The Sacrifice For Civilization: A Conversation With Wayne Cristaudo

This month, we are highly honored to have a conversation with Professor Wayne Cristaudo, philosopher, author, and educator, who has published over a dozen books. He speaks with Dr. Zbigniew Janowski about the predominance, in the West, of idea-brokers, metaphysical rebels and triumph of ideational narratives over life itself. Professor Cristaudo aptly points to the great malaise of the West – its fervent addiction to bad ideas.

Zbigniew Janowski (ZJ): Let me begin this conversation with something that my Canadian colleague said to me when I arrived to teach in Canada—in Halifax—20 years ago. “We are Americans without being arrogant and British without being boastful.” Having never been to Canada before, I was under the impression that Canada is very much like the US.

Then I discovered – or at least what I discovered in Nova Scotia, which is very patriotic, somewhat provincial and certainly less cosmopolitan than the rest of the country – that they value their British roots, which defines their national identity. Most of my colleagues were educated at Cambridge, are Anglican, the system of education – tutorials – is much more like in the UK than in America, the city looks like small British towns, and Canadian flags used to hang on many houses, probably to stress their “independence” from the US. In this part of Canada, Britishness is still, or used to be 20 years ago, part of their identity.

As an Australian, someone from a former British colony, can you say that Australians feel like my Canadian colleague?

Wayne Cristaudo (WC): When speaking of Australians, the same kind of cleavages that are occurring elsewhere in the West between tertiary educated elites and more traditionally minded people, plus demographic changes due to immigration, make it hard to generalize.

David Goodhart in his The Road to Somewhere – largely an attempt to explain Brexit, but also the election of Donald Trump – speaks of two classes today: the “Anywheres,” – i.e. those who are largely free to work and live anywhere and whose sense of identity is bound up with their global opportunities and their own “progressive” values; and the “Somewheres,” those whose location and sense of place and national heritage matters, as they see their localities and values undergoing radical transformations.

This later group also sees itself as having lost the cultural and economic wars. My friend Bob Catley, in response to Goodhart, added that this is something of a misnomer, as the “somewheres” are now the “nowheres;” that is, their world is being destroyed daily.

In Australia, I think those who strongly identify with Britain are now in a minority, as the number of immigrants from non-British backgrounds has risen dramatically in the last few decades. When there was a referendum on Australia becoming a republic some 20 years back, the republican model was rejected. But this was not because of love for the “old mother country,” but because the majority did not like the proposed model that had come out of a publicly funded (ostensibly) representative “elite” forum.

Nevertheless, it is true that Australians would probably rather lose to anyone (New Zealand not included) besides England in any sporting event. We are, though, a deeply fractured society and so appeals to unity tend to ring hollow – as hollow as our terrible national anthem which almost no one can sing through to its bitter end. Like most other Western countries, Australian identity is secondary to some other feature when it comes to political disputation.

ZJ: Canada is part of the Commonwealth, just like Australia. On the Canadian dollar one can see a beautiful image of the British Queen. On the other side of the Canadian dollar, we find a loon. I used to tell my liberally-minded Canadian friends, jokingly, don’t think of seceding from the Crown. Why – they would ask? Because you will have to replace the Queen with another loon, a bear, or a bird.

Australians have the Queen, too, and a kangaroo. This sounds facetious, to be sure, but it touches on the problem of national identity. Cultural identity cannot be rooted in nature. Even Thoreau, who lived in the wilderness and praised nature, was a cultured man, who loved the Classics. In his Walden there is a beautiful chapter on education, in which he urges Americans to read the Greeks.

Do you see any similarities in the cultural and political predicament between Canada and Australia relative to your attachment to the British Crown? Or does the geography of Canada (as a U.S. neighbour) and yours – a continent – and different history (no Royalists [or, United Empire Loyalists] who fled to Canada after the 1776 rebellion) make a difference? For one, you do not seem to feel the same pressure that Canadians do to be more “American,” and thus, having your cultural affinities imposed on you.

WC: While I really have no idea if French Canadians feel any particular cultural connection with Britain, Australia does not have the American neighbour syndrome. As for being free to choose our identity, I think that while Australian tertiary educated people are frequently anti-USA – the USA being seen as the imperialist country which creates wars wherever it goes – it seems to me that the same class of people, especially those who are Australian ideas-brokers, take up every liberal-progressive position that is pushed by, and invariably formulated by, US ideas-brokers in the same professions. That is, our academicians, journalists, teachers, et. al. can be relied upon to repeat and vociferously defend any idea that has gained narrative traction amongst progressives in the US. Ultimately this should not be surprising.

Any collective is a collective because of the stories and experiences it shares. The U.S.-led globalisation of stories through Hollywood, Netflix etc., and the normative appeals that are characteristic of those stories, plays a huge part in how people now understand themselves. So, I don’t really see identity as a matter of choosing or not choosing, but as what people identify with, and presume. And what is occurring is that where narratives are shared and replicated, as part of daily social reproduction, common ways of talking, similar presumptions, expectations, habits (i.e., similar features of identification) are formed.

For example, the elite in Australia see Donald Trump in exactly the same way as the readers of the “New York Times” or humanities students in elite universities in the USA. At the same time, the people who voted for Brexit and the people who voted for Donald Trump have a great deal in common because they have experienced a very similar kind of loss with respect to their more traditionally based social and economic place in the world.

Interestingly, though, early nationalist theorists such as Herder held that the nation was commensurate with a more tolerant and (dare I use this term) enlightened and cosmopolitan world. Membership of a nation meant that one could connect with others through initially bonding around shared stories, experiences, sentiments, tastes, loyalties and commitments, and only after that would one be in a position to form further bonds of solidarity with others. The older notion of nationhood takes for granted that members of a nation are very different in the roles they must play and the sacrifices they must make. So, a nation bonds the different into a greater unity.

The contemporary anti-nationalist, on the other hand, sees identities as based on the will, and the body itself based on the will (sexual/gender fluidity, for example); and what really matters – indeed the only thing that matters – is that the principle of emancipation is adhered to.

Conversely, one has a stake in the future because one can demonstrate that one is of the oppressed and hence a contributor to the great emancipation. Of course, this is the triumph of the abstract – there is absolutely no need to understand people as complex characters in order to think like this. And indeed, most people I know who think like this are completely lacking in psychological acumen, historical and genuine cultural sensitivity.

ZJ: When I taught in Canada, part of the program was WWI poetry. I vividly remember teaching a poem by Wilfred Owen, which I would like to quote here: It is a poem you know: “Dulce et Decorum Est:”

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! - An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime. -
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, -
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

The poem is very timely in a perverse way. We live in times when nationalism is under attack, thought of as evil; patriotism is ridiculed; globalism is the new faith – but it is a faith of someone who is attached neither to his country, his religion, his civilization, or his culture. In fact, it is a faith of someone who has neither fatherland nor culture. All kinds of semi-ideologies, like climate-change, vegetarianism, etc., have become an ersatz for cultural identification.

The last line of the poem seems to ridicule or question the idea that goes back to the Romans and the Greeks.

When I taught this poem in 2001, the Canadian students were somewhat divided about the idea, about it being a lie to die for one’s country. However, one student – whose parents I knew rather well, a very old Nova Scotian family – blurted out: “I have no intention of going to war and dying for American IBM or the Canadian Postal Service; we had Royal Post and now we have a big nothing that does not even deliver mail on time.”

I thought it was an interesting answer. It expresses a deep human sentiment – the need to be attached to national symbols, country. Even death has cultural ramifications. People want to have a reason to die; they do not want to die as cogs in some global machinery – needlessly, senselessly. What is your take on it? Are Australians similarly minded, or are they going to go to war to die for Starbucks, and dying for Starbucks or Amazon is the new truth, whereas pro patria mori to gain glory is “The old Lie?”

WC: I think my last answer anticipated this question somewhat. So, let me leap ahead again and address what I think is the really important aspect of your question. As you have gathered, I am not at all comfortable trying to speak about Australian-ness as if I were somehow a representative of it, or as if it were some sort of essence. Its meaning is very loose and mutable. And, as far as I can tell, in so far as it exists today, I think it is largely limited to the “somewheres,” though the “anywheres” might support their one national team in sports such as cricket, rugby, soccer, the Olympics, etc.

The following example is pertinent. Recently, a Christian rugby player (one of the few star players in our national team) lost his contract because he tweeted that liars, adulterers, drunkards, homosexuals and others were going to Hell and he called for them to repent. He had violated some ethical code that the sponsors (Qantas) had dreamed up. Of course, it was not the adulterers, liars, drunkards who were offended, but the gay lobby group. The country was deeply divided – and the irony was delicious.

Most of the “anywheres” wanted him sacked because what he said was “hateful,” yet few of them actually believe in “Hell;” most of those who supported him were “somewheres,” and many were not Christians, but simply did not like a corporation having so much power, and they also don’t like the idea of their jobs being reliant upon not being allowed to express their opinions.

The “anywheres” present themselves as defenders of the minorities and marginalized, which means they put gays, “people of colour” (so all non-whites can be treated as oppressed), and Muslims all in the same box. I very much doubt that if the rugby player had been Muslim, he would have lost his contract. It would have gone into the “too hard to deal with” basket.

The globalist or elite understanding of identity requires simplifications which fit the larger narration of their idea of a better world, and that is somehow (inanely) supposed to bring together (non-European, and non-Christian) traditions and culture with modern sexual freedom and gender (now non-binary) roles. But the more archaic understanding of identity was based upon more primordial aspects of collective suffering and sacrifice, founding and forming.

The ancients knew that life is sacrificial – and the ritual of sacrifice is a figurative display of one of the most primordial truths of human existence – collective life requires of people that they yield something of themselves to the collective, and each member plays a role – those roles are not equal, of course. How could they be?

Equality is abstract; our original divisions of labour are driven by real problems not abstract ones – someone must grow the food, someone must stop others from making raids, someone must pray that the gods support us, someone must judge and so forth. Each kind of sacrifice has a specific value, and pay-off – warriors have weapons and extract from the food supply, but they risk their lives; food producers have security but are vulnerable. Life is not a geometrical puzzle composed of equal parts.

ZJ: So are you saying that the pre-modern understanding of the sacrificial dimension of social life has been replaced by a more abstract understanding that makes life more manageable?

WC: Exactly. The abstract nature of modern appeals goes hand in hand with an approach to social life generating leaders/elites who have to justify their authority: they are moral paragons who know all that needs to be known, and they will “save” us all by educating us to think just like them. But who wants to sacrifice themselves for a world that is part Brave New World (sex/ drugs/ infantile distractions and self-absorption) and 1984 (complete conformity down to what one thinks or thought twenty years ago)?

The world that is supposed to be totally emancipated will become the most slavish society ever; and the irony is that it will do so largely because the modern elite have no understanding of the sacrificial nature of existence – for our contemporary ruling class, sacrifice always means oppression.

The archaic and pre-Westphalian “people” or nation was a collective formed across generations, in which roles enabled different groups to operate upon, and open up, different “fronts” of the real: it identified with a certain history and destiny, and hence is as apposite as it is for tribes, cities or empires.. The nation in this sense is a source of collective sustenance; and as such it commands sacrificial service. To be sure, because something is held together by its sacrifices does not mean that those sacrifices may not be in vain, nor that there was never cruelty, or “oppression.”

Let me also tie this together with the point you make about what the young may be willing to die for – not, say, Starbucks, or a bank. We know that humans are quite ready to throw their lives away for something they believe in. And as I said, people generally seem to need to serve something higher than themselves. For a lot of people today it is climate – and there is a faith in the earth as our mother; and if we but treat her well she will treat us well.

This is a good illustration of the polytheistic nature of the modern – but this is all concealed because we use what Vico identified as demotic, rather than poetic language. And hence we make issues around climate a matter of “science,” reinforced by ideology and mechanisms of political authority.

So, the way I see it is that it is the spiritual hunger that is driving the various progressive/utopian narratives – and these are, in turn, shored up institutionally and economically, so that those who learn the narratives and share the spirit will become the priests, and their narratives become the prayers that the rest of us are meant to live and swear by.

But those whose economic agency and social existence is not at all nourished by this god, and this priest-class, look back to what has provided nourishment from the past – and that is the more traditional forms of communal solidarity: family, workplace, church, and the nation. But, sadly, for them and perhaps for us all, the fracture is so great that I do not think repair is possible.

ZJ: Let me ask you a related question about death. Albert Camus wrote the essay “The Myth of Sisyphus,” which opens with a strange idea: There is one, and only one, philosophical problem – that is, suicide. I was always puzzled by it. Here is someone in the middle of the 20th-century, who claims that the entire effort of Western civilization was pointless unless it addressed this one question. Accordingly, only a few thinkers would qualify to do philosophy in this sense: Pascal, Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, particularly his Dream of a Ridiculous Man. None of them, let’s note, figure in history of philosophy books.

Camus goes on to say that the question is whether it makes sense to go on living. In other words—Does life make sense? And he answers by saying that there are only two ways, of which the Don Quixote way is the only solution. What he means by it is that we have to invent sense. I like the Don Quixote metaphor. What happens in the novel is that Don Quixote wants to revive chivalry, an ancient, medieval way of life. He fights with windmills, glorifies a woman from low background by elevating her, in his imagination, to the status of a lady. Everybody is laughing, thinking that he has lost his mind, and to indulge him in his insanity; everybody plays the game. However, as they play the game, they get caught up in living in his world – the world of imagination.

One way of applying it to Camus is that only by elevating our status as human beings through imagination which creates values. Can we elevate ourselves without thinking about dying a senseless death? Do you think that what I said can be translated into contemporary social or political categories of national culture, patriotism, of defending oneself against the onslaught of globalist ideology, which leaves people helpless and contemplating death because they see nothing to live for? The suicide rate in the US went up 30 per cent or so in the last 10 years, and it is highest among young people.

WC: I love Camus – and it was very wise of him to make suicide a central issue, though the importance of collective suicide is something, I think, he addresses in The Rebel, a book I admire even more than the Myth of Sisyphus because it provides one of the most important diagnoses of the rise of totalitarian philosophies and politics.

At the heart of the book is the idea of metaphysical or cosmic rebellion, which I think is his greatest idea. Metaphysical rebellion is the defiance of life itself that involves resorting to absolutist abstract ends such as freedom, equality, justice, identity (the Nazis) which can never be actualized but which pull us ever further into violence and murder.

Camus compares this with rebels who make a pact to improve their specific lot and know that sacrifice and murder will be part of the deal – but in the knowledge of what they are doing, they bond together around the limit of their pursuit for overthrowing a specific group of people who are doing very specific acts of injustice. This is very different from someone saying that an entire system is unjust and that one must destroy the system/totality and replace it with a new one based upon perfect principles.

Metaphysical rebels – which is what the modern intelligentsia largely are – do not own up to their murderous incitements or deeds, and they find their absolution in the perfection of their ends which exist in such stark opposition to the world that they make.

I think it is also pertinent to your observation about Don Quixote. Cervantes is another great critic of modernity, who sees essential features of it and hence consequences for the modernization of humanity at the moment of modernity’s birth. His imagined world has a depth of meaning that the mundane world has lost – and it has lost it because it has sapped the inner resources of the imagination by constraining them in such a way that they are either directed to technique or technology, or entertainment and art.

Nietzsche saw the problem of nihilism, but he thought he could manufacture a myth that would make life for the strong worth living (“the eternal recurrence”). I think this is another symptom of the insane hybris of modern thinkers who think their scanty and threadbare ideas – their little bit of learning suffices to make a world (again, Descartes springs to mind, with the World being the title of his posthumously published magnum opus, though he limited himself to the natural world).

It would be a very good thing if people stopped revering intellectuals and operated from the basis that none of us know very much. One reason I like monotheism is that it accepts our need to divinize and serve, but also restricts it to one power. I am astounded, for example, by how little Marx and Nietzsche knew, compared, say, to Herder, who seems to have never stopped finding out stuff – not that I know that much, but my point is that none know that much compared to the infinite quantity of what there is to know.

ZJ: Since you mentioned Descartes, the question arises – his mechanical model of the world and man, his nature, whose operations can be explained in scientific terms, does not make room for values?

WC: Modern myths are really “make believe” and they are predicated upon conscious decisions. I think pre-modern myths work exactly in the opposite way, which is why pre-modern myths are so fecund and modern ones so narrow and limited in their social appeal. This also relates to the other part of your question about national culture and globalism. National culture was a name after it was a fact, or rather an amalgam of practices, commitments, processes, appeals, symbols etc. long before there was such a thing as “nationalism.”

Thus, it was that when nationalism became a coherent ideology, it required retrieving a past and its symbols as powers for intensifying the solidarity that was already there in a particular collective formation – people felt part of something before they gave a name to what they were doing and had been done. The nation was actual before there was nationalism; nationalism, though, was invoked to overthrow powers that could be identified as serving other national or imperial interests. (Of course, the modern nation and modern nationalism also introduced novel political elements which were part of the great transfer of power between political elites).

