To those engaged in the decades-old fight against globalism, what occurred in Washington, DC, on January 6th 2021, comes as no surprise. Defeat and tragedy are expectations when the individual must, with unending heroism, contend with institutional power – which in its vastness is both disconcerting and frightening.
But then, no one ever said that heroism was easy. Being heroic means being very lonely, for just when you think you are surrounded by supporters, you find that you’re all alone and must fight alone. Being heroic means never quitting, that you reach deep down inside yourself to tap into strength with which to overcome insurmountable odds, because there is no one to help you. Being heroic means starting all over again when everything falls apart because there are no other options. All this is clearly summed up by Winston Churchill’s observation: “Success is a series of failures.”
What happened on January 6th was certainly heroic – the people asserting their will on those that seek to rule over us. However, as often happens, the people were also betrayed by those who acted as their leaders. When push came to shove, said leaders were well-ensconced in their various safe-places.
But first the defeat and the tragedy. I know several people who went to Washington. Their expectation was that the man whom they had implicitly trusted was gathering them in the capital because he had a trump card up his sleeve, which he would at last reveal – and that he would at long last bring down the hammer to finally right some of the wrongs. In other words, people who came in their hundreds of thousands to Washington – came seeking justice. It was not a show of force, but a show of unity against the tightening vise-grips of tyranny.
Instead, what awaited the people was grim tragedy. Sure, there were fiery speeches, with the right phrases shouted to elicit cheers. Demands were made from those present (“You’ll never take back our country with weakness – you have to be strong!”). Of course, no one explained to the crowd why it had been gathered, let alone what was expected from it, and what being “strong” meant.
But a lot of steam was let-off. And that was it. And that was the only point of the entire exercise. There was no card up any sleeve. Heck, there wasn’t even a sleeve. Once the speechifying was done, the leaders expected everyone to just go home. The cast of thousands was no longer needed; it had served its purpose of being useful props in the grand theater of bravura and aggrandization. The same people I know, who attended, afterwards told me – they felt used.
It was more of the usual. Politicians who talk the talk, but are MIA when it comes to doing something. It’s one thing to speechify. It’s quite another to make what you said in the speech reality. There is an old Latin saying, acta non verba (deeds not words). But then who knows Latin any more… Better to spout than to believe.
Every crowd gathers for a reason – and when that reason is missing, there is confusion, followed by frustration and then anger. That is what happened on January 6th, for there was no real purpose to the huge gathering. It was all just to “demonstrate” some vague show of “strength” to an elusive foe. At best, it was a “feel-good” moment. At worst, it was a grand betrayal of the people.
But the dynamics of what occurred next is very telling. We have all seen the videos of people storming the Capitol and being met with police who did not hesitate to use pepper spray, flashbangs, clubs, and a bullet in one instance. Of course, throughout the summer when BLM and Antifa rioted and burned down cities and businesses, the police shot no one – because the rioters were the right type of human beings. In fact, the police was nowhere to be see and so cities burned and some 30 to 40 people died.
January 6th had to be different, because the wrong crowd had gathered. The police were prepared and ready to use all force necessary – and so four people were killed. In the rapidly shifting dynamic of the headless crowd, the vacuum of being leaderless is quickly filled by haphazard action. The violence only happened because those that had organized the rally had no interest in actually leading it – and so people did what seemed sensible – and this led to the tragedy.
When people got inside the House, they milled about in front of the Chamber, inside which police and security personnel stood behind barricaded doors, guns drawn and aimed at the crowd (who were unarmed).
Suddenly, a solitary shot was heard. A woman, with a Trump flag draped around her, crumbled to the floor. She had been shot in the neck. Here is a video, which is vey graphic (discretion is advised). She likely died on the spot, murdered by a security man inside the chamber who can be seen quickly lunging forward and firing. Why did he feel it necessary to use lethal force? Was he commanded to do so? Why did he chose this woman to fire at? She was targeted, because he only fired the one shot and then vanished. Who knows if the truth will ever emerge? Regardless, the video evidence of the crime is very clear.
The victim’s name was Ashli Babbit, a married, 14-year US Air Force veteran, who had completed four tours of duty. The poignancy is replete – here was a woman who fought for her country and who was then murdered in the halls of her Congress. There were no regrets, however – because she was the wrong type of human. And, of course, the police shot nobody, and no guns were drawn, when the right type of humans stormed the Capitol. “Justice” is always swift when meted out to the wrong kinds of humans.
