Stalin vs. Marr: A Mysterious Battle of Soviet Linguistics in the Early 1950s

Introduction

The “free discussion on linguistics”, which took place in the spring-summer of 1950 and ended with the publication of Stalin’s works, has always attracted and will continue to attract the attention of scientists and the general public with its unexpectedness and enigmatic quality. Unexpected—because even against the background of the rapid scientific discussions of the postwar period, the discussion on linguistics was a real mystery, culminating in a spectacular appearance on “stage” of the head of the Soviet superpower and the world socialist bloc. Enigmatic—because to this day, the motives that motivated Stalin and determined his personal participation in a purely scientific discussion, the goals that he set, the result achieved are all still completely unclear. Apparently, the entire discussion—a cascade of events of different levels and plans—was organized and rather skillfully arranged by Stalin personally; but it is unclear what reasons forced the leader of the Soviet state not only to monitor and control the course of the discussion, but also to write works on linguistics himself. In order to correctly pose this question, it is necessary, having clarified the political motives and content of the linguistic discussion, to reveal its political meaning, since it was the imperatives of politics that were decisive in it: the entire story about the “new doctrine of language” of Nikolai Yakovlevich Marr and its defeat shows how linguistics, despite its tasks and essence, directly comes into contact with politics, how politics permeates linguistics, transforming it and giving it purpose and direction, imperatives that are not related to science, or even alien to it.

It is obvious that Stalin’s works contained political meanings and messages that went far beyond not only linguistics, but also humanitarian science as a whole, that, according to Viktor Trushkov (“Marxism and Questions of Linguistics”) “is a work that deals with the problems of Marxist-Leninist theory that were topical for the middle of the 20th century, topical above all for the socialist construction of the USSR” (Trushkov, 2011, p. 45). What exactly did Stalin want to say with his works on linguistics? What ideas did he want to introduce? What new attitudes to bring into Soviet political discourse? The present study is devoted to finding answers to these questions.

Discussions on Linguistics and on Political Economy

In the ideological life of the USSR 1944–1953 two forms of influence on culture, science and public opinion began to play a decisive role. On the one hand, these were special “cultural campaigns” carried out widely and broadcast to the whole society (for example, the fight against “sycophancy” and then against “cosmopolitanism”), and on the other hand, they were purely scientific discussions in various branches of science—history (1944), philosophy (1947), biology (1948), linguistics (1950), political economy (1951), etc. The first are usually called ideological or political (sometimes cultural) campaigns. The latter are called scientific (sometimes scientific-ideological) or creative discussions in the literature. The first were more intense and boisterous. The latter were relatively restrained (except, of course, for biological discussions). But in terms of the power of influence on Soviet society and culture, they were approximately equal, despite the fact that the influence of the second in time extended much further. The influence of the discussion on linguistics represents a unique case among all campaigns and discussions.

The meaning of the ideological operations of the first kind, which can be linked into a single “mega-campaign”, is readily revealed: the affirmation of Soviet patriotism and the strengthening of anti-bourgeois rhetoric in Soviet culture. The purpose of the “mega-campaign” was to establish a new all-Soviet bipolar worldview based on the acceptance of the principle of opposition, in the words of those years, between the anti-democratic and imperialist camp led by the United States and the democratic and anti-imperialist camp led by the USSR. Such a bipolar worldview logically followed from the geopolitical realities of the second half of the twentieth century, emerging after the end of World War II. The general meaning of scientific discussions can be defined in approximately the same vein of patriotism and anti-capitalism (anti-Americanism) in which the campaigns took place, however, the specific political orientation of each individual discussion often eludes the researcher. Their goal was to carry out in science, and thereby to establish in culture, state-centrism, the glorification of the Soviet state as the civilizational leader of the world and socialism as a new socio-political system extending its influence throughout the world.

The aim of this paper is to compare, at least in general terms, the linguistic debate of 1950 with the debate on political economy of 1951. What do they have in common? The main point is Stalin’s personal leadership and participation: both culminated in the intervention (whether staged or impulsive as it appeared to be) of the leader, and the publication of the resulting collections of his works, compiled as a series of articles in the course of each discussion: Marxism and Questions of Linguistics and Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR, respectively. The last time the leader made important theoretical generalizations was in his report to the XVIII Congress of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks in 1939. It is quite clear that the topics and problems raised in the two discussions seemed to Stalin to be of cardinal importance, since he took up his pen and proposed solutions to the problems posed (not to mention the organizational aspects of his activity during the discussions).

After the publication of Stalin’s works, a calm atmosphere was established in linguistics and political economy; scientists were determined to work in accordance with these newly introduced principles and in the “right” direction. It was Stalin’s personal participation that set the vector for reducing ideological tension within the social sciences and for some reduction of ideological pressure upon these sciences. Analyzing Stalin’s works on linguistics and political economy, one cannot help but pay attention to the restraint of tone of the main discussant, to his almost Aristotelian calm when analyzing problems that were the subject of heated clashes between ideologists, scientists, and politicians, to the emphasized declared dismissal of the position of arrogance and “Marxist vanity”, a clearly audible call for the same restraint and calmness, addressed to scientists and ideologists.

Stalin’s call did not go unanswered: the relative correctness of the participants in the discussion, the calm progress of the events, and the effectiveness of the results are noteworthy. In the very principle of the selection of materials for a discussion on linguistics, when opponents received equal opportunities to speak; and “from above”, until a certain point, there were no signs for one side or another, there was a specific message—all opinions will be heard. Of course, with Stalin’s personal participation, it would be absurd to preserve the “classical” style of speeches of Stalinist ideologists (Andrey Zhdanov; Georgy Aleksandrov; aspiring ideologist Mikhail Suslov; Dmitry Shepilov; Yury Zhdanov—son of Andrey Zhdanov, etc.) with calls for destruction, exposure, “tearing off masks” and the often-sad results for scientists. In this regard, it is surprising that discussions in the humanities, which are by definition ideological in nature, were generally characterized by a lower degree of ideological tension and even expressiveness of rhetoric than in others (especially in biology, which was notorious not only for the fierceness of its rhetoric, but also for its tragic consequences for many scientists).

Stalin introduced a different style of scientific discussions— calm and friendly, in a constructive manner, without hysteria and exaltation. A new way of overcoming group disagreements among scientists was also proposed: instead of the usual methods, inherent in the Stalin era, reduced to mutual accusations of various kinds of “heresies” and the ensuing “organizational conclusions”, – new methods of scientific polemics, mutual criticism were introduced. And on this basis, an “operational consensus” was established in this sphere of science, based on common rules, a normative system of interaction between science and the authorities, in which the initiative came from the authorities, who set the vector, the contours of the planned course, the “guiding star”, establishing the limits of ideology in science. The principle of consensus between scientist and power is remarkably expressed in the words of the linguist, Timofey Lomtev, addressed to his colleague Samuil Bernstein: “I always take the position of the party. Before Stalin’s speech, the Party’s attitude in linguistics was to recognize the ‛new doctrine of language’. Now a new stage begins, the Stalinist stage. I, together with the Party, am moving to this new stage” (Bernstein, 2002, p. 151). Or in the words of Alexey Losev: “Everyone is for Marr—and I am for Marr. And then I condemned Marrism, or one will not remain a professor” (Bibikhin, 2006, p. 173).

It should be emphasized that Soviet socio-political science in those years, and even later, right up to the passing of the USSR into history, could not develop without the initiative of the current leader, who personally set its vector and pace. Viktor Vinogradov, in one of the many post-discussion articles, criticizes Marr’s teaching, analyzes its nuances, but at the same time admits that “if the brilliant works of Joseph Stalin had not appeared, the discussion itself would not have solved much” (Vinogradov, 1950, p. 17). Timofey Lomtev recalls: “Many linguists, including me, felt that language is not a superstructure over the base, but no one directly and clearly expressed this” (Ilizarov, 2012, p. 300). Arnold Chikobava, wondering whether language is class in a class society, asserts: “Comrade Stalin’s answer is: no, it is not” (Chikobava, 1950, p. 41). Stalin’s answer decides everything. The linguist recalled that when he was called to Moscow to participate in a possible upcoming discussion, an interesting phrase was dropped: “Issues of linguistics will be discussed there with the secretaries of the Central Committee, and you should prepare” (Chikobava, 2001, p. 510). In other words, the question of the conformity of this or that position with Marxism could not be resolved without the “secretaries of the Central Committee”. Therefore, when we talk about Marxism in any area, about the “Marxization” of such and such a science, we must remember that the issue is not Marxism at all, but the “line of the Central Committee”. This is aptly captured by Alexey Losev: “Even Marxism, if taken as a theory, is not our doctrine at all, and it will not help anyone. The Mensheviks are also Marxists… We are not guided by theory, no matter how thrice Marxist, nor by practice, no matter how thrice revolutionary. We are guided by that most concrete refraction and unification of both, and moreover by the unification at this moment, at this minute, which is called the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks and really functions through its Central Committee. No logic, no purely vital observations will help one to keep up with this; and one will not fit it into any logical forms” (Losev, 2002, p. 358). The Central Committee of the Party decides everything.

The establishment of state-centrism in science meant that the principle of classism of social sciences was questioned (or, at least, the need for its adjustment was recognized). Partisanship gradually began to be understood as conformity with the interests of the state. The pan-class, “pan-revolutionary” left-radical interpretation of partisanship was being disavowed. This is probably why the first discussion involving Stalin was a discussion of linguistics, the “partisanship” of which, unlike political economy, was not indisputable (certainly not for Marr’s supporters), although it was rhetorically supported by many linguists.

The difference between the discussions on linguistics and political economy is striking: political economy was an area of supreme ideological importance and high-debate tension, so that Stalin’s participation in these disputes was necessary and expected. It was a question of creating a relatively consistent theory of socialism, which did not yet exist in a developed form at that time; or, to put it another way, of apologizing for the socialism built in the USSR in Marxist terms (remember that in 1936 the first phase of communism, socialism, was declared to have been essentially realized). In the field of political economy, it was necessary to create a canonical text, which Stalin was seriously concerned about precisely in 1936. After the war, with the establishment of the foundations of world socialism, the need for a “canon of socialism” increased immeasurably. This problem would be solved with the publication of the textbook Political Economy, created under Stalin’s supervision and with his participation (he was both editor and co-author), but published after his death, in 1954. After the war, with the establishment of the foundations of world socialism, the need for a “canon of socialism” increased immeasurably. This problem would be solved with the publication of the textbook, Political Economy, created under Stalin’s supervision and participation (he was both editor and co-author), but published after his death, in 1954. This textbook appeared as a true encyclopedia of Soviet “state Marxism”, a concentrated expression of Stalin’s understanding of the nature of socialism and his geopolitical plan for the Soviet state, and it became for a long time the canon of socialist theory. It is hard to imagine that anyone other than Stalin could have established the principles of the theory of socialism, answered pressing questions, and resolved the doubts of scientists and ideologists (for example, about the status of the political economy of socialism, about commodity-money relations under socialism). Stalin’s intervention in the discussion on linguistics was completely unexpected for everyone—both for the participants themselves and for the people, who were caught up in the heat of this mysterious polemic, despite its complete incomprehensibility for the majority of the Soviet people, both in terms of its content and in general in terms of the meaning of the very fact of its conduct.

Stalin’s work on linguistics established a certain unanimity, a normative system, not in linguistics itself (although one can partly state this as well), but in Soviet ideology as a whole. And this can be seen at least from the following: both in scope and in the impression made on Soviet society and public opinion, the linguistic discussion surpassed the political economy discussion, which practically did not touch the people’s consciousness and did not excite it (although in content political economy was incomparably clearer than linguistics). One can hardly find in the history of the USSR similar examples of how the vicissitudes of science, about which the majority of Soviet citizens knew little before 1950, attracted the attention of ordinary people, let alone people of science. Samuil Bernstein writes: “The clamor about Stalin’s articles on linguistics is great. Not only linguists are making noise, but also archaeologists, ethnographers, historians and even philosophers. There is a huge interest in linguistics. I think that in the entire history of linguistics in our country there has not been such a linguistic boom” (Bernstein, 2002, p. 153). A separate interesting fact was the influence of the first discussion on the second: participants in the political economy discussion constantly referred to Stalin’s work, while the textbook’s authors were criticized for not paying enough attention to it. These are not just ritual phrases: Stalin’s works on linguistics determined the priorities not only (and maybe not so much) of linguistics, but of the entire Soviet social science and ideology.

So, the discussion on political economy seemed to be more significant for the Soviet ideology. Nevertheless, the discussion on linguistics carried statements that, as will be shown later, had a stronger significance. And this is not surprising. As modern Russian scientist Yury Emelyanov notes, “if the previous campaigns were aimed at defeating non-Marxist and unpatriotic trends in culture and science, in this case Stalin attacked the doctrine, which before his speech was considered a revolutionary, Marxist trend of domestic origin and claimed a practical connection with social production and class struggle” (Emelyanov, 2003, p. 432). In this connection, let us consider what Marrism as an ideology in linguistics is, and what its political meaning is.

Political Nuances and Conflicts of the “New Doctrine of Language”

Oksana Voloshina, famous modern linguist, writes: “Reading Marr’s works evokes a dual impression: one is surprised by the grandiosity of the tasks set and the insignificance (often complete absence) of evidence, those facts on which statements and whole hypotheses are based. It is unclear how one could believe his words, but it seems impossible not to believe, as the enormity of the stated goal strikes the imagination, mesmerizes” (Voloshina, 2017, p. 30). It is generally believed that Marr’s “new doctrine of language”, which was considered by its creator and his followers to be “Marxism in linguistics”, i.e., the complex of theories and concepts developed on the basis of Marxism, corresponding to it and therefore should become the normative basis and guiding methodology of Soviet linguistics, was indeed accepted by the majority of Soviet linguists as Marxism in linguistics. However, this is not the case. First of all, Marr could not develop any more or less harmonious, balanced doctrine. It was not even possible, given the meaning of his basic ideas, or rather, his revolutionary pathos-filled but not very connected and unprovable hypotheses. Secondly, it is not possible to speak of a “dictate” of Marr’s doctrine in linguistics: we can recognize only a semblance of a balance of power between the supporters of the “great Japhethid” (that’s what they called Marr ironically) and the anti-Marrists, a precarious and constantly broken balance. At the same time, of those who accepted Marrism, many believed that such “acceptance” was nothing more than a convention. Nevertheless, due to the assertiveness of its founder and adherents, as well as its powerful offensive rhetoric, Marrism, without being “mainstream”, was the most influential current in Soviet linguistics.

“The situation in Soviet linguistics in the 1930s and 1940s can hardly be called calm, because the Marrists, especially during the lifetime of Marr himself, were not at all inclined to debate methods of propaganda of their doctrine; and it was not easy to do so with the help of standard methods, without resorting to ‛shouting and clamor, fireworks and drum beating’” (Bernstein, 2002, p. 147). Moreover, where their positions were strong (primarily in Leningrad), they became an “aggressive sect”, often resorting to methods of reprisals against opponents, so that the “Arakcheyev regime” was a sad reality. As for aggressiveness, there is no exaggeration. Thus, one of the adherents of Marrism, Valerian Aptekar’, according to the recollections of the anti-Marrist Petr Kuznetsov, threatened Marr’s opponents not at all as a joke: “And whoever raises his head—a stick will bash it in!” (Kuznetsov, 2003, p. 188). The linguist Grigory Ilyinsky wrote in 1929: “I do not see any triumph of the Japhetic theory. On the contrary, the fact that it has to be pounded in with a stick and by means of a kind of terror shows that it is doing badly. Truth does not need this kind of shameful means for its propagation” (Robinson, 2004, p. 159). But a year earlier he had warned that the Marrist doctrine would become “an ‛orthodox system of linguistics’ binding on all linguists, and woe to those who allow this ‛theory’ to be called by its real name” (p. 154). The scholar was not mistaken. We can see the rise of the influence of the “new doctrine of language” since 1930, when Marr himself spoke from the rostrum of the XVI Congress of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks, after which “the Marrists had every reason to believe that their doctrine received the highest support” (Alpatov, 2018, p. 94). “Japhetidology as a general theory of language”, Abram Deborin, who soon became one of the active propagandists of Marrism, would say, “is a new science, a new scientific discipline built mainly on the principles of Marxism-Leninism” (Deborin, 1935, p. 3).

Vladimir Alpatov, academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences, calls Marxism adapted to the needs of political struggle and propaganda, “Marxism II”, as opposed to the actual teachings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “Marxism I” (Alpatov, 2018, p. 247), which is usually referred to as historical (authentic, original, etc.) Marxism. We can talk about Leninist, Stalinist Marxism II and so up to the last days of the Soviet Union (Brezhnev’s, Gorbachev’s Marxism II). Marxism II is closer to ideology (and therefore to propaganda), if not identical to it; Marxism I is closer to political theory, social science. In research literature, as well as in journalism, in applying to Stalin’s interpretation of Marxism, they often speak of the “deformation”, “distortion”, “simplification”, “scholasticization” of Marxism, which is largely true. However, although researchers raise the question of the aims and objectives of this kind of transaction with Marxism, they prefer not to concentrate on this problem. The analysis of the history of the defeat of Marr’s doctrine provides much material for reflection on how and for what purpose Stalin transformed historical Marxism, turning its ideas into a series of interrelated concepts concerning the essence and structure of the socialist state in general and the Soviet state in particular.

The article you are reading deals exclusively with Stalinist Marxism II, and 1930 was the last year when the ideas of world revolution and the world proletarian state (which were the basis of Marr’s developments) still had the strength they had in the 1920s. The Soviet ideology was beginning to turn toward the ideas of state-centrism or, as they are often defined, “national Bolshevism”, which by 1936 had already pushed “world revolutionarism” to the periphery of Soviet political discourse. And soon many adherents of misunderstood proletarian internationalism (the rules of understanding of which had also, of course, changed) turned into scribblers, Talmudists, or even Trotskyists. At the same time, Stalin had to correct Marxism I in its development by Lenin quite seriously and to construct a new, “state Marxism” on the basis of all this.

In light of these changes, Marr’s doctrine gradually became politically incorrect, but this did not lead to the defeat of Marrism in the 1930s, just as the Mikhail Pokrovsky’s school in historical science was defeated on the same grounds (perhaps because in its own sphere the “Pokrovshchina” (“Pokrovskyanism”) was no less aggressive). Marrism in Soviet linguistics up to 1950 continued to be an influential trend close to the role it claimed to play—that is, to be “Marxism in linguistics”. Although the Marrists did not succeed in subjugating Soviet linguistics in the way that Pokrovsky’s supporters briefly succeeded in subjugating history, this did not mean that they did not try to achieve such a goal. Inspired by the “successes” of the Lysenkovites at the 1948 session of the VASKhNIL and continuing some of the “successes” of 1947, the Marrists tried, using similar tactics, to go on the offensive against their ideological opponents. It was not enough for them that their opponents were not anti-Marr fighters; the goal of the Marrists was to demonstrate to Soviet linguists that “Soviet linguistics should be led by the teachings of Marr” (Kuznetsov, 2003, p. 231). Marrism was positioned as a Marxist philosophy of linguistics: “We stand on the point of view that this doctrine is capable of impregnating the science of thinking, hence philosophy, and therefore we consider necessary the closest union of philosophy with Japhetidology as a general theory of linguistics, throwing a dazzling light on the theory and history of cognition” (Deborin, 1935, pp. 8–9).

The Marrist offensive aggravated the situation in linguistics and intensified the persecution of those scholars who did not take seriously the “guiding thoughts of Nikolai Marr”. In 1949–1950, the Marrists, not without risk to themselves (after all, the cosmopolitanism and anti-patriotism of Marr’s doctrine were too obvious, no matter how adherents tried to present Marr as a patriot) joined the fight against cosmopolitanism, accusing their opponents of it. Marr’s doctrine was “linked” to Soviet patriotism. Thus, in the last apologetic brochure of Isaak Tsukerman we read: “The materialist doctrine of Nikolai Marr is organically connected with the ideas of Soviet patriotism. One cannot understand the new doctrine of language without understanding the image of Nikolai Marr as a Soviet patriot” (Tsukerman, 1950, p. 4).

The impulses and escapades of the Marrists did not lead to serious shifts in linguistics: their offensive activity was apparently muted from above; often the outbursts of “righteous anger” of another Marrist furious “tribune” and “expositor” simply did not meet any response from the ideological leadership (among which only Yury Zhdanov supported them; others were relatively neutral). Petr Druzhinin writes: “And what followed? Nothing special (of course, taking into account the practice of science leadership during Stalin’s time); these linguistic debates did not achieve any significant result comparable to the defeat in biology” (Druzhinin, 2017, p. 313). For all that, it is impossible to deny the pressure on linguistics from a consolidated group of Marrists, which reached its height by 1950. According to Marina Dostal, “by the end of 1949, the cult of Marr reached its apogee. From the beginning of 1950 began administrative persecution of those who had not yet ‛repented’ of their deviation from his ‛teachings’” (Dostal, 2009, p. 292). As before, opponents were accused of various kinds of bourgeois “isms”, and political labels were attached to them. Thus, judging by the rhetoric, the last years of the dictatorship of Marrism could rightly be called the years of “linguistic terror”.

What was Marr’s “new” or “materialist doctrine of language” and what was its Marxist character? Passing off his grotesque constructions as Marxism, the scientist did not care about the consistency and logicality of his own “theory”, nor about the proofs of its conformity to Marxism. However, this was impossible because of the already noted incoherence and haphazardness of the totality of hypotheses and assumptions, which he tried to dress up in the Marxist toga against logic. Marr’s doctrine did not fit well into the framework of Marxism, so he rather adjusted Marxism to his “theory”, and “Marx and Engels made up for Marr” (Alpatov, 2010, p. 451). The classics of Marxism were not a hindrance to him: “Marr did not want to part with his favorite ideas even if they clearly diverged from the texts of K. Marx and F. Engels. Nothing so confused the Marrists in the ‛new doctrine of language’ as the position on the class role of sound speech at its emergence and on the class struggle in primitive society in connection with the sound revolution… However, Marr believed that it was not his doctrine but Marxism itself that should change” (Alpatov, 2018, p. 69). And yet, Marr’s Marxism was not so far from Marxism I, at least it was no more distant from it than Stalin’s Marxism II. Moreover, some researchers are of the opinion that Marrism, with its internationalist pathos, was close to genuine Marxism. After all, if we think about it, the ideas that the original function of language is productive, that language was originally not a means of communication but an instrument of production, are not so ridiculous, especially in the context of the Marxist schools of the 1920s, known for their vulgar economism and sociologization. A certain closeness of the “new doctrine of language” to Marxism is also evidenced by the fact that Abram Deborin accepted Marrism as a philosophy of language; moreover, he seriously developed Marr’s provisions on manual language, actually proposing an elaborated concept of the transition from manual to sound language (Deborin, 1935, pp. 11–30).

The creator of the “new doctrine of language” addressed it first of all to young scientists: it was they who could accept without much thought the ideas that sounded absurd, fantastic, or even simply insane to the linguists of the older generation. Thus, the Marrist document of 1948, a note to the Central Committee, proposes to strengthen the leadership of linguistics with “supporters of the New Doctrine of Language, for which purpose to boldly put forward young capable linguists standing on the positions of Marxist-Leninist linguistics” (Druzhinin, 2017, p. 351). It is characteristic of young neophytes to be ignited by mindlessly believing in some new doctrine, and this works best in a group, a sect, formed around a “teacher”. That is why he refers to that “group of comrades”, which, as it were, turned to Stalin, creating a formal occasion for discussion, as originating “from the youth”.