Typically today academics see something like the nation as a confirmation of their belief that societies are constructed – the presumption being that they can create/ construct the kind of society they want. I think they confuse what it is they are doing and want to achieve with what other people before them have done. They focus upon intention, and completely miss the vast array of world-making that simply happens and is neither conscious nor intended.

ZJ: Once, in our private conversation, you mentioned Allan Bloom’s book, The Closing of the American Mind. The Great Books Program, of which Bloom was a great defender goes back a hundred years. if I am not mistaken, Harvard University Press or the University of Chicago Press were the first to introduce a set of readings – books – that every American should read. The Great Books Program became a standard of education in the US.

Bloom’s Closing started a furious debate over Western civilization in the States. Even Jesse Jackson, not known for his learning of Western Classics, said, “hi, hi, ho, ho Western Culture’s got to go.” It’s gone. The consequence – serious education disappeared from American college campuses, which became a mecca of cultural barbarism.

Here are a few questions. What kept Americans together, what formed national glue, was the reading of Great Books—the European Classics, which kept them close to Europe in the 20th-century.

What kept, or still keeps Australians (culturally) together? How did you ensure the sense of European identity in Australia?

WC: Let me first say something about Great Books in general, their importance and Bloom, then the US and lastly Australia.

I have taught the great books ever since I started academic life. One course that I taught for many years at the University of Adelaide had the title, “Great Ideas of Western Civilization;” another “Great Ideas in Literary Texts.” (Though the problems that have come to light with Australian universities wanting to stop, or undermine, the attempt to introduce courses in Western Civilization by the Paul Ramsey Foundation, indicates that, in many campuses, I might not be able to run courses with such titles today).

The reason I taught these books is that for a book to be considered great, it has to have had a great impact. The greatest, say, the Bible, the Koran or the Iliad have been people/nation-forming. The next greatest have been human-type forming. And finally, less impactful, but still important, the genre or subject forming or developing. Socrates and Plato formed a new human-type (the philosopher). Of course, the Pre-Socratics are their precursors in this project. Aristotle does not do that, but he certainly improves and contributes to philosophical ideas in a “great” way: One simply cannot talk about the Middle Ages without talking about the Medieval university and scholasticism – and as soon as one talks of them, one must speak of Aristotle. For Aquinas, Aristotle was simply referred to as “the philosopher.”

A great book is not just a matter of quality. This is where I think Harold Bloom got it wildly wrong and why his book on the Western Canon ends up as a list that exponentially increases because there are more and more people writing and a lot of it is very good. In some cases, the literary quality of a great book may have nothing to do with its greatness. Goethe’s Faust is a great book in its depiction of the modern predicament. But as a work of literature it is terrible – poorly cobbled together (over a life-time), haphazard, and containing episodes of very uneven quality, ding-dong poetry, etc. But none of that matters. To be greatly crafted and even imagined does not mean a work is canonical.

While Harold Bloom makes too much of literary qualities when it comes to great or canonical works, Alan Bloom makes another kind of mistake – though he is so much better than most of his critics who were just ideologues. Alan Bloom (in this he is just like his teacher, Leo Strauss) treats the great books on the basis of their perennial character. Like Strauss, he detests relativism and historicism. I don’t want to go into the grain of the arguments concerning historicism. And as for relativism, I think it is just a very unhelpful word, and I am suspicious of the way that disputes, where the details matter, become cordoned off into an “-ism.”

But what Alan Bloom and Strauss (to those who read German, this pairing of teacher and student is pretty amusing) tend to do is make of their student homo perennial as well as the book. So, once they start engaging with Plato or Machiavelli or Rousseau, you also find yourself caught up in the American constitution as well as arguments that ultimately require you to give yourself over to how Alan Bloom or Strauss see the world, which is ostensibly very reasonable, and which ostensibly owes so much to Plato or whoever. All sense of “growth,” of collective engagement and lessons that transpire over time and across the ages, that arise from very different kinds of circumstances and ways of world-making is simply brushed aside as “historicism.”

I don’t like this at all, because I think their students are usually very weak in their ability to enter more closely into other worlds and deal with problems that are not their problems, but which if they took seriously might considerably broaden their horizons, and their imagination and their capacity for empathy as well as their appreciation of human and collective nature and development. I have always found Straussians somewhat like Marxists. Girard tends to attract similar types: they all think what they know is essentially what they need to know.

So, Great Books – yes, great. But their point – for readers of today – is not merely to draw us into one person’s take on the real – no matter how brilliant. Rather such works serve as entrances into worlds far beyond what we think we know. They are revelations, founding acts of creation, as well as entrances into the creation of a new “world.” And one must realize how much contestation is going on within them, and how they are an opening to a great array of circumstances and problems and points of view, and they do not spare us our own tribulations and need for resourcefulness. There is no human master whose feet we can sit at while supping forever off their words. Life is one great trial after another.

ZJ: How does it relate to Australia, your sense of identity, and can one claim, as Americans did, that identity can come from reading certain books?

WC: As for the US and Australia and great books, as far as I know, the curriculum in the Arts and Humanities in Australia (up until the 1980s and 1990s) generally included works that would also be considered great. At the same time, I think already in the 1920s and 1930s, a scientistic spirit had entered into the university as behaviourism, and positivism took hold of the social sciences. Philosophy was beginning to focus upon problem-solving and moving away from a knowledge of the history of its subject.

But it was really the 1960s politicization of the curricula that led to the disciplines and their founding/core texts (great books) undergoing such a transformation that the minds of the students who entered them were left in tatters, only glued together by ideology. The same process, more or less, happened in Australia.

I think the identity that was cultivated had far less to do with universities, which were for the relatively few, and far more to do with schools and churches, and also clubs and associations. Here the Bible mattered a lot. As for Plato or Rousseau, etc., not that much. I suspect, but am happy to be corrected on this, that Montesquieu and Locke mattered far more for the historic moment in which Jefferson, Adams, Madison and Hamilton et. al played their part (and because they are founders, their ideas and reading really matters) than in times when the creation, diffusion and variety of ideas and practices are implicated in events that don’t have overly much to do with humanities subjects in universities.

Indeed, my criticism of Alan Bloom and Strauss is apposite here, in trying to figure out the values and collective decisions that were important in the U.S. and Australia. In the second half of the nineteenth century, or much of the twentieth century, I would not be primarily looking to universities, certainly not primarily to the study of Plato, Hegel, etc. when thinking about the US or Australia but to larger events and more variegated narratives, and the insights of journalists, writers, clerics and other well read cultural figures: the cultural unity was not primarily philosophical because it was not an ideational/ ideological fabrication. The importance of the Bible I just mentioned confirms the point I wish to make: the Bible is not a book of “ideas” – indeed it confounds rational explications of human behaviour or ethics. It is a book of stories, events, mysteries, relationships, trials and failures, broken and kept promises, sin and redemption. It is a story, a love story between the Lord and His “servants,” told across many ages, involving many people and events – not a philosophy. It spawns countless interpretations because it is full of contingencies – which is the way life is; philosophies, on the other hand, smooth out contingencies to make them align to what we or someone can rationally think about them.

However, in the 1960s, I think this changes because there we can definitely recognize (a) that the rise of mass education will impact upon those who go into professions and (b) that the ideas which were part of the social revolution of the 1960s have gained increasing social traction – in part again because teachers, journalists, etc. go to universities where these are the narratives and ideas they get trained in. This also happens to occur at times when the other sites of social induction (the church and clubs and associations) decline in terms of influence.

So, the attack upon authority coming out of the universities, which then enters schools, newspapers, tv shows, movies, etc. changes the entire culture and aesthetics of appeal and value, and indeed the moral economy, so that now being hostile to tradition is affirmed by one’s grades, employment opportunities, moral status.

To put it bluntly, the destruction of national identity, which is common to the entire Western world, is a direct corollary of the creation of an elite group of educators that is essential for the social reproduction of professionals who are needed to run the private and public sector. It was this class that created the Russian revolution, and it is this class that is creating the global revolution. And in both cases what was being thrown away was the features of identity and solidarity that are not the results of elite manufacturing.

Unfortunately, our elites can only think in terms of elite manufacturing. This is our tragedy – that our social and economic dependencies are dependencies of destruction – conscious attempts to rip up ways of life in which many people still have a stake, and replace them with new ones in which the stakeholders are mainly paid for words, ideas, and enforcement of those words and ideas, and practices that fit them.

ZJ: Several years ago, the Polish philosopher, Ryszard Legutko, published The Demon in Demon in Democracy, the book you read and liked. It sold 16,000 copies within a year. It may not be Bloom’s million, but it is totally unprecedented. It was translated into German, French and Spanish. It provoked good reactions for the most part. How do you explain its success? What is it about Legutko’s book that explains why so many people read it?

WC: When Closing of the American Mind came out a lot of people could see there was a kind of madness coming out of higher education, especially, but by no means only, in the USA. That book gave an explanation for it, and it also offered hope that there was a better cultural way. Sadly, I think that way has no institutional support.

Having said that and perhaps to offset my pessimism, it is also the case that institutions are bearers of spirit, and spirits die; and then it is up to us to give birth to new institutions that better enable us to carry on across the times, as we gather and transfer our powers to future generations. So, what I am seeing in its destructive throes is also the occasion of new unpredicted responses and creative acts that may well help us outrun these diabolical stupidities of the modern mind and heart.

Legutko’s book, which I learnt about through Nick Capaldi, is about the diabolical nature of over-politicization and the tendency of that within democracies. One should bear in mind about democracies that they have never endured for very long; and that while they solve problems, they also create a problem for any class or group that wants its way. This is the problem being faced now – democracy is taught as a good thing and is defended by journalists, etc. until the moment when the electorate do not want what their elites – especially those who live off narrative formation, instruction, etc. – want.

The EU is the model of the Western post-democratic future, though it may just fall apart. Again, I think there are many people who agree with the diagnosis provided by Legutko of how liberal-democracy is proactive in forming a totalitarian mind-set – confirmed, of course, in practice, by the hostile student attempt to stop him speaking at Middlebury. Again, it only showed how desperate our ideas-brokers are to preserve really bad and fragile ideas.

ZJ: What I find surprising, and I do not say it to diminish the originality of Legutko’s book, is that we do not find anything shocking in the book, and yet it became a philosophical bestseller. When I read it, I thought, it is very good, persuasive, very well-written – but he says things that should be obvious to everyone. Yet he infuriated the professors and students in America, at Middlebury College, for example, to the point that his lecture had to be cancelled because the college could not guarantee his security.

Under Communism, we would have loved to hear a speaker who said things which were controversial. In today’s America, we shut down people who even dare to think differently. Is the situation in Australia the same?

WC: Identical! Again, it has to do with class rather than culture; or, more precisely, class can also affect culture. The Left thinks it is making such great strides in human emancipation when it is just ensuring that we are replaceable, that we are resources to be managed and directed by those who have the ambition to rule, manage, and control the future on the basis of their certitudes about the nature and purpose of life. This is why global corporations can, and indeed do, ally themselves with socialist or “woke” “radicals” and causes – BLM, Antifa, etc. Forgive me being bleak again – but this is why the faith I have in humanity comes from spontaneous, unpredictable acts of loving kindness, friendship, etc.

Those people who booed and shut down Legutko showed that they are the real enemies of creative freedom and are the enemies of a more convivial future. But they cannot see themselves. If, as they get older, and they wake up a little from their “wokeness” and look back upon what they have done, and if they have any spark of soul left, they will be ashamed of what they have done. The millennials are just re-enacting what my generation did some fifty years back; and so a number of us also look back in shame at our younger selves.

ZJ: Let me go back a bit. You do not have, and have never had a Great Books program; nor did the Canadians. Only Americans did. All three of you were former British colonies, yet only in America’s case was the national identity guaranteed by “pumping” European heritage into the students’ minds; not in Australia, not in Canada. How do you explain it? Is the presence of British heritage stronger there than in America? Or is it connected with the idea that the U.S. had become much earlier a country of immigrants from all over the world, rather than from Europe or Britain?

WC: As I mentioned, I did teach Great Books, and for a long time. Although people did not teach subjects called Great Books, parts at least of the curriculum of the BA was steeped in Great Books. English literature students studied Paradise Lost, some Shakespeare, Blake, etc. Philosophy students some Plato, or Hume and Locke, and so on. So, I think the kind of “pumping” process was occurring. But as I said earlier, I think, the Bible excepted (and even that spreads through rite and ritual), the cultural formation should not be understood solely through books.

The British heritage was strong in Australia – but not so much now, though the other cultural forces are more diffuse. But the American influence (music, television, film, books, ideas) is huge. I don’t want to segue too far into American identity, but I will just say that I think Americans tend to see the world as themselves writ large, and Australians also tend to do this. There is, in my opinion, too much blah-blah about identity. Where real identity exists, one often doesn’t talk about it; one just carries on a certain way. Where people insist upon identity for political gain, it is usually because they want to dictate how people with certain features or interests must behave. It is very self-serving, and has little to do with any reality. It is true that if one’s world is under threat, then identity may be important. Context matters – there is a big difference between identity being appealed to from the ground up to bind people together because they are genuinely under threat and are treated as identical by enemies wishing to harm them than an elite defining what constitutes an identity so that they can make clients and dependents of a group with certain common features.

ZJ: Americans are obsessed with their founding. Each year we have another book about the American Revolution, and how great it was that we separated. One of the myths is “persecution” and “freedom” – which from European and particularly British perspective, sounds strange. It was the dissenters – the troublemakers – who fled, colonized the continent and, as a distinguished English historian, Jonathan Clark, sees it, 1776 was the last war of religion, and the unfolding of European history in the New World.

This is not so in Australia (or Canada where the Royalists fled [and known as the United Empire Loyalists). You do not have the same national myths, and your relationship with your “mothership” does not seem so stormy. Where might such a difference come from? What is Australia’s relationship to Britain now?

WC: We were settled by convicts, though not South Australia. The Australian myth is one of rebellion, mistrust of, and refusal to kowtow to, authority. Our founding myth is the Anzac defeat at Gallipoli. We are a nation of losers, so to speak. But there is also a sense of betrayal by the mother-country, of us being sacrificed in a larger game which we did not control. The other part of the myth was the Outback. But Australians largely live on the coast and most are urban dwellers.

Now the tertiary educated, who dominate our ideational narratives, see Britain as a colonial power wreaking destruction on the world, so we should distance ourselves from it. (They are so historically ignorant that they do not see the relationship between resource competition, the scale of territorial power, military conquests and alliances, the need to find resources to maintain military power, and hence the logic of empire as expansionary but also cross-cultural).

Thus, we went from having a bit of a chip on our shoulder about the British, to seeing ourselves as their moral betters – though we still have bits of shame and guilt to pour on ourselves with respect to the treatment of indigenous people. Given that the British, like the Americans, are also caught up in their own guilt and past shame, this too is a more global phenomenon within the West – Chinese and Muslims certainly are not using their own sense of shame as a means of moral, economic and institutional opportunity or gain. What matters for them is pride in their past – and their shame comes from the power they have lost, not the power they inherited!

Our old myths really have little leverage in Australia today. And all myths to the contrary, we are, in fact, a terribly bureaucratic country. The urban/regional split also means that those Australians who are more like the mythical Australian (laconic, irreverent, more given to practical action than talking) tend to be seen as stupid by urban Australians.

One only has to tune into our national public broadcaster to see that our tertiary educated urban population are a nation of groupthink. Try questioning climate change in any public forum, or within a university – good luck! So, we are a torn country. Presently, many argue we should not celebrate Australia Day because it is celebrating conquest, if not outright genocide. Our professional classes are as given to moral absolutes and hyperbole as the Americans and other Western European professional classes – on very similar issues. Once again, it is symptomatic of the globalisation of industry and ideas, and the divide between the old national members and the new globalized elites.

ZJ: Let me recall a historical fact that few people remember or know of. In 1975, the Australian Parliament got dissolved by the British Queen because it suffered from gridlock. In other words, it became dysfunctional. We cannot do this in the US. In fact, we cannot do it anywhere with full democracy. In your case, it worked and it proved that a mechanism like that is needed because a parliament or congress cannot dismiss itself. Monarchy – however limited – seems to work. Look at Brexit… Parliament is helpless.

WC: Well, in that instance, it was the Queen’s representative that broke the gridlock. Many still call this a constitutional crisis, even though the election quickly followed the sacking of the elected Prime Minister. In a sense you have answered your own question. Britain is a monarchy; but parliament is helpless in times of a crisis. A political system is ultimately only as good as the political culture which sustains it. Thus, our crises are cultural crises played out within systems – and tearing them apart. A system does have a fair amount of cultural capital stored within its practices, but that cannot last forever where the wills of its opponents are powerful and unified.