It is alleged that the other three were killed as a result of police action. But that remains to be seen. A policeman also died; it is still unclear as to how.
If anything good can come out of all this misery, it’s this – there can be no alliance between the system of politics that currently exists in all Western democracies and populism. Why? Because the ideology that fuels the system is progressivism (which is always wrongly labeled as something other than what it really is – why that is an interesting question). And progressivism is innately anti-human, for it must continually overcome those that are deemed regressive. People always get in the way of progress, and so they must be steamrolled.
Society is a great big petri dish in which all kinds of social engineering must forever be implemented in order to demonstrate that progress is indeed being made. This is why the propaganda for “progress” is so relentless.
It’s a simple dynamic really – but a dynamic that is also very poorly understood, and therefore very difficult to fight, let alone defeat. In fact, most people believe in progress and cannot imagine life without it. Things always must get better, and we must use politics to that end. This is also the tragic mistake made by most populists. They do not understand that progressivism is the true enemy of populism – not “Marxism,” “communism,” or “socialism” (whatever these terms still mean). It comes as no surprise, therefore, that populists are forever fighting chimeras.
So, what is the way forward now? It is pointless describing what is wrong, while never saying what to actually do about it. Most people are lost in the playhouse of such description – it keeps everyone busy, while the world is controlled by others. Has that not been the grand theme since 2016 – endless griping about how corrupt everything is, “the swamp,” with no one stepping up to the plate and actually doing something about it? The fact is you cannot use the system to destroy the system. The sooner populists realize that – the further ahead they will be.
To make sure that the deaths of the four MAGA-martyrs are not in vain, this is what populists must do, or start to do. This isn’t easy. Nothing is ever easy – the problem is so vast that populist victories must be small, and they must be incremental.
Here is what I suggest…
Stop complaining. Yes, we all know how bad things are. No one needs more descriptions of how things are falling apart. Of course, it is always easier to criticize than to build. But make an effort to offer hope and encouragement. Don’t traffic in despair. There is a great hunger for vision. True leadership is not about uttering the right slogans and talking point. True leadership is about teaching how to build. In fact, despair is the real “swamp” that is drowning populism.
Stop feeding the beast. Politics is irreparably broken and endlessly corrupt. It cannot be fixed by electing “better” candidates. Instead, learn to create micro-communities. Find ways to grow your own food, create your own electricity, set up your own schools. Learn to control your own lives, rather than relying on the government. Government-control is always tyranny. Build shadow economies so you can stop feeding the system with your taxes, your effort, your ideas and your labor.
Stop being compliant. The system does not work for your benefit. It exists to dominate you. Find ways, no matter how small, to resist. Learn to mark your independence by becoming truly ungovernable. The easiest way is to stop funding political parties with your money. And for Heaven’s sake – do not vote for any of their candidates. Why support the elite who have no interest in you? Unite against their governments, their systems. If you must be political then pool your talents and start a populist party and try to win local elections with your candidates. This is the long-march. Do not look for instant solutions – because there are none.
Stop supporting crony capitalism. Learn to be entrepreneurial. Understand the function and purpose of big money, and find ways and means to subvert it. The easiest way, for example, is to stop supporting mega-corporations – they are all tyrannical. This may sound like complete heresy, but cancel all your social media accounts. Stop shopping at big-box stores. You’ll be the happier for doing so. Do not let large companies define the meaning of your life.
On a positive note, get in the habit of looking for beauty, say, in music, in painting, in gardening, in woodworking. Add to the beauty of the world – no matter how small. Do not let mega-corporations hijack your time.
If, as many are predicting, January 6th is the start of a revolution – make sure it’s the right one. Do not get sucked into the rhetoric of others, who will use you for their ends.
Also, make sure you understand that true revolutions are not political; they are moral and spiritual. Good politics can only be the result of good morals. Looking for good politics first is a fool’s errand. There must be something unchanging and constant to guide human destiny. That is true populism, which clearly understands that human worth can never be defined by political agency.
It’s a tough slog ahead. We will need a lot of populism to get through it. Do not lose your way. Do not lose hope. Build your own populism. That is true liberty. That is true heroism.
C.B. Forde, a former academic, lives in a rural location, where he practices what he preaches.
The image shows, “Der Sämann” (“The Sower”) by Albin Egger-Lienz, painted in 1903.