Language, by its origin in general, and sound language in particular, is a “powerful lever of cultural upsurge because it is an indispensable instrument of the class struggle. I affirm with full realization of the responsibility of such a statement, disagreeing radically with many of my comrades, that there is no language that is not class, and consequently there is no thinking that is not class” (Marr, 1934, pp. 90–91). Equally, there is no society that is not class-based: classes are present in Marr’s entire traceable history, beginning with the mythical “sound revolution” (a thesis directly opposed to Marxism I), and Soviet society falls out of this range only in perspective. Marrism itself positioned itself as an exclusively class doctrine, as a “proletarian antithesis” to bourgeois linguistics, and the Marrists took the dogma of the class nature of language seriously. Thus, as the critic of Marrism Viktor Sukhotin wrote, “at the meeting of linguists held in Moscow in February 1950, Nikolai Yakovlev, among the points of the ‛general platform’ of the supporters of Marr’s theory, put forward the demand for unconditional recognition of the class character of language, which, in his opinion, should be obligatory for the followers of the ‛new doctrine of language’” (Sukhotin, 1951, p. 19).

Of course, Marr was not the first to talk about the class nature of language, nor was he the “discoverer” of Marxism in linguistics, but both are associated with his name (and mostly with his) because of the vividness of the thesis and its broadcasters. In Soviet linguistic (not to mention political) thought, there were not only different versions of Marxism in linguistics—for example, Valentin Voloshinov’s concept (Alpatov, 2005)—but also different versions of language classism justified from Marxist positions. Outside the “new doctrine of language”, but around the same time, if not earlier, the principle of language classism was justified by the supporters of the “Yazyko-front” or “Yazykfront” (that is, Language Front) group, in particular, by Georgy Danilov. These concepts had much in common with the emerging Marrism, in which the “Yazyko-frontists” rejected the most ridiculous (but not for Marrists, of course) ideas. Moreover, the “Yazyko-front” group fought against the Marrists, which ended tragically for the “Yazyko-front” members. Before the disintegration of the “Yazyko-front” the expressions “Marxism in linguistics” (or “Marxist linguistics”) and “Marr’s doctrine” were by no means identical. “Marrists”, writes Marina Dostal, “turned out to be organizationally stronger and gradually pushed back and disavowed their rivals, appropriating for themselves the right to be called the only ‛true’ and faithful Marxists in linguistics” (Dostal, 2009, p. 276). As a result, it turned out that Marr, who by no means “discovered America” (this is Valerian Aptekar’s expression) in linguistics at all, was able to present such a version of Marxism in linguistics, which became the only political concept with weight and influence.

The transformation of the “Japhetic theory” into Marxism was not a one-step act, but rather a complex process. The “new doctrine of language” itself was not created by Marr alone. For example, Sergey Kovalev, an admirer of Marr, the historian of antiquity, participated in this process. He wrote an apologetic report Marxism and Japhetic Theory, which he delivered at the Japhetic Institute on January 28, 1928, and which influenced Marrism in many ways. Marr cites Kovalev’s theses in his General Course in the Doctrine of Language (Marr, 1936, pp. 111–119). Thesis 38—Marxism has no special linguistic theory of its own (p. 114)—sounds like a statement of the task of creating such a theory. The thesis was ostensibly an apologetics of Marr’s teaching, but in fact it was a catechism or, rather, a prolegomenon of “Marxism in linguistics” composed for Marr. Indeed, from what is known, it is not easy to imagine that Marr with his, to put it mildly, not too extensive knowledge of Marxism would have begun to study in depth this by no means simple theory and then single-handedly created “Marxism in linguistics”. Thus, in essence, it was a collective creation of a “new doctrine of language” in which many scientists and ideologists participated.

The principle of the class nature of language and the related understanding of language as a superstructural phenomenon (even though even anti-Marrists who rejected the class nature of language often accepted the thesis that language belongs to the superstructure, e.g., Arnold Chikobava) cannot be regarded as something superficial, shallow, just as they once spoke of the class nature of mathematics. Marrism was saying something that did not occupy the attention of the founders of Marxism: if language is a class phenomenon, then with the victory of the proletariat, which, together with the means of production, banks, post office, etc., also seizes language, a world proletarian language must triumph on a world scale and become the dominant language for the period of the world dictatorship of the proletariat until its transformation into the only classless language of the all-human communist society. “Revolutionary anti-imperialist rhetoric, with its image of a proletariat without a fatherland”, remarks Boris Gasparov, “played the role of combustible material thrown into the blazing fire of biblical and evangelical pathos, which from the very beginning characterized both the essence of Marr’s ideas and the manner of their presentation. Marr himself declared his ‛doctrine’ as a linguistic analog of the proletarian revolution with complete unambiguity” (Gasparov, 2021, p. 116). Marr was a kind of proletcultist of linguistics, following in the footsteps of Alexander Bogdanov with his conviction that the proletariat must create its own proletarian science, culture, and language. According to Vladimir Alpatov, “Marr was oriented to the ideas of the 20s, when the world revolution was expected soon, the construction of communism seemed to be a matter of the near future and many seriously hoped to have time to talk to the proletarians of all continents in a world language” (Alpatov, 2010, p. 448). Based on this quite Marxist perspective of the “revolution in language” and painting such pictures, neither Marr nor the Marrists thought about the Russian language.

The principle of class language was followed by the position that there are no national, nationwide languages: “…It is clearly shown that there is no national, nationwide language, but a class language; and the languages of the same class of different countries, while the social structure is identical, reveal more typological affinity with each other than the languages of different classes of the same country, of the same nation” (Marr, 1936, p. 415). Thesis 57 of Sergey Kovalev sounds even stronger: “The Japhetic theory discards the very notion of a national, extra-social, extra-class language as an unscientific notion” (p. 116). Indeed, national language did not and could not fit into the Marrist conception of language. In fact, it was the “conclusion” about the non-existence of national languages, vigorously pursued by the supporters of Marrism, that became the main reason for its defeat.

Thus, Marr’s writings and the works of the Marrists were permeated with the rhetoric of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Language, the proletariat, the dictatorship of the proletariat and the world revolution were linked in Marrism into a single ideological node; the people and nationwide language were rejected; neither the Russian language, nor the Russian and Soviet people occupied any prominent place in the Marrist political-linguistic conception and worldview. The Marrists continued the rhetoric of working-class solidarity of all countries, taking seriously the provisions on the proletariat as the ruling class and on proletarian internationalism, which in official Soviet Marxism had been turned into historical and rhetorical formulas, respectively. The Marrists could not accept (although they probably understood) that the “world proletariat” had long ago not been the center of the Stalinist quasi-Marxist universe, and that since the second half of the 1940s, to assert anything about the world language of the future communist society without assuming that it was the Russian language, the common language of the nationwide state, meant opposing themselves to the Soviet state.

Stalin’s Criticism of the Teachings of Nikolai Marr: Statism vs. Cosmopolitanism

The hierarchy of the principles of “Japhetic Marxism” and Marr’s political outlook can be presented as follows: the proletariat (the state of the dictatorship of the proletariat), the proletarian language as a revolutionary overcoming of the old class language, which is in the stage of revolutionary formation. The trinity of Stalinist political principles funded on the People (the creator and guardian of language) and looks like this: the Soviet People—the Soviet All-National State (Vsenarodnoe Gosudarstvo = State of the Whole People = All People’s State)—the Russian language as the all-national language of the USSR, in the long run—the language of the socialist commonwealth. For Stalin, argues Patrick Seriot, “language knows no division into classes; it is an instrument of communication, an instrument of the subject people” (Seriot, 2009, p. 120); Stalin himself did not doubt “the idea of the existence of the Unified Language of the Unified People” (p. 123).

Stalin rejected the basic principles of Marr’s “theory”: to the questions “Is it true that language is a superstructure over the base?” and “Is it true that language has always been and remains class-based, that there is no common and unified for society non-class, national language?” Stalin gives a negative answer: “Language is not generated by this or that base… but by the entire course of the history of society and the history of bases over the centuries. It was created not by one class, but by the whole society, by all classes of society, by the efforts of hundreds of generations. It was created to satisfy the needs not of one class, but of the whole society, of all classes of society. That is why it was created as a common language for society and common to all members of society” (Stalin, 1953, p. 7).

Stalin followed the statist line he had developed, building in a single order the fundamental principles of state-centrism: a single multinational Soviet state, the unity of the state and the people, the moral and political unity of the Soviet people, a single language of inter-ethnic communication and representation of the USSR on the world stage. Stalin’s exaltation of the Soviet state, the Russian and Soviet people is well known, and it unfolded vividly in the course of the campaign to affirm the principle of Soviet patriotism, which began around the mid-1930s and was particularly developed in the second half of the 1940s. The role of language, specifically the Russian language, in this perspective is enormous. In a bipolar world, Russian was prospectively the language of the socialist bloc, of socialist civilization; the language of the opposing bloc was English (these two languages were zonal in Stalinist terminology).

Five years before the release of Stalin’s works, Viktor Vinogradov wrote in his book, The Great Russian Language: “The creation of a common national language is the most important stage in the history of each nation. Only in such a language does the nation receive the means for the full disclosure of its spiritual forces and capabilities and for a wide participation in the world cultural movement. Only such a language can become the basis of national science and literature. It also contributes to the unification of the forces of the people, to the strengthening of the political power of the nation and the growth of its influence among other states” (Vinogradov, 1945, p. 9). “All peoples of the Soviet Union have a common cause, common tasks. In the new state situation, the Russian language fulfills the responsible mission of an ideological leader” (p. 10). In such a statement about national language, classism of language is unthinkable; it is difficult, perhaps, to write a more anti-Marrist text. Moreover, reading this book, as well as the pamphlet, The Greatness and Power of the Russian Language, published a year earlier, it is hard to imagine that Marr’s teachings even existed at that time. From the 1944 pamphlet: “The power and greatness of the Russian language is an indisputable testimony to the great vitality of the Russian people, its distinctive national culture and its great and glorious historical destiny. The Russian language is the great language of a great people” (Vinogradov, 1944, p. 9). “The Russian language as a language of high culture is an ideal and a model for the languages of all the peoples of the USSR” (p. 24). It is worth specifying that Vinogradov’s position became the basis for the attacks of the Marrists, whose assessments of such ideas were an expression of great-power chauvinism. However, these attacks manifested themselves in attacks on the scientist himself, whereas it was not safe for the Marrists to openly criticize his positions on the great Russian language and people.

For the Marrists with their “proletarian philosophy”, in their world without nations and states, the role of the Russian language appears to be ordinary, not outstanding in any way. Within the framework of Marrism, one cannot speak at all about the superiority (“greatness”) of any particular language: all languages and cultures, regardless of the achievements of a given nation or nationality, are equal. Marr’s obsessive desire to “prove” the almost decisive role of the Chuvash language in the development of the Russian language is well known. This tendency grew practically into a denial of the national identity of Russia and Russian culture. Since at least 1943, this attitude could not but raise questions in connection with the campaign to glorify Russian culture, science, and history. Stalin postulated the very “ideological foundations of the autocracy of the Russian language”, corresponding to the political foundations of the new “Stalinist autocracy”, which Marr tried with persistence to destroy. Taking this into account, it is rather difficult to call Stalin’s approach “Marxism in linguistics”, and here we should agree with Vladimir Alpatov, who argues that “if one analyzes Stalin’s work carefully, one comes to a conclusion that, at first glance, seems paradoxical: Stalin, speaking about the construction of Marxist linguistics, essentially denies it the right to exist” (Alpatov, 2005, p. 216).

With particular force Stalin and, following him, the critics of Marrism rejected the thesis of the need for revolutionary changes in the Russian language in the current era, the “explosion”, the breakdown of the language, which necessarily follows from the principle of its class and the denial of its nationhood. Marr, demanding a linguistic revolution, explicitly asserted that “here we have to speak not of a reform of writing or grammar, but of a change in the norms of language, its translation to new rules of really mass speech. What is needed is not a form, not a reform or a new decoration of the old content, but a new building with a new all-union, world function made of new speech material; the speech revolution, a part of the cultural revolution, one of its most essential parts, it is also the most revealing evidence of the masses creating a new world” (Marr, 1936, pp. 375–376). Abram Deborin wrote: “Revolution in the social and political sphere is usually accompanied by revolutionary changes in the sphere of language and thinking. Since each social class is characterized by a special ideology, a special worldview, these latter naturally require a new language to formalize new concepts and ideas” (Deborin, 1935, p. 62). The scientist resorts to an understandable argument in the spirit of the 1920s: “Of course, each social class formalizes its thinking in an appropriate language… But the fact is that often the old inheritance perverts the new thinking, the thinking of a new social class” (p. 25).

Despite the fact that life gave no clear signs of “explosive” changes, “revolutionary” linguists even in the late 1940s did not give up their dreams of a radical shift in the Russian language. If the capitalist formation was replaced by the socialist one (i.e., the first non-antagonistic formation in human history), there was no doubt that language as part of the superstructure must undergo revolutionary changes. According to Deborin, “in a classless society there are no class languages. We are on the way of creating the first classless language” (Deborin, 1935, p. 63). According to Marr, the future language of communist society, in which “the highest beauty will merge with the highest development of the mind” (Marr, 1934, pp. 111–112), is such a language, before which “no language, even a sound language, still connected with the norms of nature, can resist. Both great and small languages are equally mortal before the thinking of the proletariat, in the struggle to forge a classless society” (p. 121). If we summarize Marr’s reasoning, it turns out that we are talking about the transformation of the very nature of language, from which, logically, it should follow that a new level of language should correspond to a new nature of man; but the scientist did not go that far in his fantasies.

It is known that after Stalin’s speech of 1950. Marr and the Marrists were incriminated with intentions to destroy the Russian language as an obsolete part of the superstructure, replacing it with some kind of proletarian language. We should think about the following: when Marr himself wrote about the abolition of the old grammar, about bringing the language into conformity with the “thinking of the proletarian working masses”, did he realize the destructiveness of such ideas in relation to the people and the state? Apparently not, for all these thoughts were part of his worldview, built on a nihilistic rejection of the Russian autocratic state, which grew into a hatred of “ruling peoples” in general (respectively, of “ruling languages”). This trait was multiplied by the original youthful nihilism, the desire to oppose oneself to the world. Thus, Ivan Meshchaninov wrote about young Marr: “Remaining within the framework of the school that brought him up, he at the same time did not put up with its narrow formalism and was already laying the explosive element that led him to break with the linguistic environment, on the soil of which he grew up for its subsequent decisive refutation” (Meshchaninov, 1936, p. 8).

In his famous work, Japhetic Dawn on the Ukrainian Farmstead, Marr resents the state of affairs when “the scientific thinking of linguists of the dominant school… is still shrouded in the blinders of this or that national world (when it comes to Russian or Ukrainian—the mirage of Slavic ‘brotherhood’ and Slavic ‘primordial language’) as the original basis in the linguistic creation of each of the constituents of this later speech class commonwealth of ‘peoples’” (Marr, 1935, p. 248). Marr paid no special attention to either Russistics or Slavistics, but, as can be seen from the quotation, his attitude to the ideas of Slavic unity, and even more so to the ideas of a primordial language, was extremely negative. Such ideas began to sharply contradict a very important direction of Stalin’s policy of post-war settlement of the world, the realization of which can be rightly traced from 1942, if not earlier. At about the same time, the development of Russian and Slavic studies received a powerful impetus: work on the compilation of dictionaries of Slavic languages, grammars, textbooks, literary histories intensified; Stalin began to talk about “Slavophile-Leninists”, about “new Slavophilism”, which is not identical to the old imperial “great-power pan-Slavism”, about the equality of Slavic peoples, about the union of equal Slavic states.

The trend of strengthening Slavic-centrism, the search for the ideological justification of Slavic unity (including linguistic) is associated with the postwar construction of the political structure of the bloc of countries of people’s democracy (i.e., the consolidation of the Soviet bloc) as a Slavic union under the leadership of the USSR. It should not be overlooked that it is precisely the impetus for the development of Slavic studies—its very revival took place in the pre-war period, when, according to Marina Dostal, “the threat and the outbreak of World War II in 1939, which aroused the mood of general patriotism and considerations of increasing the prestige of science, convinced the Soviet leadership of the need to revive this scientific discipline in the USSR, first of all, in its historical part, which could more fully provide the ideological goals of foreign policy and the priorities of domestic propaganda” (Dostal, 2009, p. 10). Institutionally, this trend was expressed, in particular, in the organization of the Institute of Russian Language of the USSR Academy of Sciences in 1944, in the revival of the Institute of Slavic Studies of the USSR Academy of Sciences in 1947, and a number of other measures aimed at restoring Slavistics, which had been virtually destroyed after the repressions of the 1930s and the “Slavists’ affair”. However, it was difficult to imagine the development of Slavic studies without removing the obstacle in its way in the form of Marrism, within the framework of which Slavic unity was unthinkable.

The Marrists could not help feeling that the ground was getting out from under their feet, so it is quite possible that the series of their attacks after 1948 was caused by these very circumstances. The ideas of Slavic ancestry and the Proto-Slavic language (as well as the idea of Proto-language in general, which they had schismatized) were particularly attacked, and were actively supported by linguists from the countries of the People’s Democracy. The supporters of Marr’s doctrine were forced to restrain their indignation, since these ideas were now developing in line with the policy of Slavic unity.

Conclusion

Summarizing the above, we can say that Marrism became so contrasted with Soviet ideology that the intervention of a higher authority became inevitable. There is a communis opinio doctorum on this subject in modern Russian science. Vladimir Alpatov declares: “Gone were the dreams of world revolution, cosmic fantasies and ideas about great-power chauvinism as the main evil in national issues, ‘nationality’ and ‘originality’ from swear words turned into indispensable epithets of newspaper articles. In these conditions, Marr’s denial of national boundaries and frameworks and the special role of the Russian language, the complete rejection of the old science, the demand to force the creation of a world language could not please Stalin” (Alpatov, 2010, p. 464).

In Lenin’s words, the “nationwide state” is the crux of the issue; it is precisely what the principles of Marrism did not correspond to: the classism of languages and the consequent denial of nationwide languages. But what does this “nationwide state” mean, because the officially declared essence of the Soviet socialist state under Stalin did not cease to be the dictatorship of the proletariat (form: the Republic of Soviets); in any case, the statement that the dictatorship of the proletariat had fulfilled its historical mission and was no longer necessary in the USSR, was voiced only in 1961. Stalin, according to historians, was characterized by clarity of political constructions, at least in the field of state theory and ideology. However, the formula of the Constitution of the USSR “socialist state of workers and peasants” does not say anything specifically about the essence of the state, allowing to treat the dictatorship of the proletariat both as the essence of the state and as a political regime, not preventing also to treat the USSR as an all-people’s state [vsenarodnoe gosudarstvo] (with the possibility of identifying the workers and the people). How is it then that there is no clear, automatic answer concerning the foundations of the organization of the Soviet state of the Stalinist period: the dictatorship of the proletariat or the all-people’s state [vsenarodnoe gosudarstvo]?

It is not difficult to see that the term “nation-state” contrasts sharply with the initial Marxist postulates: the proletariat, world revolution and the world state of the dictatorship of the proletariat (not to mention the divergence from political reality). “People” and “nation-state”—these categories are generally outside Marxism and close to the doctrine of Jean-Jacques Rousseau with his maxims of the peuple souveraine and the volonté générale. Already by the beginning of the 1930s, and in the subsequent years, the slogans of world revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat ceased to satisfy the needs of Soviet ideology and the interests of the Soviet state. Proletarian cosmopolitanism began to interfere with the development of Soviet statism. The approaching war demanded greater consolidation of Soviet society; the needs of internal development, industrialization and economic growth led to the realization of the necessity of increasing foreign economic ties with capitalist countries and establishing normal relations with them. Bourgeois countries could hardly show any desire to trade with the state of the dictatorship of the proletariat, which had as its officially declared goal the stimulation and support of proletarian revolutions around the world and the ideal of the establishment of a world dictatorship of the proletariat. After the revolutionary-proletarian ecstasy of the 1920s was over, it became clear that it was impossible to represent the state as proletarian, i.e., one whose source was the proletariat. Although it was also impossible to eliminate internationalist motives completely, for in that case the universalism of Soviet ideology would have disappeared. In any case, the source of power and the state in the USSR would have to be the people; i.e., the state would have to become all-national, and in this regard Marxism I was transformed under the aegis of Stalin (Nikandrov, 2022). But it was difficult to do this overnight, without preparing social and political thought for such a “creative development”.

The concept of an “all-people’s state” [vsenarodnoe gosudarstvo] first appeared in Soviet political discourse before the publication of the draft Constitution of 1936. It seems that in the new version, instead of the “socialist state of workers and peasants”, it was the “all-people’s state” that was to appear. In the leading article, “To Organize Party Propaganda in a Bolshevik Way”, printed in the May issue of the Bolshevik magazine, we read: “Our country is on the eve of the adoption of a new Constitution of the all-people Soviet state”. In the same issue Andrey Vyshinsky writes: “The Soviet state is an all-people’s state” (Vyshinsky, 1936, p. 22). From the article of Mark Mitin in the magazine Under the Banner of Marxism: “The new Soviet Constitution… will be the first constitution of socialist society in the world: the constitution of a socialist, all-people’s state” (Mitin, 1936, p. 14). It should be added that before the adoption of the constitution there were persistent rumors that the dictatorship of the proletariat would be abolished and instead of it a nationwide state would be proclaimed (Losev, 2002, pp. 355, 570).

Since the dictatorship of the proletariat as a designation of the essence of the socialist state was not “disavowed”, it remained in force up to 1961, while the USSR, after the adoption of the Constitution of 1936, without ceasing to be considered a dictatorship of the proletariat, was increasingly referred to in political literature as a “genuinely people’s state”. The USSR, a socialist state, was paradoxically presented as both a “truly people’s state” and a state of the dictatorship of the proletariat at the same time; for example: “As a state of proletarian dictatorship, the Soviet state is a truly people’s state” (Vyshinsky, 1949, p. 246). This is how the period of “dual power” lasted: the source of power and the state was declared to be the Soviet people, but the proletariat (“the working class of the USSR”) continued until 1961 to fulfill the duties of the dictator—the temporary ruler. The uncertainty of the most important political texts in this respect only aggravated the ambivalence of the situation.

Marr’s ideas about the class nature of language were discarded by Stalin not because of their inconsistency with the principles of linguistics and not even because of their divergence from Marxism (which is not certain), but because of their sharp contrast with the state policy of the Soviet Union, in the area of internal policy aimed at affirming the unity of the Soviet people, and in the area of foreign policy—to unite the socialist commonwealth, to build a socialist bloc (union) in the emerging bipolar world. Based on this, it is easy to understand why Marr’s doctrine did not immediately become the subject of criticism; why it was for a long time considered quite correct Marxism in linguistics: Stalin did not dare, and did not dare within the framework of the state theory to directly declare the people the source of the state and the law (neither in 1936, nor in 1947 was the nation-state proclaimed). The all-national state was asserted by “roundabout” ways: by emphasizing the nationhood of the language, by glorifying the great Russian and Soviet people, by strengthening the rhetoric of the democratism of Soviet society, etc. Soviet Marxism from the early 1930s was filled with concepts that seriously contrasted with Marxism I: “classless socialist society”, “friendly classes”, “all-people’s state”, “truly people’s state”. Not to mention the thesis of building communism in one country while preserving the capitalist environment. If we ignore the Stalinist logic of state-centrism behind all this, there remain many unclear points; and the lack of clarity in state-theoretical questions gave rise to confusion in the whole social and political theory, of which linguistics was also a part.

The aim of the Stalinist discussion on linguistics, on the basis of all this, was to prepare Soviet public opinion, the ideologists and theorists of Soviet Marxism for a new turn in the field of “state Marxism”, for a new stage of its “creative development”: the introduction of the concept of the all-national (all-nation) state, presenting it as a development of Marxist-Leninist theory. Thus, apart from the reasons connected with the inconsistency of Marxism with a number of the most important directions and guidelines of Soviet policy, the “new doctrine of language” was excluded from linguistics and thus from Soviet social and political science also for reasons of a fundamental-theoretical order, i.e., because of its inconsistency with the basic parameters of Stalin’s Marxism II, or “state Marxism”, which had taken shape by the end of the 1940s.