It is probably obvious from the answers I have already given that I think Western democracies are in serious trouble. There are structural and cultural aspects of that crisis. Structurally, the crisis has come about through the elevation of a class who see themselves – and indeed have become – global and national leaders. They are like Nietzsche’s higher men – except they actually achieve their elevation by deploying narratives of equality and identity, narratives Nietzsche associated with the herd.

This is actually cleverer than Nietzsche (and it is not even the kind of clever that was consciously decided; rather, it is clever in terms of the interests it unifies through self-serving decisions), because Nietzsche failed to realize that the new elite would need to be seen to be serving the mass, even if they were creating a scaffold for their own in-breeding (the elites don’t generally marry down) and taste.

ZJ: 1492 – for centuries now, the date was associated with Columbus’ discovery of America. Today, in the US, it means genocide! Genocide of the Indians. Several cities in the U.S., including Washington DC this year, renamed Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day. You, as Australian, probably have views on the question. But before I let you answer, let me make a few remarks.

First, even if one would grant some validity to the objection, the problem is of judging the past by the standards of today. Second, it is a childish way of looking at history, thinking that it would have been good, but bad people made it evil, which is a demonstration of lack of knowledge as to what happened everywhere; that people would conquer other lands; and, as the philosopher you know well, Hegel, said, history is a slaughter bench on which millions have been sacrificed. This is not to say that we should continue slaughtering each other, but since it was a mechanism of history, people who claim it was genocide, do not seem to know how anything operates.

WC: This is exactly the problem. A knowledge of history that also takes into account social formation and transformation, and where conflict and resource competition fits into the picture, should cure people of utopian idealism – though there are plenty of historians who still read history as if they were God presiding over the Day of Judgment, and hence relate history as if history were a morality tale, and that its actors could and should have done differently.

History is neither a metaphysical nor a moral problem, but the accumulated experiences of decisions, actions and circumstances that have created the world we have to dwell in. What we also know is that our political moralists of today have what they have because of their history – which is our history.

To want to create a better world may be admirable, but one cannot forget that one is part of a world in which sacrifice, strife, competition for resources and group survival were primarily existential choices, not purely moral ones. This is as much the story of the ancients, of tribes, cities and empires, as it is of the moderns with our civil and world wars.

But genuine social betterment requires genuine alignments of solidarity, common loves and commitments, not the enforcement of principles and ideas. Having an idea that humans are basically good, or that we actually have rights that were not derived out of political and social experience, or that we can just apply a set of axioms about human behaviour, is the opposite of helpful. We have to work on the little bit of reality before us; and if we do not see forces that threaten to extinguish a group as we are focussed only upon our ideals, then we will go under.

ZJ: A few years ago, in Vienna, where there was a monument dedicated to the Polish king, John III Sobieski, who stopped the Turkish forces from invading Europe, in 1688. It was desecrated and a sign attached: “Genocide.” The king who was celebrated as defending Europe from Muslim invasion stands condemned for the very same reason – as the defender of the West, just like Columbus, stands condemned for bringing the West to the New World. Do you see a similarity, and what exactly, in your opinion, stands behind the two so different occurrences?

WC: When Columbus first arrived in the Bahamas, he thought he had found a new world free from violence. He quickly learnt otherwise. The idea that the Europeans created violence in the new world is a fantasy. Think, for example, of how the enemies of the Aztecs assisted Cortes. That Europeans brought a new kind of havoc that had really terrible consequences for the indigenous peoples of the “New World” is not something I dispute. I simply note that imperialism is a very ancient modality of social and political organization, and that scale and technology matter.

In part, though, I do see the hostility to certain founding myths as a fair enough response – up to a point. That is, the 1960s generation and their more left-leaning professors from a previous generation were not wrong to expose peaceful foundational myths as untrue. But this does not mean that the “New World” did not have its own survival strategies in which violence was a common enough occurrence.

I would also qualify this by saying where resources are spread widely and groups are small enough and can stay out of each other’s way, then it may be avoidable – at least up to a point. But anthropological finds of grave sites do indicate how common violent death generally was amongst tribes. The city and the empire are also, in part, a means for walling out violence. But, of course, as groups grow and empires subsist alongside each other, violence again enters into the picture on an even larger scale.

The problem is not that we should not be honest about conquest and violence – and once the United States was formed and the land expansion drove out the native Americans in the 19th-century, it was really shocking, though not altogether unlike how other tribes within antiquity had acquired land. A case can be made that, had the U.S. remained under the British crown, its history may have been far less bloody.

Of course, counterfactual history is only partially helpful. But that so many Western educated people believe that the West was somehow unique in its deployment of violence for securing territory and resources is silly – and, I repeat, making moral judgments about the past is meaningless, especially when the people making them are the beneficiaries of the bloody deeds that are their own history: What was unique was the technology and accompanying systems of commerce and administration which created greater opportunities for power enhancement and expansion.

But the idea, to take your second example, that Islam was not an imperializing enterprise from the very beginning, or that Muslims were pacifists and innocents, and Christian nations uniquely imperial, is historically mad (those poor Turks attacking Vienna!). But once you simply treat Muslims as a minority, you will project all sorts of virtues onto a group because they suit the narrative that you live off of and define your place in the world by.

Likewise, those Muslims who have aspirations to really fulfill the injunction to bring the world to peace through all submitting to Allah, will gladly support this narrative, and will gladly represent themselves as victims of genocide in Vienna, as if they were in solidarity with native Americans, whose people were subject to genocidal levels of violence. But, unlike the Westerners who fall for this, they at least know what they are doing.

ZJ: Given the logic of the genocide argument, we should conclude that neither conquest nor colonization should have ever happened – which means, no Persian Empire, no Greek colonization, no Roman Empire, no Mongol, Ottoman, British, Portuguese, French, Spanish Empires. What I have enumerated is only a tiny portion of what history looked like, which does not give much support for politically correct claims and visions of history, let alone human nature. But given all the PC activists’ ignorance of history, the question emerges: Does PC behaviour stem from ignorance or something else?

WC: I think I have already made clear what I think about PC anthropology. It is, as others have rightly labelled it, “Disneyfication.” As you know I am a great admirer of J.G. Herder, who unfortunately is usually just viewed as a “romantic,” when he is a complicated and a very profound thinker.

Herder made the point (one which you can also find in Augustine) that a group’s survival depends upon it having something lovable about its world. So, just as I cannot accept the romantic view of indigenous life, a life that like all social forms, has strict and often brutal means of enforcing group survival,

I do not deny that it was a dwelling place on earth with its own rewards and sacrifices. Hence, too, I also do not want to underestimate the cost of civilization. Our conversation is largely about the sacrificial component of civilization and how precarious our circumstances are right now.

And, as much as I disagree with the liberal-progressive view of life, I also acknowledge that it exists because of all manner of problems (including the last World War) which provided the backdrop for people wanting to “Give Peace a Chance” and “Imagine” a better world. So, I think, one may well have important discussions about different life-ways; and what is won and lost as one world is destroyed.

Now the indigenous worlds were destroyed because they had found ways to survive that ultimately (and I do not mean this in any disparaging way) curtailed the need for the kind of human inventiveness that developed with empires, and at their most sophisticated levels with the crucible of the West and its wars and revolutions.

I have said it many times now: Inventiveness is forged in the furnaces of war and horror, which is as true for the scientific revolution as for the formation of the modern nation state. The experience of the West was such that one crisis after another led to a certain kind of “advancement” – specifically, technological, administrative, socioeconomic and even political.

Fortunate were those (at least relatively) who could stave this off, until, that is, they found themselves in competition with outsiders over their resources. History cannot be unmade, and so any strategy of solving our problems which requires cultural romanticism is doomed to fail. Worst of all, it condemns the living to a lost past, so that they themselves become like ghosts and more like pieces in the imaginations of those who wish to dictate their own narratives and future for the living.

Culture, like everything else, is not an essence but an adaptive process. So, pretending that the powers of the modern world can be simply blocked out by a romantic retreat is to condemn people to powerlessness in their world. Although policy and public narrative commonly romanticize the past, imagine a government that said: “Sorry we did wrong, so what we will do is give you back a vast amount of territory, then build a fence, and leave you alone. No phones, cars, roads, hospitals, medical supplies, TVs or anything else that modernity has made will be available to you. You are free to return to a past world. We will not mine there or allow any of our people to enter. But once you go back you are not allowed to return.”

Can you imagine the outcry of indignation? Being in a world comes with a price. Our freedoms come at the cost of widespread depression, anomie, ennui, isolation, medication, infantilism, and so many other afflictions, including romanticism and utopianism and their institutional ensconcement.

The reason I am an Augustinian when it comes to human nature is that we all live off the violence and crimes – the sins – of our forefathers. Real dialogue is impossible, if we start with a mythic idealisation.

ZJ: Are the contemporary problems of the USA, Canada, Australia those that the Britishness of those countries created, by which I mean Protestant religion, common language. Again, to be clear, many of the problems that feminists see, such as the use of pronouns (he and she) are laughable from the point of view of someone who knows languages and knows that gender (masculine, feminine and neuter) is grammatical; it is not social categories. But in the English-speaking world, precisely because English no longer uses gender in its grammar, these problems have been created, which could not have sprung-up elsewhere. Yet, these English-language problems, because of American dominance, have become global problems.

WC: I think it is Europeanness rather than Britishness (and I would refer you to one of my favourite books, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s Die europäischen Revolutionen und der Charakter der Nationen – a different version of that book for an American audience was, Out of Revolution: Autobiography of Western Man.

If I think of the suicidal tendencies within the West today, it seems to me that they do come out of the appeals to freedom and social equality that are the outgrowth of the European experience and responses to their circumstances, including, perhaps most significantly, wars and revolutions.

That the European experience is predicated upon Christian culture, as well other sociological and geopolitical contingencies, seems to me very obvious. Calvinism, in particular, though not of British influence plays a decisive role in helping shape what will become modern republicanism. It will also play an important role in generating a moral and aesthetic orientation to personal and social life that will then become secularised.

I really like John Cuddihy’s book on the Calvinist influences upon the USA, No Offense: Civil Religion and Protestant Taste. A certain sensibility, which combines a sense of (divine/ moral) election, the overcoming of all evil, the doctrinal (moral) transparency of all souls within the community (see, Joseph Bottum, An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America) has prevailed within our elites (and this is as much the case in Canada, the UK, Australia, as the USA) – which is manifestly Calvinist in original form. but with the kind of content that comes out of the atheistic socialistic, progressive mind of the nineteenth-century.

This sensibility simultaneously combines guilt and a desire for the “kingdom.” So, without Christianity, it is pretty impossible to imagine this modern elite and our narratives of emancipation. But they are also anti-Christian and heretical, diabolical even – total faith in human knowledge, the human will, and the self/identity. The Islamists, the Chinese, the Russians, etc. think the West is killing itself. That is what I fear as well – and I hope I am completely wrong.

ZJ. Thank you so much for this conversation, Professor Cristaudo!

The image shows, “1807, Friedland,” by Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonie, painted 1861-1875.

What Made 18th-Century Britain So Innovative?

We are so very thankful to The Critic to allow us to bring to our readers a new series – History Talks – which are podcasts by Professor Jeremy Black, in conversation with Graham Stewart, The Critic’s political editor.

The purpose of these podcasts is to inform and also delight. Each month, Professor Black answers an important question, explores an interesting web of ideas, or simply tells us about things we may not know about. This means that each of his talks is nothing short of a “Grand Tour” of the past, providing exquisite nuggets of historical details that you can carry with you as delightful souvenirs.

We begin this month with an intriguing question – Why was 18th-century Britain so innovative? The ideas and inventions that emerged on this little island in the 1700s changed not only Britian but the entire world.

Things that we take for granted would have been impossible if they had not been invented and created in Britain, such as, free speech, a free press, consumerism, industrialization, urbanization. All this is finely summarized in Rupert Brooke’s famous words:

For England’s the one land, I know,
Where men with Splendid Hearts may go…

But why did all this not happen in any other country? Why did it happen only in Britain? Let’s listen to Professor Black for the answer.

What Made 18th-Century Britain So Innovative?

The image shows, A Philosopher Giving that Lecture on the Orrery, in which a Lamp is put in place of the Sun or The Orrery, by Joseph Wright of Derby, painted ca., 1766.

Victorian Values

Martin Farquhar Tupper (1810-89) was a once eminent but now unfairly forgotten Victorian. He had many virtues – a major figure in the Student Volunteer Movement, a pioneer in the study of African literature and the object of Karl Marx’s hearty dislike.

If remembered, it is for his didactic moralising, his prose taking the form of blank verse, which culminates in his classic epic, Proverbial Philosophy. Each Tupper line, truth be told, contains its own little piece of wisdom.

In an age of vacuous and godless relativism, his sonorous proselytising is a veritable breath of fresh air. At least twice, I have read out many lines of Tupper at wedding receptions, counselling the radiant bride and randy groom as to how they might best comport themselves in later married life, and have been deemed a jolly fine fellow for so doing. Whether you are happily married, eager to marry, or merely intellectually curious, I entreat you to share these fine Tupper lines with me. First though, here’s a joke. What did the servants of Mr and Mrs Martin Tupper call their food storage containers? Tupperware™

Excerpt from Martin Tupper, Proverbial Philosophy, ‘On Marriage’

Mark the converse of one thou lovest, that it be simple and sincere;
For an artful or false woman shall set thy pillow with thorns.
Observe her deportment with others, when she thinketh not that thou art nigh,
For with thee will the blushes of love conceal the true colour of her mind.
Hath she learning? it is good, so that modesty go with it:
Hath she wisdom? it is precious, but beware that thou exceed;
For woman must be subject, and the true mastery is of the mind.
Be joined to thine equal in rank, or the foot of pride will kick at thee;
And look not only for riches, lest thou be mated with misery:
Marry not without means; for so shouldst thou tempt Providence;
But wait not for more than enough; for Marriage is the DUTY of most men:
Grievous indeed must be the burden that shall outweigh innocence and health,
And a well-assorted marriage hath not many cares.
In the day of thy joy consider the poor; thou shall reap a rich harvest of blessing;
For these be the pensioners of One who filleth thy cup with pleasures:
In the day of thy joy be thankful: He hath well deserved thy praise:
Mean and selfish is the heart that seeketh Him only in sorrow.
For her sake who leaneth on thine arm, court not the notice of the world,
And remember that sober privacy is comelier than public display.
If thou marriest, thou art allied unto strangers; see they be not such as shame thee:
If thou marriest, thou leavest thine own; see that it be not done in anger.

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 image shows, “The Wedding Register,” by Edmund Blair Leighton, painted 1920.

The Dead-End Of Liberalism

This is a special review. It is special because it is the last of its kind. I no longer intend to spend my time, and your time, on books that I know to be completely wrong, merely to show they are completely wrong. I am keenly aware of what I call “the closing door,” embodied in the words of John 9:4 – “the night cometh, when no man can work,” which Samuel Johnson had engraved on the inside cover of his pocket watch. This does not at all mean that I am stopping writing, only that I will no longer write in the vein of correcting errors of the political Left. For the hour is late, and the Right has better things to do.

Thus, I will no longer review, or read, leftist claptrap. That includes a substantial majority of modern popular works; essentially all books on history and politics that receive wide publicity, from the latest anti-Trump screed to anything on race, along with a great deal else. It also includes many, though not all, older leftist works that are leftist canon. Does it profit me to read any such book and demonstrate its innumerable falsehoods and logical errors? No, because I know the truth already, and I know the minds of all these writers and the vast majority of their readers are a closed circle, filled with lies and impervious to the truth. I will discover nothing new; and they benefit by me wasting my time, because opportunity costs.

True, my writing about such books might profit others who are less informed or have spent less time evaluating leftist claptrap, and who are drowning daily in the disinformation spewed out by leftist media and culture. But I can add the same value for those people by sometimes discussing leftist propaganda when I am discussing legitimate works. All the leftist agitprop I am now going to ignore is worse than worthless. It is total lies, which, fascinatingly, is a relatively new departure for the Left.

Over decades, the Left was rewarded for slanting and twisting the truth, never punished, and now that they have total control over the organs of communication, culture, and power, simply disregarding the truth in the service of power, serving instead lying propaganda, is the inevitable consequence. What you reward, you get more of. For the Left, since 1789, after all, the ends justify the means, and the purported goal of their Utopian cult is now in sight, so any tool is justified. So I understand why they lie, and how and why the New York Times today became no different than the Pravda of 1988. But I see no reason I should legitimate their webs of lies.

It is all a question of priorities. My core priority is to establish the Foundationalist state, under which human flourishing may again occur. What is the chief obstacle to the Foundationalist state? The power of the Left, and the corruption of the West it has wrought, by rejecting the pursuit of excellence and accomplishment, and by corroding individual virtue. Working to demonstrate that the Left lies as it breathes merely grants power to their lies. As I have said, the only way out is through, and that means, most of all, offering a positive vision of what the future can look like, as opposed to the world visible around us wrought by the Left—and them implementing that vision.

