validity, rendering right and wrong an instrument of politics. To put it simply, what is good is what promotes equality; what is bad is what prevents its implementation. The consequence of this socialization of good and right, of evil and wrong, is that the words “evil” and “wrong” could no longer be applied to the partisans of progress and equality. Progress and equality are by definition good, and those who are on the side of progress promote the good. In such a conceptual-linguistic framework, the term evil might be legitimately applied only to those who defend authority, or who fight the desired social and political changes.

A perfect illustration of this process of socialization of good and evil is the position of almost all of the current Democratic presidential candidates. In the words of Beto O’Rourke, “Religious institutions like colleges, churches, charities—they should lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage.” A similar attitude concerning different ills experienced by the LGBTQ community was expressed by Corey Booker, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris. All of them see the support for the progressive causes, however unrealistic or insane they may be, as using political force as normal. There are no economic, social, or other kinds of problems; everything comes down to fighting discrimination, that is, to bringing about more equality. No one voices concerns that such policies are intrusive, undesirable in some respect, or as a violation of individual conscience. The reason is that the aim of politics, according to them, is total submission of conscience to politics. And if it requires war against Christianity, its representatives being the churches of all the different denominations, let it be. Biblical teaching regarding right and wrong, people’s commitment to national culture, transcendence, and conscience do not matter. Their views are simply wrong. And we know them to be wrong because they run counter to the ethics of social fairness.

Let me substantiate my claim with a quotation from a recent news story.

On October 2, 2019, United Kingdom Employment Tribunal Ruled that Biblical View of Sexes is ‘Incompatible with Human Dignity.’ The tribunal in the United Kingdom ruled against a Christian doctor who alleged that the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) breached his freedom of thought, conscience and religion pursuant to the Equality Act. Disability assessor Dr. David Mackereth claimed discrimination after the DWP failed to accommodate his refusal to use pronouns which did not correspond with the biological sex of clients. In its decision, the panel stated that Dr. Mackereth’s belief that “the Bible teaches us that God made humans male or female” was “incompatible with human dignity”… In June 2018, about a week after being hired, Dr. Mackereth attended a training course for assessors, including on DWP’s policy to refer to transgender clients by their preferred name and title. Dr. Mackereth said “As a Christian, I cannot use pronouns in that way in good conscience… I am a Christian, and in good conscience I cannot do what the DWP are requiring of me.

The ruling, no doubt, runs counter to Biblical teaching and common sense. But above all, such a ruling amounts to a violation of individual conscience on the part of the State. However, given that liberalism did away with the transcendent view of right and wrong, what the tribunal declares must be right. Thus. it is not religion that is found is on the side of right and wrong, but the feelings and claims of the LGBTQ community.

In this, the minorities act like the communists of old who threatened their opponents and made them abandon their values for the sake of equality. Lack of acquiescence to the new or socialist morality means one is destined to end up in the dustbin of history.

3.

The acceptance of such a socialized view of right and wrong ejects the individual who dares to adhere to a different ethical code than that of fairness from the social collective. It also explains why dissent in liberal democracies is extremely rare, and when it happens the dissenters are attacked and condemned as perpetrators of “social injustice,” and are being labeled as sexist, racist, misogynist, homophobic, xenophobic, and ageist––that is, as those who oppose progress. Almost nothing else is evil or wrong except being one of the above. Dissent means disagreement with progressive causes, and is viewed as an implicit attempt to restore authority, to roll history back, to return to the oppressive past, to impose the old-fashioned and obsolete moral standards of behavior onto others, or as an attempt to increase the power of the state (or “power structure”) over the individual. Hardly ever is it thought of as an attempt to stop or slow down the changes perceived as socially undesirable, sometimes dangerous, or an attempt to restore a sense of national pride and a return to virtue, sanity, renewal of man’s moral rectitude, or promotion of decency and sanity.

Once we accept a new understanding of evil, everything is decried as fascist. Mussolini and Hitler were fascists, but so was Aristotle because he endowed the polis with considerable authority over the individual. But even if we leave aside the political projects of classical philosophers, the absurdity of such reasoning does not disappear. After the collapse of communism in Russia, it was natural for the former oppressed countries to ponder what post-Soviet reality should look like. One of the voices in the debate was that of the former arch-dissident, Alexander Solzhenitsyn. In his writings, he offers a program of moral regeneration of his country by looking into the past. Soon after, Solzhenitsyn, who spent decades in a gulag for his opposition to communism, was accused by liberal critics (Cathy Young in the Boston Globe and Zinovy Zinik in the TLS) of being “the theoretician of Putin-style authoritarianism and even a quasi-fascist.” Such accusations leveled against former anti-communist dissidents and members of former anti-communist opposition have become almost a norm in today’s liberal West.