For references, please consult the original:


Alexey V. Nikandrov is at the Moscow State University, named after M.V. Lomonosov.


The Christian Roots of Europe: A Living Past for a Living Future

I.

Introduction

Europe’s Christian identity has been a fundamental component of its history and culture, shaping not only the religious sphere but also politics, morals and way of life. This article sets out to examine the multiple layers of Christian identity in Europe, highlighting its historical roots, influences over time, and how it faces the challenges of an increasingly pluralistic and secular society.

By Way of Prologue…

Two immense interconnected problems haunt us with alarming urgency. The birth rate of this Europe of ours, which is slowly aging and dying without replacement, without a sufficient replacement rate; and the key to immigration, which responds to the fact that there is no one to take on certain jobs in our society.

Much more depends on how both are dealt with than we think. There is an almost threatening perspective of survival of a certain culture, the European one. Of a whole wealth contributed to the human family that is in danger of being truncated, of no longer growing, of no longer being able to give itself to humanity. History has already shown us similar falls. Some major, others minor. But falls of civilizational models for analogous reasons. In other ways, certainly, but analogous. But even more, it is a threat more than only to Europe, because it intends a global domination that destroys also other cultures, nations and peoples in their true being, to make them stateless without soul, nor roots. Slaves, just like the Europeans, of the power of money that pursues a dehumanized global social model.

Crossing through the middle of the construction of the Puerta del Sol in Madrid, but it would fit the image for any European city, with workers of many different nationalities but hardly Spaniards working, and with the news that there is a lack of waiters and restaurant cooks by the thousands throughout Spain, but also with the caregivers of the elderly that any morning are seen pushing wheelchairs of the elderly in the sun in our streets, it is evident that migrants come to do the work that the nationals do not want to do.

And why don’t they want to do it? One line of answers has to do with working conditions: low pay, much effort. Employers—and individuals—are unable to offer better conditions: some because they cannot, others because it is not convenient for them. This expels nationals and makes immigrants also victims, precariousness fodder, almost slavery; and hand in hand with it, fodder of delinquency and generators of insecurity.

Another line of analysis is linked to a very Western zeitgeist that has to do with comfort, consumerism, hedonism, inflated horizons and university goals, lofty aspirations and the loss of the value of effort, sacrifice, the value of work, humility, realism, or the elimination of everything that is not enjoyable in the fast time of the here and now, even at the cost of giving the power of your life to the machines of AI. There is here a mixture between seeing life as leisure and intuiting a certain renunciation of hope in progress, which says that no matter how much you do, you will not be able to improve. Between the crude conformism and the illusory aspiration based on a simplistic egalitarianism that clashes with the reality of the world, vital inaction, the enemy of realism, is achieved. The digital and virtual world of immediacy, satisfaction and quick self-happiness, of meta-vertical fantasies of perfect lives of luxury and leisure, of Instagramers of brands and lies, of needs created as ways to fill much deeper deficiencies, also contributes to this.

And politics is incapable of dealing with it, entangled in its own social engineering, in its own ideological biases, in its servitude to international agendas, in its particular plans to hold power and benefits, in its privileges of separate strata, in its petty quarrels, in its lack of greatness and aspiration, in its clientelism of interest. And so much so, that one cannot help but think that maybe the supporters of the conspiracy are right. It seems that what is happening is happening on purpose. That they deliberately lead us here to that “you will have nothing, you will owe everything to the state and the corporations, you will not be who you were, and you will only serve the money power as a producer-consumer, without roots or identity or aspirations… and we will make you believe that this way you are happy.” A paranoid and dehumanizing mix between communism and liberalism that leads to terrible dystopias.

But there is hope. There is always hope. Not only because of the resistance to the imposition of this demonic model of man and society that is happening here and now in so many places in our world and in so many different ways. From concrete political movements to cultural battles, to alternative lives that generate different communities, or those dedicated to beauty, true knowledge and the spirit. But also because—and this is what the resistance has to support in its strategies, actions and planning—the human being is not a machine that can be programmed just like that, not until biotechnological transhumanism is imposed.

There are innate cues that will sooner or later—and that later is the dangerous one—make it explode. There are primary human instincts—physical and spiritual—radically incompatible with that dictatorial anti-human dystopia. And that will ensure that evil will never triumph definitively. What is frightening is that until these primordial human forces are set in motion, perhaps the human being suffering too much, allows himself to be dominated too much, is manipulated excessively, is dehumanized as a way for the power of money to achieve its omnipotent domination. The process of technological and economic development in the West has accelerated these dynamics, something that other peoples have not yet experienced because of their level of development—yet. But memory, the achievements of history, tell us that these forces are also real in Europeans. It is a question of setting them in motion, awakening them, activating them.

And that happens by resisting this zeitgeist that dominates us, and by continuing to row in the opposite direction in our own personal and communal selves. They can win, but it will not always be like that. Man will awaken again.

How to rearm him?

Where can we find the personal and social energy to take up again the paths of life and not continue walking along paths of cultural, vital and human suicide?

There is no need to look for these energies far away from us.

In our own European cultural history, in what configured European culture as such, there is an immense vein of energy that from the modernity born with the French Revolution in origin, to the current rampant aggressive and anti-Christian secularization—granddaughter of each other—has been progressively abandoned, like one who moves away from himself and from what nourishes and feeds him, to the point of being estranged from himself and exhausted. Europe has been leaving behind that vital force of its very own, inexhaustible by its very definition to be capable of giving life, which has been Christianity as a unifier of what has been received and a generator of identity and life, to the point of almost ceasing to be, to the point of almost becoming deformed in its own face by the distancing of Europe’s own Christian roots.

And I say almost, although perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that if not deformed, then caricatured. Some factions are still recognizable, some identifying elements of the European Christian identity, manage to continue to appear and be present; the roots are strong and they are not reached by the ice and frost that seems to dominate the surface; and it is precisely this strength and this true rootedness in the European soil after almost two millennia, after having been shaped by Christianity, that can be returned to them, that are capable, like an old oak apparently dry, that allow the best of one’s own identity to sprout.

Europe’s Christian Roots: A Deep Cultural Heritage

Europe, the cradle of ancient civilizations, has been shaped over the centuries by diverse influences. None, however, has left as deep an imprint as Christianity. Europe’s Christian roots go back to Antiquity, when this religion took root and became the cultural foundation of the region.

Christianity arrived in Europe in the first centuries of our era, spreading from the Middle East to the West. The central figure of Jesus Christ and His teachings resonated among European populations, and the Christian faith became a unifying element amidst the continent’s cultural diversity.

Over time, Christianity merged with previous Greco-Latin social and political structures as well as those that came to Europe with the barbarian invasions, shaping the Middle Ages and defining the concept of Christendom. The Catholic Church played a crucial role in everyday life, influencing morals, education and politics. Monasteries and cathedrals stood as centers of learning and faith, preserving the cultural and literary heritage of classical antiquity.

The Crusades, which took place between the 11th and 13th centuries, were a testament to the power of the Christian faith in European life. Although driven by diverse motives, the Crusades reflected Europe’s fervent commitment to the defense of Christianity and the expansion of its principles.

The Renaissance, a period of cultural renewal in the 14th-17th centuries, was also steeped in the Christian heritage. Although marked by a revival of interest in classical antiquity, many of the great Renaissance artists and thinkers found inspiration in biblical narratives and Christian theology. The Baroque reached a cultural and artistic dimension never equaled in any other geographic area linked to culture.

The 19th and 20th centuries, children of the liberal revolutions, brought about a series of social and cultural changes of such magnitude that they began to deform the Christian face of Europe until the rampant secularization of modern times; but in spite of this, Christian roots continued to be an essential part of European identity. Christian ethics have influenced the formulation of laws, moral norms and fundamental values that have endured over the centuries and are still a central part of who we Europeans are, and indeed who we can be.

II.

Historical Roots

The adoption of Christianity as the official religion in the Roman Empire marked the beginning of Europe’s Christian identity. From the teachings of the Church Fathers to the consolidation of medieval Christianity, the historical roots laid the foundations for the understanding of the faith on the continent.

Greek Philosophy and the Construction of Christian Identity in Europe

The connection between Greek philosophy and Christian identity in Europe has been a complex journey that has evolved over the centuries. This link began in Antiquity, merging the teachings of philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle with emerging Jewish and Christian traditions. The Church Fathers, such as Augustine of Hippo, integrated philosophical concepts into Christian theology, marking a crucial convergence. The Greek and Latin Fathers built their early theological thought from the understanding that Greek philosophy was the most adequate tool to shape the use of reason in the understanding of theological science. The conviction that the reason of the human being is an immense attribute meant to unite the message of the human dignity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the same anthropological gifts in one of the first contributions to the European being: the intrinsic value of the human being created in the image and likeness of God, Who gave him the tools, while perfecting himself with the revelation, to reach a good life. Hence the immense contribution that Stoicism, already in the Roman imperial phase, made to the creation of Christian morality.

During the Middle Ages, the Aristotelian Renaissance influenced scholastic theology, led by figures such as St. Albert the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas, both Dominicans. Aquinas sought to reconcile reason and faith, highlighting the compatibility between Aristotelian philosophy and Christian theology in his monumental work “Summa Theologica”, and the value of philosophy as an instrument of dialogue in his “Summa contra gentiles”.

The Renaissance consolidated the interconnection, with Christian humanists embracing the fusion of classical scholarship and Christian faith, with the paradoxical example of Erasmus of Rotterdam. The emphasis on classical education and ethical values of Greek antiquity marked this phase in a movement that led to the development of an entire Christian philosophy and ethics during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries of which the School of Salamanca, addressing the problems and issues of its historical context, was the humanistic apex.

The Enlightenment introduced challenges, but the influence of Greek philosophy persisted. Greek values, such as freedom, were mixed with the Christian heritage, generating secularized conceptions of morality and politics, incomprehensible without the aforementioned contribution of human dignity of Gospel root.

In conclusion, the relationship between Greek philosophy and Christian identity has been dynamic and enriching. From Antiquity to the Modern Age, this connection forged the intellectual and cultural tradition of Europe, demonstrating the capacity of ideas to shape and seek the true face of the identity of a civilization such as the European one.

Enduring Influence of Roman Law on Europe’s Christian Identity

The connection between Roman Law and Christian identity in Europe has been a journey through the centuries, marked by a profound and lasting influence. From the earliest days of Christianity, when both realities coexisted in the context of the Roman Empire, to the present day, the heritage of the Roman legal system has shaped the institutions, morals and social structure of Christian Europe.

In the first centuries of the Christian era, the Roman legal framework provided the necessary structure for the propagation and organization of Christianity. The notion of Roman citizenship merged with Christian teachings, creating a unique synthesis that influenced equality and social responsibility. Legal and political structures, from the very understanding of the family to the structures of municipalities and dioceses, involved a fruitful interrelationship that shaped the face of Europe.

The Church, during this period, adopted administrative structures of the Roman system, reflecting imperial divisions. The legal and moral authority of the Pope, based on the imperial tradition, took root in the Christian conscience.

The preservation of Roman law in ecclesiastical institutions and the creation of legal codes, such as the Code of Justinian, contributed to the continuity of the Roman legal tradition. These codes served as the basis for civil and canonical legislation, reflecting the synthesis of secular and Christian moral laws.

The recovery of classical knowledge revitalized the influence of Roman law in the Middle Ages. Medieval scholars applied Roman legal teachings in legal education and practice, further consolidating the links between the two disciplines.

The connection between Roman law and Christian identity was reflected in the formulation of fundamental legal concepts. The idea of natural rights and the conception of law as a reflection of divine reason resonated with Christian principles.

As Europe moved into the Modern Age, the influence of Roman law persisted in the legal and political structure of Christian nations. Law as an instrument for the pursuit of the common good and social justice and the protection of individual as well as community rights remained central, rooted in the fusion of Roman tradition and Christian ethics.

In short, the connection between Roman law and Europe’s Christian identity has been a complex and enduring phenomenon. The Roman legal heritage has permeated institutions, morals and the very conception of law in Christian Europe, shaping its collective identity in a way that transcends time and continues to influence the understanding of justice and morality in contemporary European society.

The Influence of the Barbarian Invasions

The barbarian invasions that shook Europe during the last years of the Roman Empire and the early Middle Ages not only left a trail of destruction and political change, but also played a crucial role in the formation of the continent’s common Christian identity. These invasions, carried out by Germanic, Slavic, Norse and other tribes, had a profound impact on the cultural and religious configuration of Europe.

In the decline of the Roman Empire, various barbarian tribes broke through the frontiers, bringing with them their own religious beliefs and practices. As they settled in the conquered lands, they came into contact with the Roman population, which was already marked by the identity of Christianity. This cultural and religious encounter was a complex process that contributed to the creation of a shared Christian identity.

Despite initial tensions between the barbarian communities and the Roman Christians, an integration of these cultures gradually took place. The Church, with its hierarchical structure and its role as a social unifier, played a crucial role in this process. The barbarian leaders, by adopting Christianity, saw in it a tool to consolidate their authority and legitimize their rule in the eyes of the Romanized population.

The barbarian invasions also led to the emergence of new Christian kingdoms in Europe. The Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Vandals, Lombards, Franks, Angles and other groups adopted Christianity, and this act of conversion became a unifying factor in their territories. The figure of the Christian king, invested with a divine mandate, helped to consolidate the identity of these kingdoms and to forge a stronger connection between Christian faith and secular authority.

One of the most significant events was the conversion of the Franks under the reign of Clovis I in the 5th century. In Spain, the figure of Reccared in the kingdom of Toledo was another. This conversion to Christianity, and in particular to Catholicism, not only united the Hispanic Franks and Visigoths under a common religious identity, but also established ties with the Church in Rome. This link with the Papal See strengthened the connection between the Christian regions of Western Europe.

As the Middle Ages progressed, the common Christian identity was further consolidated. The Muslim invasions in the Iberian Peninsula were a reaction that strengthened, in the process of the seven centuries of reconquest, that European Christian identity, shaping a way of being in the cultural and social world totally impregnated with the Christian fact. The Crusades, launched to defend Christianity and recover the Holy Land, were an example of the union of European kingdoms under the banner of Christianity. The Church played an important role in the organization and promotion of these expeditions, contributing to the creation of a European Christian identity that transcended political boundaries.

In conclusion, the barbarian invasions, although initially chaotic and destructive, were a fundamental catalyst in the construction of Europe’s common Christian identity. Through cultural interaction, conversions and the establishment of Christian kingdoms, these invasions contributed to the formation of a shared narrative that endures to this day, shaping the history, culture and identity of Europe.

The Role of the Middle Ages in the Construction of Europe’s Christian Identity

The Middle Ages, also known as the medieval period, played an essential role in the formation and consolidation of Christian identity in Europe. This period, which spanned from approximately the 5th to the 15th century, witnessed a complex interplay between Christian faith, ecclesiastical institutions and socio-economic transformations, contributing significantly to the construction of Europe’s collective identity.

From the collapse of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance, the Catholic Church emerged as a central force in European life during the Middle Ages. Medieval Christianity not only influenced the spiritual sphere, but also shaped politics, culture and education. The Church provided an organizational structure in a world undergoing dramatic changes, thus consolidating the Christian faith as an integral component of European identity. The bishops as social heads and the pope as head of Christendom came to fill the vacuum produced by the power crisis generated by the fall of the Roman Empire, giving in turn accompaniment and light to a new world where cross and sword were in full union.

One of the most prominent aspects of the Middle Ages was the feudal system, which structured society around relationships of vassalage and mutual obligations. The Church played a crucial role in legitimizing this social structure, linking feudal hierarchies with Christian principles of care, hierarchy and the pursuit of the common good. Religious authority supported the idea that monarchs and feudal lords ruled with a divine mandate to care for their subjects, contributing to social cohesion under the banner of Christianity. And this in spite of all the deficiencies that can be argued, because the same human condition, fruit of its anthropological twisted shaft—Kant dixit—that in believers bears the name of original sin, obviously carries. But in spite of such deficiencies, the social orientation models, fruit of Christianity, are the ones that build identity. We are not only who we are, but who we would like to be, as an engine that orients us and pushes us towards a personal and cultural development that marks our identity.

Gothic architecture, with its majestic cathedrals and abbeys, also stands as a tangible testimony to the influence of the Christian faith on medieval European identity and as an image of that desire to ascend, metaphysically, spiritually and ideally, man and society. These monuments were not only places of worship, but also symbols of the greatness of God and the central role of the Church in the life of the community, as well as signs of where society wanted to go—always upwards. Gothic architecture not only elevated the buildings, but also the spirituality of medieval Christianity.

The rise of monastic orders, such as the Benedictines and Cistercians, highlighted the importance of monastic life in the construction of European Christian identity. These monasteries became centers of learning, preservation of classical knowledge and religious practice. Monks and nuns played an essential role in education and in the transmission of the faith, thus contributing to the spiritual cohesion of Europe. Monks guarded the idea of Europe and shaped it with their lives.

The Crusades, military expeditions undertaken in the name of Christianity to reclaim the Holy Land, also left an indelible mark on European identity. Although motivated by a variety of factors, the Crusades reflected Europe’s fervent commitment to the defense of Christianity and the expansion of its principles in a context of interaction with the Islamic and Eastern world.

As the Middle Ages progressed, intellectual movements emerged that fused classical philosophy with Christian theology. Scholasticism, represented by figures such as St. Thomas Aquinas, sought to harmonize reason and faith, thus contributing to a deeper and more articulate understanding of Christian identity. The theological and philosophical debates of this period left a lasting mark on the European worldview.

In conclusion, the Middle Ages played a crucial role in the construction of Europe’s Christian identity. Through the Church, monastic institutions, monumental architecture and intellectual movements, this period left a lasting legacy that influenced the way Europeans understood their faith and their place in the world. The Middle Ages were not a time of darkness, but a time of ferment and development that helped forge the Christian identity that remains an integral part of Europe’s heritage.

The Renaissance and its Contribution to the Construction of European Christian Identity

The Renaissance, a period of cultural and artistic renewal that flourished in Europe from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century, left a profound mark on the construction of the continent’s Christian identity. Although often associated with a revival of interest in classical Greco-Latin culture, the Renaissance also played a crucial role in the evolution and affirmation of Christian identity.

During this period, humanist currents rediscovered and revalued the works of classical antiquity, including the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle. However, this revival of classical thought did not come at the expense of Christian identity; rather, it merged in a unique way with the Christian tradition, giving rise to a distinctive cultural synthesis.

Renaissance humanists advocated an education that incorporated both Christian principles and the ethical and aesthetic values of antiquity. This holistic approach allowed for a deeper appreciation of the Christian faith by placing it in a broader context of knowledge. Figures such as Erasmus of Rotterdam, Luis Vives or Francisco de Vitoria, promoted the idea that classical scholarship and Christian faith were not incompatible, but, on the contrary, complemented each other.

Renaissance architecture also reflected the interconnection between Christian identity and classical ideals. Churches and cathedrals, while often incorporating classical architectural elements, retained their function as places of Christian worship. The grandeur and elegance of these structures not only highlighted the glory of God, but also symbolized the spiritual rebirth of Christianity.

Renaissance art, characterized by a more realistic and humanized representation of the human figure, also influenced the visual expression of Christian identity. Religious paintings and sculptures captured devotion and spirituality with renewed intensity, providing the faithful with a more intimate connection to their faith.

In addition, the Renaissance brought about a revival of biblical and theological studies. Figures such as Thomas Aquinas, despite belonging to an earlier era, experienced renewed interest and study. The fusion of Aristotelian philosophy with Christian theology, known as scholasticism, found an intellectual renaissance during this period, allowing for a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the faith.

In short, the Renaissance contributed significantly to the construction of European Christian identity by integrating classical values with the Christian tradition. This cultural synthesis not only enriched knowledge and artistic expression, but also provided a solid basis for understanding the faith in a broader context. The Renaissance did not mark a separation between the classical and the Christian, but instead fostered a harmonious coexistence that influenced European identity for centuries.

The Construction of European Christian Identity in the Baroque: An Artistic and Spiritual Splendor

The Baroque period, which spanned roughly from the seventeenth century to the mid-eighteenth century, was a time of cultural and spiritual transformation in Europe. This period not only witnessed political and social changes, but also played a fundamental role in the construction and consolidation of Christian identity on the continent.

The Baroque emerged at a time of tensions and conflicts, such as the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation. These movements had a profound impact on European religiosity and contributed to the shaping of Christian identity during this period. The Catholic Church, in particular, sought to revitalize its spiritual influence in response to the challenges posed by the Reformation. The threat of Islam through the Turkish danger was of course also the driving force, in Carl Schmitt’s inspiration, of an enemy against which to reaffirm and strengthen the common identity, as Lepanto or Vienna showed.

Baroque architecture, with its opulence and theatricality, became a crucial means of expressing Christian identity. Baroque churches, with their ornate detailing, use of the play of light and shadow, and the monumentality of their designs, sought to inspire a sense of awe and devotion. St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, is an outstanding example of this Baroque architecture that sought to elevate the soul to the divine, but all of Europe, from Lisbon to Prague, from Seville to Vienna, shows it.

Baroque painting and sculpture also played an essential role in the construction of Christian identity. Masterpieces by artists such as Caravaggio, Zurbarán, Rubens and Velázquez depicted biblical scenes and portraits of saints with an emotional intensity and realism that sought to directly involve viewers in the religious narrative. Baroque sculpture, with its dramatic and dynamic imagery, provided a palpable representation of Christian spirituality.

Baroque music, especially sacred music, played a central role in expressing Christian identity. Composers such as Bach, Handel and Monteverdi created masterpieces that celebrated the faith and were performed in liturgical settings. Opera, although often secular in theme, also incorporated religious and moral elements, contributing to the cultural richness of Christian identity.

Baroque literature addressed religious themes with philosophical and spiritual depth. The works of mystics such as St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross explored the intimate relationship with the divine; the dramas of a Calderón de la Barca or a Lope de Vega brought that identity to the common people, while theological treatises provided—Friar Luis de Granada, a true bestseller of his time—an intellectual basis for understanding the faith. Baroque poetry, often rich in symbolism and biblical allusions, also contributed to the construction of Christian identity.

The Baroque was deeply marked in a Catholic key by the Counter-Reformation, an effort by the Catholic Church to revitalize and reaffirm its doctrine in response to the criticisms of the Protestant Reformation. Baroque popes, such as Innocent X and Alexander VII, played an important role in promoting the Catholic faith and building a unified Christian identity.

The Nineteenth Century and the Transformation of Christian Identity in Europe: Challenges, Renewal and Spiritual Evolution

The 19th century was a time of profound changes in Europe, both socially and culturally, changes that were the children of the civilizational debacle that was the French Revolution. These changes had a significant impact on the Christian identity of the continent, generating challenges, but also giving rise to new forms of spiritual expression and renewal.

The 19th century witnessed a series of social changes that challenged the historical position of the Church in European society. The rise of nationalist movements, accelerated industrialization, and the ideals of the Enlightenment influenced the perception of religious authority. Secularization gained ground, leading to a decline in the direct influence of the Church in the public sphere.

Despite the challenges, the 19th century was also a time of reform movements within the Church. In the Catholic Church, the Catholic Restoration movement sought to revitalize and strengthen the Church’s position in the face of social change. This impulse of spiritual renewal spread through various religious orders and lay movements, marking an effort to adapt to the demands of the time, especially in the field of education, with the birth of a multitude of religious congregations, mostly female, which came to address the new situations that the nascent liberal states were unable to meet.

Spiritual renewal in the 19th century was expressed in movements such as the Oxford Movement in the Anglican Church and the revival of Catholicism in several European countries. These movements sought to revive religious devotion, deepen theological understanding and restore liturgical elements considered essential to Christian identity, as well as theology and scholarship.

In parallel, religious awakening movements developed, such as the Second Great Awakening in America and its echoes in Europe. These movements emphasized the personal experience of faith, conversion and active participation in the religious community. New denominations and Christian communities emerged that advocated a spirituality more centered on individual experience.