More broadly, I no longer care what any organ of the Left, or any individual leftist, thinks or says about any topic. At all. I don’t need to understand them better; I already understand them completely, and what they have to say that is not lies, is evil that has led us to our current degenerate and decayed society, for which they bear primary responsibility. Nor is it important to understand better their motivations: greed, love of power, millenarian fervor, sheer stupidity, love of destruction, hatred driven by racist ethnonarcissism, animal rage generated by envy of beauty and accomplishment. No, there is no reason whatsoever to engage the Left, except in the act of utterly and permanently breaking their power and imposing a decent society. The time for debate with the Left is over; the time for the re-imposition of reality arrived long ago.

The Left, always and everywhere, has known the existential nature of the struggle, and the exterminatory character of their program, and in every case acted to the extent its power allowed. Today in America, they no longer pretend the Right is even permitted to debate; after all, error has no rights. They are now imposing their final end-state on us, a project they will soon complete if they are not stopped. Our only goal should be to smash the Left and impose the will of the Right, in a complete reformation of our society—if we can, a topic for another day. What form that imposition of will might take remains to be seen. It could be a democratic turn to a Viktor Orbán-type leader, though more aggressive, who combines economic populism and nationalism, and is not afraid to use existing tools to break the Left. It could be a fragmentation of the country, along Kurt Schlichter lines, where the Left is confined in their own new country to descend into Venezuela, or worse, and the Right can form a renewed society. It could be many other things, each prefigured by history. But the path leads inevitably to war, whether hot war or cold war. It already is war, though a war fought only by the Left. Time to fight back, effectively.

Oh, I will read plenty of books I disagree with, in whole or in part. But those will be books that illuminate the way forward. I will no doubt still find much to criticize in some books. I will continue to read and analyze books that I know are partially wrong, such as those written with a whole or partial Left bias that are not works of politics or history (e.g., science or economics), because in those something of value can often still be found.

I may sometimes read books that I strongly suspect are completely wrong, say anything new from Jonah Goldberg, but that could still contain something of interest, especially books whose readership may include those on the Right working toward victory. I may read classic Left works, because they are classic, thus they may contain something of value, and moreover I know they inform my enemies, so knowing their contents is of use. Lenin, for example. (Not all old Left works are classic, of course. Take Edward Said’s Orientalism—I tried reading that, and it was worthless, lying trash, and laughably, obviously so.) But for the most part, I will read either books that are not political at all, but of interest to me for other reasons, or books that I see as useful in building Foundationalism.

More generally, I intend to spend as little time as possible discussing political matters with the Left. They can read my works, or not, and there may be exceptions to my general rule. But why discuss political matters with leftist commenters on my writing, or with my left-leaning relatives? Their worldview consists wholly of lies, destructive lies, lies that corrode all societal virtue and wholly block all societal accomplishment. They cannot be convinced otherwise; like any cult member, and cult is what the Left is, as shown by that their ideology does not permit any new fact to contradict their prebaked conclusions.

Someone must rule; now it is them, and changing that is the challenge of the next decade, followed by the suppression of their evil works and the proper education of both our children and our brainwashed adults. Meanwhile, with leftists with whom we have a social relation, we can talk about other things—although since the Left insists on politicizing all of life, there is, sadly, often very little we can talk about.

But before I call it a day, let us discuss this book. In it, childlike naivete alternates with low malice, combining in an execrable stew. I read Why Liberalism Works because it claims to be an answer to Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed, a key text of today’s post-liberal Right. To my disappointment, other than in its title and one unbelievably stupid sentence inside, this book completely ignores Deneen’s book, and also ignores all claims and arguments of today’s post-liberals. Instead, it substitutes, for engaging with ideas, heated repetition of bogus ideological claims. It’s crushingly boring and tiresomely predictable. But reading this book made me understand more fully why and how we are all force fed propaganda, of which this is merely an exemplar, on a daily basis, and led me to the decision outlined above. I’m happy for that, at least.

The author, Deirdre McCloskey, is what we can call a “choice extremist.” This is a type of libertarianism, but not confined to limiting the state. Rather, it is an endorsement of man as mayfly, impelled by no other desire than maximizing pleasure, and insistent that any limitation on such pleasure is evil incarnate. People like McCloskey, who claim to be centrists seeking human flourishing, offer the distilled essence of the worst of the Left, without the leavening concern for social fabric that some of the Left offers, or used to offer. A clean sweep will begin with these people, McCloskey and his [indeed, his, ed.] neoliberal allies, many long falsely seen as conservatives. For me, this book was unpleasant to read, and this review a drag to write. Still, I read the whole book, every word, hacking through the ignorant writing and annoying tone of unjustified superiority combined with a jarring, oily pseudo-femininity. You’re welcome.

Totally aside from its other defects, McCloskey’s book is poorly structured, because rather than writing a new book, he cobbled together numerous existing short writings, added some filler, divided them into four rough groups, and presented the results as a tasty pottage to his masters at the American Enterprise Institute and other similar bastions of mendacious toadies to leftism and chaos. Constant repetition is therefore the hallmark of this book; it could have been a fifth of its length and said the same things. Again, you’re welcome. Rather than analyze the fifty essays in this book sequentially, I’m going to summarize the author’s key claims, which are merely repeated with slight variations and emphasis throughout the entire book. Let’s get on with it.

First, McCloskey draws the line of demarcation that snakes through the entire book. We have “true liberals.” And we have everyone else. True liberals are awesome. Everyone else is bad, and bad precisely to the extent he differs in any way from true liberals. By “true liberal,” McCloskey means someone who is a fan of the core tenet of Enlightenment political philosophy, of emancipation from all unchosen bonds, an atomized free actor in every facet of his existence. True liberals, you see, adhere to the Golden Rule, which is, properly viewed, merely Adam Smith’s principles of free trade applied to all activities of life. In fact, total emancipation is dictated by God—McCloskey claims that some fictional “Abrahamic egalitarianism” is common to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and in case we are unclear, calls Smith, ad nauseum, “the Blessed Adam Smith,” who revealed the correct interpretation of the Gospel, which previously had escaped all of us.

The rest of the book is merely endless variations on ascribing superlatives to “true liberals” and attacking everyone not a “true liberal,” though flavor is added by changing the adjective occasionally from “true” to “humane,” “sisterly,” or “motherly.” To support this division as an intelligent way to view the world, McCloskey’s tool is not evidence or reason. Rather, his only tool is ignoring or totally mischaracterizing opposing arguments while using tendentious, emotion-laden terms. In the second paragraph of the Preface, for example, he contrasts true liberals, who have “splendid arts and sciences,… toleration,… inclusiveness,… cosmopolitanism” with “illiberal regimes,” from whose “violent hierarchies” true liberals have liberated us, though “brutal, scaremongering populists” such as Viktor Orbán are still fighting their inevitable defeat by the true liberal paladins. The rest of the book does not vary from this pattern.

Second, in order to praise true liberals as the source of all that is righteous, McCloskey offers a puerile and false chain of historical causation. It is hard to exaggerate how simplistic this book is. In a nutshell, which is all we are offered, in the late 1700s, true liberalism began, when demands for emancipation and atomized liberty, that is, the Enlightenment, began. This political philosophy created the “Great Enrichment,” “economic betterments for ordinary people,” by “giving voice” to people who were formerly voiceless and utterly passive. This has continued, so now we are rich and getting richer, which is all that matters.

Now, McCloskey does recognize the glaring problem in this set of claims, which is that only clowns believe that the Industrial Revolution had any connection to the Enlightenment. So he dodges by trying to separate the supposed Great Enrichment from the Industrial Revolution. He claims that the latter was a mere commonplace, frequent throughout history, of doubling income, but that the Enrichment was a new thing in history, created purely by true liberalism. In one of the most bizarre passages of a book that is filled with them, McCloskey claims that equally important industrial revolutions also occurred in Islamic Spain and Song China. Before 1800, you see, progress was regarded as dishonorable and sinful, something “economists and historians are starting to recognize”—led, of course, by the most insightful historian of the modern age, McCloskey himself. Our unexceptional industrial revolution continued, creating the Great Enrichment, because “liberalism inspirited the masses to devise betterments and to open new enterprises and to move to new jobs.”

These are radical historical claims, but no evidence at all is offered for them, or any other historical claim. McCloskey is a historian by trade, but almost zero history appears in this book. To be fair, that may be the nature of such a cobbled-together book; he mentions his trilogy of other books about “bourgeois values,” with a passing claim that those books support what he says here, so perhaps one has to read those too to get any actual arguments from history. I won’t read them, because life is too short.

But back in the real world, there is no mystery as to how the Industrial Revolution created the economics of the modern world, and there is no such thing as a separate Great Enrichment. The West, starting in England, combined the advances of the Scientific Revolution (created purely by Europeans) with the right cultural practices, such as hard work and the rule of law, added some other factors endlessly debated (coal? intelligence? sea power?) and thereby escaped from the Malthusian Trap, which had never occurred a single time anywhere else in the world. Once created by the West, this package feeds on itself, and can be exported to any culture willing and able to adopt the gifts of Western technology and culture.

Some are; most aren’t either willing or able, and haven’t been for the past two hundred years. If they do, and to the extent they are willing to adopt these cultural and technological practices (which do not include frippery such as democracy), countries are lifted out of poverty, a process continuing, in fits, starts, and steps backward, today. The end. The rickety and ahistorical claims that McCloskey makes are simply objectively false, which he probably realizes, since beyond announcing conclusions, he makes no effort to support them. (No surprise, McCloskey ignores China’s and Singapore’s adoption of Western technology and methods to escape the Malthusian Trap, since those successes alone disprove every single claim he makes).

Third, there are enemies of true liberalism, who want to cast the whole world into darkness and end the Great Enrichment by opposing choice extremism. These are, today, primarily the parties democratically elected in Hungary and Poland, though occasionally Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are thrown in too. As with all of his odious neoliberal caste, McCloskey hates and fears those in power in Hungary and Poland, because their success and popularity prove everything he says false, and he is afraid their powerful ideas will spread to dominate throughout Europe and the United States (a fear that is, fortunately, well on its way to being a reality).

McCloskey does not deign to tell us why Hungary and Poland are bad, or how the policies enunciated by their governments will end the Great Enrichment. He just mouths the usual total lies that the press is attacked and the rule of law eroded, without any actual attempt to demonstrate those claims. In reality, of course, censorship and erosion of the rule of law is far more prevalent in the United States and Western Europe; but that’s censorship and erosion of the rule of law McCloskey likes. He’s very much a fan of flexible principles – for another example, despite his claim that we should all operate only on “sweet talk,” he openly celebrates in this book how he helped destroy the life of J. Michael Bailey, a Northwestern University professor who failed to adequately celebrate sexual degeneracy.

In addition to Viktor Orbán and some Poles, there are also domestic enemies. McCloskey hates American conservatives, that is, anyone on the Right not a corporatist, Koch-type Republican, with an ill-concealed burning passion. No surprise, he never once engages their arguments, even though he chants “let’s listen, really listen, to the arguments of our supposed enemies, and consider their logic and evidence.” The core of McCloskey’s “thinking” is a crude logical trap. We should have “a society held together by sweet talk among free adults rather than by coercion applied to slaves and children.” What if that sweet talk concludes that most people want to, let’s say, ban pornography? That’s coercion! So, in other words, McCloskey wants talk, as long as that talk has no chance of ending in conclusions other than the ones he has already mandated as the only acceptable ones for society. That’s just dishonest. But that’s this book.

We reach the nadir of McCloskey’s hate and stupidity in the single sentence devoted to Deneen. I was excited to get there, figuring I would get an actual response to post-liberal arguments. What I got was this, in toto. Brace yourself. “Liberalism, intones Deneen, entails ‘the loosening of social bonds’ (bonds such as slavery in the British Empire), ‘a relentless logic of impersonal transactions’ (so unlike the transactions of pious Israelites selling lumber to Egyptians, say), and the proposition that ‘human beings are thus, by nature, non-relational creatures, separate and autonomous’ (as for example in the non-relational exploration of human relationships in the bourgeois and liberal English novel since 1700).”

That’s it. That’s the entirety of McCloskey’s “argument.” The first parenthetical, about slavery, is apparently meant to be a refutation of Deneen in some way I cannot fathom. I have no idea what the second and third parentheticals, about Israelites, lumber, and English novels, are trying to say; they are not tied to anything else McCloskey says elsewhere. I am still scratching my head. But I can assure you that McCloskey thinks he has crushed Deneen, which says a lot more about him than anything else.

Fourth, for McCloskey, there are no enemies on the Left. Sure, some on the Left are mistaken, notably Thomas Piketty, on whom McCloskey spills a lot of gently-phrased words. But everyone on the Left is “earnest and amiable,” just a little wrong, like the “sweet slow socialist” George Soros or McCloskey’s unnamed “beloved and extremely intelligent Marxian friend.” The New York Times is wrong sometimes, but “sweet” and “benevolent.” Anyone on the Right, though, is “vicious,” a “thug,” or any of innumerable similar terms, and McCloskey certainly has no friends who are conservatives.

Fifth, true liberalism must struggle against bad policies, some of which are pushed by evil people and some by ignorant people. Any policy that has any element of “coercion” is bad. The worst policy of all is any restrictions whatsoever on immigration. We are told that “bad people” in the United States “wish to deport law-abiding and hardworking immigrants, in response to a scientifically bankrupt economic notion, which is anyway unethical, that immigrants take jobs away from natives, or a scientifically bankrupt sociological notion, also unethical, that their children will never become properly American.” If the “Hungarian farmer or West Virginia coal miner” complains that he can no longer feed his children, he has no legitimate complaint, rather, “what is being complained about is change, and as it happens desirable change.” We know it is desirable because it is happening because of the free market, for “Profits are a signal of general worthiness.” The end. Really.

You can see why neoliberals love this stuff, but the normal reader wonders why no effort, none at all, is ever made to demonstrate the truth of these claims and why we are never, not once, given any suggestion that we should perform cost-benefit analysis on any social policy. McCloskey’s claims and demanded social policies are uniformly and without exception wonderful and costless, and this truth is self-proving. Any questioning proves you are “authoritarian” or “fascist,” not “humane” and McCloskey’s “dear friend.”

Sixth, total emancipation in all areas of life will lead to total human flourishing. We are guaranteed that it is an absolute certainty that so long as we are true liberals, unlimited wealth will be ours, which will make us happy (not for McCloskey any wondering about the relationship, beyond a certain point, of wealth to happiness). And not just happiness—the resulting “enrichment will cause . . . a cultural explosion, casting into the shade the achievements of fifth-century Athenian drama and T’ang poetry and Renaissance painting.” His evidence for this? That the 1960s, the dawn of emancipation in America, were culturally, especially in art, far superior to the Renaissance. Yes, that’s what he claims.

Woven throughout the endless repetitions of this six-point plan is much other dumbassery. We are lied to that the “classical definition of liberty/freedom is the condition of being liberated/free from physical interference by other human beings,” which is the exact opposite of the truth. Pericles would reject everything McCloskey says out of hand, then have him flogged for corrupting the virtue of the body politic. Economic fallacies abound, most of all the exaltation of GDP as a measure of human flourishing (combined with the only other measure of human flourishing, the absolute right, derived from nothing in particular, to not be “pushed or bossed around without voluntarily given consent or contract”). “Leisure… should be accounted as income.” If you can’t find a job because an illegal immigrant took it, you are still making money, peasant, so stop complaining! Third-rate thinkers like Tyler Cowen and Eric Hoffer are extolled as brilliant. If some things are better now, everything that exists now must be good. And, most of all, culture doesn’t matter for anything, and no human motivation other than the desire for maximized freedom exists.

I’m not going to waste any more time on the claims of this book, but I want to examine what this book means. That is, on its face, nearly everything in this book is shockingly dumb, and I don’t think McCloskey is dumb (though he’s not nearly as smart as he thinks he is). So why did he write it? Ah, there’s where it gets interesting, and indicative of our politics today. Every so often the real agenda’s slimy face peeks through. We see it in the occasional obeisances [sic] to a free-floating “dignity.”

McCloskey’s project is to endorse a vision of humanity completely atomized, and he knows that to sell this he has to claim that all the worthwhile advances of the modern world are created by atomization. Okay, but why is McCloskey paid to purvey propaganda under the guise of being a purveyor of history and ideas, and then lionized across many forms of media? It’s because this is merely one small facet of the giant propaganda machine that spews its output across our society today.

We are everywhere surrounded by endless propaganda designed to push an agenda that simultaneously pushes the Left goal of emancipation combined with forced egalitarianism while lining the pockets of our neoliberal overlords. Every movie, computer game, or other form of media involving violence or the military features a complete inversion of reality, where female warriors exemplifying alpha male characteristics triumph over weak men with feminine characteristics. Every movie and TV show, for children or adults, celebrates homosexuals and sexual degenerates. Advertisements do the same. Wise Latinas instruct stupid white people. The propaganda machine is kept going by aggressive censorship across all media and social media, silencing the strongest voices of opposition and ensuring that those that remain self-censor to avoid deplatforming.