There is nothing novel about the gravamens of “anti-Black racism” that Mayo Moran, the Provost of Trinity College at the University of Toronto, has been laying down over the last half year. Indeed, it is rather disappointing how pedestrian her pronouncements have been. When Canadian university faculty and administrators were swept up in the Great George Floyd Moral Panic of 2020 in May and June, Moran like others declared that she had suddenly discovered wide-ranging racism plaguing Trinity and announced plans for complete therapy.
As elsewhere, Moran is now taking this movement in its logical direction of abandoning deliberation and procedure in favor of revolutionary action. In November 2020, she promised that the “recommendations” due to be made by an “anti-racism task force” by the end of the year would be treated not so much as recommendations as commandments: “Our goal is to begin implementation as soon as possible.”
The idea that there is a crisis of “anti-Black racism” at Trinity, or elsewhere on Canadian college campuses, is absurd, and everyone knows it. Alongside First Nations students, black students are the most coddled and privileged members of the campus community. When three black Trinity students of the college’s Multicultural Society wrote in the university newspaper this summer about the intolerable suffering of “anti-Black racism rampant in the dining hall, the quad, and on the front steps” of the college, the most they could come up in specifics was that they had “heard of” some black students being treated rudely during orientation.
When I went to Trinity, being treated rudely during orientation was one of the purposes of the exercise, creating solidarity with one’s fellow classmen and good-natured connections to upper classmen. The three black students would have Trinity redesign its orientation with special rules for the treatment of black freshmen, surely an ironical aim for a group devoted to “inclusion.”
The other charge of pervasive anti-black racism the students made was that Trinity student groups – which include the Trivia Association, the James Bond Society, and the Garlic Bread Society – had not issued pro-Black Lives Matter statements during the summer. These non-compliant student groups, they charged, were “rooted in hate and further the exclusion of Black students at Trinity.” From what I can tell, their Multicultural Society did not issue a letter of condolence on the death of Sean Connery in deference to the feelings of the James Bond Society either. Shocking.
The totalitarian face of any political movement is never so clear as when it demands complete deference to its agenda from others in a pluralistic world. Like Provost Moran, these three students believe that the purpose of a university or college is to take a position on controversial social issues of the day and then rigorously enforce conformity among all students – sort of like the Marxist doctrines that animated the BLM movement in the first place.
In good Leninist form, the students also warned darkly that “people are choosing to protect their own images rather than acknowledging their faults” without naming anyone in particular. Perhaps sensing the threat, the college’s three main student leaders stepped down and apologized for their skin color: “As white and privileged leaders, we are the very people who have benefited from these institutions. We wholeheartedly believe that these structures need to be taken down.” This was the only blatantly racist episode that Trinity experienced over the summer, but of course it was the sort of performative virtue-signalling that progressive administrators like Moran look upon with loving kindness.
To charges of rampant racism, student radicals at the college later added rampant misogyny and “classism” (to be distinguished from classicism which these students may not have heard about in their years of thought reform at Trinity). This new Holy Trinity – race, class, and gender – has now replaced the older one that sought God’s truth.
Following the cue of the “white and privileged” students to “take down” the 170-year old college, Provost Moran and her “task force” are running headlong into a transformation of Trinity from a place of education into something truly sinister. There is already a student-led “Trinity Anti-Racism Collective” formed this year, and if its writ is as large as the Provost’s actions suggest, the college might simply rename itself accordingly as part of its Woke rebranding.
Such a renaming would at least help the shrinking number of intellectually curious high school students – as opposed to those adept at the virtue-signaling, performative moralizing, and careerist box-checking – to begin seeking out alternative places for a serious education. The list of elite colleges in the U.S. that have suffered this fate is a long one and Trinity may soon join them. Along with the disappearance of top students will go a disappearance of the “excruciating whiteness” that the organizers of the Trinity Multicultural Society insisted forced them to mobilize in 2018. During the current academic year, just 2 of Trinity’s 10 student leaders are white. Surely there will be no more excruciating whiteness once the whites have been sent packing. This is of course a problem from Trinity because there is wide evidence that top-performing high school students will avoid ethnic ghettos where the majority group has been ethnically cleansed since those places will not help them to thrive in mainstream society or to form valuable social connections.