The 19th century was also a time of missionary expansion, with a renewed emphasis on evangelization at the time of African and Asian colonialism in non-Christian regions of the world. This cultural and religious encounter raised questions about the diversity of beliefs and traditions, contributing to a deeper reflection on Christian identity in a global context.

The 19th century also witnessed the emergence of theological and philosophical developments that influenced the understanding of faith. Philosophers such as Søren Kierkegaard explored the relationship between faith and reason, while theologians such as Friedrich Schleiermacher argued for a more focused interpretation of religious experience. Even from critical paths with a bourgeois model that was being imposed and that also affected the common believers, such as Leon Bloy, with his verbal scourge and religious depth, or Dostoevsky with his existential novels of deep spirituality.

Slavery, industrialization and social inequalities posed ethical challenges that Christian identity had to confront. Social justice movements inspired by Christian principles emerged to address these issues, making connections between faith and social action. And at the same time to confront the materialist movements of the three revolutions, Marx, Nietzsche and Freud, which were giving birth to a new world increasingly removed from the faith and Christian principles that had shaped Europe for more than a millennium and a half.

In short, the nineteenth century was a period of complexity and change for Christian identity in Europe. Although it faced significant challenges because of secularization and social change, it was also a time of spiritual renewal, reform and theological reflection that laid the foundation for the diversity and evolution of Christian identity in the twentieth century and beyond.

The Twentieth Century to the Second World War: Challenges and Resilience in Europe’s Christian Identity

The 20th century witnessed a series of events that profoundly impacted Europe’s Christian identity. From geopolitical tensions to social and cultural changes, this period posed significant challenges, but also evidenced the resilience and persistence of the Christian faith in the midst of adversity.

It began with global conflicts and political tensions that had a direct impact on Europe’s Christian identity. The First World War truly marked the beginning of the century and left European society marked by devastation and loss, yet open to such technological change, as Ernst Jünger saw so well, that it would mark the following century.

The totalitarian regimes that emerged in the 1930s presented additional challenges to religious practice, as several European countries under absolute state regimes, such as Soviet communism or Nazism in Germany, sought to control and manipulate religious expression. Religious persecution affected Christian communities, evidencing the struggle of faith in the face of totalitarian ideologies that sought to suppress any allegiance other than to the state.

Despite the political challenges, the 20th century also witnessed significant efforts in favor of interreligious dialogue and ecumenism. Movements such as the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) in the Catholic Church and the Edinburgh Conference (1910) in Protestantism sought to promote unity and understanding among the various branches of Christianity, as well as with other religions.

The 20th century witnessed important theological developments that influenced Christian identity. Figures such as Chenu, Congar, Schillebeeckx, Karl Barth or Dietrich Bonhoeffer responded to the challenges of the time, reflecting on the relationship between Christian faith and social responsibility in a context marked by war and injustice.

During World War II, the Church played a key role in the resistance against totalitarian regimes. In some cases, such as the resistance of the Catholic Church in Poland, it became a beacon of hope and resistance against oppression. After the war, the Church also participated in reconstruction efforts, seeking to restore not only physical structures, but also communities and faith, and as a reminder, especially under the countries of communist terror, of authentic European Christian identity.

The second half of the 20th century was marked by the crisis of modernity, where the Christian faith faced challenges related to secularization, loss of institutional authority and growing cultural diversity. However, spiritual renewal movements also emerged that sought to revitalize religious practice in a changing context.

Despite the difficulties, the 20th century saw the development of numerous charitable and social organizations based on Christian principles. From local charities to international organizations, the Church and individual Christians played an active role in addressing social and humanitarian problems, demonstrating a continuing commitment to the Christian principles of love and justice, which best represent the face of European identity.

In summary, the 20th century up to World War II was a complex and challenging period for Europe’s Christian identity. Despite conflicts and tensions, the resilience of the Christian faith was manifested in interreligious dialogue, ecumenical efforts, the Church’s active role in resistance and reconstruction, and the continuing ethical and social influence of Christianity in European society.

The Second Half of the Twentieth Century: Transformations and Continuities in Europe’s Christian Identity

The second half of the 20th century was a period of radical changes that continued to influence Christian identity in Europe. From the impact of the Cold War to the emergence of social and cultural movements, the Christian faith faced new challenges and adapted to a constantly changing world.

The Cold War divided Europe into opposing ideological blocs, and religion was often caught in the middle of this conflict. In Eastern Europe, communism imposed significant restrictions on religious practice, especially in countries such as the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe controlled by the communist bloc.

The second half of the 20th century witnessed counterculture movements and significant social changes that affected the perception of religion in society. The Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, the rise of individualism and the emergence of new ethical paradigms posed challenges to traditional structures, including Christian identity.

In the Catholic Church, the Second Vatican Council, held between 1962 and 1965, marked a crucial moment of renewal. The council sought to adapt the Church to contemporary challenges by promoting openness to interreligious and ecumenical dialogue. These efforts influenced the understanding of Christian identity in a context of growing religious pluralism.

The second half of the 20th century also witnessed the emergence of charismatic movements within Christianity, especially in the Catholic Church and Protestant denominations. These movements, characterized by intense spiritual experiences and an emphasis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, sought to revitalize the faith and attract a new generation of believers.

A special emphasis on Social Justice and Human Rights characterized this period, which saw a rise in the Catholic Church especially, but also the Reformed Churches, in social justice and human rights. Religious leaders from John XXIII to John Paul II advocated for the defense of human rights and solidarity with the oppressed, contributing to the construction of a Christian identity committed to justice and human dignity.

Technological advances, changes in family structure and ethical debates on issues such as abortion, contraception and sexuality posed significant ethical challenges to Christian identity in the second half of the 20th century. The Church was forced to address these issues from an ethical and theological perspective, influencing the understanding of faith in the modern context. Although perhaps not always knowing how to respond fully.

Despite efforts at renewal, the second half of the 20th century also witnessed a decline in religious practice in some regions of Europe. Secularism and the influence of secular culture contributed to a decline in affiliation with religious institutions and a change in the dynamics of Christian identity. Consumer, technological, secular, secularist, materialistic models—both liberal and communist—have been gaining the upper hand in the neglect of Europe’s true Christian identity.

In short, the second half of the 20th century was a complex and dynamic period for Europe’s Christian identity. The Church faced significant challenges, but also responded to them through efforts of renewal, dialogue and adaptation to changing social and cultural dynamics. Christian identity, although affected by the transformations of the times, proved to be resilient and able to try to adapt to the challenges of a changing world.

Christian Identity in the Construction of the European Union: Between Religious Diversity and Shared Values

The European Union (EU) has been a project that has sought unity and cooperation among nations with rich cultural, historical and religious diversity. In this context, Christian identity has played a complex role as the EU has evolved in an environment characterized by religious plurality and commitment to shared values.

European history is deeply rooted in the Christian tradition. The influence of Christianity has been evident in the formation of institutions, laws and values that have shaped European civilization. From the Holy Roman Empire to the contribution of Christian thinkers to philosophy and ethics, Christian identity has left an indelible mark on the building of Europe.

The fathers of the European Union, Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer, Alcide De Gasperi and Paul-Henri Spaak, were clear about this, even beyond their own personal convictions. Europe would not be Europe without the recognition and care of its Christian identity.

Christian ethics have contributed to the formulation of fundamental principles underpinning the EU. Human dignity, social justice and solidarity; Christian values rooted in biblical teaching, have been adopted as guiding principles in building a united and peaceful Europe.

Certainly, as the EU has grown and expanded, religious diversity has become more evident. Interfaith dialogue has become an essential component in promoting mutual understanding between different faith communities. Despite its Christian roots, the EU recognizes and respects religious plurality as an integral part of its contemporary identity. But one certainly cannot engage in dialogue by renouncing who one is.

Throughout the negotiations for the formation of the EU, there has been an attempt, perhaps excessively so, to balance Christian roots with a secular approach to decision-making. The European institutions have adopted a secular approach, ensuring separation between religion and government to guarantee equality and religious freedom for all citizens, in a move beyond pendulum swinging, almost renouncing them.

Christian movements, such as the Taizé Community, have played an active role in promoting European unity and building bridges between communities. Their commitment to Christian values of reconciliation and fraternity has resonated with the vision of a united and peaceful Europe. But, and here is one of the main lessons that we should not lose, without renouncing our own identity.

In the 21st century, the EU is facing challenges related to religious diversity, the rise of secularism and the growing pressure of political movements that seek to highlight national identities or marginal and minority identities. Reflection on Christian identity in this context involves finding a balance that celebrates the Christian heritage while committing to an inclusive and respectful approach towards all faiths and non-beliefs, but without giving up what has made Europe who it is.

In conclusion, Christian identity has left a profound mark on the construction of the European Union, influencing its fundamental ethical values and contributing to the vision of a united Europe. However, the EU has also evolved to embrace religious diversity and ensure that its principles reflect respect and equality for all citizens, regardless of their beliefs. Christian history and identity remain significant elements in the evolving cultural and ethical fabric of the European Union.


Vicente Niño Orti, OP is a Dominican friar. He studied the Law and Theology and is the Area Director of the Saint Dominic Educational Foundation.


Featured: St. Helena and the True Cross, by Giovanni Battista Cima da Conegliano; painted ca. 1495.


The Bible and Don Quixote

“God, source of inspiration of Don Quixote; the Bible, model of organizational structure of Don Quixote; and Catalina de Salazar y Palacios, love of the famous Manco and his source of human inspiration, are part of Don Quixote de la Mancha, by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.”

The Bible, translated into 450 languages in full and more than 2000 in part, written by men and inspired by the majestic and mighty Lord God, is part of Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605 & 1615), which has been translated 1140 times into some 190 languages and dialects. It was written by the brilliant Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616), hero of the Battle of Lepanto (1571), exemplary slave in Algiers (1575-1580), and perpetual reader of the true riches of the Old and New Testaments, for whom Jesus Christ was “God and true man” (Don Quixote, II-XXVII), and for whom the wish about the Bible came true: “It is clear to me that there should be no nation or language where it is not translated” (Quixote, II-II).

Don Quixote contains 181,104 words, of which 22,939 are unique; and the infinite wisdom of the Word of God left traces in the soul of Miguel, who loved God and the Bible, guide of his life, for he evoked the Bible three times in the “Prologue” of the first part of Don Quixote, “the Divine Scripture,” and he made authentic display of his vast biblical knowledge throughout his works; he alluded to thirty biblical characters, dealt with 300 references to the Bible, and included countless allusions and reminiscences of the Holy Scripture.

The Bible, the Book of books, whose principal inspiration is God, and Don Quixote, a human jewel of incalculable magnitude; both books of varied readings—on the absolute truth and undeniable existence of God, the superlative role of God in human thought and life, the direct and indirect communication between God and man, and the transcendence of divine life in the human heart—both books love Humanity and speak to our hearts.

However, it is not my goal to compare the Bible and Don Quixote because man can never equal God, for the Bible is incomparable and unsurpassable, and God clearly proclaims it this way: “I am the first and the last, besides me, there is no God, who is like me? Let him arise and speak. Let him proclaim it and argue against me” (Isaiah, 44: 7).

Even Miguel criticizes the comparison between the human and the divine as follows: “nor has he any reason to preach to anyone, mixing the human with the divine, which is a kind of mixture of which no Christian understanding is to be clothed. He only has to take advantage of imitation in what he writes, and the more perfect it is, the better will be what he writes: (Q, I, “Prologue”).

I still want to make special emphasis, inter alia, that the precious treasure of the Bible and the precious treasure of Don Quixote, both works of inestimable value for Humanity, are concerned with ethics, morality and religion in the behavior of the human being, that is why the phrase: where is your treasure there is your heart, comes here like a ring to the finger.

Cervantes’ thoughts and words, in all his works, are influenced by God through the Holy Spirit, despite the fact that some “academics of excellence” completely reject his knowledge of the Bible, but continue to ask without hitting the mark: how to approach Don Quixote? What to do and where to start? What are the tips for reading Don Quixote? What is the challenge of reading it? Why is it so difficult to understand it? And how to read Don Quixote?

The answer is very simple, but it is essential to leave aside all myths, fantasies, and hypocrisies; that is, before approaching Don Quixote, the works of Cervantes, and those of the geniuses of Spanish Golden Age literature, one must first and unavoidably read the Bible, and then acquire a solid knowledge of the origin of Spanish literature up to the dissemination of the masterpiece of world literature, Don Quixote (1605 & 1615).

This is the only infallible way or the only golden key to easily read and understand Cervantes, Don Quixote, and the best literature in the world, which is Spanish literature—exemplary, majestic and superior to all, in essence, is that of the Golden Age—headed by the brilliant novel of the distinguished leader of universal literature, Miguel, lover of books, who always read, taught and loved the Holy Scripture, par excellence, and with which he identified himself during his life trajectory at all times.

Cervantes is fully aware of the value of the Bible, speaks of the truth in the Sacred Scripture, advises us to read it: “If… he wants to read books of exploits and chivalry, read in Sacred Scripture the ‘Book of Judges,’ and there he will find great truths and deeds as true as brave” (Q, I-XLIX), and confesses that “Holy Scripture… cannot lack an atom in truth” (Q, II-I), and eternalizes his biblical knowledge and the greatness of God’s love in his works.

Certainly, Miguel loved the Bible, book of the history of the world, of poetry, and of wisdom, in which, as an example, the Book of Psalms, the Book of Proverbs and the Song of Songs are sublime, despite the fact that some “scholars of excellence” left Miguel’s knowledge of the Holy Scripture in the dark without any compelling reason manifested in the masterpieces of the genius of universal literature.

In addition to this, I should add that the meritorious historian José Luis Abellán García-González affirms that “Don Quixote is the Spanish Bible” (Visiones del Quijote, 130). The meritorious professor Alfonso Ropero Berzosa writes that it is the “Bible of universal literature, which is illuminated by the Christian Bible, from which Cervantes extracts the idea of justice and freedom so human and so divine” (El Quijote y la Biblia, 10). The extraordinary historian Sabino de Diego Romero, President of the Cervantine Society of Esquivias, says of Catalina, in his magnificent work: Catalina, fuente de inspiración de Cervantes (Punto Rojo, 2015), says through the mouth of Don Quixote, “because blood is inherited, and virtue is acquired, and virtue alone is worth what blood is not worth” (Catalina…, 242). And the excellent writer Eduardo Aguirre Romero declares with greater precision that “in these uncertain times, Miguel de Cervantes still has much light to offer us” (“Si Cervantes levantara la cabeza,” Diario de León, 27-III-2022).

Therefore, the questions arise; should we read the Bible and Don Quixote compulsorily in universities and schools? What are the reasons for reading such works? The answer is, yes. The Bible, God’s wisdom, and Don Quixote, human wisdom, are my daily readings for beauty, wonder, power, wisdom, truth, and virtues, among many.

Indeed, the spirit of both works pierces the soul like the sharp two-edged sword or the sword of Achilles of Troy, and both works are for the people; they speak of love and lovelessness, of good and evil, of the beautiful and the noble; they are concerned with humanity; they penetrate our human hearts; and they teach us to love one another and become better people.

The Bible, the wonderful book, can be read every day; it only needs 11:59 minutes; and if you start it on January 1st, you will finish it on December 31st of the same year. Or, I recommend you to listen to the Bible published by the University of Navarra in audiobook format. Don Quixote, the Bible of Humanity, can be read daily; it only takes 4:43 minutes; and if you start it on January 1st, you will also finish it on December 31st of the same year; or you can listen to it on Cadena SER.

You will not regret reading day after day the glorious Bible and the ingenious nobleman Don Quixote. You will always discover something new. You will feed on the wisdom of God and the wisdom of the famous Manco de Lepanto, and you will be provided with infinite benefits. Read every day the Bible and Don Quixote de la Mancha!

Laus in Excelsis Deo.


Krzysztof Sliwa is a professor, writer for Galatea, a journal of the Sociedad Cervantina de Esquivias, Spain, and a specialist in the life and works of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra and the Spanish Golden Age Literature, all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles and reviews in English, German, Spanish and Polish, and is the Corresponding Member of the Royal Academy of Cordoba and Toledo.


Featured: Don Quijote in der Studierstube lesend (Don Quixote in the Study Room, Reading), by Adolf Schrödter; painted in 1834.


Géza Ottlik’s A School at the Frontier: Out of Childhood and into History

Written in 1948, in a shattered Hungary, emerging from the war on the side of the defeated, School at the Frontier was not published until 1959, in a country whose satellization by the Soviets was now complete. Yet there are no references to the dramatic events of recent history in this melancholy work: Géza Ottlik, drawing largely on his own memories, describes the daily life of a group of students entering the first year of a military school in the 1920s. The institution, located near the newly established border separating Hungary and Austria, welcomed the country’s future elite.

In this enclosed, out-of-this-world universe, whose isolation evokes that of the young Hungarian nation in the middle of a continent with which it does not even share the origins of its language, children are preparing to become men. The rigor of instruction, the quasi-Kafkaesque discipline and the constant violence imposed on these still carefree spirits are designed to harden them. If the end of childhood means a break with the sweetness of family life, a break with the carefreeness of rural life and a confrontation with the brutal industrial world of war, it is because Hungary itself has embarked on a transformation that should enable it to catch up with its supposed lag. More than a metaphor for the advent of the twentieth century in a Central Europe brutally roused from its torpor, the fate of these children heralds the disaster to come.

In their own way, each of the young students embodies a figure of the Hungarian, a posture in the face of history and existence. Czako, whose indolence and phlegm in the face of vexations evoke the detachment of the artist or nomad; Medve, combative but naive, recalls the political activist who is revolted by the abuse of power, but whose illusions deprive him of clear-sightedness; Öttzvényi, attached to procedures, rejecting iniquity and concerned with respect for justice, appears as an allegory of the law. The tragic fate that awaits Öttzvényi, guilty of having reported an unjust punishment for the first time in the school’s history, is a reminder that when times get tough, the law can do no more. In this military institution, as in the upcoming dictatorial Hungary, force supersedes law, and authority takes the place of justice.

Told through the memories of a now-adult narrator, this harrowing school year allows us to appreciate, step by step, the slow march of free spirits called upon to see their moral judgment diluted by the strict observance of arbitrary principles. These rules, sometimes tyrannical, often absurd, need no legitimacy. They do not even need rationality. Their existence is their only justification, and is enough to compel compliance: “No one was trying to get us to admit that the aim of the stretching exercises was physical culture; it was simply to get us to start the day, every morning at dawn, with a half-hour bullying session.”

Beyond the Bildungsroman

The precision of the narrative and the meticulous style with which Géza Ottlik, without ever revealing the key to their real meaning, spins out the events that mark this long year, distinguish School at the Frontier from the classic Bildungsroman to which it has often been likened. Psychological developments are rare. Analysis is absent. Only the details of a dull, repetitive daily life allow us, through their subtle and slow alteration over time, to understand the depth of the changes taking place in these young boys. Less masterful than Musil’s The Confusions of Young Törless, more austere than the works of Herman Hesse, School at the Frontier nevertheless manages to depict the fate of this sacrificed European generation with the same cruelty.

Even more so than the fact that introspective reflection is replaced by bare facts, it is the work’s pessimism that sets it radically apart from the Bildungsroman established by the German-language authors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In Musil, Mann and Hesse, leaving childhood involves its share of drama and wounds, which are the price to pay for true freedom. The post-romantic critique of the triumphant rationality of the Enlightenment remains no less reasonable: if the darkness of ignorance cannot be totally dispelled, it remains necessary to confront it and recognize one’s own imperfection, with the aim of surpassing oneself.

In Ottlik’s work, the pain of coming of age is not compensated for. Illusions dispelled and naiveté lost are replaced only by bitterness and resignation. The world for which the military school prepares its pupils is neither more rational nor more beautiful than the school itself. The same absurdity and violence prevail: growing up means accepting one’s chains and one’s condition: “Among the countless things we held dear, some were reduced to nothing more or less quickly, disintegrated or altered,” observes the narrator. As for the “little moments of pleasure” that endure for better or for worse, from a stay in the infirmary where books can be obtained, to a game of soccer played between two exercises, their brevity and uselessness ultimately rob them of all flavor. They are the last childlike respites the condemned man allows himself to live.

A Tragic Sense of History

In fact, as adults, the narrator and his friend Medve look back on their first year with pain. The vexations they endured have left scars perhaps deeper than the war itself. The sense of waste is heightened by the idea that it was all for nothing, and that there was no justice. The most perfidious of their comrades went on to brilliant careers as officers, or became half-robots. The weakest continued to suffer the ravages of life, even after renouncing their military careers. Once again, history imposes itself as a tragedy. Life kept its disappointing promises. The war, for which they had been prepared, took place. Everything that happened was already there, in germ, in the mind of a child and in the destiny of a country.

As the school year progresses, and in the face of the implacability of History, a question as absurd as it is obvious gradually emerges: what is the point of time passing? Another Hungarian writer, László Krasznahorkai, seems to reply in the opening line of Melancholy of Resistance: “It passes without passing. Like adults whose choices are merely repetitions of childhood echoes, like peoples condemned to reproduce the same acts from generation to generation, schoolchildren “grope blindly in a duration that has… lost its true consistency, and sometimes it [seems to them] to be trampling on, sometimes the events of a recent past seem extremely distant.”

Reflecting the cyclical vision of history so dear to Central and Eastern European literature, this pessimism reminds us that the past haunts the present and determines the future, on the scale of human life as well as major events. For the Hungarian society of the 1960s, which soon ranked School at the Frontier among the great classics of its national literature, this was no doubt self-evident. In many ways, the fate of these schoolchildren repeated the dramas of the defunct Kingdom of Hungary, just as much as they foreshadowed the misfortunes of the Communist dictatorship—with which Gézla Ottlik maintained a distance that, in the context of the Kadar years, was enough to pass for disapproval.


Alexis Bétemps is a Parisian Germanophile and deputy editor-in-chief of PHILITT, through whose courtesy this article appears.


Featured: Mátyás Hunyadi Military School in Kőszeg, in 1926. Géza Ottlik is in the back row, second from the left.


The Longer the Wait… Krogold: Triple Celinian Myth

With the publication of La Volonté du Roi Krogold (The Will of Krogold the King), Gallimard has brought Céline’s unpublished works to a close, putting an end to almost ninety years of uncertainty about the adventures of this legendary ruler. This will satisfy Céline aficionados first and foremost, while the uninitiated will find it a little-used gateway. If it is not easy to squeeze through, it nevertheless opens up new and unexpected reading perspectives.

Ecce Krogold! The famous Nordic king that Céline fans have been dreaming of since May 1936, when he made his appearance in Mort à crédit (Death on Credit), the second high point of a prolific body of work that is far more eclectic than the hasty reduction to the author’s regrettable (and condemnable!) ideological blunders generally suggests. Far from being part of the contemporary realist fictions that continue to make Céline so successful, King Krogold is an original figure with a doubly mythical aura, firstly, because the story of which he is the central character draws on a number of legends, episodes and memories, including the Arthurian cycle, the biography of François Villon, the writings of Rabelais and that mythical medieval figure from Breton legend, the Bard with the gouged-out eyes, imprisoned for standing up to Christianization.

The mythical brilliance of Krogold the king, then, manifests itself in the improbability, long persistent, of seizing concretely and in a palpable, “haptic” way an epic which has become, over the decades, as legendary as the collection of a few scraps of narratives that, in spite of everything, have come down to us.

Krogold vs. Gwendor

A reminder: From the moment Céline left his Montmartre apartment for Copenhagen, for fear of paying the price for the political upheaval in France in the wake of Operation Neptune, he never ceased to deplore, with the vehemence often characteristic of his writings since Mea culpa (1936), the theft (or incineration, as the case may be) of what he himself, in a letter to his faithful secretary, Marie Canavaggia, described as “a legend from the operatic Middle Ages.” We need only reread his two great post-war texts, Féerie pour une autre fois (Enchatment for Another Time) and D’un Château l’autre (From one Castle to Another), to be convinced.