Still, at the end, this is a clarifying book. It made me realize what I started this review with—that debate is a waste of time, and the choice is utter defeat by the Left, or destroying the Left. Dispose yourselves accordingly.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The image shows a detail from the Crucifixion and Last Judgement diptych, by Jan van Eyck, ca. 1430 and 1440.

The Young Person’s Guide To Fine Dining

A guide to fine dining, especially useful for wholesome families who wish to please our esteemed correspondent Dr. Zbigniew Janowski. It is accordingly intended for children, not kids.

1. Wash your hands before you start eating. Sing ‘God Save the Queen,’ but only the first verse, in its entirety while you do so to allow adequate time to kill germs.

2. Wait till the adults have taken their seats before you take yours. Very good children hold a chair for a senior member of the family.

3. Do not interrupt Grace, or still less attempt to eat anything before the Lord is duly thanked.

4. In a graceless household (I fear there are one or two), ask ‘Please may I start eating?’

5. When you want food to be passed to you, see if others need anything first, and if the food is some distance away, don’t grab it but ask someone near you to please pass it and quietly thank them when they do so.

6. Do not help yourself to everything from the above serving dish/plate. Remember that others need to eat too.

7. Don’t talk with your mouth full and related to this, don’t eat with your mouth open. Others do not wish to behold the contents.

8. Do not on any account put your knife in your mouth. And while you’re at it, don’t hold your knife like a pen.

9. Do not perform another function while still holding cutlery, eg scratching your head. My Grandfather, Colonel Stocker, would say ‘Don’t scratch your head with your knife’. Ideally head-scratching and nose blowing (with a linen handkerchief) are best conducted elsewhere. In which case, ask ‘Please may I leave the table?’

10. To non-vegan households: if you are eating a chop or chicken leg and your cutlery is no longer useful, lay the latter down. You can then pick up the piece of meat and chew it, Gladstone style (see below), using ONE hand to hold it. Yes, you will get grease on your fingers. In most households, the napkin should suffice. In super refined households there may be a finger bowl provided, but I am not advocating this here, as it is a potential source of danger to those less versed in etiquette. Some ill-advised people may wish to drink from it or pour its contents on to their pasta or curry: this is not recommended.

11. Use your table napkin (it is not called a serviette) where appropriate. Remember, it is not a handkerchief.

12. Don’t heat too hurriedly. Chew your food, especially your meat, thoroughly. My parents would say ‘Mr Gladstone would always chew his meat’. Mastication is the operative word. Whatever were you thinking? No, that’s rude.

13. Outside China, don’t slurp your soup or noodles.

14. Do not attempt to drink anything at the bottom of a glass with a straw, as it makes a foul noise.

15. Finer points – if you lay down your knife when it’s not needed, transfer your fork to your right hand.

16. Only say good things to your Mother about the quality of her cuisine, however humble.

17. To the grown-ups – do not put a milk bottle or carton on a table. If the beverage is either canned or bottled, decant it into a goblet. This can be cheaper glass for the more humble, not necessarily crystal. No smoking at dinner, not even between courses.

18. In conversation, the following are forbidden: sex, including organs, bodily functions, especially the bowels, abortion, intimate details of love affairs (for adolescents of all ages), most aspects of politics and religion.

19. When you have finished your main course, place the knife and fork together in the centre of the plate. Ideally invert the fork – AA Milne told Christopher Robin that if somebody fell through the ceiling and landed on the non-inverted fork, this could be somewhat painful.

20. Don’t gulp your pudding, and don’t loudly demand seconds, especially if it’s obvious that there aren’t any.

21. When you have finished, you should ask ‘Please may I leave the table’ or ‘Please may I get down’ and wait for a parental answer.

[Thoughtful elder children may then wish to make loose leaf tea or plunger coffee for their parents. Tea bags and ‘instant’ are not encouraged].

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 image shows The Potato Eaters, by Vincent van Gogh, painted 1885.

The Wit Collection: Art History Jokes 2

Dr. Mark Stocker continues his merriment this month, with just a few more arty(?), artsy(?) jokes. Here he is, then, thrumming his wit for Thalia…

****

What was Angelica Kauffmann’s advertising slogan?… Put the Madam into Adam!

****

Which fin-de-siècle German artist is especially admired for his tenacity?… Max Klinger.

****

What is the name of the lovely new bathroom in Wardour Castle designed by the son of Sir Terence Conran?… Jasper’s John.

****

What did the unemployed 19th century French art historian say when she landed a job at the zoo?… “Je suis pleine de Bonheur!”

****

Scene: The pearly gates of heaven…
The late David Watkin: You’re a very fetching guardian angel, but I have to tell you I observe a solecism in that portico.
Angel: Sorry Dave, our quota of architectural historians of the classical tradition is full. On yer bike!

****

Exhibition installer: I’m looking for a painter who will enhance the red tints of this wall.
Curator: Use Henner!

****

A well-known and obliging late Victorian architect would tell his clients:
“Shaw will do! But by George it won’t be bad. You could always go to the Webb site, and if you need an indoor pool, there’s obviously Waterhouse!”

****

What was John Bratby’s response to the impact of Abstract
Expressionism?… A sinking feeling.

Dr. Stocker describes this painting by John Bratby as “iconic” which makes us at The Postil slightly worried about his spiritual beliefs.

****

What is the name of the latest book on Bratby and the Kitchen Sinkers?…
Life is a Lavatory, Old Chum.

****

John Bratby was a hugely popular artist throughout the UK, whose fame and acclaim stretched from Bogside, Londonderry to Looe, Cornwall.

****

In order to laugh even more uproariously at Dr Stocker’s jokes about John Bratby, find out more about this fascinating artist courtesy of the Daily Mail.

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 image shows La Clairvoyance, by René Magritte, painted in 1936.

The Failure Of Woke Morality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicolás Gómez Dávila: An Authentic Reactionary’s Critique of Modernity

I.

The philosophical, political, and theological thought of Don Nicolás Gómez Dávila (Bogotá, 1913 – 1994), perhaps one of the few authentic reactionaries of our time, rises as a reaction – and a most authentic one – to an intellectual, religious and aesthetic crisis whose invariably dire consequences form the heart of his overwhelming critical discourse: That crisis is that of the twentieth-century, with all that it implies.

All of Dávila’s work is a serious and passionate attempt to root out some cursed codes that have upset the immutable essence of the human, down through the centuries (and, by extension, the essence of the divine). But at the same time, his work establishes a solid, intellectual alternative to the inanity of our present era.

Unfinished philosopher, or consistent thinker who renounced the fatuous pretense of getting on the pulpit of philosophical pontification, Dávila never finished – that is, in writing – a philosophical system properly speaking, if he even sought to make such a claim, which would not have ceased to be ironic in a thinker of his stature and clairvoyance, for there is nothing dogmatic or conclusive in his work, if read intelligently. It is simply lucid.

Like Nietzsche, like the best of Cioran, he resorted to the ingenious and flammable spark of the aphorism, capable of setting fire to the largest surface only with its friction. But instead of calling such outbreaks of genius aphorisms, he called them scholia (escolios), thus approaching Spinoza.

Though a thinker in fragments, Dávila offers, on the contrary, a philosophical discourse of absolute coherence and integrity, whose intellectual depth and paradoxical acuity is unparalleled among philosophers and thinkers in the area of contemporary Hispanicism (both in Spain and in Spanish America). His references, on the other hand, leave no room for doubt about the depth of thought that pervades his discourse: Thucydides, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Montaigne, Juan Donoso Cortés, Jacob Burkhardt, are some of his distinguished professed teachers.

A miniaturist of language rather than a writer, a thinker rather than a scholar, and an artist of words; better than a mere philosopher, Dávila exemplified, with his illustrious reactionary position, one of the most notable, coherent and fortunate examples of ethical, aesthetic dignity and, if you will, spiritual dignity to be remembered.

Ignored for decades, his silent and monastic life, removed from the madding crowd, from the petty intellectual environments, from the miserable academic trivialities, went far beyond such conventions – his repeated refusal to publish and rub shoulders with power; his greatness of mind and keen sense of duty towards one’s own self, led him to make of his existence a true aesthetic exercise, and that of an “authentic reactionary.”

Secluded in his mansion, within the walls of a fabulous library of thirty thousand volumes, he took advantage of being well-off and devoted his life entirely to the complex exercise of thought. The most visible result of such efforts was his magnum opus, recovered for our benefit today, thanks to the effort, it must be said, of people like Ernst Jünger, Botho Strauss or Franco Volpi, among other enthusiasts – and which, under the title of Escolios a un texto implícito (Scholia to an Implicit Text ), heralds one of the most prodigious, valuable and imperishable examples of the effort of human thought during the 20th-century.

If the “heart” of Dávila’s work is his Escolios, then the “brain” in his Textos – a strange but effective comparison: What the Escolios forcefully feel (the incendiary jolt of the aphorism), the Textos reason through (the discursive continuity of the prose). A satellite accessory for some, Textos I carries in its pages the “key” stone of construction; that is, the enigmatic implicit text, the standard of future battles. But that is how one of his best readers, Francisco Pizano de Brigard, saw this work – and as far as we are concerned, we will stick with this option, which is very well justified – for where else can we turn? To the Notes, those conclusive sketches? To the fragmentary Escolios, despite their fullness? Is it worth the redundancy, the fragmentariness? Or perhaps the marginal texts, such as, the article entitled “The Authentic Reactionary,” or the one entitled, “De jure,” which remains inaccessible? In the absence of an “obvious” philosophical text, or even that which is simply obvious, we will take the aforementioned implicit text as the starting point for our precarious, well-intentioned exposition. So, let’s get into the matter.

The first idea may seem simple to a reader wearied by established ideologies: Capitalism and communism have a similar goal in common. They are different masks that cover, therefore, the same face: The nature of man (displaced to the political realm). A broken dialogue, therefore, between two democracies, whose mimicry becomes a forced conflict: The bourgeois and the popular, eternal rivals: “If communism points out the economic contradictions (the alienation of man, abstract freedom, legal equality) of bourgeois societies – capitalism underlines, in parallel, the inefficiency of the economy, the totalitarian absorption of the individual, political slavery, the reestablishment of real inequality in communist societies.”

In effect, Dávila does not seem to take a position on either one side or the other, even though the biased reader may consider him prone “to the right, and even to the extreme right.” Big mistake: The author’s reactionary discourse, extremely lucid, and part of the contradiction that directs communism and capitalism towards supposedly antagonistic goals – when, in fact, their goal is the same: Property, an obstacle for the former, a stimulus for the latter, without assuming otherwise: Ownership after all.

Bourgeois ideologies and ideologies of the proletariat consequently rush towards the same common hope: Man – “If communism denounces the bourgeois fraud, and capitalism the communist deception, both are historical mutants of the democratic principle, both yearn for a society where man is, in short, lord of his destiny.”

The theological, political, cultural reading of Dávila thus ratifies democracy as an anthropotheistic religion; a theology of the man-god is thus categorized: “The divinity that democracy attributes to man is not a figure of rhetoric, a poetic image, an innocent hyperbole, in short – but a strict theological definition” – a theological definition inherent in the perverted nature of the modern, whose essential corruption is nothing but an unspeakable product of the fixed idea of the discourse of modernity: Progress.

Progress, which is theodicy of futuristic anthropotheism, otherwise justifies all the atrocities of man in the name of the progress of humanity. The process of progressive improvement cancels the time of man and restores the no-time of man-god. It is mechanistic and industrial orgy, which disrupts the useless human effort in the tedious transformation of matter. It is filthy monologue, which sacrifices perishable existences to its own ends in the name of the fixed idea, thus banishing the supreme value from itself, because as Dávila poetically affirms:

“Life is a value.
To live is to choose life.”

Consequently, it thus becomes a theory of values which rests on two filial concepts: Atheism and progress, in need of an adequately emphatic rhetoric to penetrate deep among their potential victims.

The mere play of matter thus implies a universal determinism whose product is none other than a rigid universe, emptied of all possibility, where the cult of technology is the verb of the man-god, the principle of the sovereignty of the modern state.

Even so, the democratic era, and with it, economic development that is inherent to it, has money as the only universal value, its first and last reason: “Money is the only universal value that the pure democrat abides by, because it symbolizes a useful piece of nature, and because its acquisition is assignable to human effort alone. The cult of work, with which man flatters himself, is the engine of the capitalist economy; and the disdain for hereditary wealth, for the traditional authority of a name, for the gratuitous gifts of intelligence or beauty, expresses the puritanism that condemns, with pride, what the effort of man does not grant itself.”

This terrifying fact degenerates, therefore, into economic robbery and petty individualism, generators of ethical indifference and intellectual anarchism that dominate the modern world.

Faced with such detritus, the only path that Dávila clings to is that of reactionary rebellion. His great work, Escolios, is about such a quixotic undertaking, an implicit text, putting into practice reactionary rebellion through his most powerful weapon: The word.

II.

Entering the immense garden of the Escolios – a Versailles on paper – is an arduous undertaking, although stimulating over time: Tasting its fruits, savoring them for the right time and extracting the nutritious pulp from them – that is, something that is not empty didacticism. But it will become a fruitful task of enlightened pleasure for the intelligent reader. In this sense, Scholia to an Implicit Text is a healthy elitist work, against the current, and very politically incorrect, aimed at reactionary minorities; or, failing that, at awakened minds whose thinking does not gravitate around the state of predetermined ideas.

But what an effort to synthesize – if something like that can even be done, to further synthesize the essence of the rose – would go far beyond the narrow margins that we have imposed on ourselves. Even so, Dávila’s thematic ambition transcends the heterogeneous and shapeless mélange, while advancing a compact mass, more or less consistent, and capable of standing up to a hypothetical attempt at analysis.

But as we say, it is that thematic ambition, that looking from various points of view through a gaze that is neither Manichean nor tendentious, which allows its author to carry out, in a subtle and distanced way, the most brilliant critical x-ray of modernity: Democracy, the nature of the politician, the essence of communism, the Marxist problematic, the Left and the Right, technology, liberalism, the idea of progress, life and death in modern society, art and literature, God and religion, the modern Church, culture, atheism, the bourgeoisie, the work of the historian, intelligence, youth, mediocrity, sex, Sade, Plato or Nietzsche, as well as the privileged figure of the reactionary, among many other philosophical questions of the first order appear and reappear like recurring milestones, closely linked to each other by a fine chain of ideas. Such accumulation, on the contrary, does not degenerate into a string of tedious evidence of a graphomaniac charlatan, but rather into a disturbing problem not without acute paradoxes. This makes Scholia to an Implicit Text a river-like book, always in motion, capable of tackling a profound (in the real sense of the word) question anywhere, without betraying its ultimate meaning.

Of course, one of the most violent and effective criticisms, which is not really effective, despite its abrupt reiteration, is that carried out against democracy, a democracy understood not in the abstract, but empirically in the light of facts, and therefore as fraud, as effective apotheosis of the dominant mediocrity: “The bigger a democratic country, the more mediocre its rulers have to be: They are elected by more people.” And these mass rulers are none other than politicians, obviously: “Politicians, in democracy, are the condensers of imbecility.” Imbecility inherent in the crowds themselves and the basis of the politician’s explicit speech: “The democrat only respects the opinion that a large choir applauds.”

This unquestionable statement the author rethinks throughout his discourse, with historical considerations: “Democratic killings belong to the logic of the system. The ancient massacres of man’s illogism;” and from this, the following scholium: “Democracy celebrates the cult of humanity on a pyramid of skulls.” Recently updated pyramid: A concert-tribute to the victims of terrorism? A commemorative statue for a certain defender of democracy? In the name of democracy… But what exactly does democracy play out, play at?

Dávila does not hesitate to point with his pen to the main subject, a subject annihilated at the root: The stupid or the insane, depending on the times: “Democracy, in times of peace, has no more fervent supporter than the stupid, nor in times of revolution a collaborator more active than the madman.” And to give consistency to his thesis, Dávila only has to look to the past: “Athenian democracy does not inspire, except those who ignore the Greek historians.” The colossal figure of Thucydides, once again, strides forth to meet him.

In the midst of this abject masquerade that is modern democracy, the parodic figure of the politician is reduced to his most apt, creeping position: “The politician may not be able to think any stupidity, but he is always capable of saying it,” because ultimately , even “the ‘politician’ with the most delicate conscience barely manages to be a modest whore.”

An impassive critic of both the right and the left, as a genuine reactionary, Dávila throws some of his sharpest, sarcastic darts at the left: “The leftist miraculously avoids stepping on the calluses of the authentically powerful. The leftist only vilifies the simulacra of power.” Dávila concludes that in any case “leftism is the banner under which the bourgeois mentality of the nineteenth-century maintains its hegemony into the twentieth.” But, in the end, “the left and the right have signed, against the reactionary, a secret pact of perpetual aggression.”