In the October 2018 issue of The Atlantic, Anne Applebaum, a well-respected journalist, historian, and author of several books, including an excellent Gulag: A History, wrote a long article titled “A Warning from Europe” as part of The Atlantic’s larger section: “Is Democracy Dying?” In it, she devoted considerable space to Poland and Hungary, addressing the rise of authoritarianism, intolerance, and other ills in these countries. The culprit is of course the past and its defenders, organized into political parties whose policies allegedly threaten democracy. The paradox that emerges while reading articles about former communist countries, written by and large by liberal commentators, is that many of those who represent the parties which supposedly threaten democracy are the former members of anti-communist opposition. Given the anti-totalitarian credentials of the new “totalitarians,” one wonders how credible is the claim that the former anti-totalitarian fighters have become the destroyers of the freedoms they fought for, and, consequently, whether such a reading of political life in Poland, Hungary, and Trump’s America, is correct.

Such claims can be true only if one measures the health of democracy by today’s standards of the socialized right and wrong. Thus, democracy in Hungary and Poland is threatened because of a firm commitment to tradition and religious values that helped the nation to survive forty-four years of communism, or German occupation that wiped out one-fourth of the population, or today’s anti-immigration stance on Muslims to those countries (the disastrous effects we can observe in the countries that did in fact receive them), and the reluctant acquiescence to LGBTQ demands. Any attempt to resist such demands is perceived as anti-democratic, intolerant, or evil.

4.

Lenin once remarked that he wanted “to purge Russia of all the harmful insects.” Such an attitude was responsible for the gulags, murders, brutal interrogations, merciless persecution of dissenting voices, fear, and intimidation. The prime example of such policy exercised today is the case of the Canadian psychologist, Jordan Peterson. Peterson made a name for himself in 2016, during the debate concerning the Bill C-16 in Canada. The bill’s intention was to advance human-rights law by expanding “gender identity and gender expression.” As Peterson argued, such a law would violate free speech because of the way the ‘transgender’ and so called ‘non-binary’ people use pronouns such as ‘they’ (for singular). The Ontario Human Rights Commission concluded that if public institutions (workplace or schools) refuse to refer “to a trans person by their chosen name and a personal pronoun that matches their gender identity,” it could be a violation of non-discrimination principles. Peterson refused and said: “I am not going to be a mouthpiece for language that I detest. And that’s that.”

It would appear, one would think, to every commonsensical person that the debate was over nothing or is simply silly. Plural cannot be singular! Yet Peterson’s obstinacy became a social explosion and the psychology professor was soon the most persecuted man in North America. His public pronouncements about the use of pronouns may have triggered a reaction among some, but it is an unlikely explanation of why the attacks have continued for years and never stopped. An explanation should instead be sought in his views, which he laid out in his 12 Rules for Life. An Antidote to Chaos. The book is what it says it is, but it is also a well-presented case against enforcing equality of outcome, as well as ideological brainwashing; and it is a defense of hierarchy. Let me use a few quotations to illustrate Peterson’s position:

What such studies imply is that we could probably minimize the innate differences between boys and girls, if we were willing to exert enough pressure. This would in no way ensure that we are freeing people of either gender to make their own choices. But choice has no place in the ideological picture: if men and women act, voluntarily, to produce gender-unequal outcomes, those very choices must have been determined by cultural bias. In consequence, everyone is a brainwashed victim, wherever gender differences exist, and the rigorous critical theoretician is morally obligated to set them straight. This means that those already equity-minded Scandinavian males, who aren’t much into nursing, require even more retraining. The same goes, in principle, for Scandinavian females, who aren’t much into engineering. Such things are often pushed past any reasonable limit before they are discontinued. What might such retraining look like? Where might its limits lie?… Mao’s murderous Cultural Revolution should have taught us that.

And:

A shared cultural system stabilizes human interaction, but it is also a system of value—a hierarchy value, where some things are given priority and importance and others are not. In the absence of such a system of value, people simply cannot act. In fact, they can’t even perceive, because both action and perception require a goal, and a valid goal is, by necessity, something valued.