The literary merit of Krogold seemed rather light, however: “I was disappointed to read it again. My romance hadn’t stood the test of time,” says the Ferdinand of Mort à credit, and judging by the rejection Céline received from his publisher Robert Denoël in 1933. Yet Denoël had not hesitated to publish L’Église (The Church), a five-act comedy of equally fragile merit, the first version of which had been rejected by Gallimard in 1927, just eleven months after the release of Voyage au bout de la nuit (Journey to the End of the Night). Literary choice or commercial calculation? In any case, important fragments of the legend were incorporated into the narrative of Mort à crédit, in whose pages King Krogold now runs like a weak, if stubborn, thread. It is as if Céline had sought to tacitly thumb his nose at his publisher.

Despite Ferdinand’s repeated efforts to provide a detailed account, the legend’s developing plot remains rather opaque. However, this has not prevented Celinian scholars, such as the American Erika Ostrovsky, from seeking to unravel the mystery behind it. In 1972, in her contribution to Cahiers de L’Herne, devoted to Céline, Ostrovsky noted that while the legend’s known beginning, the deadly confrontation between King Krogold, “mighty and damned monarch of all the marches of Tierlande” and the felon Gwendor, “grand margrave of the Scythians, Prince of Christiania” (and very secret fiancé of Wanda, Krogold’s only daughter) is “nothing out of the ordinary;” so much so that it “could almost pass for a pastiche of epic novels,” but it is special in that, on a more abstract level, it puts into perspective the defeat of the poetic (of which Gwendor is the embodiment) in the face of the degradation of everyday life, embodied by Krogold; the latter presented by Ostrovsky as an “executioner.”

Royal Magnanimity, Poetic Vagabondage

Although the idea of an antagonism between poetry and daily life is resistant to over-hasty expeditions, the development proposed by Ostrovsky half a century ago now requires nuance and even revision, particularly in the contortionist reading she gives King Krogold. This reassessment is all the more necessary given that, thanks to the recent publication by Gallimard of rediscovered pages, Céline enthusiasts and others can now look at a whole series of scenes and tableaux, differently elaborated, The common theme is the equipment of the legendary King Krogold (there is no need to go back over the incredible circumstances which, in the summer of 2021, saw the reappearance of the famous Céline manuscripts, stolen during the Liberation and thought to be lost forever, as well as the medico-judicial soap opera which has been making keyboards clack ever since).

First observation: the material of Le Roi Krogold gave birth to two distinct texts under Céline’s pen, La Volonté du Roi Krogold (a manuscript found in 1939/40) and La Légende du Roi René (an earlier version based on a typescript dated 1933/34). The former is presented by the collection’s editor, Véronique [Robert-] Chovin, as a rewrite of the latter. The numerous thematic parallels that emerge from one plot to the next support this assertion.

Second observation: the elements on which these two versions are based take off from very different starting points. One is based on the defeat of Prince Gwendor’s army by the victorious troops of King Krogold. Impaled by an enemy spear, Gwendor faces death from which, in a classic dialogue, he vainly seeks to obtain “one day… two days…” of reprieve. When the inhabitants of Christianie learn of the defeat of their protector Gwendor and the imminent arrival of King Krogold, they decide, in order to appease the latter’s a priori devastating grudges, not to prostrate themselves before the victor and offer him the city’s treasures, as might be expected, but instead to meet him by—dancing. This unusual stratagem had once saved the city from the advancing regiments of the Great Turk. Given the historical context of the writing, it is obviously tempting to read the advance of these armed troops as an allusion to the invasions (sometimes camouflaged as annexation) carried out by the Wehrmacht.

Alas! King Krogold is no connoisseur of dance. Indeed, he puts the harmless “dancers of the rigodon” to the sword. And yet, once he has entered the city, he heads straight for the cathedral and, while keeping his foot in the stirrup, throws his sword over a huge, panic-stricken crowd that has taken refuge under the nave’s vaults, “right up to the altar step.” This gesture of almost cinematic royal indulgence is greeted by jubilant singing, thanksgiving and even the appearance of an angel expressly sent down from heaven. Thus closes this first narrative, with its chivalric, popular and Christian overtones.

It is joined by another; this time centered on the wanderings of a trouvère, named Thibaut in René but Tébaut in Krogold. This vagabond poet with not-so-Catholic impulses seeks to join the victorious king (Krogold or René, respectively) in the North, to accompany him on his crusade. His itinerary takes him from Charente to Brittany, and in particular to Rennes, where—depending on the version of the legend—he is either about to be thrown into prison after narrowly escaping lynching by an excited mob (Krogold), or to stop off at the brothel where he casually abuses a prostitute (René). In both versions of the legend, however, he becomes the murderer of Prosecutor Morvan, president of the parliament of Brittany and father of Joad, Thibaut/Tébaut’s traveling companion secretly in love with Wanda, the king’s daughter. It is good to set up these triangles of conflict from the outset.

The Underpinnings of a Work

Make no mistake, however: Krogold, far from being an entertaining fabliau, is probably Céline’s most complicated text; René is a sort of first draft written in a French that is, if not academic, at least linguistically more accessible. In fact, these are pages not finalized by the author, with all that this implies of doubles, repetitions, unfinished business, which all very quickly causes a feeling of saturation, but also fatigue. At the same time, these pages are undoubtedly the most interesting and richest among the bundles of manuscripts found.

On the one hand, because together with the snippets of the legend inserted in Guerre (War) and Londres (London), (Gallimard, 2022), the other two recently exhumed unpublished works, they allow us to measure the important weight that throughout the 1930s, Céline gave to the possibility of giving birth to a medieval fantasy legend. That Krogold the King cannot be reduced to a unifying element of Mort à crédit, that he is much more than a mere vanishing point for Céline’s post-war rantings, constantly raising the specter of spoliation, which we now know were not completely aberrant, The major merit of this collection, published by Gallimard under the full title of La Volonté du Roi Krogold, followed by La Légende du Roi René, is that it does indeed create a coherent whole, the hitherto unexploited underbelly of a work that has been widely commented on for almost ninety years.

One of the things we need to look at is how this legend relates to Céline’s polemical writings. After all, the date chosen for the recovered manuscript is 1939/40. In the chronology of Céline’s publications, this corresponds to the period between the publication of L’École des cadavres (School for Corpses), (November 1938) and the release of Les Beaux Draps (The Fine Sheets), (February 1941). But Bagatelles pour un massacre (Trifles for a Massacre), published in December 1937, already invokes the Middle Ages, presenting ballet librettos populated by legendary characters and deliberately drawing on medieval imaginary.

We should also take a closer look at the legend’s many references to Christianity and its key concepts of blasphemy, sin, repentance, mercy and forgiveness, practices whose density is just as unusual here, as the invocation of a united Christianity is absent from the rest of the work—apart from Mea culpa.

“I am Celt”

On the other hand, it is undoubtedly in the linguistic contributions that the primary interest of the recovered pages lies. The few journalistic accounts published to date have made this clear. In the April 27 issue of La Croix, Fabienne Lemahieu writes of a “medieval Nordic tale with accents of Old French;” Alexis Brocas in the May issue of Lire/Magazine littéraire points to a “cousinly relationship between Céline’s language and that of the medieval Rabelais and Villon;” and David Fontaine in the May 10 issue of Le Canard enchaîné describes the Céline of Krogold as an “alchemist of style, [who] intends to resurrect medieval French.”

A single passage illustrates these observations: “The Queen in her finest attire, followed by her ladies and pages, slowly approached and descended the long marble steps. ‘Sir Knight, what would you have us give you?’ ‘Victory! Victory!’ he shouted ever louder, raising his hand to his chest to show his pure heart. ‘Victory? Victory? That it shall be [quickly]! But is not the King wounded? I had a sad dream… a fearful reverie yester night…’ ‘Nothing betides the King, my lady! Nothing betides the King! Apart from a mere wheal, a niggling scuff that his majesty little heeds.’ ‘You tell me so much, Sir Knight!’…’Excelras has won my wager!’”

While work on language is obviously one of the major constants in Céline’s work, his interest in pre-classical turns of phrase in this excerpt is not only in keeping with his well-known abomination of so-called academic French, but also reflects a more assertive approach to a linguistic (and hence literary) genealogy that emphasizes the Celtic heritage of the French language. At the expense of the Greek and Latin legacies advocated by the codifiers of classical French. It would probably be instructive to reread André Thérive’s Libre histoire de la langue française (Stock, 1954) to grasp the full ideological dimension behind this artistic approach.

“The intoxication of this existence must one day cease…”

Last but not least, Céline devotees will find it hard to pass up this collection which, in addition to the two versions of the legend, includes a rich appendix of all the passages in the work that can be associated, in one way or another, with the legend of Krogold the King: from Mort à crédit to D’un Château l’autre, via Guerre, Londres and Féerie pour une autre fois. A contextualizing essay by archivist and historian Alban Cerisier provides a more concrete account of the forces expressed in these two medievalist narratives. Although we are unaware of the legend’s “incompleteness,” “each scene offers, with the author’s ironic finesse and great humor, a variation on man’s relationship with his finitude.”

The aforementioned mythical dimension of the Krogold legend is further enhanced by the fact that it has remained incomplete and fragmentary, and that its material has somehow resisted literary form. But is not this a guarantee of its “legitimacy?” After all, how many medieval legends have come down to us without gaps?


Maxim Görke teaches in the German Department, at the University of Strasbourg.


Featured: King William I, folio 33 of Liber legum antiquorum regum, British Library, Cotton MS Claudius D. II, 14th century. [This article appears through the kind courtesy of PHILITT.]


On “Oracular Philosophy” and “Oracular History of Philosophy”

The Spanish philosopher, Gustavo Bueno Martínez (1924-2016), is known for the system he created and which he called, “philosophical materialism,” which holds that philosophy is neither science nor wisdom but second-degree knowledge, in that philosophy requires first-degree knowledge (biological, mathematocal, political, technical) before it can begin to constitute itself. Bueno is an important thinker of the right. In the article that follows, Bueno recoups “oracular philosophy,” from the denigration given it by positivism.

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The expression “Oracular Philosophy” was used by Karl Popper in the second part of his famous book, The Open Society and its Enemies, written during the Second World War and published in 1945, in two volumes, the first devoted to Plato and the second to Hegel and Marx (it would seem that Popper’s offensive against the Soviet Union, very little “political” at a time when the Soviets were entering Berlin, was diverted towards Plato and Hegel, through whom Nazism could be glimpsed). Indeed, in the second part, entitled “The High Tide of Prophecy,” the opening chapters, 11 and 12, are devoted to “The Rise of Oracular Philosophy,” where Hegelianism is discussed. Chapter 24, under the heading “The Aftermath,” is entitled “Oracular Philosophy and the Rebellion against Reason.”

These chapters by Popper constitute an attack on what he called “oracular philosophy,” an idea very close to the most elementary and naive positivism, along the lines of the old dichotomies proposed by Lévy-Bruhl (prelogical thinking/logical thinking), or in the distinction of W. Nestle (myth/logos).

For Popper, oracular philosophy is that philosophy which, instead of resorting to “reason” (“that is to say, to clear thinking and experience”), resorts to the methods of prophecy, revelation or oracle, unfolding towards a vision of the future of human societies which, instead of being exposed through clear reasoning, reaches for the most irrational methods, such as oracles, founded more on a mystical and irrational inspiration than on a philosophical discourse. The oracular philosophy, according to Popper, despises other men, because it has the conviction of the truth of its intellectual intuition (“Plato believed that reason is shared only by the gods and by a few select men”). The oracular style of philosophizing avoids dialogue, preferring to speak dogmatically, as if the foundations of the predictions and the content of the predictions were thoroughly known. The critique of oracular philosophy is thus directed against totalitarian thinking.

Popperian anti-totalitarianism, radical in 1945, formed a reservoir for the anti-totalitarianism of ‘68, and most especially for that editorial movement that took the name of nouveaux philosophes, with a common root, re-created through Michel Foucault, which continued in two distinct currents: the one taken by André Glucksmann (1975: The cook and the man-eater, a reflection on the State, Marxism and concentration camps) and Bernard-Henri Lévy (1977: Barbarism with a human face); and the one taken by Alain Baidou.

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For our part, we have always been faced with the radical, disjunctive opposition to any oracular philosophy as such. An oracle is a channel of expression that (especially if it presents itself in the guise of a shaman or prophet) cannot reduce the flows that it channels, and therefore it cannot be accepted that the expression “oracular philosophy” is a contradictory impossibility, a “wooden iron.”

Philosophy, as an institution, did not come out of nothing, out of prelogical thought, nor did it emerge in the years in which “reason” freed itself from the mystical mists of “myth.” Philosophy began with the oracles, and remained in history, to a certain extent, in function of them.

Ancient philosophy, for example, manifested itself, first of all, through the oracle of Delphi, when it advised those who approached its precincts: “Know thyself.” For this oracle was taken up by Socrates, and centuries later by Linnaeus, who, in the tenth edition of his Systema naturae, identified the oracular message, no less, to define Man as Homo sapiens, and later as Homo sapiens sapiens.

Philologists usually warn that the “road map” proposed by the Delphic oracle did not have a humanistic-metaphysical objective, but a much more prosaic and pragmatic one (know your possibilities of action, curb your hybris!). However, this pragmatic and prosaic norm could have evolved, becoming the norm of Man himself or of Humanity in general (at least until Man himself ceased to exist). And this evolution would have the same scope that the logos, subsequently to a situation as insignificant as could be the theorem of the diametrical triangle of Thales (intuited “oracularly,” not proven, but asking for a hecatomb), could have developed applying itself to other domains of the cosmos, and even to the same spherical cosmos of Anaximander or Empedocles.

But oracular philosophy not only flowed through the oracle of Delphi; it flowed again through the oracles of Ephesus, from the temple of Diana, which had been visited by Heraclitus and by St. John. It was, in short, the Christian oracles that, confronted with the Jewish and Mohammedan oracles, announced that God was not unique, individual, but that he was triune, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And this oracle would have been the one that succeeded, among other things, in transforming the ancient individual, the citizen who had already been transformed into a theatrical person through his tragic mask, into a real person.

“Towards the end of the second century there were two opposing monarchist currents, the modalist and the dynamist. The modalist is usually designated by the name of Sabellianism, because of its main representative, Sabellius. The Libyan Sabellius, who taught in Rome and was condemned by Pope Callixtus (217-222), proposed the following formula: One God in three persons, using the word according to its classical sense of role in the theater, of mask. God himself, insofar as He acts as Creator and Ruler of the world, is called Father; when he appears in the role of Incarnate Redeemer, He is called Son; in His role as dispenser of grace, He receives the name of Holy Spirit. This formula had the advantage of allowing Christ to be considered as true God. But at the same time, it eliminated the real distinction between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. According to it, God manifested Himself in three different ways (hence the name modalism), and therefore was called by three different names. This was tantamount to disregarding the testimony of Sacred Scripture, where the real distinction, at least, between Father and Son is clearly expressed. For the rest, Sabellianism was soon discarded. In Rome it was above all the learned presbyter Hippolytus who set himself the task of combating it.

The other direction of monarchianism maintains the real distinction between the Father and the Son, but in order not to endanger the uniqueness of God, it subordinates the Son to the Father (hence the name subordinationism). This direction then branched out into various systems in order to explain in what sense it was still possible to call Christ God: whether God dwelt in the man Christ or whether He conferred upon the man Christ divine forces (dynamis, hence dynamism). Such systems had already been condemned by Pope Zephyrinus (around 200-217), the predecessor of Callixtus, but at every moment they reared their heads again. In the second half of the third century, the bishop of Antioch, Paul of Samosata, was deposed by a synod for holding a similar doctrine. It seems, however, that even later analogous doctrines were taught in Antioch, especially by the learned Lucian, who died a martyr in 312. In the dogmatic polemics of that time, we find readily used by Pope Dionysius (260-268) the formula of the consubstantiality (consubstantialis, in Greek, homoousios) of the Father with the Son, thanks to which the solution was later found.” (Ludwig Hertling, S. I., Historia de la Iglesia, Editorial Herder, Barcelona 1964, second expanded edition, pp. 92-93).

However, the history of philosophical oracles remains to be written. It is necessary to enter more deeply into the analysis of the oracles that spoke in the schism of the West, through Luther, Calvin, Servetus or Newton; and, if you will, Kant or Nietzsche.

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In any case, it would not be justified to confuse the history of philosophical oracles with the oracular history of philosophy, which we discussed in our Tessera 128, “Oracular Philosophy.” It could even be said that the oracular history of philosophy assumes an opposite perspective to the history of oracular philosophy, since the former aims to erase the halo of philosophers who deserve to be considered for their doctrines, while the latter aims to transform philosophers such as Schopenhauer, Nietzsche or Heidegger into oracles.

Such happens in the process of formation of new scattered groups of philosophy professors competent in editorial matters, which are incorporated in the anthological editions of the works of “great thinkers,” presenting, for example today, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche or Heidegger, rather as oracles than as formers of philosophical systems and acting from more or less mystical (oracular) coordinates of anarchist sign.

From 1915 to 1919, the popular library, Los grandes pensadores (The Great Thinkers), promoted by the heirs of the Modern School of Francisco Ferrer Guardia (whose librarian and editor, Mateo Morral Roca, threw the bomb on May 31, 1906 at the wedding procession of Alfonso XIII in the Calle Mayor in Madrid), selected among these great thinkers Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Volney, Lamennais, Michelet, Victor Hugo, all under a common design on all covers, The Thinker by Rodin. In 1925 the library of the Revista de Occidente published six volumes devoted to The Great Thinkers: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, St. Thomas, Giordano Bruno, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Hume, Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. etc.


This article was originally published in El Catoblepas.


Featured: The Oracle, by Camillo Miola; painted in 1880.


What Conspiracy? On the Nefarious Purpose, Means and Ideas of Globalist Imperialism, Part 3

Read Part 1 and Part 2.

The Modern Metaphysical Roots of the New Technocratic World

Introduction

In the first two parts of this essay, I focused upon the globalist purpose behind the destructive domestic use of disinformation within the US-European imperial axis which has asphyxiated liberal democracy, and some of the major geopolitical machinations that have proceeded on the back of fake news. This third part of the essay addresses a larger philosophical set of concerns that might superficially be seen as of little relevance to the crisis of the West today as it sits amidst civil wars and a world war.

This third part is a reflection upon the destructive drives within modern metaphysics beginning with its reconstitution of the cosmos as one in which faith in God is replaced by faith in the powers of our own mind. That faith has come to reveal behaviors as monstrous as any summoned by the human spirit—from the death camps of the all-knowing leaders (Dostoevsky’s God-men), Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol-Pot etc. to the deluded sense of sanctimony of a people caught up in the abstractions of rights’ talk that has fueled the West’s support of a war against Russia in the name of Ukraine liberation to the battle ground now taking place over children as fully sexualized beings to be inducted into the larger culture of the West’s self-understanding as a rights’ and dignity based pleasure sensorium of sexualized identities. This seemingly recent outbreak of the war over childhood sexualism has a long pedigree. Decisions made about US school curricula in sexual education and explicit sex materials being placed in schools go back well over a decade, but the sexual revolution of the 1960s was also accompanied by various calls to lower the age of sexual consent and to overturn prosecutions of adults for sexual conduct with minors.

While it would be hard to argue against the idea that the smashing of sexual restrictions was not an important part of the call to “emancipate” children’s sexuality, one should not also neglect the fact that what was also being overthrown was the idea of the role of adults requiring taking on responsibilities demanding sacrifices. In traditional societies children become inducted into roles and the roles they take on are seen as essential to the group’s survival and well-being.

What happened in the West was the growth of an idea, going at least back to Rousseau, that children knew and should live in accordance with their own nature, albeit with the guidance of tutors such as Émile’s tutor who somehow are able to absolve themselves through their own thinking from the determinations which the rest of the civilized suffer from. As with so much else in Rousseau, the acceptance of this new idea required a break with all preceding social mores—and Rousseau always trusted his intelligence more than the collective intelligence of human beings that preceded him, because they were simply products of human nature deformed by private property, inequality and self-interest.

While Rousseau still had ideas of some sort of transcendence needed for the child’s development, in spite of his determination to liberate the child from prejudice and be more in tune with its innermost nature, he opened up a way of thinking in which the liberation of the self was predicated upon the liberation of the child. And instead of the child being exposed to and required to perform daily acts of the self’s transcendence, instead of experiencing the important lesson that the self becomes a worthwhile self by bowing to higher things of the spirit, and thereby slowly being raised by that spirit, the infant became the center. Freud would christen that infantile center the Id, and whilst doing so, make the sexuality of the infant an important clue to the development of. a person. To be sure he did concede that society could not exist if it merely catered to the sexual drives, and in Civilization and its Discontents, he claimed that it was precisely because the sexual drives were cordoned into more productive enterprises that civilization existed.

At the same time, the core article of faith of Freudian psychology was that the repression of the sex drive from infancy on was the source of most of our psychological distress. How to achieve a balance between our urge to satiate our sexual appetites and how to be civilized required a new kind of priest, mainly Mr. Freud and others who offered the ‘talking cure’ that he had pioneered. It was the kind of thing that appealed to people who like that kind of thing, but it certainly had social efficacy—and to repeat, it placed the desires of the infant at the center of all our psyches and hence at the center of society.

When Herbert Marcuse wrote Eros and Civilization he had hit upon the perfect match—Marx plus Freud—which would supposedly satiate the needs of the modern soul—a social means of production in which as Marx would put it, “from each according to his ability to each according to his needs,” which is to say we could have all the stuff we needed, as well as a grand sex life, provided we got rid of the ruling class and their need to repress our sexual desire so that we could live our lives playfully pursuing our desires. Marcuse was, of course, a huge hit with the youth of the 1960s, and his social “philosophy” is really an adult child’s view of what life has to offer.

The youth he taught were also the beneficiaries of the scientific studies being conducted by the Kinsey Institute and hitting the book stores in 1948 and 1953, respectively, with the Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male and Sexual Behaviour in the Human Female. Kinsey’s “scientific” studies confirmed Freud’s observation infants were sexual beings, and had orgasms.

As Kinsey reported “Orgasm has been observed in boys of every age from 5 months to adolescence. Orgasm is in our record for a female babe of 4 months. After describing in detail the physiological changes that occur during orgasm as well as the aftermath Kinsey discloses that “there are observation of 16 males up to 11 months of age, with such typical orgasm reached in 7 cases. In 5 cases of young preadolescents, observations were continued over periods of months or years, until the individuals were old enough to make it certain that true orgasm was involved.”

Defenders of Kinsey’s studies dismiss the idea that these studies suggest pedophilia must have been happening. Given that Kinsey’s studies were based on “observations” one can only conclude, as Judith Reisman has noted, and as one of Kinsey’s colleagues, C.A. Tripp, in a 1991 interview with Phil Donahue, claimed, that Kinsey’s “trained observers” were pedophiles.

The arc from Kinsey’s reports to sex education courses containing graphic content of children leaning about cunnilingus, anal sex and such like is part of a hyper-sexualized infantile culture, a culture in which adults dress up and play out their fantasies even in the institution of the military. The sexualization of children that proceeds at such a pace today and is lauded by public officials, corporations, teachers, medical professionals, the media and entertainment industries is but one further expression of a culture that has been built upon the expansiveness of the infantile self. The infantile behavior of the adults is best gratified by behaving with children, and as the most meaningful part of the adults’ lives is their pursuit of pleasure, it would be wrong of them not to have children learn what they know—or be what they be. The child has the right to the sexual identity it wants: the rights of the child are the expression of the childishness of the rights being demanded by people who think their suffering in not having their sexual fantasy or not having the pronoun they want is akin to genocide.