The critique of democracy thus finds a point of equilibrium in the critique of Marxism, whose illustrious exposition, once again, clings to historical-economic reasons, drawn even from the most prosaic daily life: “Marxists economically define the bourgeoisie, to hide from us that they belong to the bourgeoisie.” But his criticism does not end in the petty contradictions of the mundane, since as a current of thought, “Marxism did not take a seat in the history of philosophy thanks to its philosophical teachings, but thanks to its political successes.” Only a certain exception is allowed with the very promoter of the pseudoscience of yore: “Marx has been the only Marxist that Marxism did not abominate.”

After these brilliant meanderings, the reactionary attack on modern society manifests everywhere, like a constant leitmotif, a kind of insect – of an invertebrate idea – that never ceases to whine behind Dávila’s ear, even within the walls of his aristocratic library, there where he feels farthest from that despicable and sordid society composed of a violently homogeneous mob: “The anonymity of the modern city is as intolerable as the familiarity of current customs. Life should resemble a room of well-educated people, where everyone knows each other but where no one embraces.” The very product of that crude and democratic society, “the modern man tries to elaborate with lust, violence and vileness, the innocence of a hellish paradise.”

It is not necessary to illustrate it – it is enough to open our eyes and look around us to confirm what has been said, since it is true that “modern society has been progressively reduced to whirlpools of animals in heat,” while the two poles of the modern life are clearly business and sex. And in the midst of such nonsense, “recent generations circulate among the rubble of Western culture like caravans of Japanese tourists through the ruins of Palmyra;” mere dots. Such a terrifying and accurate panorama duly crystallizes into one of the author’s greatest scholium: “Modern society does not educate to live but to serve.”

In midst of such a desert of skulls, a mass grave where everyone fits but no one actually belongs – and that, and nothing else, is democracy in the long run – there is nothing left for man but to die gracefully. Here are truly authentic reactionary words: “When everyone wants to be something, it is only decent to be nothing.”

José Antonio Bielsa Arbiol is a writer, art historian and graduate in philosophy. His work has appeared in many media outlets.

This article appears courtesy of El Correo de España. It originally in two parts, in Spanish. Translation by N. Dass.

The image shows Poem of the Soul, 18, Reality by Louis Janmot.

When Civilization Ends

Michael Anton’s latest, half analysis and half prophecy, is simultaneously terrifying and clarifying. As I have said before, I align very closely with Anton in both core politics and attitude toward politics, so naturally I am enthusiastic about a new Anton book.

But in this very fluid time, he writes as nobody else seems able, making manifest where we are and where we are going. It proves his talent that in the mere two months since Anton wrote his Preface, more than one of his predictions has come true. Maybe he sold his soul in exchange for the gift of prescience, or stole a palantir. Whatever the reasons behind its no-holds-barred insights, this is an excellent book to which we all must pay close attention, to navigate the coming chaos and come out whole on the other side.

Anton is, on the surface at least, a Straussian—a believer that the American political system reached, perhaps not perfection, but as close to perfection as is likely possible in any human society, in some combination of 1787 and 1865. I do not believe he is a fully sincere Straussian, in that I suspect he does not actually think we can return to those halcyon days. Rather, he has effectively turned Augustan—interested in how a decent, even flourishing, society can be achieved through the clear-eyed use of power, not necessarily in the form of a republic, much less a democracy.

In fact, in The Stakes, he explicitly examines the possibility of both left and right Augustanism, the rise of “Blue Caesar” or “Red Caesar,” to which possibility we will return below. True, that’s only part of this book, which first shows our inevitable awful future if we stay on our current path, and then discusses several possible alternatives, including at least one optimistic one. But I think it’s telling that someone of Anton’s stature openly and without apology talks about pessimistic futures.

Anton became famous as the result of a 2016 essay, “The Flight 93 Election,” in which he pointed out the existential nature of the 2016 Presidential election. He was much criticized by the catamite Right (and by the Left), but every word he wrote has been proven exactly correct, including those he wrote in his follow-up, After the Flight 93 Election. As he predicted in 2019, the 2020 election is even more existential. I did not think we would end up here—in early 2017 I predicted an American renewal. Ah well, I was wrong.

Anton’s basic point, in a book filled with important points (and sparkling, pull-you-along writing), is that every election will necessarily be more existential, until either the Left wins all power, succeeding in its goal of denying the legitimacy of anything other than one-party rule, or the Right forces a return to normal politics, where both sides have legitimacy. (Personally, I favor a complete inversion of the Left’s goal, extirpating their poison, not leveling the playing field, but today is not about me.)

Cleverly, Anton begins with a super-detailed study of California. He is a native Californian, so well-positioned to perform this analysis. If you are rich, California is still pretty awesome, though quite inconvenient at times. For everyone else, it is bad, and getting worse, fast. Nobody can deny, and the Left in fact advertises, that they aim to remake the entire nation in the image of California, both in by whom it is ruled and in the laws the rulers impose. This is claimed to be a good thing, whereby the whole country would be greatly improved—if not a paradise, well on its way to becoming one. Underlying this claim is the belief that California is effectively a successful nation-state, with a world-bestriding economy.

I have disposed of the economic claim earlier; Anton focuses less on this claim and more on the social disaster that California is. The self-image of California among its ruling class, and the image it projects to the rest of the country, is the picture postcard of the super-wealthy coastal slice of California, sprinkled with a few natural wonders elsewhere in the state. This is a mirage, because most of California is actually a terrible place to live.

This is new in the past few decades and was not inevitable. The promised land was what California really was, not that long ago—Anton offers a sepia-tinted snapshot of what it was fifty years ago, at the time of The Brady Bunch, a place where a man could raise six children on a middle-class income, inside Los Angeles, in a detached single-family home. As a direct result of the Left’s power and consequent ability to implement their deliberate policies, that California is dead. The state is now crowded, costly, congested, crumbling, incompetent, filthy, dangerous, rapacious, profligate, suffocating, prejudiced, theocratic, pathologically altruistic, balkanized, and feudal—and Anton crisply proves each of these claims.

Driving home his point, just a few weeks ago, not mentioned here, California has proposed a new wealth tax—that would apply for ten years to anyone with modest wealth who dares to move out of state to escape the nightmare. A better symbol summing up California would be hard to find, though I suppose you could use the power blackouts, the unpunished violent crime, or the filth covering the streets of all its major cities to add a little color.

What caused this disaster, asks Anton? Four related things—tens of millions of poor immigrants, mostly illegal; the rejection of the melting pot; the massive success of Silicon Valley and resulting highly-concentrated wealth; and the total elimination of the Californian middle class. All this cemented the power of the Left at the same time the social fabric was deliberately ripped apart. The Left’s power is maintained as the result of a corrupt bargain between the Left and the super-rich, of which California has plenty.

In that bargain, the woke Left is kept in power by the oligarchy, the richest Californians (whom Anton calls dukes, offering a complete mapping of California power onto a feudal hierarchy), as long as the dukes are allowed to do what they want to increase their wealth—e.g., Apple. The woke Left can then impose, and does impose, its desired policies without fear of contradiction. The result is, as always when the Left is in power, utter disaster on every level, social and financial, for the common man, with the polity descending quickly to somewhere between Venezuela and Somalia. That’s bad enough—but Anton’s key point is that the Left, our enemies, wants all of America to be just like California.

Having grabbed the reader’s attention, and made the prepared reader run to his safe for a quick gun count, Anton turns back to earlier history, focusing on what the American political system was designed to be and do. Not because he thinks the reader doesn’t know, but in order to specifically address objections to the American “parchment” from both the Right and the Left. On the Right, Anton examines past and present objections in detail, mostly relating to skepticism that America is or can be “propositional,” rather than centered around more visceral ties.

He ends with John Calhoun’s demand for “concurrent majoritarianism,” better called “group rights,” the idea that the ruling minority of the time could not be overruled, which theory was created as a defense of slavery and in opposition to the bedrock American claim that “all men are created equal.” On the Left, Anton reviews, among much else, the original Progressives and their successors, the 1960s Left, noting that the core of their philosophy is indistinguishable from Calhoun’s concurrent majoritarianism. It differs only in that it is in service of different rulers, and it has concluded in today’s unhinged and anti-realist demands for the forced “equality” and “corrective justice” extolled by the cretinous John Rawls. Demands, in all of their multiplying manifestations, utterly incompatible with the American parchment.

Where does that leave “our present regime”? Here Anton refers to Christopher Caldwell’s recent The Age of Entitlement, describing how the quest for black civil rights morphed into demands for special rights and privileges, for everyone but heterosexual white men, the poisonous fruits of which change have roiled America over the past few months. “Inequality before the law—based on race, but also on sex and sexual orientation—is the true animating principle of the American regime as it exists and operates now.”

This is justified as corrective—but the gap between the supposedly privileged and the supposedly subordinated never changes, requiring not a reevaluation, but ever more violent demands. Crucially, this woke Left ascendancy is intertwined with neoliberalism, what Anton calls “managerial leftist-libertarianism,” in effect creating a nationwide oligarchical system devoted to implementing Left policies without the consent of the governed, for whom contempt mixed with hatred are the only emotions of the ruling classes. We get kritarchy, corruption, electoral manipulation, weaponized “justice,” and much more, but all these corruptions serve the same goals.

This sounds somewhat dry, but Anton manages to both prove each of his points in detail and to write in a fluid, compelling fashion that pulls the reader along. He frames much of his discussion around the concepts of the Narrative (the message the ruling classes demand be accepted without question); the Megaphone (the instruments of propaganda through which the Narrative is broadcast at constant maximum volume); and the Muzzle (the relatively new and ever-more-powerful system of crushing wrongthink).

The Narrative is nearly all simply lies, about everything from rape to racism. The Megaphone is repetition of those lies, combined with the (so-far successful) ability to deny the legitimacy of any alternative media. The Muzzle is raw force, up to and including murder, as has recently been seen in Portland and Kenosha (though in that latter one target, the heroic Kyle Rittenhouse, fortunately got the first shots off).

The Narrative encompasses everything from sexual ideology to denying the noxious racism of BLM, and the system Anton sketches is instantly recognizable all around, the water that we swim in, if you simply look for a moment. Examples of how these three reinforcing Left tools work are infinite. Just in the past few days we have seen a small but telling example, also indicative of the Left’s plan for November’s election. The Atlantic magazine made up an obvious total lie about Trump insulting veterans, with zero evidence, which fit the Narrative; the Megaphone immediately broadcast it everywhere, going so far as to claim that repetition of the claim by different news outlets was itself “confirmation,” a second obvious total lie. And the Muzzle was deployed to ensure that pushback was silenced. Rinse and repeat.

After laying out his framework, Anton writes much more in this vein, discussing in one chapter, “The Ruling Class and Its Armies,” what the ruling class is, what and why it wants, and how it achieves its ends. In another chapter, he addresses immigration. He weaves together history, present-day events, and classical thought from Machiavelli to Montesquieu, all in coherent exposition of How We Got Here. It is brilliant (and I did not know Dan Quayle coined the odious phrase “Diversity is our strength”)—but you will have to read the book, because this is not CliffsNotes, and I want to move to the second half of the book, which discusses the future.

Anton divides his examination of the future into “If Present Trends Continue . . .” followed by “And If They Don’t . . .” He does not offer odds on either possibility, nor on the sub-possibilities that might follow each—but he does discuss reasons making any given outcome more or less likely. As to present trends continuing, he says “It’s at least possible that our ruling class are not all total fools. . . . . [T]hey might know what they’re doing and know how to keep things going, if not forever, for a very long time.” First, they have to defeat Trump this year. Then, they have to use the Narrative, Megaphone, and Muzzle to re-impose the status quo ante. More immigration, more inequality, more blurring the distinction between business and government, more surveillance, enforced with Portland-style anarcho-tyranny and selective justice, and the final cementing of a one-party state. More California, that is, and sedation of discontent with drugs and porn, with isolation, ruin and jail for anyone who fights back. This is James Poulos’s “pink police state,” or Rod Dreher’s “soft totalitarianism.”

Anton doesn’t think this is very likely, I am happy to report, though maybe he is just whistling past the graveyard. One-party rule has a history of being fatal to the party ruling, as it loses touch, and therefore all legitimacy. For the Left, this problem is exacerbated by that their rule is always and everywhere synonymous with incompetency.

Most of all, their rule means the end of American excellence and therefore of any achievement whatsoever, and with that they would lose the ability to distribute adequate rewards to ever-more-greedy supporters, whose only means of support is parasitism and theft. Such a one-party state could therefore not maintain either internal or external American power; it would quickly become simply an extractive basket-case—that is, it would become the “People’s Republic” of Kurt Schlichter novels (though Anton does not mention those).

In theory, the ruling regime might avoid collapse by adopting something like the Ottoman millet system for red states and areas, which could be left to a large degree of self-governance, but taxed, since they would be the only productive areas of the country. But the Left won’t allow such a system, because it violates their ideology of supposed justice, which motivates their shock troops. No totalitarian can abide embedded opposition; it is a constant rebuke that cannot be tolerated.

Nonetheless, we can be certain that if they regain full power in 2020, it’s pedal to the metal for the Left, in an attempt to create a Woke utopia. They are like the scorpion in the fable about the turtle—overreaching in pursuit of evil is in their nature. And true, there is some possibility the Left could maintain Wokeamerica forever, through technology. But probably not. A political entity bound together by an ideology centered on fractalized identity groups and stealing from others is nearly certain to fall apart.

Which brings us to “And If They Don’t . . .”, the most interesting part of the most interesting book of the year. This is not where Anton spins Right fantasies of national American civic renewal and renaissance; he is practical to a fault. One possibility, relatively peaceful, is that America continues, but Red America and Blue America physically sort to a much greater degree, as people move to areas more congenial to them (something that anecdotally is well under way), resulting in an increased separation in practice, which might maintain peace. (As a side note, that “Red” is used for the Right in America, a choice made by the Left in order to avoid drawing attention to their responsibility for the more than one hundred million people killed by Communists, is both jarring and annoying, but I suppose for now is the common lingo.)

But as I say, Red America in any shape or form cannot be tolerated by the Left, or not for long. In theory, Anton points out, it could be tolerated in the same way the Parisian authorities tolerate the no-go areas of the Muslim Parisian banlieues—especially if attempts to impose Left will in those areas were met with resistance, ranging to effective violence, as they are in Paris.

Certainly the hair-trigger focus on suppressing any effective Right paramilitary organization, combined with every federal agency heavily arming itself, suggests that some on the Left in power today see this as a real possibility. However, this semi-separation, another variation on the millet system, would only work if the Left maintains its own coherency, which as Anton says is not likely, given its internal contradictions.

So complete crackup is likely, though we can get there by more than one path. It might happen in some years, after a period of Left terror-dominance. But it might happen much sooner. If Trump wins resoundingly in November, the Left could demand exit. The Right would likely be happy with that (I know I would be). However, such demands are likely to be mere ineffective caterwauling; the Left cannot abide anything but total power in service of its utopian goals, and views Red America as contemptible and deserving of punishment. They would never leave Red America to do as it pleases, or give up the productivity of the Red states.

Nonetheless, if crackup were to happen, through whatever mechanism, it could be peaceful (think the breakup of Czechoslovakia), or it could be not peaceful (think Yugoslavia). As with all possibilities he outlines, Anton evaluates this in some detail, down to post-crackup relations among the new groupings—both warlike and not.

A crackup, though, is really a middle ground—the possibility we could return to the original American system, to the parchment, but only in some subset of today’s America. Anton’s Straussianism shows through. But he is not a prisoner to it—he next considers a complete change of political life, to Caesarism. Offering (as always) precise definitions, he points out that Caesarism is not tyranny, but one-man rule “halfway, as it were, between monarchy and tyranny.” It is monarchy not “legitimated by time and tradition.”

But that does not make it illegitimate; “Caesars assume responsibility for a government that no longer functions. We may define Caesarism, therefore, as authoritarian one-man rule partially legitimized by necessity.” When the nation no longer works, when the ruling class, and for that matter the people, are corrupted, Caesar is the solution that preserves the nation from its external enemies and destroys its internal enemies, and this has innumerable historical precedents.

Not that Anton is recommending Caesarism. “The benefits of Caesarism to Caesar are obvious; to a nation, perhaps less so.” But this is the whatever the reciprocal of damning with faint praise is—endorsing with tepid criticism, I suppose. A well-executed Caesarism brings calm and can bring flourishing; this is what history teaches.

Even a dubious Caesarism, of which Putinism is perhaps a modern example (not one Anton offers), is often preferable to the alternatives. Anton discusses, in part relying on Machiavelli, how “principality” arises, and notes that since the Blue ruling class is already in power, they are less likely to turn to a Caesar than the Reds, under constant attack and with diminishing power. He also distinguishes ideological from practical Caesars, and then turns to analyzing the possibility and practice of both a Blue Caesar and a Red Caesar.