What Peterson says, if an additional explanation is needed, is that contemporary progressivists—just like the former communist architects of the gulag—are trying to force an ideological vision on people by turning them into what they think the people should be, by training them to act as they “ought to.” None of it is done with any concern for their individual well-being. Its most likely effect will be what the history of communism was––utter brutality. The second fragment states it clearly: Hierarchy is a fundamental part of healthy human existence. It is the scaffold without which the world would plunge into chaos, and therefore, the liberal position, according to which all values are equal, is actually morally destructive. One might go further and say that living according to ad hoc whims, by which the progressive liberals want to organize private and public life, is a recipe for chaos. This is what the book is trying to prevent.

One should also add that the book is rich in serious philosophical reflections, references to Christianity, Jesus (who is referred to as Christ), poets, and philosophers. Even though it is a book written by a clinical psychologist, it has an incredibly broad humanistic scope. Clearly, it is written by someone who cares for his fellow man. His 12 Rules is not a personal statement or confession of his religious beliefs, nor is it a book about religion, but Peterson does not hide his sympathy for Christian religion. This in itself, one can suspect, may be a reason why he caused such an uproar. But, more importantly, it explains why he is so difficult to destroy. He was literarily persecuted by his colleagues who wanted his removal from his university post at the University of Toronto. But Peterson refused to give in and bow to ideological dictates that would compromise his moral stance. During the unfortunate two years of attacks against him, he gained many followers and admirers, adding more fuel to the old controversy.

In the Wall Street Journal (January 25, 2018), a well-known journalist, Peggy Noonan, wrote the following:

Mr. Peterson is called ‘controversial’ because he has been critical, as an academic, of various forms of the rising authoritarianism of the moment—from identity politics to cultural appropriation to white privilege and postmodern feminism. He has refused to address or refer to transgendered people by the pronouns “zhe” and “zher.” He has opposed governmental edicts in his native Canada that aim, perhaps honestly, at inclusion, but in practice limit views, thoughts and speech… This is unusual in a professor but not yet illegal, so I bought his book to encourage him. Deeper in, you understand the reasons he might be targeted for annihilation.

Noonan is right on two counts. First, screenings of the new documentary about Peterson in Toronto and New York were recently cancelled, signifying that some desperately wish for the public to forget about Peterson. “ShapeShifter Lab, an event space in Brooklyn, has cancelled a screening of the newly-released Jordan Peterson biopic because of staff complaints. The New York cancellation mirrors a similar incident in Toronto, where a scheduled week-long theatrical run of The Rise of Jordan Peterson was cancelled after some members of the staff vented their displeasure with the film.” Noonan’s prediction about annihilating him was, no doubt, prophetic. However, the idea that one can understand why anyone should “be targeted for annihilation” simply for refusing to use personal pronouns in an incomprehensible and ungrammatical manner, is truly mind-boggling. But perhaps not so much if one keeps reminding oneself that Peterson’s case is not an isolated incident.

In August of 2017, a young software engineer James Damore was fired from Google for circulating an internal memo in which he suggested that the disparity in employment between the sexes may be due to biological differences. Here is a fragment from an article he wrote for The Wall Street Journal (August 11, 2017).

I was fired by Google this past Monday for a document that I wrote and circulated internally raising questions about cultural taboos and how they cloud our thinking about gender diversity at the company and in the wider tech sector. I suggested that at least some of the male-female disparity in tech could be attributed to biological differences (and, yes, I said that bias against women was a factor too). Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai declared that portions of my statement violated the company’s code of conduct and “cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.

My 10-page document set out what I considered a reasoned, well-researched, good-faith argument, but as I wrote, the viewpoint I was putting forward is generally suppressed at Google because of the company’s “ideological echo chamber.” My firing neatly confirms that point. How did Google, the company that hires the smartest people in the world, become so ideologically driven and intolerant of scientific debate and reasoned argument?

Echo chambers maintain themselves by creating a shared spirit and keeping discussion confined within certain limits. As Noam Chomsky once observed, “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.