So why care about this predictable response from Provost Moran and her anti-racist task force, any more than we care about similar developments elsewhere on Canadian college campuses? Isn’t this just the way the campus has gone, and the evidence that Canadians interested in freedom of thought and speech and a vigorous contest of ideas in the search for truth should no longer expect to find it in taxpayer funded universities and colleges?
Two reasons suggest otherwise.
One is that Trinity, like some other legacy institutions of education in Canada, holds a special place because of its deep lineage in the Canadian tradition. What happens there is more emblematic of a core shift than, say, similar developments at a newer or more experimental institution, or for that matter at Provost Moran’s alma mater, the UBC English Department whose June Statement of Solidarity Against Anti-Black violence promised with illiberal ferocity to eliminate “scholarship that still valourizes whiteness and settler-colonial ideas of European civilization.” We don’t expect much of the UBC English Department, which regularly suspends classes so that its students can rush to the barricades to support the latest social justice cause. But if excellence and academic freedom and merit cannot survive at Trinity, they will not survive anywhere in Canada.
More practically, there are substantial intellectual lineages of which Trinity is the steward that risk annihilation by Provost Moran’s new fanaticism. Over the summer, the college’s library was “re-evaluated and reshaped” according to an official notice, to downplay its main holdings in Canadian history and literature and emphasize the new party doctrine which the Provost helpfully enumerated as “anti-racism, anti-oppression and equity.” Surely it does not take a history degree to feel alarmed when political movements show up at the library spoiling for a fight with the stacks. Book burnings in the Quad anyone?
I dwell on these precious holdings because libraries and collections are not inert, but rise or fall depending on how they are stewarded and celebrated. The Trinity library staff spent their entire summer “reevaluating” to promote the latest Woke Studies novels, as well as reading and promoting hate-filled screeds by black American racialists. Trinity’s precious holdings, especially that Mohawk prayer book, may soon be charged with “valourizing whiteness and settler-colonial ideas of European civilization.” The iconoclastic destruction of Trinity’s Upjohn-Waldie Collection, by indifference and erasure even if the books survive in some forgotten vault, seems only a Provostial missive away from “immediate implementation.”
Of course, the world will not fall because Trinity (or McGill, or Queen’s, or Dalhousie) falls. But the wave of illiberalism that Provost Moran is leading is an important signpost in this larger trend. As goes Trinity, we might say, so goes Canada. “After the Struggle, the Crown”, reads the college moto from 1851. Queen Moran is now hastening to the throne after her struggles against phantom racism at Trinity. I prefer an older college motto, that of the Trinity Literary Society that came into being in the 1840s, and has recently become a focal point for the Trinity revolutionaries that Moran has unleashed: Feros Cultus Voce Formare. “To tame wild manners by power of the voice.” Canadians as a whole need to tame the wild manners of campus barbarians with the voices of their strong opposition.
A native of Calgary and a graduate of Trinity College, Bruce Gilley is professor of political science at Portland State University.
The image shows an etching of Trinity College by Owen Staples, c. 1930.
This month we are greatly honored to present this interview with Professor Andrzej Waśko, the foremost authority on Romantic literature in Poland. He is the author several important books and currently serves as the advisor to Mr. Andrzej Duda, the President of Poland. Professor Waśko is here interviewed by Dr. Zbigniew Janowski, on behalf of the Postil.
Zbigniew Janowski (ZJ): Let me begin this conversation with a question about your recent article about the popular band Queen. You are a scholar of Polish Romanticism. You wrote your first major work, which received a national award, on Adam Mickiewicz (the prince of Polish Romantics) and your second on Polish conservative Romantic Zygmunt Krasinski. The role they played in Poland (along with the third major poet Juliusz Slowacki) may be compared to Byron, Shelley and Keats in England.
All of them belong to an epoch which existed two hundred years ago. The English rock group Queen was popular in the 1970s and 1980s. How come a professor of literature writes about about popular music?
Andrzej Wasko (AW): These topics are not as far apart as they seem. The aesthetic revolution, called Romanticism, which broke out in Europe after the French Revolution, began earlier with the rehabilitation of popular songs and with the ballads of Goethe and Schiller; and later with Wordsworth and Coleridge, Mickiewicz and others.
A similar phenomenon occurred in the 1960s, in the genre of popular song on the “lower” level of culture. Joan Baez and other folk music performers began their careers with the same or similar folk ballads. At that time, the post-war generation, largely made up of university-educated workers’ children, was knocking on the gates of the middle class. These people needed their mythology and it was provided, at least to some extent, by popular music – Joan Baez, as already mentioned, Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan, and many others.