A non-ideological Blue Caesar might be like a charismatic Michael Bloomberg—more of the same Left program, but tamping down the extremes and the violence, leading to a potentially long-lasting soul-crushing neoliberal hell. Antifa would be kept leashed except when needed; human resources hags would get even more power. A woke Blue Caesar would simply be a nasty system, hobbling along on an axis somewhere between Hillary Clinton and Pol Pot. Not a stable system, and one likely to collapse under the weight of its own intersectional contradictions, but possible. More likely is Red Caesar, which has plenty of historical precedent.

A Red Caesar would likely have the support of “the country’s largest and best-armed single bloc, with much accumulated wealth, social capital, and expertise at everyday necessities at its disposal.” (In other words, what Anton is too polite to say, non-ruling class white America, with an admixture of based non-whites.) He’d also likely be supported by the non-corrupt echelons of the military, and by law enforcement, and not be challenged on his own side.

Despite leftist fantasies, there is no chance of an ideological Red Caesar, Anton says. (I’m not so sure about this. Anton essentially ignores religion in this book, which I think is a gap. He also rejects population decline as a problem, my only substantive disagreement with him.) It won’t be the American parchment; it won’t be ordered liberty. It might be okay, though.

Anton concludes, however, that Red Caesar is unlikely, because the Reds lack power. This seems like an error (or more likely disingenuous). The path is obvious. When the Left attempts a coup after Trump’s November victory, as it will (something Anton this week himself has been warning of, and as seen in the lies about Trump slandering troops, something they are already preparing for), using its control of the corrupt upper echelons of the military, the response will likely be, and definitely should be, extensive violence directed at crushing both the coup and all Left power. Such a scenario requires a leader, and that leader will likely become Red Caesar. It could be Trump, but probably not, since he is so undisciplined (though he might remain a figurehead for a while). More likely it will be someone of whom we have never heard; such times call forth exactly such men.

Me, I like, if not love, the idea of Red Caesar, the creation of an Augustan system. I am not a Straussian; there is no way back to the parchment, which was a good system for its time and society, both of which are over. A new thing for a new day, though informed by the wisdom of the past. Let’s get on with it. True, Red Caesar might be very bad. I doubt if Caesar will allow me to keep my guns; he may confiscate my wealth, or conscript my sons. After defeating our common enemies, he may see internal enemies everywhere, and strike at them, in the manner of many of the Roman emperors.

But Caesarism, and its time-legitimated successor, monarchy, is a natural, realism-based system, under which a civilization can flourish. (Maybe Elon Musk can be king and lead us to Mars.) Over time, perhaps a mixed government could be re-established (and, in fact, even so-called one-man rule always involves multiple power centers and is therefore a type of mixed government; as Ortega said, too, force follows public opinion, so Caesar must keep the goodwill of the people).

We could have Napoleon, man of destiny, but following him not a slow slide to odious liberalism, as we muddled through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but the tides of history instead going back out to sea, drowning forever the failed political systems based on the Enlightenment, leaving us with a sensible political system, run for the good of the whole by those suited to run it, and with the Left forever as discredited and relevant as worshippers of Mithras are today.

Anton shifts toward the end to a positive note, suggesting one peaceful way out might be to allow extensive voluntary reorganization of states, counties, and cities, what might be called “secession-lite,” leading to greater pluralism. It’s a nice thought. He also talks about how a new political program could avoid all of these results fatal to the America created in 1787, operating the entire nation with a brighter future within the frame of today’s Constitution. He says “I expect others to insist that what I here propose is impossible.”

He’s right. I do insist, and I’m pretty sure he thinks so too, although facially what he proposes is completely coherent—roughly equivalent to implementing the Tucker Carlson program. A nice dream, but it will never happen through normal channels, because the Left would never allow it. It’s charming that Anton tries to be positive, but the main feeling one gets from this book is that Anton is a new and better Cassandra—one who is not fated to be disbelieved, but is instead providing an immensely valuable service.

To get to any better future, though, what we’re going to get first is war. Small war, big war, we’ll find out. A year from now, I predict a lot of lead will have flown through the air in the preceding twelve months. Stay safe, and stay frosty.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The image shows, Prophecy by Peter Howson, painted in 2016.

Why The ‘Left’ Is Intolerant

Introduction

There are many forms of intolerance and many different kinds of explanations, motives, and defenses for the various forms. There is no presumption here that intolerance is always and everywhere unacceptable. In this essay, I shall focus on that form of intolerance manifested as censorship of what is permitted in writing and speech, limitations on what kinds of questions, the manner of their formulation and the kinds and range of answers permitted. In addition, I shall focus on censorship that takes the form of editing, reinterpreting and reporting what other people say; finally, I shall focus on censorship of the presumed motives (not just the reasons) of what other people are thinking. The particular historical and institutional context I have in mind is contemporary so-called free societies such as the US and the UK and specifically within them government bureaucracies, universities and all forms of public communication, such as newspapers, magazines, blogs, internet, publishers, TV, radio, etc.

Precisely because of the foregoing focus and the kinds of individuals that would be relevant, my explanation will be interested primarily in the intellectual origins of the intolerance, or, if you like, the kinds reasons offered or that might be offer in defense of the intolerance.

Human beings sometimes, but not always, find it necessary to offer a formal reason(s) for their public policy positions. We do so when we believe that the people to whom the formal explanation is addressed are, or will be, members of the same moral community as ourselves. Otherwise, the offering of reasons is irrelevant, often counterproductive, or dishonest.

When I refer to the ‘Left’, I shall mean those who advocate radical social change instituted by the force of the state and justified by appeal to some moral abstraction or Utopian aim. Given my understanding, the ‘Left’ will refer in general to so-called progressives, modern liberals, socialists, Marxists, those who self-identify in terms of identity politics, and the like. Political affiliation is no longer particularly helpful here.

Intellectual Origins of Social ‘Expertise’

In the 18th-century, the French philosophes developed the idea that there could be social sciences, modeled after the physical sciences. These alleged social sciences would be able to explain, predict, and control social phenomena. Thus was born the idea of a social technology. The belief that a social technology would enable us to create a Utopian society was the shared intellectual inheritance of liberals, socialists, and Marxists (Becker 1962). Skinner’s Beyond Freedom and Dignity expressed such a view. Fromm described it in the following way: “[Skinner’s] system attracts those psychologists who are liberals and who find Skinner’s system an argument to defend their political optimism. He appeals to those who believe that desirable social goals like peace and equality are not just rootless ideals, but can be established in reality. The whole idea that one can ‘design’ a better society on a scientific basis appeals to many who earlier might have been socialists. Did not Marx, too, want to design a better society. Did he not call his brand of socialism ‘scientific’ in contrast to ‘Utopian’ socialism… Moreover, Skinner’s theory rings true, because it is (almost) true for the alienated man of the cybernetic society. In summary, Skinnerism is the psychology of opportunism dressed up as a new scientific humanism” [The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness. New York: Fawcett Crest, 1973].

The Enlightenment Project is the Pelagian attempt to define and explain the human predicament through science as well as to achieve mastery over it through the use of a social technology. This project originated in France in the18th-century with the philosophes, Diderot, d’Alembert, La Mettrie, Condillac, Helvetius, d’Holbach, Turgot, Condorcet, Cabanis, and Voltaire:

[T]he conviction that the world, or nature, was a single whole, subject to a single set of laws, in principle discoverable by the intelligence of man; that the laws which governed inanimate nature were in principle the same as those which governed plants, animals and sentient beings; that man was capable of improvement; that there existed certain objectively recognizable human goals which all men, rightly so described, sought after, namely, happiness, knowledge, justice, liberty, … that these goals were common to all men as such, were not unattainable, nor incompatible, and that human misery, vice and folly were mainly due to ignorance either of what these goals consisted in or of the means of attaining them-ignorance due in turn to insufficient knowledge of the laws of nature… Consequently, the discovery of general laws that governed human behaviour, their clear and logical integration into scientific systems of psychology, sociology, economics, political science and the like… would, by replacing the chaotic amalgam of guesswork, tradition, superstition, prejudice, dogma, fantasy…that hitherto did service as human knowledge and human wisdom (and of which by far the chief protector and instigator was the Church), create a new, sane, rational, happy, just and self-perpetuating human society, which, having arrived at the peak of attainable perfection, would preserve itself against all hostile influences, save perhaps those of nature.[Berlin, 1993, pp.27-28].

The social science disciplines now housed in the universities claim to possess the relevant truths that would enable them to produce a social utopia if they can gain control of the only institution capable of controlling all the other institutions, namely the government.

Hence, the social sciences, which have colonized all other disciplines including the arts, sciences, schools of communication, law schools, and even schools of business, have produced a faculty that overwhelmingly supports government that is ever more powerful. This is what intellectuals tell themselves makes them the most important people in society. It is there raison d’être. Since education is now understood to be a form of technology, education is indistinguishable from indoctrination. Universities and colleges may advertise to parents that a college degree increases lifetime income but that is not the major mission of present higher education. Its mission is social reform.

Unfortunately, for them, The U.S. has a constitution, an electoral college, and a republic as opposed to a pure democracy. This makes it difficult to obtain the correct personnel for the government. Hence, it is necessary to indoctrinate the ignorant public. This requires:

First, purge the faculty of those who do not believe in either the intellectual legitimacy of the social ‘sciences’ or the practical effectiveness of social technology. Academic freedom is a relic of a bygone pre-scientific era. It may have been necessary at first to entrench leftist professors, but it is no longer needed. This exemplifies the old saying that “when in the minority demand tolerance on your host’s principles but when in the majority deny it on yours.”

In an analogue to the Vatican, only some have access to all writings; all others, including authors (instructors) must be silenced. A catechism displays the only admissible questions and the only admissible answers.

Second, sanitize and redefine the curriculum. Remove all offensive and counter-productive material.

Third, create a paid group of monitors to observe and report on faculty and staff who might deviate from or sabotage the curriculum.

Fourth, insist that everyone get a college degree and adjust the requirements (lower standards) to facilitate this.

Fifth, train journalists to spread the truth. Since these journalists will be taught the hidden truth about how people think, in the same way that physicists understand the behavior of unseen molecules, journalists do not report what people actually say because it is mere surface phenomena. They report what people really mean, the hidden structure, even if that is not what those people say. This is not in their eyes fake news or misrepresentation. It is social ‘science’. It is telling the ‘real’ hidden truth.

It is not only permissible but also morally required to do or say whatever is necessary because the end justifies the means. The end always justifies the means only as long as the end is incontrovertibly acceptable (i.e. beyond dispute). Presumably, only the ‘elect’ know that ‘end’ and therefore are in a position to impose it on others.

Working with allies in the bureaucracy, this may at times look like spying on a campaign, sabotaging an election and an administration, and rigging the outcome of future elections, but what it really means to advocates of social technology is the giving of total fulfillment. They know the truth and they will make us really free.

There are many prominent thinkers, such as Hayek, who have debunked the whole idea of a social ‘science’. Human beings are not mechanisms and not simply organic entities. Moreover, there cannot be a science of humanity or of the social world. Any description of the human world would be valid only if agreed to within a pre-existing social/cultural framework. Any attempt to explain that framework (as opposed to describing it) would be a further explanation that would be valid only if agreed to within some other framework, and so on ad infinitum!

My argument should not be confused with the older claim that you cannot deduce a norm (an ‘ought’) from a fact(s) (‘is’), an argument wrongly attributed to Hume. There cannot be facts or anything designated as a fact unless we already agree on a prior set of (epistemological) norms/practices. So, norms are more fundamental than facts, and hence it is obvious why we do not deduce norms from facts – a trivial point and not a profound insight. This goes to the heart of the argument: all (any) civilization is possible only if there is some kind of agreement on norms. What the new left does is to obscure this point by talking as if they are articulating an intellectual or symbolic position when in fact they reject a common set of norms (e.g., burning the flag or not kneeling at the national anthem). That is why they systematically obscure (or are confused about) the distinction between the existence of a norm and the extent to which we instantiate the norm in our practices.

Let me give an example of how this works.

I shall refer to this maneuver as CYA. Progressive advocates of social technology claimed for many years that dysfunction within the African-American community was solely the result of poverty or the lack of resources and that a variety of welfare programs would solve the problem.

As Charles Murray documented it in his book, Losing Ground, that progressive strategy not only failed to solve the problem but also made it worse! Two consequences followed. First, Murray was vilified as a racist for this book. Second, progressives invented a new or meta-theory to cover the failure of the first theory/policy.

The new theory was ‘institutionalized racism’. I shall ignore the fact that such an expression is a meaningless abstraction that confuses different categories (if you are a logician you will understand this) and hence cannot be, and is therefore not, confirmable. The explanans is identical to the explanandum. On the contrary, by every objective measureable the U.S. is not racist (Connerly, WSJ, 7/24/20), and popular opinion increasingly favors doing everything reasonable to improve opportunities for Blacks. ‘Reparations’ is not reasonable because it is more of the same failed program of transferring resources.

CYA also reflects another dishonest intellectual stratagem. Advocates of social technology assume that whatever is true of physical science is the model for everything else. There are two versions: elimination and exploration. In elimination, there is an explicit substitution of new ideas for old ideas. Elimination is a form of radical replacement through innovation. Examples are the elimination of Ptolemy’s geocentric view of the universe and its replacement by Copernicus’ heliocentric view of the universe; another is the elimination of traditional theories of disease by the discovery of microbes. Elimination makes sense if there is some prior agreed upon framework in terms of which we can judge that one new theory is better than an old theory.

In exploration, on the other hand, we begin with our ordinary understanding of how things work and then go on to speculate on what might be behind those workings. The new understanding replaces the older one by appeal to underlying structures. The underlying structures are discovered by following out the implications of some hypothetical model about those structures. The discovery is empirically confirmable and replicable by using telescopes, microscopes, and other sophisticated devices. Exploration is exemplified in the use of the atomic theory to explain chemical behavior or the behavior of gases.

Exploration is the mode of thought of academic social science. By analogy with physical science, the social sciences have persistently sought to discover the hidden structure behind the everyday understanding of social activities. From Durkheim to Marx, and beyond, social scientists have persistently sought to reveal a structural level of which we are not immediately aware. Exploration is the search for structure rather than for meaning, the search for the formal elements underlying the everyday world rather than believing that the everyday world can constitute its own level of understanding.

The problem with exploration is that there is no way to confirm or disconfirm an exploration in the social sciences. There are no sophisticated devices such as social microscopes to reveal what cannot be seen by the naked eye. There is no progress in the social sciences like the progress in the physical sciences. There is merely the substitution of one fashionable language for another. The riders and the tunes change, but the carousel only moves in a circle.

We are unable to choose among competing explorations. Denied formal criteria or extra-systematic criteria for evaluating their own hypotheses, social theorists can only fall back upon aesthetic and/or informal criteria. Immense prestige is accorded to those individuals skillful in formulating clever, ingenious, and sometimes bizarre hypotheses. Ingenuity becomes the benchmark of success, and as in present day movements in the arts leads to sudden shifts in fashion. Another dead-end is the appeal to intuition so that rival explorers claim that their hidden structure hypothesis ‘better’ captures some private intuition about our ordinary understanding. There is, of course, no independent way of establishing this.

How, then do we avoid nihilism? Progressives do so by offering a further or meta-exploratory account of why their opponents opposed the first level exploratory account. Therefore, if I disagree that the lack of resources is the cause of dysfunction, the progressive accuses me of racism, of harboring a secret dislike or revulsion of some group of people. This is no more rational or confirmable than the first level exploration, but it is a very clever and sometimes effective political/rhetorical maneuver, especially with the intellectually unsophisticated. One Tower of Babel replaces another.

There are alternative and competing accounts of what underlies our normative framework, but there is no way of resolving, in exploratory terms, which one is correct. Without a consensus on the framework, there is no way of distinguishing between when a thinker helps us to alter our norms by clarification of the alleged underlying structure and when he or she is just an advocate of a particular set of norms. Without a consensus on the framework, we might be led to the cynical conclusion that the very idea of a framework is a myth. That is, we are led to nihilism. Once we are willing to face nihilism, we can well ask “Why seek to resolve differences peacefully?”

By subscribing to scientism, theorists are also led to embrace determinism. Rawls is an example of an environmental determinist when he says that “Even the willingness to make an effort, to try, and so to be deserving in the ordinary sense is itself dependent upon happy family and social circumstances” [Theory of Justice (1971), p. 74]. That is why these theorists deny things like the Augustinian or Kantian conception of the moral free will and deny, as well, the notion of an autonomous internal self. The traditional, pre-Enlightenment, conception of a moral agent subject to internal sanctions is denied. It is plausible to such theorists to take seriously the question “Why should I be moral?” If there are no internal sanctions, then there can only be external sanctions. Social equilibrium is to be maintained through external social control, i.e. intolerance and ultimately force!

There are enormous and insurmountable problems here. If we are nothing more than creatures of stimulus and response then why choose to institutionalize any one particular set of norms? Of course, we can maintain that these ‘machines’ have an internal telos or purpose, but how do we confirm this allegation or decide which alleged goal is the true one. You cannot establish the truth of teleology in an empirical way, and neither can you square individual free will with teleology.