This en-culturalization of the infantile self is, though, but the inevitable development of what happens when a society’s faith in technicians who can manipulate bodies as they deem fit for the maximization of one’s own sense of self, and the array of pleasures that await that self if the adequate technological adaptations are made. That self is nothing more than an appetitive bundle of mechanistic processes. All differences between persons are purely of a mechanical order. Thus, too, the difference between an adult and child is only one of the imagination’s prejudices.

Sex with and torture of children was a regular feature in the Marquis de Sade’s stories of gargantuan sexual horror rituals—the children’s role was to be the ultimate stimulant to burst beyond the social limits and curtailment of the imagination. But de Sade understood, as he never ceased to tell his audience, that he was only acting in accordance with reason which was attuned to the mechanical laws of the universe. For much of the twentieth century philosophers and authors have celebrated the transgressions of de Sade, from Sartre and de Beauvoir, to Bataille, to Klossowski, to Blanchot, to Derrida—his admirers are a virtual list of the French intelligentsia. They, though, rarely appreciate what Sade incessantly reminded his readers of, that his philosophy simply expressed the natural conclusion of mechanistic metaphysics.

The post-structuralist philosopher Gilles Deleuze is one of the more self-aware of the modern mechanists. His philosophy draws upon numerous precursors, but his reworking of Spinoza’s pan-immanentism and Leibniz’s dynamic monadism is used to develop a philosophy of excess and surplus generating endless difference. In one of his best known works, Anti-Oedipus, cowritten with Félix Guattari, Deleuze holds that Freud tries to constrain desire so that it tapers into the confines of the family. For Deleuze humans are not a “thou” nor an “I” (for Deleuze anything which spelt of a metaphysical privileging and ascribing any kind of transcendence to human beings was a regressive philosophical step) but just another “it.” And this: “It is at work everywhere, functioning smoothly at times, at other times in fits and starts. It breathes, it heats, it eats. It shits and fucks. What a mistake to have ever said the id. Everywhere it is machines—real ones, not figurative ones: machines driving other machines, machines being driven by other machines, with all the necessary couplings and connections.”
If this is reality, then how can Sade be wrong? Why should children not be part of the pleasures on offer to what Deleuze regularly refers to the “desiring machine?” What is a child in any case?

At the risk of repeating a point I have made in a previous essay, it is worth mentioning that many of the most prestigious philosophers, authors (Jean-Paul Sartre (his book Nausea had used the character of an autodidactic paedophile as a tragic example of authenticity thwarted by a judgmental society), Simone de Beauvoir, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Louis Althusser, André Glucksmann, Roland Barthes, Guy Hocquenhem, Alan Robbe-Grillet and Philippe Sollers) in France were signatories to a 1977 petition calling for the decriminalisation of all “consenting” sexual relations between adults and minors under the age of fifteen (the age of consent in France at that time). That same year also saw a public letter in Le Monde (January 26, 1977) on the eve of the trial of three men accused of having sex with 13 and 14 year old girls and boys, calling for the court to recognize the consent of thirteen year olds as they were treated as having legal responsibility equivalent to adults in other spheres of life.

In addition to the letter being signed by the figures above, it also included the signatures of Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, Jean-François Lyotard, the surrealist poet Louis Aragon, Michel Leyris, the film, theatre and opera director Patrice Chereau, France’s future Minister of Culture and Education, Jack Lang, and Bernard Kouchner, who would become France’s Health Minister and a co-founder of Doctors without Borders, as well as various psychiatrists, psychologists and doctors. The signatories were, in short, the very cream of French society, and what the petition and letter showed were the priorities of the pedagogical and professional class.

The petition and letter are an early symptom of the same kind of priorities which bestow upon the child an urgent sense of its sexual identity and needs that is now exhibited within medical and psychiatric and school boards and legislative bodies in the US, and elsewhere. If a child is taught how to pleasure “itself” by being exposed to the kinds of pleasures available—from masturbation, to cunnilingus, fellatio and anal sex, through Sex Ed courses in schools and school library books—why should they not also decide whether they want the sex organs they have—and, of course, why should they not also take their sexual pleasure from an adult who is attracted to minors?

That last point is central to the cultural wars, which have reached such a pitch of unmitigated defence of the progressive class which wants to rear its children to be fully exposed to sexual needs and identity that it has responded to the recent film about child sex trafficking, The Sound of Freedom, by denouncing it as a right-wing, Q-Anon movie inducing mass hysteria.

Not all the philosophers mentioned above who were signatories to the petition or letter saw themselves as mechanists, however all intellectually operate within the Godless view of world that gave birth to modernity and whose two philosophical poles can be traced back to Réne Descartes. Those two poles to the metaphysics of determinism (everything can be strictly understood as the result of mechanical causes complying to the laws of nature) and voluntarism (the will is the decisive source of our knowledge and hence our world in so far as it is knowable and in so far as we make it, in J.G. Fichte’s terms, a non-I that becomes the material for the fact-acts of the I). They are at the root of modern philosophy’s technocratic and ideological streams. They might on the surface appear to be radically opposed to each other. But just as in Descartes we find the two coming out of the philosophical mind’s desire to control the world to get what it wants—they develop in relative conjunction to each other, something evident in how swiftly the mechanistic metaphysics is deployed for political objectives. The two poles ultimately require cooperation involving the division of labour in which the scientists work focus on the material relations and resources to be hammered into place, while the ideologues administer the human resources (their sentiments, habits, values, organizations, institutions and classes) to be incorporated into the technological assemblage that is the world.

Let me state at the outset, that there is much to admire in Descartes, and that his philosophy is a response to the horrors of almost a century of religious wars in France and the Thirty years wars in which he fought. He was a man seeking a way out of hell. Unfortunately, he created the clearing for a new kind of hell, and just as Marx had no idea that he would be contributing a way of thinking leading to the mass murder of the peasantry (how else could their private property be expropriated if they wished to keep their land?), Descartes may have been astonished to think that what he intended to be so helpful may have turned out to be so diabolical.

1. Descartes and the Metaphysical Foundations of the Modern World

In the annals of philosophy I think no passage has been more fateful than this seemingly innocuous section from the sixth of René Descartes’ Discourse on Method, a book written in the vernacular and for the educated public who might be interested in developing his ideas further.

But as soon as I had acquired some general notions respecting physics, and beginning to make trial of them in various particular difficulties, had observed how far they can carry us, and how much they differ from the principles that have been employed up to the present time, I believed that I could not keep them concealed without sinning grievously against the law by which we are bound to promote, as far as in us lies, the general good of mankind. For by them I perceived it to be possible to arrive at knowledge highly useful in life; and in room of the speculative philosophy usually taught in the schools, to discover a practical, by means of which, knowing the force and action of fire, water, air the stars, the heavens, and all the other bodies that surround us, as distinctly as we know the various crafts of our artisans, we might also apply them in the same way to all the uses to which they are adapted, and thus render ourselves the lords and possessors of nature. And this is a result to be desired, not only in order to the invention of an infinity of arts, by which we might be enabled to enjoy without any trouble the fruits of the earth, and all its comforts, but also and especially for the preservation of health, which is without doubt, of all the blessings of this life, the first and fundamental one; for the mind is so intimately dependent upon the condition and relation of the organs of the body, that if any means can ever be found to render men wiser and more ingenious than hitherto, I believe that it is in medicine they must be sought for. It is true that the science of medicine, as it now exists, contains few things whose utility is very remarkable: but without any wish to depreciate it, I am confident that there is no one, even among those whose profession it is, who does not admit that all at present known in it is almost nothing in comparison of what remains to be discovered; and that we could free ourselves from an infinity of maladies of body as well as of mind, and perhaps also even from the debility of age, if we had sufficiently ample knowledge of their causes, and of all the remedies provided for us by nature…..

But in this I have adopted the following order: first, I have essayed to find in general the principles, or first causes of all that is or can be in the world, without taking into consideration for this end anything but God himself who has created it, and without deducing them from any other source than from certain germs of truths naturally existing in our minds In the second place, I examined what were the first and most ordinary effects that could be deduced from these causes; and it appears to me that, in this way, I have found heavens, stars, an earth, and even on the earth water, air, fire, minerals, and some other things of this kind, which of all others are the most common and simple, and hence the easiest to know… turning over in my mind… the objects that had ever been presented to my senses I freely venture to state that I have never observed any which I could not satisfactorily explain by the principles had discovered.

Descartes always delivered the most breathtakingly novel ideas in a combination of sardonic wit, self-effacement and false modesty, and the Discourse is a rhetorical masterpiece in philosophical irony, as he entices his readers into joining him in forging the new world that lies before us if we but follow his method, while at the same time conceding, that his own talent is but mediocre and his ideas may be but “a little copper and glass,” which he mistakes for diamonds and gold. He has simply made use of the natural reason which all of us have, and with that little bit of reason he has discovered a philosophy that cannot only be applied via experiments to eventually explain everything in the world, but we will be able to live in comfort as we live off the fruits of the earth put at our disposal by labour saving devices—and we might be able to live forever.

The idea of creating a new world did not begin with Descartes—Bacon had already written the New Atlantis some eleven years earlier and, like Descartes, Bacon had dreamt of science opening up the pathway to a new future. But whilst Bacon believed in the importance of experiment Descartes had reconstrued the entire universe so that it complied with a method he had uncovered in part thanks to the metaphysical principles which guaranteed a law-governed universe—for that is what he finds in the innate idea of God, a guarantee that the universe will not play tricks on his mind if he proceeds aright. God is perfect and he is not a deceiver, which also means, as I will pick up again below, that the universe runs according to impermeable laws.

What Descartes envisages is a universe in which all relationships are physical and causal and are spatially arranged—everything is an extended substance, everything except the cognitive operations of the mind-soul (he equates mind and soul, as if this were simply the most natural equation in the world to make) whose function is to identify the requisite method for studying the causal connections between the machine components. Being extended the bodies in motion, ever impacting upon each other, can be geometrically represented. The importance of analytical geometry (number can be represented as figure and vice versa) in Descartes’s corpus was such that his book Geometry was published with the Discourses.

As with Galileo, Descartes believed the book of nature was written in number. And while it is true that his own experiments often ignored the primacy of number, for Descartes being able to dissolve bodies into figure and number gave them the stability that could ensure their manipulation. Unlike sense data which was invariably confused and needs to be better understood—e.g., the sun looks small, and only when we take cognizance of its distance from us can we form a more accurate picture of its proper size—mathematics allows no room for sensory distortion. Mathematics provides us with the most clear and distinct ideas that we can have, and hence in a world of confused sensations, to present the truth as number/figure is to represent the undistorted truth. The truths of testimony, witness, the panoply of truths of the human world, the truths that are historically and culturally revealed, are all dissolved into the vast spatial plenum that is before the eye of the observing subject armed with the Cartesian method.

The great hyperbolic doubt that Descartes enters into before coming out of it by virtue of the rock certainty of him being a thinking being, and thereby moving onto other ideas whose certitude can be identified is like a vortex in which all cultural and historical truths are swallowed up, only to be released if they themselves are capable of being confirmed by the method of analysis and synthesis, and it is with this method, as well as the objectives of its deployment, Descartes launched the Enlightenment. In fact, as we shall see further below, it is also the initial onslaught of what will eventually be the overthrow of Christendom—both of the beliefs and narratives (the ‘ideas’) that hold it together as well as the values that it had cultivated for so long. The preparation for that onslaught is prepared culturally by the new metaphysics and politically comes to fruition in the first anti-Christian revolution since the establishment of Christendom, the French Revolution in which idea of liberty, equality and fraternity replace the Christian virtues as the scale of social, civic, and political importance.

The method of analysis and synthesis, the breaking down of bodies into their simplest parts and then reassembling those parts in order to identify the causal mechanisms at work in a particular phenomenon—the phenomenon is really the epiphenomenon, and the causal mechanisms are responsible for it appearing the way it appears. However, once we identity how the things of the world work, we are better placed to discovery ways that may help us improve our conditions. The mass social deployment of scientists using laboratories to invent new cures, “machines,” and technologies is the great forest seeded by Descartes slim philosophical volumes.

The application of that method requires, as is evident in his works on Optics and Meteorology, that one must make models of the bodies to be studied in order to derive the laws governing their interaction. The making of models involves the use of the imagination. But it is the imagination in service to the faculty of ‘the understanding’ whose task is to coordinate and organize the data presented to the senses which is invariably deceptive via the method he supplies so one can identify the regularities of what Galileo had already identified as primary qualities, and thereby focus upon them as the causes, as opposed to the secondary qualities, or mere epiphenomenon.

In the pre-Galileo and pre-Cartesian world where Aristotle still reigned, bodies had specific qualities such as lightness or heaviness, dampness or dryness, heat or coldness and such like, and hence the study of Physics proceeded by investigating bodies on the basis of those qualities, and making generalizations about them. The great break-through in Physics came when it is was realized that the underlying agitations, motions, repulsions and attractions, velocities and masses held the key to physical properties and the laws that governed them.

Ernst Cassirer in his Theory of Knowledge has pointed out that what distinguished Bacon from Descartes, was that while both saw Aristotle as the great stumbling block to physics (Galileo also made little secret of his hostility to Aristotle, and paid the price for it), Bacon still proceeded experimentally along Aristotelian lines, while Descartes dissolved the world of senses into the motion of bodies that could be geometrically and numerically represented.

As I have indicated Descartes was, up to a point, following in the footsteps of Galileo. But as the above passage illustrates, the real innovation of Descartes was (analytic geometry aside) not so much in the specific scientific discoveries he made, and the reason he is still studied today in universities, and why he is the grandfather of philosophism as technocratism, is his expansion of the significance of the ideas coming out of developments in astronomy and physics going back at least to Copernicus, and providing a metaphysics, a view of the entire universe, which would enable us to literally start again and turn the world—and by world he meant the universe—into an object for us subjects. The task is a grand one indeed. It requires an army of researchers pooling their results so that one day they may truly be able to make of the world what they will, which as the passage above suggests would be a more comfortable world. As is typical of Descartes, the rendering of philosophy into what is essentially a utilitarian enterprise in which we study the world to achieve greater comfort, the radical nature of the meaning he ascribes to this new philosophy is passed over as if it were of little consequence.

To be subjects—i.e., the potential lords and possessors or masters of the universe—required cognizance of the method to be deployed to make us so powerful. It is the importance of that method that is behind what is to this day still thrown out to philosophy undergraduates as a major mystery in which Descartes has two substances—body and mind—and a metaphysics that can readily be resolved if it were merely appreciated that there is no mind as such, which so the argument goes is where Descartes went awry. The mystery of Descartes’s dualism does not preserve though, if one pays attention to what he says and does rather than to the more traditional meaning of the soul as a thing or substance in the Platonic, or Christian traditions (even allowing for the fact that the Platonic and Christian soul are also not the same thing).

Descartes uses the language of substance to describe the mind, thereby giving the impression it is a “thing.” But the entire division between mind and body is to distinguish between what are cognitive operations and what has spatial extension. The point of Descartes drawing philosophical attention to the cognitive functions is to dispel the false way of thinking in which sensation overpowers the understanding and the imagination becomes overpowered by sensations which leave our minds caught up in the confusion that his philosophy was designed to dispel.

When Descartes’ “student” Father Malebranche writes, “Imagination is a lunatic that likes to play the fool. Its leaps and unforeseen starts distract you, and me as well,” he is being a diligent student of Descartes, the same is the case for Spinoza’s various disparaging comments about the imagination. Reigning in the imagination, and making it a servant of the capacity to understand is the decisive undertaking of the Enlightenment launched by Descartes. Indeed, the importance of identifying the operations of the mind and soul is inseparable from using a method for properly conducting one’s reason—i.e., properly conducting one’s reason means not being misled by the senses and the imagination. Now the point of this is that it would be meaningless—what the 20th century philosopher Gilbert Ryle would call a “category mistake”—to speak of method in the same language as one addresses extended substance. The division between mind-soul-cognitive functions-method and extension-bodies in space-nature-what we know thanks to the application of the method is total and being total Descartes can say he has proven that the mind does not die: it does not die because it is not a substance in the same way that a body is, but the dummies (for Descartes his enemies really are dummies) speak of it as if it is. It is a substance precisely in the terms that Descartes says it is—and it is purely a combination of operations, whose purpose is to have clear and distinct ideas about the world so that we can master it.

Now, as is clear in the Passions of the Soul, we can indeed talk about the mind impinging upon the body and vice versa. But that is not when we are speaking about rightly conducting our reason according to a method. When though we want to carry out a bodily action in accordance with an idea of the mind we are now in the land of a mind in union with a body, and the only way that union can take place is mechanically/corporeally, which is why Descartes believed he had located the point of union in the pineal gland. Irrespective of the particular location, the Passions of the Soul is an utter physicalist account of the soul-mind. It is a pioneering work in behavioral psychology in which, just as in Psychology courses today, we are introduced to the idea of the brain being divided into various parts which serve different mental functions.

In other words, and to sum up at the risk of repetition, just as Descartes’s philosophy is dualist—it provides a method based upon the operations of the mind-soul, and it presents observations about the world (the extended substance) based upon that method, it also provides a dualistic account of the mind-soul: in one the mind-soul is a bundle of cognitive operations, which will be taken up by philosophers from Locke to Kant, who will follow him and develop a “logic” (i.e., they will try to identify the various “elements”) of the “faculties” of the mind, in the other it is essentially the brain. The questions one is asking will lead one to one or other—if I ask how should I generally proceed to understand some phenomenon of nature I am led to consider the mind as a substance having no connection to the extended world which I wish to survey; if I ask why can I no longer speak after an accident, or even how is the mind involved in talking or seeing, even in identifying forms, colours etc. then I am in the realm of extension, and have to investigate the brain to understand what is transpiring within the mind.

Philosophers who commence with Descartes’ arguments for the existence of God and the soul, or who rip these arguments out of the larger cloth of his philosophy invariably ignore (a) how his philosophy introduces new content into these two names and (b) where they fit into the larger purpose of his philosophy of freeing us from the confused imaginings that we have made of the sensations we have accepted as true because we have hitherto not properly understood them.

The metaphysics especially as presented to the schoolmen in the Meditations may appear traditional, but what is done with it is as untraditional as the aims of the philosophy are. Apart from the fact Descartes says in various letters that he is advancing his teachings behind a mask, that he is pouring new wine into old bottles, that he only spends a few hours a year on metaphysics, and apart from the even more obvious fact that his attempts to seduce the school men still pre-dominating in the universities in France did not work, at least initially, and that the Catholic Descartes was far freer and safer in Protestant lands, it is the content of his metaphysics that shows just how remote from anything traditionally Christian his philosophy is. Indeed, that is nowhere more obvious than when Descartes is presenting himself as most “orthodox” as he wants to prove the existence of God and the soul (and of the soul I have said enough).

Although Christian philosophers, commencing most famously with Anselm, had long since been sufficiently influenced by Greek philosophy to make an argument for God’s existence, thereby making him commensurate with our God given powers of reason, traditionally God’s existence is based upon testimony not demonstration. That is the required reading for understanding God’s ways and deeds is the bible not any work by a theologian. That becomes of fundamental importance when we inquire into the deeds of God as opposed to merely wishing to satiate our intellectual curiosity over the question whether God exists.

Generally scholastic philosophy uses reason to try and mediate between seemingly contrary passages in scripture. The problem of scriptural contradiction was thrown down by Abelard, and the most all-encompassing attempt at a major resolution was Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. Luther’s animosity to Aquinas would be due to what he saw as a deranged concession to paganism that elevated reason far above its station. Irrespective of Luther’s critique, Aquinas was more interested in reconciling reason and faith so that reason could not tear faith apart, rather than simply making reason the pilot for scouring the all-encompassing totality of the universe. Aquinas respected Aristotle, for Aristotle was an intelligent seeker of truth, but the truth that offered salvation was a revealed truth. Thus too, for example, Dante must leave Aristotle in the first circle of hell—which is actually not that unpleasant, but dwelling there is to be dwelling in a condition where one has been satiated by one’s own intelligence more than God’s grace.

With Descartes God’s grace is completely irrelevant as indeed is prayer, or indeed any kind of personal relationship. God is an idea, an innate idea of reason to be sure, but an idea of perfection that offers the promise of Descartes and those who join him eventually being able to understand the universe. The traditional understanding of Christian salvation simply has no place in the God of Descartes. Pascal would put his finger on the central issue when he said, “I cannot forgive Descartes. In his whole philosophy he would like to dispense with God, but he could not help allowing Him a flick of the fingers to set the world in motion, after which he had no more use for God.” God serves a function in the larger project of philosophical understanding by providing a metaphysical reason to accept a law-governed universe—and without that principle the entire Cartesian-modern scientific enterprise is useless.

We should note also the primary take away that Descartes has in focussing upon God’s perfection, viz. that God does not deceive. This gives Descartes the go ahead to carry on studying nature in accordance with the method of analysis and synthesis, in spite of the delusionary nature of the appearances that leads him to undertake his hyperbolic doubt. He has used theology to make a metaphysical claim in a system that, apart from its underlying metaphysic and the method which he lays down, could eventually give us knowledge of everything.

With respect to the claim that God does not deceive, there are indeed scriptural references to God never lying e.g., Hebrews 6: 18: “[it is] impossible for God to lie,” Titus 1:2: “God, who never lies.” Yet God also puts “a lying spirit in the mouths” of unrighteous prophets (1 Kings 22-23; 2 Chronicles 18:22), and in 2 Thessalonians 2: 8-12 we read:

Then shall be revealed the Lawless One, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the manifestation of his presence, [him,] whose presence is according to the working of the Adversary, in all power, and signs, and lying wonders, and in all deceitfulness of the unrighteousness in those perishing, because the love of the truth they did not receive for their being saved, and because of this shall God send to them a working of delusion, for their believing the lie, that they may be judged—all who did not believe the truth, but were well pleased in the unrighteousness.

As this passage, and indeed all the passages cited indicate, the matter of God’s veracity or willingness to have the lies and deceit of the unrighteous be turned against them has absolutely nothing to do with what it is Descartes is seeking, viz., confirmation that the world is not created by an evil genius but conforms to laws laid down by a perfect being. But rather the matter of God’s veracity as it is broached in the bible has to do with the relationship between Him and His people, his believers. It is a matter of the veracity of the word, but Descartes’s philosophy has no real interest in the word as such, nor in any covenant with God, nor in eternal salvation.

Kant, who is the beneficiary of more than a century of metaphysical disputation will demonstrate why Descartes’ and indeed any other ontological argument about God’s existence defies our knowledge, and hence why God is only a “mere idea,” which for knowledge may serve a heuristic idea for faith in the systemic unity of our knowledge. Unlike Descartes he disengages the idea of the world-universe being a totality of laws from the existence of God, by making the cognitive components involved in the formation of knowledge the source of law. That is, he is even more consistent than Descartes himself in his elevation of the role of the subject in the acquisition of knowledge. And further the idea of God is retained only to the extent it is a matter of rational faith—not knowledge as such. But in this as so much else Kant simply has a more profound understanding of what a law governed universe along strictly causal principles must mean than Descartes who is simply using the metaphysics to get to the real work of science, and in doing so attempts to draw the faithful into a new, and far more restricted, far more rational understanding of God as a perfect being.

Unintentionally—and to his ire, because he was witness to the early developments by Fichte and the young Schelling in this direction—Kant had inspired the birth of the romantic approach to knowledge in which the “I” is not simply, as in Descartes, the basis of a proper foundation for gaining knowledge to master the universe, but the source of its making, for nature in itself is but the I writ large (this will be a step too far for Schelling who retrieves Spinoza in his battle with Fichte).

But tarrying with Descartes, his talk of God not being a deceiver ultimately leads to a claim that simply must be the case if Descartes’ philosophy is followed consistently. And it is a claim that he would only disclose in his book The World, a work that appeared in print only after his death, viz., that there are no miracles. If there were miracles then God would be intervening and thereby disrupting the infinite causal chain that makes the world the way it is.