Here, I see a certain analogy to the situation that took place in the 19th century. Romanticism gave a cultural identity to the bourgeois and popular masses that began to build modern nations on the ruins of class-based society. The history of pop music is the story of what happened to society in the second half of the 20th century. Besides, today there is a radio in every car. Popular songs are a topic that a literary historian can talk to a taxi driver about.
ZJ: Your last remark reminded me of Allan Bloom’s conversation with a taxi driver. This is what he wrote in The Closing of the American Mind (1987): “A few years ago I chatted with a taxi-driver in Atlanta who told me he had just gotten out of prison, where he served time for peddling dope. Happily, he had undergone ‘therapy.’ I asked him what kind. He responded, ‘All kinds—depth-psychology, transactional analysis,’ but what he liked best was ‘Gestalt.’ Some of the German ideas did not even require English words to become the language of the people. What an extraordinary thing it is that high-brow talk from what was the peak of Western intellectual life, in Germany, has become as natural as chewing gum on American streets. It indeed had its effect on this taxi-driver. He said that he had found his identity and learned to like himself. A generation earlier he would have found God and learned to despise himself as a sinner. The problem lay with his sense of self, not with original sin or devils inside him. We have here the peculiarly American way of digesting Continental despair. It is nihilism with a happy ending.”
One may draw many conclusions from Bloom. One such is that once high-brow ideas fall to a level of ordinary people, the inevitable result is nihilism. Let me invoke the lyrics of Queen:
Empty spaces. What are we living for? Abandoned places. I guess we know the score. On and on. Does anybody know what we are looking for? Another hero, Another mindless crime Behind the curtain. (“The Show Must Go On”).
Queen’s song and Lennon’s “Imagine” – “no heaven, no hell” – can be said to repeat the basic building blocks of Existentialism, especially the ideas we find in Simone de Beauvoir and Sartre. De Beauvoir and Sartre considered the world without God to be a reason to rejoice. Camus, on the other hand, was deeply troubled by it; he understood that in such a world the only jurisdiction of philosophy is suicide. This is not different from what we find in Queen: “does anybody know what we are looking for?” Are these songs existentialist philosophy of the Parisian cafes turned nihilistic?
AW: The fact that the songs you quote and probably many others show traces of the existential philosophy of Parisian gurus, such as Sartre and Camus, seems very likely to me. Certainly, Lennon welcomes the vision of an axiological void and proclaims it as “good news,” just like Sartre.
Both the philosopher and the ex-Beatle call for a revolution, each in their own way. In practice, however, Lennon’s way turns out to be more effective, because his song is pretty, it reaches the masses and moves their emotions. But the lesson Lennon gives his followers leads to nihilism – in a world where there is nothing to die for – “nothing to kill or die for” – there is nothing to live for.
This was understood by Camus and I think also Freddie Mercury, whose lyrics, on the contrary, are not cheerful. “What are we living for?” – in a world devoid of essence, without absolute values and absolute norms. Of course, this is also existentialism for the people. But at the same time it is a lamentation over a world ruled by nihilism.
Taxi drivers I speak with in Poland are more likely to lament and never say anything about psychology, which is otherwise a very fashionable field at universities in Poland. Rather, it is the establishment that thinks like the Atlanta taxi driver Bloom writes about. This is pure and self-conscious nihilism – but it is rather rife among teachers and students at universities.
ZJ: You made a connection between the aesthetic revolution of Romanticism and the post-French revolutionary world. In 1833, Benjamin Disraeli wrote in his Diary: “My mind is a continental mind… It is a revolutionary mind.” What Disraeli is referring to is the influence Romanticism had on him. What made Romanticism such a powerful social force?
Second, for all the greatness and beauty of Romantic poetry, Romanticism turned out to become a political outlook which shuttered the old order no less than the French Revolution. Is there a connection between the slogans of the Revolution – equality in particular – and the Romantic exaltation of self-consciousness as the source of truth and a fountainhead of artistic creativity?
AW: What made Romanticism a social force was certainly the democratization of the language of literature and art, an example of which is the turn to ballads. In his Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth tells us that poetry should speak the language that people actually use in their lives. The explanation lies in the saturation of art with emotions. Wordsworth and Coleridge talk about this in the Preface as well. This is the hallmark of Romantic literature – unlike the classics, the speaking subject in romantic poetry is always in a state of some emotional agitation, a mood he then communicates to his audience.