I shall refer to the ‘old left’ as those who sincerely believed that they could win the argument on purely intellectual grounds. However, as epistemological sophistication grew in the physical sciences (1960s and 1970s), it became increasingly clear to philosophers of science (e.g. Kuhn, Feyerabend) that there was no independent way to establish the objective truth or the notion of objective progress even in the physical sciences. The Enlightenment Project dream of a social technology needed a new foundation.

Post-Modernity

As opposed to classical thinkers, modern or post-Renaissance thinkers have come to recognize that norms and standards (truth, beauty, goodness) are not grounded in, nor do they refer to, structures independent of human perspectives. One sees this in Copernican astronomy, Einsteinian relativity, the revival of ancient skepticism and what Kant, influenced by Hume, called the Copernican Revolution in philosophy. This notion of relativity to human perspective is already present in Renaissance works of art. For the benefit of the obtuse, to proclaim that something is true, beautiful, or good, etc. is to say that members of some relevant community will agree with that assessment. You might not agree with this modern epistemology, but there is nothing contradictory or irrational about it.

Postmodernists consider all norms as products of historically contingent circumstances that reflect cultural hierarchies. As such, any prior claim to social authority is delegitimized. This involves two separate beliefs: (a) the empirical claim that there are no universally significant facts about humanity and (b) the existent norms are historically accidental and therefore challengeable.

For our purposes, the second claim is the most significant. To begin with, whatever current norms there are for scholars and journalists (including the norms of academic freedom, veracity, interpretation, etc.) are challengeable or deconstructable. We live in a world of norm pluralism. If so, how do we go about managing disputes or replacing norms? There are traditional norms of challenge and replace, but those norms are themselves contingent. Here we have reached a dead end. You cannot even say that “anything goes” because that too is a contingent norm. We are left with the appeal to force.

Some postmodernists are undismayed by the foregoing. They will claim that they speak for a previously unrecognized set of norms variously described as the norms of the dispossessed, the marginalized, the exploited, etc. The Marxist provenance of this view is obvious and should be kept in mind. In fact, these particular postmodernists claim to be the articulators or spokespersons of those norms. Put into action, these spokespersons will try to persuade advocates of the traditional norms by various means to embrace the norms of the downtrodden. Those means include direct action and violence if necessary. There is no set of super-norms in their eyes for resolving these disputes.

Personally, I think these postmodernists are correct in pointing out the limits of rational discourse. It also seems historically accurate to claim that many disputes were resolved only by conflict (rebellion, revolution, civil war, etc.). Under such circumstances, intolerance is a perfectly consistent response.

Friends, colleagues, and others who do not get this point dismay me. The latter keep trying to find some logical flaw in postmodernism. For example, how can we agree that all norms are historically contingent? Does that not show that we agree on something? Of course it does; but ‘agreement’ is a social process. Philosophically, we do not all agree on what ‘agreement’ means.

My other friends seek some ‘rational’ way, some form of negotiation or concession, perhaps secession, to resolve the dispute. These otherwise ‘good’ people understandably want to avoid the use of force. In failing to understand those partisans of the left who are postmodern, the ‘good’ people (Neville Chamberlain comes to mind) are helpless, if not hopeless intellectually, and they will lose without a fight.

The well-intentioned but obtuse readers will jump-in at this point and claim that the appeal to historical events is a self-contradiction on the part of postmodernists. Again, this misses the point. Agreement on the occurrence of one event shows at best that we share at least one norm. Sharing one norm does not translate into sharing a set or framework of norms. Even agreement on the application of a norm to a set of circumstances is compatible with different interpretations of the same event in the light of a set of norms. No single norm operates in total independence of the set to which it belongs.

It is not simply the case that there are significant ethical disagreements about substantive issues. Many if not most of these controversies do not appear to be resolvable through sound rational argument. On the one hand, many of the controversies depend upon different foundational metaphysical commitments. As with most metaphysical controversies, resolution is possible only through the granting of particular initial premises and rules of evidence. On the other hand, even when foundational metaphysical issues do not appear to be at stake, the debates turn on different rankings of the good.

Again, resolution does not appear to be feasible without begging the question, arguing in a circle, or engaging in infinite regress. One cannot appeal to consequences without knowing how to rank the impact of different approaches with regard to different ethical interests (liberty, equality, prosperity, security, etc.). Nor can one uncontroversially appeal to preference satisfaction unless one already grants how one will correct preferences and compare rational versus impassioned preferences, as well as calculate the discount rate for preferences over time. Appeals to disinterested observers, hypothetical choosers, or hypothetical contractors will not avail either.

If such decision makers are truly disinterested, they will choose nothing. To choose in a particular way, they must be fitted out with a particular moral sense or thin theory of the good. Intuitions can be met with contrary intuitions. Any particular balancing of claims can be countered with a different approach to achieving a balance. In order to appeal for guidance to any account of moral rationality one must already have secured content for that moral rationality.

It even does not matter if I am wrong in my understanding and partial defense of postmodernism. It does not matter if there are non-trivial universal truths about humanity or universal/timeless norms. If a group of people do not believe in or accept those norms the consequences are the same. It does not matter if some postmodernists are advocating some benign change, for others can consistently demand something more radical. It does not matter if one is willing to allow co-existence or partition or secession if the other side wants dominance. The need for dominance will be discussed in the next section.

The transition from social technology to postmodernism marks the transition from liberalism to socialism and/or Marxism. The ‘new’ left has replaced/superseded the ‘old’ left.

In fact, we do live in a world, and even in our own U.S. society, of moral pluralism. There is one social tradition (norm, practice), namely the Anglo-American one, where moral pluralism has been largely and successfully managed. It is called the rule of law. We live in different substantive moral communities (Christian, Jewish, etc.) and, at the same time, we all subscribe (or we used to) to the procedural norm of toleration. Despite these different substantive communities, all of them contain within themselves the resources to adopt the procedural norm of toleration. Of course, this tradition (articulated by Milton, Locke, Mill, Hayek, Oakeshott) is historically contingent.

Many post-modernists reject this tradition (they claim it is an expression of a hidden structure of oppression). This tradition does nothing to glorify/redeem the status of intellectuals, activists, or those with a radical agenda.

Oakeshott has captured this mindset of these particular post-modernists in his description of the anti-individual. Throughout most of history and everywhere in the world, human beings have identified themselves as members of a community. There were neither autonomous individuals not anti-individuals.

The most important event in modern European history is the rise of the autonomous individual beginning in Renaissance Italy (13th – 15th centuries). There are no autonomous individuals anywhere before the Italian Renaissance. Autonomous individuality is a feature of Western European civilization and later spread elsewhere. All creative activity [creative/destruction] is the product of autonomous individuals: “It modified political manners and institutions, it settled upon art, upon religion, upon industry and trade and upon every kind of human relationship.” Not everyone makes the transition – some are left behind (by circumstance and by temperament): Individuals manqué and anti-individuals.

The mind-set of the new ‘individual’ (Hobbes, Kant) is auto-nomous (self-rule is the translation). They impose order on themselves; self-disciplining, not self-indulgence, rather than requiring outside control and direction; risk-takers; self-defining; self-respect (something you give to yourself); pursue self-chosen courses of action rather than playing traditional roles. Policies advocated by autonomous individuals include encouraging creativity, a free-market economy, limited government, limited to being an umpire – enforce the rules of the game and not pre-determine the outcome; liberty and equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome; the rule of law. Society is viewed as a civil association: there is no overall collective good/goal. Economic entrepreneurs and conservative lawyers are the ones with superior status in this world.

The new left, the new breed of post-modernists, do in fact hold a kind of substantive account of morality. They can no more step out of all historical contexts than anyone else.

What is that mind-set? It is the mind-set of the anti-individual. They like being part of a protective community that takes care of them and relieves them of the anxiety of making choices; they are risk-averse –dominated by the fear of failure; they seek self-esteem (something that other people give you). There were some people, by circumstance or by temperament, less ready than others to respond to this invitation to become autonomous. Once some people become autonomous individuals and others do not, those who do not make the transition become anti-individuals. Anti-individuals are a reaction against autonomous individuals.

They are resentful of autonomous individuals and feel envy, jealousy, and resentment. They have feelings rather than thoughts, impulses rather than opinions. They need a leader; they want equality and solidarity. They blame autonomous individuals for the anxiety; want to destroy the prestige of autonomous individuals and make everyone an anti-individual; they want equality of outcome. They are not necessarily poor, not necessarily ignorant, and often members of the intelligentsia. Because of their mind-set, they cannot and will not function in a market economy; hence, they are dysfunctional in a modern commercial society.

The public policies advocated by anti-individuals include encouraging uniformity, the Democratic-Socialist abolishment of private property, government ‘guarantees’ and the regulation of everything. Law is reduced to politics – laws are supposed to achieve a political agenda. Society is conceived of as an enterprise association: there is a collective goal (vouchsafed to the elect) in which each person sublimates his/her own goals and is fulfilled by their social roles.

As you can see their substantive account of morality is wholly negative – they know what they are against but are unclear on what they favor – or – they favor a laundry list of abstractions that temporarily allow them to pour whatever meaning they want into it. What holds them together is what they are against. One cold maintain, as Ortega did, that this is actually the absence of morality as opposed to an alternative morality.

Ideology as Religion

It has been observed for some time, e.g. Nietzsche’s assertion that ‘God is dead,’ that Western societies are increasingly secular. The older comprehensive religious cultural narratives such as Christianity and Judaism seem less and less relevant or meaningful to more and more people. One could argue that THIS IS A FURTHER CONSEQUENCE OF EMBRACING The Enlightenment Project.

Even new variants of these older narratives keep moving further and further ‘left’ in their orientation. By this, I mean that they increasingly support policies that promise immediate earthly postponement or resolution of the human predicament, to wit that we can suffer physical and mental dysfunction from the time we are conceived and that as we grow older we become more infirm and then die. Perhaps in a broader sense we all seek to make sense of our mortal lives.

Politics is now the new religion. Politics, understood as some institutional arrangement that defines the master moral community, has replaced the family and religion or what we used to call civil society. In some cases, the alleged new community can go beyond traditional nation states and now encompass a super-state (e.g. EU) or a global entity (e.g. U.N.) or even encompass non-human things such as animals, plants, the whole earthly environment. “Today, the New Left is rushing in to fill the spiritual vacuum at the center of our free and capitalist society.” [Irving Kristol, 1972, “Capitalism, Socialism, and Nihilism”]. There is no longer any pretense that centralized control of the economy is more productive or efficient; equality of outcome and communal solidarity are intrinsic ends that take absolute precedence over everything else. They no longer care about the reasons that past agents had for what they did; all history is to be judged and written from the progressive moral perspective.

Post-modern thinkers have a better understanding of our epistemological predicament than do hopeless advocates of older forms of liberalism (libertarian, classical liberal, etc.). Many traditional religious thinkers also understand the limits of discursive reason but they have either stopped believing the literal truth of their tradition or simply do not know how to defend their commitment. The latter have forgot that the advocacy of toleration is a largely cultural or civil achievement.

Religions have traditionally been enterprise associations, that is, promoting a collective goal to which individual goals, freedoms, etc. are subordinated. In practice, that has meant excluding others, i.e. intolerance. Christianity and Judaism, notably among others, subsequently (i.e. after centuries of religious wars) found the internal resources to accept procedural tolerance. This is not true of some others. Among the latter (supply your own list) there is a strict policy of intolerance if not hostility and outright suppression of dissenters. After all, it is not possible to win an argument rationally. The ‘left’ of late has adopted this attitude even in the U.S. and the U.K. Once you understand the logic of enterprise association, the felt need of salvation and total meaning (a comprehensive purpose to everything), you can understand the policy of intolerance.

Domination is not some intrinsic feature of the human predicament, rather, it is the response of those who fear any threat to their enterprise association. Since they ARE UNWILLING TO LIVE WITHOUT A TOTAL VISION, they can prevail only by eliminating opposition. Intolerance is a simple reflection of how the new left has become a religion that brooks no opposition.

I offer a crucial example. What a religion or political system understood as a religion offers is total meaning, total commitment, and salvation (fill in the content). The major policy proposal in the U.S. and elsewhere of the ‘left’ is single-payer health care – you will be kept alive as long as possible (in case there is no after-life or you might fail to qualify for it) at ‘public’ expense. Once this part of the economy is under central government control, there is no going back and total control of the economy and of all institutions is inevitable in order to guarantee that there is no going back. If you subscribe to this, intolerance of all kinds is permitted/required, or you are guilty of destroying the lives of millions upon millions of other human beings. Intolerance in the eyes of the new left would be a small cost to pay given the benefits.

What is Really Wrong Intellectually/Morally With The New Left

As I have argued above, you cannot defeat the new left with arguments about objective truth, and you cannot refute them by claiming that post-modernism is somehow incoherent. Simply restating your own commitment is not a refutation of those who do not share that commitment.

What can we do? On the positive side, we can appeal to the Anglo-American cultural inheritance which is grounded in custom/practice (not theory) and the practice of resolving disagreements about practice. This does not require an abstract theory, nor a theory of history, nor a narrative of any kind. People either share or they are willing to share these practices or they do not. Histories (narratives, theories) do not resolve these matters because, at best, history can only legitimately tell us what happened (e.g. a battle took place on such and such a date) or what the agents involved understood themselves to be doing (not some theory of what we attribute to them).

If we do not share the same understanding of the practices, then there is nothing more to be said. Yes, I know we yearn for more. Holding on to the illusion of some ‘objective’ truth either turns us into the same direction as those we oppose or it undercuts our ability to fight back. We do not have to hold onto the belief in an objective truth except as a private substantive view; what we need to hold onto is the belief in the validity of our practice of procedural tolerance. Some of us have no difficulty in squaring this procedural norm with our different substantive views. The ‘left’ is incapable of doing this, and that is why they not only want to change the rules but also want to change the rules for changing the rules.

What the new left does is to say that they share the practices (e.g. free speech, democracy, etc.) but reserve the right to interpret them in a way with which we do not and cannot agree. There is a word for this, and it is ‘dishonesty’. The new left understands this game, but their critics do not.

The left is constantly calling for “equity” and “diversity” and tolerance, but as soon as you say something they don’t like they’ll attack you personally, and in a really mean way. And, when you try to talk with them about it, they tell you that you’re hurting their feelings and they can’t talk about it. This among academics, who are supposed to be trained in rational argument! There is so much resentment in the anti-individual—the calls for group solidarity and the constant airing of endless grievances really do seem to point to a kind of pathology in the soul.

In failing to see that the left is a form of religion what is missed in all of this is that the left will argue that things like free speech, the right to self-defense, in fact the whole of the Bill of Rights is not a set of procedural norms but a substantive morality that is being imposed on them. To disagree with them is to impose the Judeo-Christian morality on them. Who knew that Locke’s invocation of our God-given natural rights was a form of aggression? So the new scholarship is meant to make us understand that it’s actually the non-left that is now being accused of intolerance.

We must face what is really going on. Intellectuals who oppose the new left have difficulty with accepting reality because as intellectuals they naturally want to believe that we can arrive at agreement through free and open discussion, that we can either refute the other side or that the other side can convert us rationally. After all, that is what intellectuals do (like the man with a hammer who sees everything as a nail) or is their only claim to superiority, and that is also why they have never been able to resolve our deepest conflicts. Activists (e.g. Alinsky) understand this weak point and exploit it without hesitation.

As I write this, I have become acutely aware that what I have written will be rejected by some because it is not wholly scholarship but a form of advocacy. Perhaps it is time to recognize the limits of scholarship and the point at which rhetoric needs to take hold.

What would the left do with their lives if everything were made perfect, in their estimation? That’s the real question. They thrive on injustice and dissatisfaction. The pertinent other question is, I think, what ought I myself to be doing to promote a flourishing life for myself and my family?

Many ordinary people have a better grasp of this than do our educated elites. That is because our educated elites have undergone a process that has blinded them with abstractions. This is no longer a parlor game; it is no longer an issue of saving American civilization. It is an issue of saving civilization itself. What we tend to forget is that civilization is a product of evolving practices and not a product of theory.

In the end, we have to take responsibility for how we choose to understand ourselves and our relationships with others. If we are honest with ourselves, we shall recognize that we are about to engage in a civil war or revolution; there is no theoretical justification for our choices. But we can hope to God that we are doing the right thing.

As Herbert Butterfield once put it, “When we have reconstructed the whole of mundane history it does not form a self-explanatory system, and our attitude to it, our whole relationship to the human drama, is a larger affair altogether – it is a matter not of scholarship but of religion… Ultimately our interpretation of the whole human drama depends on an intimately personal decision concerning the part we mean to play in it” [Christianity and History (1949), pp. 27 and 86].

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

The image shows “Soft Construction with Boiled Beans,” by Salvador Dalí, painted in 1936.