Those who want to take Descartes at his word and see his demonstration of the proof of the
existence of God and the soul as acts of a pious man are stuck with the fact that their man of piety has completely changed the nature of God to fit his idea of who and what God is. One may think that is terrific, but it cannot be passed off as either Christian or Catholic in any traditional sense.

Christianity is based upon the centrality of the miraculous in our lives: from the miracle of creation itself, to the miracle of the triune God, to the miracle of God sending his Son to redeem the world, to the miracles that Jesus performed on earth, to the miracle of the resurrection, and indeed to the miracles that transpire in our everyday life thanks to God’s grace and the Holy Spirit. Irrespective of the fact that some philosophers who lauded Descartes such as Father Malebranche believed his philosophy was compatible with their faith, there is simply no way of bypassing the issue that Descartes’ Deism—and indeed all subsequent deists—are introducing an idea of God that has no place left for any of the most important teachings of the Christian faith, whether that be a personal loving triune God, or a God that so loves the world that he sends his only begotten son, or that his son performed miracles on earth and was resurrected.

This was the grand take away from a philosopher who was so determined to rebuild the world on the basis of clear and distinct ideas that he went in search of the indubitable, and that indubitable starting point was not as it is for Christians, faith itself, but his own thinking. That was, as has often been noted, a variation of an argument originally made by Augustine, about the impossibility of refuting that one is a thinking being when one is thinking. But Augustine uses that doubt to then move to a God who does not simply dispel his doubt but gives his life a mission and purpose—Augustine serves his God because his God saves him from sin and offers him redemption. Such a God has nothing in common with a God who is an innate idea and not a person. Likewise, the self of Augustine is not akin to the Cartesian self. The self in the Christian tradition is not a fulcrum for building a universe, but a dependent, fragile and sinful creature caught twixt the flesh of its “warring members” and the soul’s salvation that may be granted by God’ s grace. For Christians all souls have the prospect of redemption open to them by virtue of God Himself being the sacrifice.

The world in which the followers of Luther and Calvin did battle with each other as well as with the Roman Church was one in which the seemingly smallest differences concerning interpretation of a piece of scripture, or the ritual of the mass, or even the appearance of the Church, and even larger differences such as the role of the priest-preacher, how the body of the faithful should be organized and practice their rituals, which prayers they should say or sing, which parts of the Bible might need to be withdrawn because they were “false” and so on were matters of such extreme importance that they would even trigger men to make war with each other.

The young Descartes, as mentioned above, had himself fought for three years, initially signing up with the Protestant Prince, Maurice of Nassau, in the war that had been the culmination of religious wars. I think it impossible to ignore the importance of that war which wreaked such devastation in Europe as playing a major part in the formation of philosophical deism, as a way of bridging confessional divisions within Christendom. Moreover, philosophical deism of the Cartesian sort was but one attempt to create a synthesis of religion and science. A more occult variety, which Descartes was aware of, existed in the writings of the members of the Fraternity of the Rosy Cross.

Descartes’ early biographer Adrien Baillet mentions that Descartes unsuccessfully tried to contact them. Though it was questionable whether outside of such writings as, The Confession of the Rosicrucian Fraternity (1615), and The Chymical Marriage of Christian Rosenkreuz (1616), there was any actual fraternity—it was rumoured that its members were chimerical, which, as Descartes reasoned, would explain why he could not find them. As I pick up below the development of secret societies in Europe, particularly the Free Masons and Illuminati, would play an important role in spreading ideas that deviated from Christian doctrine whilst being far more compatible with the kinds of theological ideas that accompanied the new metaphysics.

2. Anti-Cartesian Metaphysics in Spinoza, Locke and Kant

With respect to the larger cultural and intellectual landscape in the aftermath of Descartes’ metaphysics, in spite of the plethora of metaphysical disputations about what God and the soul are and do, whether space, for example, is an organ of God (Newton and Clarke) or not (Leibniz), the analysis of clear and distinct ideas which can enable us to identify the inviolable mechanical laws which constitute the world and our experience as properly identified by the understanding is a constant. And the division between what would become known as the dispute between rationalists and empiricists is not about whether one group is genuinely dispensing with the use of reason in making inferences to the extent that experiment is not warranted, but the extent to which experiment is dependent upon principles, including mathematical ones.

This is, though, another way of also saying that all post-Cartesian metaphysics, whether the raw materialism of Hobbes, the pure idealism of Berkeley, the dogmatic empiricism of Locke, the parallelism of Spinoza, the ‘panlogism’ of Leibniz, or the transcendental idealism of Kant (which is an attempt to reconcile all by showing the point up until which they are right and where they then go wrong) make reason and its comprehension of the laws of nature the touchstone of truth. Some of these philosophers, like Spinoza, Hobbes, and Leibniz see a miracle as either a word for what has not been properly understood, or, what is essentially the same thing something explicable via natural and scientific means.

Others who are outspoken defenders of the faith like Locke, Berkeley and Malebranche also see the new philosophy as consistent with occasional miracles. While a work such as Locke’s The Reasonableness of Christianity, a work largely consisting of biblical references lends support to what seemed to be his public attack upon deism, a more cautious reading as provided by Cornelio Fabro in a book I consider to be the most masterful examination of the philosophical roots of modern atheism—God in Exile: Modern Atheism, A Study in the Internal Dynamics of Modern Atheism, from its roots in the Cartesian Cognito to the Present Day, makes the compelling case that confirms the total cleft between what Pascal delineated as the God of the philosophers and scientists, and the God of Abram, Isaac, and Joseph.

Fabro calls Locke’s theology a “Deism of the right,” which, as Fabro indicates, is a defense of Christianity that does claim that scripture and Christianity are true—but that is only to the extent that the truths revealed are what Locke the philosopher identifies as reasonable. As the very title mentioned above of Locke’s major work on the topic, this requires contingency to be reasonable. But human stories are not strictly the result of mental inferences, they involve encounters. And encounters are contingent, particularly meaningful ones might be called miraculous. That is not because the miraculous is reasonable (Locke’s argument for why we should accept miracles), but because the meaning of the encounter is of such a magnitude that we can only attribute its occurrence to God’s grace. And God’s grace has nothing to do with what our reasons make of it.

In keeping with the reduction of Christianity to a rational religion, Christianity in Locke’s hands is, as Fabro rightly points out, the same as we find in Kant, a natural religion and ethic. As Locke puts it in The Reasonableness of Christianity, Christ “inculcates to the people, on all occasions, that the kingdom of God is come: he shows the way of admittance into this kingdom, viz. repentance and baptism; and teaches the laws of it, viz., good life, according to the strictest rules of virtue and mortality.” Try making sense of the redemption of the thief on the cross by resorting to “the strictest rules of virtue and morality.”

The centerpiece of Locke’s thought, and where he hopes not only to correct the faulty metaphysics of Descartes, but to establish once and all for the nature and limits of “the human understanding” is his sense perceptionism, and as Fabro points out later English deists such as Collins, Dodwell, Coward, Hartley, Priestly, and the rest, were to sweep away the last theological restriction adhering to Locke’s sense-perceptionism.

Irrespective of the particular emphasis of any of the post-Cartesian metaphysicians they all concur that whatever mental constraints there are upon us will need to come from reason itself, and where God is invoked it is the God of philosophers. This, though, is predicated upon another element of faith that contravenes the Christian tradition, viz. it dispenses with original sin, at least as far as reason is concerned, and it also radically reconfigures value.

That reconfiguration is played out through various influential philosophical positions, and invariably they involve disputation.

I will just mention a few that have enormous consequence in ensconcing what we now live within, a hybrid culture of a mechanical understanding of what humans are (and hence how they can be technologically superseded) and an idealist value system in which dignity (respect), equality (equity), freedom (emancipation) and the like are invoked to legitimate the world we are making and our behavior in it.

Descartes himself had initially indicated that the new philosophy would provide the content for ethics, and that his philosophy had opened up the prospect of humanity finding a new dwelling, though he was quite content to counsel obedience to customary authority—implying as he did so that those authorities and those customs might not be deemed consistent with reason’s natural light.

Spinoza was Descartes’ most openly radical student, and anyone who doubts the extent of his intellectual influence in attracting readers to a more enlightened and non-Christian view of society should read Jonathan Israel’s Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity, 1650–1750, and his more recent, Spinoza, Life and Legacy. Whereas Descartes was cautious, Spinoza was bold—even Hobbes (whose Leviathan is a mechanistic account of the political body and the source of sovereignty), is reported in the brief biography of him by Aubrey to have exclaimed when reading Spinoza’s Theological Political Treatise, “I durst not write so boldly.” Spinoza uses the principles of the new philosophy to write an Ethics, reimagine the structure, and purpose of the state, primarily so that it may function in order to protect the work of philosophers and scientists like himself. He would also argue that the bible was a collection of myths, whose true grounding and history would reveal what a human-all-too human book it was.

Spinoza is invariably taught in Philosophy classes as a metaphysical opponent of Descartes. But such a reading magnifies the metaphysical differences between the two (Spinoza is a monist, not a dualist, and allows no scope for the free will—though the free will in Descartes is also just a cognitive operation of acceptance or denial of the information to be incorporated into one’s understanding about the material being studied) to the extent that it smothers the far larger affinity of the purpose and rationale of establishing the metaphysics. And, as with Descartes, it is to render the entirety of nature as one vast body of laws which the philosopher-scientist (at this time a scientist was still considered to be a “natural philosopher”) will study in order that we live better. Like Descartes Spinoza allows no room for miracles, for that would require departing from a strictly causal chain of bodies/powers.

Most radically Spinoza would simply dissolve God into nature. Strictly speaking Spinoza is a pantheist, rather than a deist, but in the bigger picture of cultural transformation that is merely a moot distinction of importance of philosophers, but not to how religion figures in life. Also, of great importance in the subsequent transformation of European culture was the claim in Spinoza’s Ethics that pleasure is the good, and pain the evil. Utilitarianism—which forms the basis of modern economic thinking—takes off from this position, and the self simply becomes a pleasure maximizing agent.

Sade was, to pick up on my earlier point, the most transgressive and unrestrained because he took pleasure in pain, both receiving it and inflict it—his thought was the consummation of a mechanistic view of life in which pleasure in its most extreme forms is the purpose of life.

To be sure, one would find it difficult to find a character less like the debauched Sade than Spinoza, and Spinoza’s Ethics is a work devoted to improving the human understanding, so that improvement of one’s understanding by being attentive to nature and its laws, and living in accordance with what the mind has understood is virtue itself, and that is the genuinely pleasurable life. But to a Sade, Spinoza simply seems too tame, unable or unwilling to throw everything into the furnace where life and death are all part of the same tumult of appetites, drives, and desires that are intrinsic to a cosmos which endlessly begets and devours life itself—and is evil. By embracing evil Sade takes his revenge on the cosmos by playing and embracing the game of endless extinction, by taking joy in it. The cosmos is evil—and so is Sade.

If Spinoza had laid down an ethic in which freedom is simply living how we must, as our lives are determined, Kant’s philosophy would pick up on the more normatively developed claims that were intrinsic to the those politically inflected philosophies which were appealing to rights. Whereas the arc from Spinoza, Hobbes and Bentham saw rights, and the natural law theories they derived from, as simply surrogate words for power, or as Bentham put it bluntly “nonsense on stilts,” Locke, and Rousseau, albeit in different ways, were making “rights” the basis of their respective critiques of traditional, i.e., monarchies invested with prerogative power, political orders they wished to be rid of.

Kant’s moral theory would have political implications—all constitutions should be republican, but he saw the larger problem of mechanism in its view of human beings as lacking freedom and thereby any moral purpose, or dignity. If morals are but powers, as they would be if we are but links in a great causal chain, then all we are talking about is force. Kant sought to defend moral right, and human dignity, by locating their source in reason itself. To this end his philosophy is genuinely dualist, and even more consistently and rigorously so than Descartes’ (though he does attempt to explicate how the faculty of judgment—in matters of biology, art and ideas about moral progress—serves to mediate between the phenomenal [what can be experienced and hence known] and noumenal [what is but the mind’s own rational creation]).

Kant’s dualism consists in arguing that the nature and legitimate scope of the elements of the mind’s forms and functions—the gathering of knowledge and the creation of moral ideals—can be strictly identified. Philosophers have heretofore failed to recognize that the elements of cognition that have an indispensable function in enabling our sensory representations to become knowledge have taken on a false reality thereby deluding us into thinking we have knowledge of God, the immortal soul, and moral freedom—all of which are but ideas that come from the faculty of reason’s own operations. They are not objects of possible experience, and not being so, we cannot disprove their existence. We can identify that they serve a moral purpose and thus we may accept these ideas as forming the basis of a rational faith.

I do not want to go into the details of Kant’s flawed arguments except to say the elements Kant insisted were unassailable all became assailable within the next century. More specifically, developments in geometry and logic rendered the Euclidean nature of space and time (the bedrock of his analysis of the a priori elements of the faculty of “intuition”), and the Aristotelian logical elements he thought settled that had provided the key to his table of categories of the “understanding,” as superseded. Kant’s constructivist theory of mathematics, which had to be true, for the rest of his theory of knowledge to work, convinced none of importance then or later. The very next generation of post-mechanistic metaphysicians were done with the strictures of Descartes and the investigations of those who “led” to Kant.

But, irrespective of the adequacy of Kant’s argument, his claim that the rational nature of human beings warrants that we should morally see ourselves as a member of a moral commonwealth, a commonwealth of ends and not means and thus deserving dignity and respect has subsisted along with a view of selves as driven by appetites is conspicuous in how readily the contemporary mind flicks a switch between rights and respect talk to talk of pleasure, appetites and determinations. The contradictions of an age or group do indeed provide the key to their motivations and priorities. Kant’s dualism is also built upon his recognition that our empirical selves are prone to what he would call radical evil, which simply meant for him, our propensity to have our moral principles tainted by our desires and drives. On the surface, this seems to be Kant’s rational concession to the Christian doctrine of original sin—except it is not. It is his way of making reason itself impervious to appetite—so that if we but apply the moral imperative to any circumstance we at least know what we should do.

The problems with the categorical imperative were exhaustively demolished by Hegel who notes that no example provided by Kant does not already draw upon the communal value in the sheer nomenclature and indeed in the very examples themselves of what constitutes a moral dilemma. Kant’s account of “practical reason,” or moral theory, is predicated upon him having adequately delineated the “bounds of experience,” by establishing which elements of reason are essential for perceiving, judging, and making inferences about experiences, and then which kind of claims are not strictly beholden to those elements, but to what reason itself supplies as ideas of its own making that do not contravene the requisites of experience: God, soul and freedom, he says don’t, because they are “mere ideas of reason.”

On the surface, by arguing that our moral claims are but judgments expressing what we all ought to do (categorical imperatives) and accepting that one can never rule out the impure motive of why someone is appealing to the imperative it may look as if Kant is simply recognising that we can only ask of reason that it helps us aspire to our ideals. And that is a good thing, surely? But frankly Kant only muddies the waters by having such an absolute severance between ideal and motive. If we are prone to radical evil then why bother thinking our morals suffice to make us God-like? Kant also claims that a just constitution that simply requires we observe the laws, irrespective of our motives, is a good thing. Kant once famously framed the task of politics as creating a constitution for even a race of devils, forgetting to account for the fact that those who administer it would still be nothing more than devils, and thus use the constitution for diabolical gains. The constitution of pure reason is but an occasion for diabolical interests to act behind the idealist smokescreen of the delusions of those satisfied by their own reasons and gullibility.

The technocratic vision of being lords and masters of the universe might seem to have been based in the pursuit of knowledge alone, but it was inevitably a political vision. And while Rousseau and his epigone, including Kant, thought they could ensure a politics of moral rectitude if they but redesigned our institutions so that liberty and equality and the general will would prevail, there were a few insurmountable problem—humans just aren’t that good, and nor are their reasons that compelling when it comes to trying to get agreement. The French revolutionaries justified their behavior on the basis of their reasons, and what they delivered was civil war, terror and the creation of the greatest military regime on earth at the time. Ideas and reality, what we want and what we do—they refuse to match up.

3. Concluding Note on Philosophism and the French Revolution

Augustin Barruel’s Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism is one of the most brilliant critical accounts of the French revolution ever written—Edmund Burke was one of its admirers, and as someone who regularly used to teach Burke’s Reflections of the Revolution in France, I think Barruel’s a far more important work. It is often disparaged as being but the father of modern conspiracy theory thinking. That is primarily because Barruel documents the involvement in the revolution of the French Free Masons—an involvement that few historians of the French revolution say much about, even though pretty well all are aware of the fact that the lodges along with the salons and political clubs were a major place of political intrigue and discussion—and, as well, the Bavarian Illuminati.

At much the same time as Barruel was writing his book, the former Mason and Scottish natural philosopher John Robison had written his Proofs of A Conspiracy Against All the Religions and Government of Europe Carried on in the Secret Meetings of the Free Masons, Illuminati and Religious Societies Collected from Good Authorities. Both books are meticulous researched and draw upon reams of quotations of writings and letters from Free Masons, and Adam Weishaupt (“Spartacus”) and other members of the Illuminati about the program and political involvement of the Illuminati and Masons. Both organizations adopted mythic foundations thus claiming ancient pedigrees.

Barruel also makes a convincing argument about how a number of key masonic beliefs and objectives have antecedents in the Manicheans and Knights Templars—which is very different from claiming as some modern conspiracy theorists as well as Masons think that there is a direct lineage going back to antiquity, and the secret attempt to control the world has been going on for millennia. While the Illuminati were happy to infiltrate the Masons, not all Masons were interested in revolution, indeed there were royalist Masons who seemed to have no idea of what subversive purpose the Masons could be serving. Barruel also emphasizes that the French and British lodges were completely different beasts and that the politics of the French lodges was far more radical. Barruel argues throughout that the Masons, at its highest levels, were an anti-Christian, as much as they were an anti-royalist, force. And, indeed, the supreme being recognized by the Masons is identical to the deism of the philosophers, as well as Robespierre and his faction. While Barruel and Robinson both see the Masons and Illuminati as pernicious social forces which circulated ideas that would contribute to the destruction of throne and altar, neither are saying that there were not other factors which made the revolution.

The various crises in France—its debt, its dysfunctional administrative and taxation “system,” the class antagonisms especially with respect to tax payment and avoidance, and various events of panic and violence that made the revolution—had little if anything to do with the Masons or Illuminati. But the secret societies provided forums of discussion and deliberation for those seeking to take advantage of the chaotic circumstances that enabled a new ruling class. I will not enter here into which particular moments Barruel thought involved conspiratorial machinations of the Masons or illuminati, but generally
Barruel sees the philosophes, most conspicuously Voltaire and D’Alembert whose works and correspondence he was steeped in and Montesquieu and Rousseau as playing the major role in generating the ideas that would hold sway in the revolution.

Today we would not usually think of a conspiracy taking place when philosophers in class rooms or in conferences openly talk about creating a utopia and overthrowing this oppressive society. Indeed, it is now seen as completely normal that people pay taxes to have people use the university as a platform for the radical overthrow of that society’s foundations and traditions. But when Voltaire and friends—that included Frederick the Great, who Barruel detests for his vanity and willingness to tarry so long with such explosive ideas—speak of overthrowing throne and altar they are generally aware that these are things that must be aired with circumspection and delicacy. And Barruel devotes much of his effort to bringing to light the more revolutionary ideas that are to be found in the correspondence of Voltaire and D’Alembert, the ideas of Montesquieu, Rousseau and the Encyclopedists.

While the professional classes involved in the revolution were as much responding to circumstances as creating new ones that invariably overpowered them, their decisions were also fueled by the heady concoction of ideas that had swept them together—and not too much later divided them in blood.

All of this notwithstanding, the role played in the French revolution by philosophy, not only in shaping the appeals and narratives of the revolutionaries but also in the drafting of the constitutions—was unlike anything that had ever preceded it. (Though philosophical ideas had played an important role in the American Declaration of independence, it is hard to make the case that the American war of Independence was primarily driven by philosophical ideas.) One only has to consider how Locke’s philosophy comes after the English revolution, while the most important philosophers whose names were invoked during the French revolution preceded it.

Surprisingly Barruel says nothing of Descartes in his Memoirs; and whilst he mentions Descartes in his Les helviennes, ou Lettres provinciales philosophique, there is no indication of the founding role of Descartes in the revolutionary ideas and spirit of “philosophism.” In part. Barruel’s silence on Descartes may be explained by the ambivalence in which Descartes was held by many after his philosophy came to become accepted within the institutions which had once been the fortress of scholasticism, as well as the royal patronage his ideas received from the later part of the seventeenth century. Thus, Stéphanne van Damme notes in his “Restaging Descartes. From the Philosophical Reception to the national Pantheon”: that in the second part of the Eighteenth Century, “Descartes ceased to represent a renegade” and was seen “as a representative of the Old Regime.” Van Damme provides a concise but important account of the role of princely patrons in helping the circulation of Cartesian thought. The following is a pertinent part of the story:

In a rare process, by surpassing the limits of aristocratic sociability, by moving into princely circles, Cartesian philosophy became a truly cultural phenomenon during the seventeenth Century. First, Cartesianism was integrated into noble educational practices. Thus, Rohault, the Prince de Conti’s tutor, and Jacques Sauveur, the Duke d’Enghien’s tutor, contributed to this aristocratic passion for Cartesian physics. The Prince de Condé’s Jesuit tutors led the way in teaching Cartesianism. In January 1684, the Jesuit father Du Rosel spoke of the philosophical education of the young Duke d’Enghien: “We continue to examine the questions of place and space. We read what the Principes of Descartes have to say on this subject, and what they can contribute to an understanding of the difference between the old and the new Philosophy.”

Another pertinent part of the story which is indicative of the ambivalence surrounding Descartes’ contribution to the Enlightenment, was the central weakness in his physics, and—weaknesses which were often connected with the metaphysics—most brutally exposed by Newton. Indeed the triumph of Isaac Newton’s physics meant the complete defeat of Cartesian physics. In Newton’s De gravitatione et aequipondio fluidorum, a paper written in 1666 on hydrostatics, a very large digression (about four fifths of the paper) occurs in which Newton provides a detailed critique of Descartes’ conceptions of motion, space, and body (a translation by the philosopher Jonathan Bennett can be found here.

It is worth citing the following passage which exposes how the deficiencies in the physics and metaphysics are of apiece:

We take from body (just as he (Descartes) bids) gravity, duration, and all sensible qualities, so that nothing finally would remain except what belongs to its essence. Will, accordingly, extension only remain? Not at all. For we reject additionally that capacity or power by which the perceptions of thinking things move. For when the distinction is only between the ideas of thinking and extension so that something would not be manifest to be the foundation of the connection or relation unless that be caused by divine power; the capacities of bodies can be rejected with this reserved extension, but it would not be rejected with the reserved bodily nature. Obviously, the changes which can be induced in bodies by natural causes are only accidental and not denoting the substance actually to be changed.
But if anything could induce the change which transcends natural causes, it is more than accidentally and has radically attainted the substance. According to the sense of the demonstration those only are being rejected of which body, by force of nature, can be void and deprived. But no one would object that bodies which are not united to minds cannot immediately move their perceptions. And hence
when bodies are given united to minds by nothing, it will follow (that) this power is not among their essentials. The observation is that this does not act by actual union but only by the capacity of bodies by which they are capable of this union by force of nature. As by whatever capacity belongs to all bodies, it is manifest from it that the parts of the brain, especially the more subtle by which the mind is united, are
in continual flux, the new ones succeeding to those flying off. And it is not lesser to take (off) this, whether regarding the divine achievement or bodily nature, than to take (off) the other capacity by which bodies in themselves are able alternately to transfer mutual actions, that is, than to force body back into empty space.

The decisive victory of Newton over Cartesianism—to put it in its most simple and stark terms—was Newton’s demonstration of the fact that bodies did attract and repel each other at a distance and hence that the strictures Descartes placed upon the contiguity of bodies was false, and his vision of the universe as consisting of a plenum filled with vortexes, it was a universe in which no space was not filled with matter. Newton would famously say in his Principia, “Hypotheses non fingo” (“I feign no hypotheses”). Those three words would suffice to render Descartes’ physics a monstrous concoction of rationalism not much better than Aristotle’s concoctions.