Mr. Damore became an instant celebrity, but his fame did not last for very long. His case, like Jordan Peterson’s, is symptomatic of how liberal-democracies operate and punish people for their convictions. Neither Damore nor Peterson were sent to a gulag, but the former suffered the highest punishment that the dissidents can suffer in a democracy: losing a job, becoming a social pariah and being decried as an enemy—the enemy of equality. We may never have communist style gulags, but then again nor do we need them. Ideological training, reminding people that there is no right and wrong independent of the social context, that Biblical teaching is wrong, that the ‘good’ is what diminishes authority and expands equality, is all that is needed. And the American educational system is doing just that.

What we all seem to know, but are too afraid to say clearly and openly in public, is that we fear “being purged like insects,” the way Mr. Damore was, and that we are being intimidated daily by the Leninist policies of minority groups instigated by a class of egalitarian ideologues. Those who insist that anyone should use “zhe” and “zher,” (or “comrade,” as was spoken under communism, or “citizen,” as used during the French Revolution), or that we attend various “training” to learn the new norms (unless we want to be fired), are political terrorists. We all should admit that the new progressive terrorists have hijacked public life in America, Canada, and elsewhere, and that America and Canada are not much different from the Leninist State.

Let us also note that policies that require mind-transformation, stifling free speech, thought and actions, are not the work of the right, ultra-right, White-supremacists, or nationalist parties. These policies stem from the liberal ideological dictates. It is enough to compare eastern European countries, such as Poland and Hungary—described by liberal journalists as places where democracies are dying—and the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, and ask: In which of the above countries does one find greater freedom, and which parties or segments in their respective societies impose ideological rules on others? Or, to put it differently, which of the above countries are closer to being totalitarian?

Anne Applebaum’s article is symptomatic of the perception of danger. Such a perception, if accepted by a large number of people, may miss the real threat to the existence of democratic institutions. She sees one side of the problem and ignores the other––namely, the rise of totalitarianism in America, which poses a greater danger to the health and preservation of a democracy than anything else. The expansion of equality, which can only be done if the State forces the entire population to accept certain views, while ruling contradictory beliefs illegal as was done in the UK (whose tribunal ruled biblical teaching wrong) will transform democracy into a totalitarian system. Even if we agree with her that some of the policies and laws (or, attempts to establish them) in post-communist countries are restrictive and misguided, they are, and always were, simply part of a normal political game: the struggle for influence and power, conflict between social and political claims, competing visions of a nation’s future, all of which stem from normal human motivations.

What one cannot say about politics in those countries is that the parties propagate mind-enslaving ideology as the Democratic Party does in the United States, or like such publications and news outlets as The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, CNN, MSNBC, and NPR. Right-wing or conservative magazines exist in Poland and Hungary, just as they do elsewhere, but their influence is limited to a small group of readers who have a certain way of thinking, but are hardly the outlet for ideological brainwashing. Neither Poland nor Hungary have a Canadian-style Bill C-16, the United Kingdom’s 2006 “Racial and Religious Hatred Act” (or the 2016 M-103), sensitivity and sexual harassment training, mandatory ideologically driven courses for students, the De Blasio American bill—which threatens people with a fine of 250,000 dollars for the use of the term “illegal alien”—or a bill that prohibits students in New York schools from eating meat on Mondays. Polish and Hungarian languages are still in good shape in contrast to the American Newspeak, which permits certain phraseology and discards others, such as requiring the use of “maintenance hole” instead of “manhole.” What is more important, unlike the Delaware Regulation 225, which says that “all students enrolled in a Delaware public school may self-identify gender or race” without even consulting their parents, Polish and Hungarian parents have control over the mental well-being of their children. No political party in those two countries worries about parts of the population following Sharia Law, and the Biblical teaching that there are only two natural sexes is accepted by the overwhelming majority of the population. Absence of such regulations, laws, and views leaves the population of those two countries a considerable degree of freedom, something one cannot say about America and Canada, which embody Lenin’s ideal of the State.

5.

Whence came such similarities between the former Soviet Union and North America? Liberalism and Marxism operate according to the same principle: Both view history as teleological, moving in a definite direction. Its aim and end are known. It is the ultimate realization of equality through man’s liberation from the shackles of oppression, which in liberal ideology is authority and hierarchy. Opposing any progress toward equality is tantamount to opposing history that unfolds itself in an inevitable way. The individual is helpless to stop it, nothing can be done to redirect its course. The conviction that “nothing can be done” and that the notions of good and evil, right and wrong, belong to the discarded dictionary of past historical formations forced many people to resign themselves and accept communism. But it also allowed the totalitarians to keep the atrocities they were committing from occupying their minds. Their moral numbness and dismissal of the idea that they did anything wrong can be explained by their exclusive focus on bringing about more equality. Progressive interpretation of history provided them with absolution for destroying those who opposed progress toward equality, or who had little or no faith in it.