This is simple, and pop culture of the 20th century has similar features – it expresses the emotions and infects its audience. And contemporary people living in an extremely rationalized world, living in Le Corbusier’s “machines for living,” do not become machines – on the contrary, they want to react to the coldness of social institutions in which they find themselves. They want to cry or feel euphoric. They want to feel “like gods,” or lose themselves in a “great whole” – a service provided by, along with drugs, ecstatic music. In this regard, pop music of the second half of the 20th century uses some elements of Romanticism in an intensified and simplified form.
Your second question concerns individual self-realization and creation, which are inventions of literary Romanticism. Based on idealistic German philosophy, Romanticism builds the concept of the subject as creator – of poetry (from the Greek poiesis – creation), but also a creator of various geniuses. Napoleon changed the world thanks to his genius. Byron changed the world thanks to his genius, too. It’s a status of the self in society and in politics. It is a challenge for everyone, including me. Perhaps this is what Disraeli thought.
ZJ: Should we take the idea of genius to mean a way of democratization of politics as well? I do not mean democratization in the sense of universal suffrage and an electoral system; but in the sense of opening the public and political realm to people who in the past could never see themselves as social or political leaders. Being a genius became a form of political passport, if you will. It provided a new form of socio-political legitimacy. Poets became national bards, unelected national leaders.
AW: Yes, both the cults of genius artists (“prophets”) and the cults of charismatic political leaders have something to do with democratization in the sense you suggested. The genius embodies the characteristics of the community that recognizes him as its representative, as the medium of its thoughts and feelings, as the embodiment of the aspirations and goals it pursues. As Rzewuski put it: “There is a sympathetic bond between a genius and his people.”
ZJ: You mentioned Byron, an artist, who saw himself as having a social, political message. Let me quote here a stanza from Childe Harold:
Hereditary bondsmen! know ye not Who would be free themselves must strike the blow? By their right arms the conquest must be wrought? Will Gaul or Muscovite redress ye? no! True, they may lay your proud despoilers low, But not for you will Freedom's altars flame. Shades of the Helots! triumph o'er your foe! Greece! change thy lords, thy state is still the same; Thy glorious day is o'er, but not thine years of shame.
This is his message to the Greeks, calling on them to rekindle past greatness, to shake off the yoke of the Turkish oppression. This kind of message, formulated by poets, seems to be common for the Romantic period. We find it also in Juliusz Slowacki’s Agamemnon’s Tomb.
Could one say – call it a wild guess, if you want – that Romanticism created a path to a new political reality, wherein artistic geniuses (poets, writers, painters) but also all kinds of political charlatans, madmen and social reformers could call on a nation, or the world, to action? First it was done under the banner of liberation (as in Greece), or unification (as in Italy, or Germany), and later, in the 20th century, as a call to a regeneration of national spirit (as in Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy). Now, in the 21st century, we hear an echo of national slogans: “Great China,” “Making America Great Again,” “Poland – A Great Project” (the name of an annual conference), and so many others.
Politics, before the American and French Revolutions, was a domain of one class, the upper class. But 19th century Romanticism changed it.
AW: Yes, Romanticism paved the way for charlatans as well; it gave them a certain role model. But you cannot blame the Romantics for the actions of charlatans like Hitler or Mussolini, who adopted the dress of geniuses. Otherwise, you could then also accuse Rubens or Rembrandt of paving the way for picture forgers. Morally and politically, everyone is responsible for himself.
Also, we should not toss together all political slogans designed to mobilize supporters with references to the greatness of the nation or the greatness of some future project. This is just commonplace in the politics of our times. Ordinary people want to feel that they are participating in some great collective endeavor. And PR specialists give it the form of slogans. I do not see anything wrong with that, although of course in totalitarian regimes it has a different dimension and can be terrible. But don’t overdo your concerns, remembering what the difference is between the present conditions and the regimes of the kind we lived in before 1989.
ZJ: One often links Romanticism with nationalism. There is a good reason to accept the assumption that the latter sprang from the former. When you read books about Romanticism, you come across a number of terms or expressions that their authors use to characterize Romanticism. Here is a handful: genius (that is, someone who defies rules by his untrammeled will), individual spirit, nation, mythological history of a people, authenticity, creative self-expression, self-assertion, the worship of heroes, and contempt for reason.