Throughout the 1730s and 1740s Voltaire entered into the “wars” between the Newtonians and Cartesians (most famously in his Lettres philosophiques Éléments de la Philosophie de Newton), as a champion of the empirical genius of Newton (and Bacon, and Locke) against the reactionary rationalist Cartesians holding back progress. Notwithstanding “the Newton wars,” Voltaire’s overall assessment of the value of Descartes indicates that in spite of the various errors made by Descartes, his importance in the making of the new world cannot be ignored:

He pushed his metaphysical errors so far, as to declare that two and two make four for no other reason by because God would have it so. However, it will not be making him too great a compliment if we affirm that he was valuable even in his mistakes. He deceived himself, but then it was at least in a methodical way. He destroyed all the absurd chimeras with which youth had been infatuated for two thousand years. He taught his contemporaries how to reason, and enabled them to employ his own weapons against himself. If Descartes did not pay in good money, he however did great service in crying down that of a base alloy.
I indeed believe that very few will presume to compare his philosophy in any respect with that of Sir Isaac Newton. The former is an essay, the latter a masterpiece. But then the man who first brought us to the path of truth, was perhaps as great a genius as he who afterwards conducted us through it.
Descartes gave sight to the blind. These saw the errors of antiquity and of the sciences. The path he struck out is since become boundless.

Voltaire’s tribute to Descartes’ importance is also echoed by Condorcet, who unlike Voltaire actually participated in the revolution, only unfortunately to be on the side of the losing faction of the Girondins. Whilst in prison, where he died, he wrote his Outlines of an Historical View of the Progress, whose “ninth epoch” bears the title “From the Time of Descartes, to the Formation of the French Republic.” Like Voltaire, Condorcet noted the errors of Descartes and sides with Locke, but, also like Voltaire, he praises him for the new path he opens up:

From the time when the genius of Descartes impressed on the minds of men that general impulse, which is the first principle of a revolution in the destiny of the human species, to the happy period of entire social liberty, in which man has not been able to regain his natural independence till after having passed through a long series of ages of misfortune and slavery, the view of the progress of mathematical and physical science presents to us an immense horizon, of which it is necessary to distribute and assort the several parts, whether we may be desirous of fully comprehending the whole, on of observing their mutual relations.

Thus it was that Descartes would, as Van Damme notes, be the third writer to be listed in the decree founding the Pantheon on April 4, 1792” and “in 1792, the monument of Descartes was deposited in a new musée des monuments français organised by Alexandre Lenoir, and cenotaphs to his honor and other great men’s erected in the garden, jardin Élysée, around the museum.” Van Damme makes much of Louis-Sébastien Mercier, a member of the Council of Five Hundred denouncing Descartes’ “Pantheonization.” What he neglects to point out, though, is that during this post-Thermidor phase of the revolution the rhetoric of the revolution remained whilst the attempts to stabilize its momentum was taking a far more conservative direction. Further, whilst Mercier had been a disciple of Rousseau and an anti-cleric, with his revolutionary fervour chastened by the bloodbath of the Jacobins, Mercier turned upon everything he saw as a source of the “terror,” and at the beginning of it all was “the free thinking “Descartes. By then Mercier was no less hostile not only to Voltaire’s attacks upon religion, but more generally to philosophy itself as a subversive power within the people.

Of course, the French revolution was predicated upon normative appeals, including patriotism, that have nothing to do with Descartes. But my point in this essay has been to focus on the mechanistic metaphysical pole of the bifurcated modern self. That other pole, as I have said, is the one of reason no longer simply studying nature’s determinations but conjuring ideas which provide legitimation for political and social authority. This pole is even more destructive of liberties than the technocratic, for those who insist that their authority is based upon the moral or ethical values that give them authority in deciding what we may or may not do invariably, originally in communist and fascist and now in liberal democratic regimes, attack any who question their decisions and policy priorities.

The ruling political class and the class that devotes itself to the accumulation of scientific knowledge form a bond in which the authority of the one class facilitates the authority of the other. The politics corrupts the science, and the science corrupts the politics. Together they make a world far more frightening than any produced by an evil genius. Together, they dissolve the soul into a bifurcation of machine and empty abstraction, in which the spirit of tradition and place are also rendered of no importance unless they serve the larger narrational purpose of an identity to be inserted into the design. In that design machine and norms are magically revived and unified. What has been lost in the transmutation is the soul.

Frankenstein’s Monsters is what we are in danger of becoming as we are but machines with ideals that dictate our identity—for anyone who is black, a woman, a gay, etc., who deviates from the script of what that identity should be is no longer defined by their identity marks, but by their betrayal of the essence and the narrative that has been dictated to those who have that essence by their political saviors. This is the rational moral faith that dictates how we should be in our world of pleasure and material satiation delivered by the world as a great calculative resource. It is the faith that has enabled the globalist progressivist view of life in which all the resources of the planet are to be managed and all traditions to be rendered redundant.

The world is an occasion for the profit and pleasure of those who are able to preside over the technocratic forces that do their bidding. Nietzsche had used the phrase “God is dead,” and Heidegger “the gods have fled.” But the living God never dies, and humans always find gods to serve. The god of one’s own identity is though one of the most pitiful that has ever been conjured. Descartes would, I think, have been horrified to see how thoughtless the new thinking subject is, and how infantile the world it is making has become.

Read Part 1 and Part 2.


Wayne Cristaudo is a philosopher, author, and educator, who has published over a dozen booksHe also doubles up as a singer songwriter. His latest album can be found here.


Featured: Presencia Inquietante (Unseetling Presence), by Remedios Varo; painted in 1959.


Deciphering the Russian Code

Russia is in dire need of an ideology capable of fighting the enemy on the invisible battlefield.

Yeltsin destroyed the Soviet Union and with it the communist ideology. The ideologues of victorious liberalism—Yegor Gaidar and Anatoly Chubais—built a country that resembled an ugly caricature of the victorious Western civilization.

Russia ceased to be a civilization, ceased to be a country; the Russian people ceased to be a people, and a frenzied liberal broom swept across the once great expanse between three oceans, sweeping away everything associated with Russian uniqueness.

Now that Yeltsin’s Russia is facing a war in Ukraine and liberal ideology is gone along with its ideologues, Russia, robbed, exhausted, deceived, devoid of ideological meanings, is fighting the giant behemoth of the West, which, in addition to the space constellations of Ilon Musk and long-range Himars, has a powerful ideology, tested over the centuries, rooted in the mysterious depths of European metaphysics.

Russia, in dire need of shells and tanks, reserve battalions and divisions, is in dire need of an ideology capable of fighting the enemy on the invisible battlefield, in empires of ideological meanings.

And today a hunt for meanings has been announced in Russia. A lot of political scientists, political technologists, philosophers are looking for meanings. They look for them underfoot, find them, carry them to their laboratories, glue them together with something sticky that is secreted from their political science glands. They take their products to the Kremlin, offering to write history textbooks on the basis of these products, to build a new Russian state, to create public organizations, political movements, new symbols, new songs, a new Russian man capable of winning the battle for history.

But the products fall apart on the approach to the Spasskaya Tower. The sticky secretion of political scientists dries up, and the lumps of meanings found underfoot disintegrate—ideology does not stick together.

Meanings are not obtained in brainstorming sessions of political scientists, nor in discussion clubs of politicians. Meanings are obtained by the revelations of individual God-revealed people, who suddenly open the gates to those heavenly spheres where meanings dwell. Meanings are the inhabitants of high azure spaces, which the religious consciousness of thinkers reaches. Meanings are like nuggets stored in the depths of heaven.

The deep content of Russian civilization, changing its external forms, dressed from century to century in various vestments and robes, remained unchanged in its innermost essence. It was a dream of ideal existence, divine harmony, creating a just kingdom, where there is no violence, oppression, darkness, trampling of the weak by the strong, the rich by the poor. Where the most terrible injustice that haunts the human race is defeated—death is defeated.

The image of this kingdom has moved from pagan fairy tales to Orthodox Christianity, to the fantasies of cosmists, to the mysteries of poets and musicians, to the political declarations of Narodovites and Communists. This image even now lives as a dream in the depths of the people’s feeling, not allowing the people to disappear, encouraging them to fight and build, guiding them to perfection.

The Russian Dream of a just state is a precious treasure of the Russian World, which is conceived by the Creator as a repository of this marvelous idea.

To the achievement of this ideal, to the building of this marvelous kingdom, the Russian codes are the steps up which the nation rises, overcoming terrible difficulties, bitterness, fires and defeats, each time rising from the ashes, and with its charred, burnt hands continuing to build this marvelous edifice.

Russian codes are the meanings, the keyboard on which a great ruler creates a symphony of nation and state—Russian and Tatar, Chechen and Khanty. Great rulers, such as Vladimir the Holy, Ivan Vasilyevich the Terrible, Peter the Great, Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, owned this keyboard, led Russia from great upheavals to greatness.

These codes are thousands. Such codes are Pushkin, Stalingrad, Baikal, Peresvet… “There was a birch tree in the field.”

But among these thousands of codes there are seven, without which it is impossible to build a sunny Russian state.

There is the code of exaction—the continuous striving for this state, begging for it, calling it out among the rubble of history.

There is the code of sacred labor, which is used not only to obtain daily bread, but also to build the state itself, and to obtain the Kingdom of Heaven, “which is given by works.”

There is the code of resurrection, which allows Russia to rise again after terrible historical defeats, and strive for the ideal bequeathed to it.

There is the code of the Russian miracle, which saves Russia when, it would seem, there is no salvation, and the abyss embraces the country and the people. Russia sinks into the dark depths of Lake Svetloyar to suddenly in the sparkle of the divine miracle to surface again from unknown waters, with its golden domes, marvelous palaces and churches to rise to greatness.

There is the code for a common cause, transforming the nation into a gigantic labor-artel, a vast invincible battalion. And the entrance to this ideal kingdom, to this heavenly Jerusalem, will be realized by all the people—both those who are still living on earth, and those who have already passed away, and those who have not yet been born.

There is the code of defense consciousness, when people defend their dream, their ideal, making colossal sacrifices for its preservation. Russia, defending its ideals, takes on all the darkness of the world, turning it into light. God entrusted Russia to defend this divine ideal, washing it with tears and blood.

There is the code of Russia—the soul of the world. For Russia invites to the historical campaign all kinds of people, wishes spiritual victory not only to itself, but also to all mankind, opens to each person of the Earth a gate to this delightful Russian garden.

The intimate knowledge of Russian codes is the essence of acquiring meanings. Obtained codes must be saved from the enemy.

The enemy, admitted to the storehouse of Russian meanings, destroys them, cuts off people from the sky, expels them from history. All conquerors coming to the Russian land strove for this. Demons of perestroika aspired to it. This is what today’s enemies are striving for, trying to reach with their long-range drones, their high-speed missiles, not just to reach the Kremlin chambers, but also to hit the repository of Russian meanings.

The Izborsky Club gathers into its spiritual brotherhood people with illuminated consciousness, clairvoyants to whom meanings are revealed. It is a school of spiritual knowledge, where the teachers are Russian clairvoyants, be it pagan skomorokhi or Dostoevsky, Seraphim of Sarov or Joseph Stalin.

The forum of the Russian Dream movement has just taken place. It was held in the Grebnevo estate near Moscow, where many confessors of this precious Russian faith came from all over Russia. They shared discoveries, fraternized, and gifted each other with their spiritual discoveries. There were singers, warriors wounded in the Donbass, philosophers and politicians.

At night, on a huge glade, they lit a fire, which blazed, sending countless golden sparks into the sky, and each of them was a prayer, a demand, a hope for the Russian miracle and for the Russian victory.

Sparks, mined by fiery, loving and fearless hearts open to the light.

The confessors of the Russian Dream, the discoverers of Russian meanings pay a huge price for their discoveries. Darya Dugina, her majestic father Alexander Dugin, the brilliant Russian writer Zakhar Prilepin. And now—Alexander Borodai, the hero of Donbass, has been hit by a Ukrainian tank. Wounded, he lies in a Donetsk hospital.

Sasha, get up soon from your bed, Russian meanings are waiting for you.


Alexander Prokhanov, a doyen of Russian letters, is a member of the secretariat of the Writers Union of the Russian Federation and has written more than 30 novels and many short story collections. He also edits the influentail weekly newspaper, Zavtra. This article comes through the kind courtesy of Geopolitica.


Featured: Evening Bells, by Isaac Levitan; painted in 1892.


Metapolitics and the Historical

Every time we have had the opportunity to speak about metapolitics, we have argued that it is interdisciplinary, where other disciplines such as literature, economics, philosophy, theology, history and politics converge in an attempt to explain the major categories that condition the political action of current rulers.

Although there are at least three interpretative currents—those who pretend to make metapolitics without politics, those who limit it to the recovery of public policy and those who interpret it as a metaphysics of politics—all agree on the method: to go to the things themselves and describe them as accurately as possible.

The method is therefore phenomenological in its two aspects: eidetic or essential description and hermeneutic or interpretative.

However, metapolitics and its proponents have developed their own mode of exposition, which we call, festina lente, that is, to hasten calmly, or to be hasty with circumspection, offering quick, prompt answers to the problems that are presented to us but with maximum prudence, sine ira et studio. It is necessary to publish quickly, even fragmentarily, the result of the research (festina), waiting for the intersubjective verification of others, to bring about rectification, clarification or compliment of what has been researched. Today, we are in the age of the Internet and so we have to take advantage of it.

What happened with metapolitics, mutatis mutandi, is what happened with the historical (what is said about history) and historiography in the last half of the 19th century. Humboldt, Dilthey, Droysen and so many others wanted to provide studies of the historical with an agency analogous to that which Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason offered to the physical and natural sciences.

Thus, Droysen states that the method of history is forschend zu verstehen, to understand by inquiring. The difference between scholars of history—according to J.G. Droysen, the philological—and historiography or the historical is that the former is concerned with authentic documents or the chronology of the events of the Lutheran Reformation, while the latter looks into the cognitive orientation and meaning of these documents. The former leads to the preparation of knowledge, while the latter to knowledge itself.

The scholar does not get involved in the human drama he studies, because he lives the placid and restful life of the scholar who has his salary assured month after month. The one who is involved is the one who seeks knowledge itself. The one who wonders about the being of the being of the entity, as Heidegger says. For the meaning of what is.

With metapolitics something analogous occurs; for while the political scientist wonders about the political activity of parties and agents, the one who seeks to do metapolitics wonders about the meaning of these actions—where they come from and where they are going; what are their constraints and what are their freedoms. His method, as we said, is the phenomenological method of dissident hermeneutics whose mode of exposition is the festina lente, to hasten calmly.

As we can see, there is a very close proximity between hastening calmly and understanding by inquiring. But the difference is that the festina lente incorporates the novelty of the Internet by making available to others the concepts to be studied and awaits their answers or verifications in the enrichment of the concepts treated.

In this sense, I am tempted to say that metapolitics finds a very great contemporary ally in historiographic production, both hermeneutic and conceptual; hence authors such as Hans Gadamer and Reinhart Koselleck are recommended reading for the discipline.

We must not forget what Epictetus of old said: “It is not so much the facts that move man, but rather the words about those facts.”

This does not mean, as Nietzsche exaggerated, that there are no facts but only interpretations. No, there are facts that, depending on how we describe them, through political correctness or unique thought, or through the thought police, will produce in the subject’s conscience a preconceived or predetermined reaction by the producers of meaning: basically, the mass media. But there is also another possibility, which consists in working those facts and the concepts that produced those facts, through metapolitics, with the aim of achieving an awakened and incorruptible conscience.

Addendum

There are different types of hermeneutics—existential, analogical, ontological, discursive, language, classical, etc., so we can justify our proposal of a dissident hermeneutics to address studies on metapolitics. We say “dissident” because we start from dissent as a method of metapolitics, according to which we seek another meaning to the social-political disorder we suffer. Its motto could be, opposer pour penser.

Dissident hermeneutics rescues the existential dimension of the interpreter, who starts from the interpreter, who starts from the preference of himself and his situation in a given ecumene of the world. That is to say, there is no universality, as in Kant-Habermas-Apel, in understanding, since it is done from a genius loci. And it is dissident because, first of all, it dissents with the status quo in force and its great categories that condition political action, offering another sense.

Thus, the approach to these major categories is based on dissidence from them because they are products of crypto-politics and not of public policy. All the mega-categories that make up this globalized world are products and creations of the different lobbies or power groups that exist in the world and that end up governing it. Dissident hermeneutics starts from this presupposition but, at the same time, its criterion of truth is based, no longer on the ideologues of different sorts, but on the different ethos of the ecumenes that make up this world, which is a cosmos, meaning both order and beauty. The world, in its ultimate sense, is an ordered and beautiful set of entities that compose it—in such a way that when man disarranges it, it is transformed into something ugly and unlivable.


Alberto Buela is an Argentinian philosopher and professor at National Technological University and the University of Barcelona. He is the author of many books and articles. His website is here.


Featured: Clio, by Lambert Cause. Print, ca. 1600. The caption reads: “Clio gesta canens transactis tempora reddit” (Clio, singing of famous deeds, restores times past to life), which is the opening line of Ausonius’s poem, “Nomina musarum” (“Names of the Muses”).


Wokeism, A New Religion?

Jean-François Braunstein, philosopher and professor at the Sorbonne, has written a new book on Wokeism, which seeks to describe and criticize Wokeist theories, while providing us with a remarkable and comprehensive overview. The book also contends with the fact that this post-Protestant, North American cult has entirely come to fill the vacant spiritual space of the West. This interview, with Élisabeth Geffroy, comes through the kind courtesy of La Nef.


Élisabeth Geffroy (EG): How is wokism akin to religion? More generally, what fate does it hold for rationality?

Jean-François Braunstein (J-FB): The term “woke” means “to awaken” and was first used by the Black Lives Matter movement to designate an awakening to social justice. But the term also has a strong religious dimension. The Woke are “awakened” to a new global vision of the world, very different from our own. It’s also reminiscent of the great American Protestant “awakenings” (revivals) of the 18th and 19th centuries. For the Woke, the equivalent of original sin is “white privilege;” but this is a sin for which there is no forgiveness. The idea is to radically separate the pure from the impure, condemned as “racist” or “transphobic.” In the wake of George Floyd’s death, the Woke rediscovered certain rituals of contrition, such as genuflecting or washing the feet of blacks, at large gatherings, with a strong emphasis on emotion and enthusiasm.

The Woke are bigots. They refuse to debate their opponents, whom they see as evil. During the takeover of Evergreen University in 2017, one of the students ordered one of the professors to stop arguing because “logic is racist.”” Cancel culture” wants to ban anything in Western culture that doesn’t conform to Woke beliefs. The Woke are also highly proselytizing, now targeting primary and secondary schools.

Jean-François Braunstein.

What’s even more astonishing is that this religion originated in Western universities, founded since the 19th century on the legacy of the Enlightenment: argumentation, academic freedom, rationality. Yet the Woke are resolute critics of Enlightenment values, such as universalism and reason, as well as individual autonomy.

EG: Could you explain to us how the world that the Woke build and want to inhabit is in fact an imaginary one, and their thinking a magical one that dismisses reality?

J-FB: Gender theory posits that what distinguishes masculine from feminine is not the body, but our awareness of being male, female or whatever. This idea that the body is inessential is reminiscent of the Gnostic heresy, which explained that the body is the evil from which we must free ourselves.

Gender proponents therefore reject biology—but also the testimony of our senses, when they ask us to share the feeling of someone who believes they are of one gender or another, when they are clearly of the other. Transactivists are asking us—and asking society, by changing the sex of a person’s civil status on a simple declaration—to enter into what philosopher Kathleen Stock calls the “imaginary world” of gender.

Similarly, to preserve the idea that “felt” gender takes precedence over the body, they speak of people being “assigned” male or female at birth (AMAB or AFAB), as if the choice of gender were arbitrary and imposed. Planned Parenthood promotes this imaginary world by explaining that a man can be pregnant and that the penis is not a male sexual organ. Women are to be erased, as they are too reminiscent of the difference between the sexes.
This imaginary world of gender is all the more appealing because it is completely in line with the metaverse proposed by big tech, where you can change your gender at the click of a button. The idea that it is possible to change one’s body at will also evokes transhumanist utopias. Big tech’s commitment to these transgender and transhumanist theories compounds the threat of this imaginary world.

EG: “The problem is that we prefer to endanger the majority for the benefit of a tiny minority of convinced activists who present themselves as eternal victims,” you write. Does this sentence tell us about Wokism?

J-FB: I was referring here to the claims of a minority of transactivist activists, in particular men who “declare” themselves to be women, without having changed sex, and claim to participate in women’s sports competitions or to be held in women’s prisons. The result is that women’s sport will be entirely dominated by these trans men, and women prisoners will be abused by these same trans men.

More broadly speaking, it goes without saying that presenting oneself as a “victim,” even if it’s just an unverifiable “feeling,” is a formidable weapon. All it takes is one “victim” to declare himself shocked, and whole swathes of Western culture are annulled. Censorship, and above all self-censorship, is the rule in universities, in the media and in big tech, where the Woke reign supreme. These militant minorities, organized and determined, easily take control of universities, or associations and unions.

EG: You speak of a “deliberate enterprise to destroy science” by the Woke. Could you elaborate on this?

J-FB: These attacks on science have their origins in gender theory, which denounces biology for establishing that there are only two sexes in the human species. This denunciation of “virilist biology” evokes the Stalinist period when Lyssenko opposed “bourgeois science” and “proletarian science.” But mathematics is also accused of being “virilist” and “racist” because mathematicians are predominantly white men, or “colonialist” because calculus is said to have been used to count slaves on slave ships.

Since science was born in the West, it should now be replaced by “indigenous knowledge.” This is what is happening in woke New Zealand, where traditional Maori myths are taught in the same classes as Western science.

The Woke have also invented a new epistemology which explains that all knowledge is “situated”: science is always made from a certain “point of view”—that of the dominant, white Western males. There is no such thing as objective knowledge. For the Woke, it is now necessary to take the point of view of the “dominated.” Truth no longer exists—we mustn’t seek “truer knowledge,” but always take the “point of view of the dominated.” This assertion that truth does not exist is, of course, contradictory, since it presents itself as true.

EG: You link part of Wokism’s success to a younger, more psychologically fragile generation that is “offended” by everything. Could you explain this link?

J-FB: A number of sociologists have noted that generations Y (born after 1980) and Z (born after 2000) are particularly fragile because they have been brought up away from any risk by “helicopter parents” who watch over their children from a distance to avoid any upset. For these “pampered” generations, American universities have invented “trigger warnings” when studying destabilizing subjects, whether it’s the Holocaust with Primo Levi, rape in Ovid or alcoholism with Scott Fitzgerald. This overprotection increases the psychological fragility of these generations.

EG: In the course of your analysis, you repeatedly give pride of place to notions of common sense and ordinary decency, and you place great hopes in the resistance of the working classes and “real-world workers” to the wacky ravings of the intellectual classes. Could you explain why?

J-FB: “Ordinary people” are in the best position to oppose the wacky Woke. We see this in the United States, where a majority of parents no longer accept that their children are being taught, from primary school onwards, that they can choose their gender, or that they are necessarily racist if they are white and victims of racism if they are black. Those who have been called “real-world workers” since Covid are well aware that bodies exist. They don’t live in the virtual world of connected “intellectual” elites. Nor do Blacks and Latinos accept that their children be taught that they will necessarily be victims, any more than Whites accept that their children should be taught that they are “systemically” racist. A real “culture war” has begun on these issues, and will no doubt be at the heart of the next American presidential election.


Featured: A membership certificate for the “Wide-Awake Club,” a Republican marching club formed in February or March 1860.