However, it was not the communists who invented the idea of equality. In his Gods will Have Blood (Les dieux ont soif), the French writer Anatole France gives a fictionalized account of the French Revolution, which he had written long before the rise of fascism and communism.

Did you know, Louise, that this Tribunal, which is about to put the Queen of France on trial, yesterday condemned to death a young servant girl for shouting ‘Long live the Queen!’ She was convicted of malicious intent to destroy the Republic.

And:

You must be more careful, Citizen Brotteaux,” he begun, “far more careful! There is a time for laughing and a time for being serious. Jokes are sometimes taken seriously. A member of the Committee of Safety of the Section inspected my shop yesterday and when he saw your dancing dolls, he declared they were anti-revolutionary.

Anatole France’s description of how the revolutionary spirit operates aptly renders the atmosphere in today’s America, where the Barbie doll—her color and size—became a matter of serious controversy, and the Oreo cookies—black on the outside, white on the inside—found themselves in the midst of an ideological whirlpool.

Communism is gone, and, ironically, it was brought down by those who retained the belief that truth, right and wrong, good and evil, are not man-made categories, and yet they are not the product of a historical process, either. They are objective and transcendent standards in which private and public life should be grounded. Only then can human existence, individually or collectively, be fully experienced.

Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life is not a silly 12 step program book for idiots or dummies. It is an attempt to return an insane world to normalcy, from the subjective whims in which we create our own personal and collective destiny, language of standards for right and wrong, or strange personal pronouns according to which one person can be many. It is a book about the human psyche, God, politics, culture, society, human decency, and compassion for the weak. In this respect Peterson, as a psychologist, can be put in the same category as one of his great predecessors, Carl Gustav Jung—a man of infinite compassion for human frailty and understanding of man’s place in the universe. Like Peterson, Jung understood the danger of totalitarian systems. If there is an explanation for why Peterson is still around, it is because of his unwavering commitment to values, religion, hierarchy and decency. That is probably why he is so difficult to destroy, and why he infuriates his foes.

The experience of brutality and death, as in the Soviet Union, made communism a fertile ground for breeding opposition and dissidents. The absence of brutality and death in soft-totalitarianism makes it more difficult to perceive the evil of equality. However, the other reason why dissent grew under communism was a strong sense of moral right and wrong taught by religion. The communists, despite their efforts, did not succeed in entirely socializing right and wrong, and where they did, the opposition was weak, as in Bulgaria or Romania, because religiosity was weak. In Poland, on the other hand, where the Church was strong, ideological opposition was unprecedented.

Given the different faces of opposition in communist countries, one can say a few things with confidence. A rapid decline in religiosity among Americans may be one reason why the country is becoming totalitarian. 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 also 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. Furthermore, the high standard of living also contributes to the changes to perception of what real evil is.

The infusion of ideology into education, which is partly responsible for moral weakness, is truly unprecedented. There is no point of drawing any parallels between communism and today’s America because one could not find such parallels. The young American’s sense of right and wrong comes from schools and training, college orientation meetings where students are being told about new sexual rules, the use of proper pronouns, and being addressed by their “chosen” names (Peter can choose to be called Molly, and Barbara can be called Roger). If one adds to it a number of courses, some of which are mandatory, others, if they are not, are often still stuffed with ideological content, the picture of the young American mind is terrifying. For example, “feminist philosophy” might be equivalent to a seminar on Kant, Descartes, Plato, Hume, etc. There are other courses, such as “environmental justice,” “racial justice,” “social justice” and the like. History and sociology classes are often simply about slavery, White privilege, or the discrimination of minorities. Not much is left for real education, which when compared to the one and only class students under communism had to take —that is, “Foundations of Marxism and Leninism” offered only to students at a university level—socialism looks like an educational paradise of orgiastic free-thought.

All of the above is destructive intellectually, but also morally. If, as Peterson claims, human beings need a sense of values to act, socialized norms of what is good and evil, right and wrong, can become a substitute for a real moral compass. But there is a danger in this. Today’s social morality can become tomorrow an instrument for the destruction of others. A temporary moral ersatz is unlikely to build a community of moral beings responsible for each other, due to a lack of the sense of commitment to transcendental reality into which human life is inscribed. All such an ersatz can provide is a sense of temporary belonging to a collective, which over time produces its own leaders who will always ultimately demand mind subjugation. All of that sounds like what we know from fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, the communist Soviet Union, Mao’s China, and the Kims’ North Korea. We may not have a single leader, but a strong, frustrated desire to implement ideology can cause social unrest and generate the need that someone do something. This was Tocqueville’s prediction.

One may not expect great moral courage from ordinary people whose preoccupation is daily bread. But one would absolutely expect such commitment from intellectuals, academics, or generally ‘men of letters.’ They, however, have turned out to be most cowardly, and it is they who planted among ordinary people the seeds of moral destruction. They committed what Julian Benda calls the betrayal of truth in his classic work. Persecution of Jordan Peterson by his university colleagues makes Benda’s The Great Betrayal as relevant today as it was when it was published a hundred years ago. The survival of Peterson says something further. It is a testimony that dissent in a democracy is possible, but given the isolated nature of it, one is bound to wonder: Is Jordan Peterson the only man in North America who knows and has courage to say, “this is right and this is wrong?”


Homo Americanus: The Rise of Totalitarian Democracy in America is now available for purchase.


The featured image shows an untitled work by Zdzislaw Beksinski, painted in 1978.

The Wit Collection: Art History Jokes 6

As usual, I have been invited to submit some prefatory comments in regard to the assorted jeux d’esprit below. The first one may best be explained visually. Disaffected radicals, whether in 1821 or 2021, as Postil readers would agree, are a load of silly berks. The Wigan Casino represented the heart of the Northern Soul movement, in its pomp when I was a Cambridge undergraduate. Had I possessed any dancing prowess, I might have ventured forth to its talc-dusted floor, but Little Richard’s hit “Slippin’ and Slidin’’’ would have been the operative concept in my case. Pray forgive the artistic licence taken with April Love. As the better educated of you will know, this isn’t a sculpture but a famous painting by the Pre-Raphaelite Arthur Hughes (as well as a hit record a century later by Pat Boone). But let nothing impede yet another of one’s outstanding jokes…


A visitor came to see my art collection the other day. He wasn’t especially friendly. When I let him in, he demanded: “Take me to your Leader!”

Benjamin Williams Leader, February Fill Dyke, 1881.

According to disaffected radicals of the early 19th century, “British politics is just the Pitts!”


The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, has decided to prioritize the acquisition of works of art by people of colour. It has therefore just purchased a Matisse.


How might one best describe the relationship between Raphael and the Baker’s Daughter? Fornarinacation.


What was the name of Rubens’s voluptuous second wife?
Helene For Men.


What do art historical buffs call Hotel du Lac?
Brookner’s Fourth.


Who was Oscar Wilde’s favourite art critic?
Maxime Du Camp.


What was did Anthony Caro’s bumper sticker say?
Less is Moore.


And that of the philosopher who was into Northern Soul?
Hegel don’t bother me.

C. Gleeson, A Recollection of Wigan Casino, 2016.

When a well-known, very brittle artist staged a one-man exhibition, the Norge News art critic responded with hostility. The headline read: “Munch Crackers!”


An art history student visits the optometrist.
Student: I’m feeling nauseous, everything I see looks wavy or spotty and it’s all in perpetual motion.
Optometrist: You must have been doing an assignment on Bridget Riley. Focus on Malevich or Reinhardt instead!


At David Watkin’s requiem mass, the RC priest delivered a fine sermon entitled, “Mortality and architecture.”


What was Petrarch’s favourite pop song?
Tell Laura I Love Her.


Look at my fabulous Art Deco figurine. It’s a chow-chow by Pompon!


Who made the sentimental 19th century statuette April Love?
August Kiss.

Arthur Hughes, April Love, 1855.

Dr Mark Stocker is a former academic and art curator who lives in New Zealand. Besides his jokes, he has 230 marginally more serious publications, many of which are on Victorian public monuments, numismatics and New Zealand art. His book When Britain Went Decimal: The Coinage of 1971 will be published by the Royal Mint in 2021.


The featured image shows, “Woman Smiling,’ by Augustus John, painted ca. 1908-1909.