The genius of Romantic poets notwithstanding, reading their exaltation one gets the impression that this form of emotional exhibitionism, if you want, could happen only among people who have lost their minds, who rejected Reason, as they did. They were the first ones to believe that they can create nations, a people’s soul. As Herder once wrote, “A poet is a creator of a people; he gives them a world to contemplate; he holds its soul in his hand.”
Add messianism to this, which is a consequence of such a belief, and you have a fuller picture – we no longer deal with an individual genius who has risen above others but a nation which believes – rightly or wrongly – that it has a mission, that it has been given a special task to save others, or save even a civilization itself. Since there are no clear rational criteria for judging reality, the political realm must, it seems, become an “irrational” domain operated by individuals – leaders, if you will – who believe that they can lead the nation. As it happens, sometimes things went very wrong. In view of this, could you say a few words about the connection between Romanticism and nationalism.
AW: First, Herder’s words are the words of a literary critic, who is referring not so much to the times of his own epoch, but to the beginnings of civilization. “Philosophers are the children of civilization, but the poets are its fathers” – this is how what he says should be understood. The original language of humanity was, according to Herder, poetic language. Prose and the attitude to the world based on reasoning came later – Homer preceded the birth of philosophy in Greece.
The Romanticism of the early nineteenth century was an apology for poetry understood as the original path of cognition, earlier than philosophy and science. You can partly agree that something like creative imagination actually exists and at times helps to solve some problems that seem unsolvable at first glance.
A feature of political Romanticism, as Carl Schmitt understood it, was the transfer of certain aesthetic rules and preferences to the field of policy thinking. If there is one language and one German literature, there should also be one German state. Genius can work in different fields. Thus, a brilliant poet plays a role within his own national community, etc. Under Byron’s influence, in the first half of the 19th century, extreme (that is, pre-20th-century existentialism) individualism wen hand-in-hand with dandyism, with mal du siècle, boredom (ennui), and the search for strong impressions.
All of this goes beyond nationalism; and all of it can be an object of criticism – and has been repeatedly criticized from the point of view of reason. But the Romantics were right in that man is not (and never will be) a fully rational being. If the process of modernization, which began in the West in the 17th century, is identified (as Max Weber would have it) with the process of rationalization of social life, Romanticism is an expression of rebellion against this rationalization, a rebellion rooted in the irrational characteristics of human nature. And it did not end in the 19th century. In the 1960s, it found expression in popular culture.
ZJ:Isaiah Berlin, in a series of articles on Romanticism, offered a number of insights that can explain why the currents hidden in Romanticism became pernicious.
One could distinguish several layers which created conditions that later led to the horrors of the 20th century, beginning with the sense of humiliation that stems from another nation’s cultural superiority. Such is the case of Germany vis-à-vis France, and the disruption of the old way of life, as happened in Russia under Peter the Great and, to a lesser degree, in Frederick the Great’s Prussia.
The old class becomes displaced and psychologically unfit, and creates a new synthesis, a new vision or ideology that explains and justifies resistance to forces working against the convictions and ways of life of the old class.
Finally, when a nation is at one with other forces, such as race and religion, or class and nation, we have all the conditions that can turn into a political force represented by the State. “One form of these ideas was the new image of the artist,” writes Berlin, “raised above other men not only by his genius but by his heroic readiness to live and die for the sacred vision within him… It took a more sinister form in the worship of the leader, the creator of a new social order as a work of art, the leader who molds men as the composer molds sounds and the painter colours.”
Heine, as Berlin explains, foresaw the future: “these ideologically intoxicated barbarians would turn Europe into a desert,” writes Berlin, quoting Heine, “restrained neither by fear nor greed… like early Christians, whom neither physical torture nor physical pleasure could break.”
To be sure, the legacy of Romanticism was not as morbid among the English, French, Russians or Poles as it was among the Germans. However, in the case of the Poles, and perhaps Russians, Romanticism survived as the worship of poets as national bards, men who — because of later communist oppression – filled a political void. (Mickiewicz and Slowacki, for example, are buried alongside Polish kings at Wawel Castle in Krakow). Now that Poland is a free country, is there as much room for the adoration of poets as there was before?
AW: Isaiah Berlin, as well as other well-known analysts of nationalism in English-speaking countries – Hans Kohn, Ernest Gelner, Eric Hobsbawm, Zygmunt Bauman – built the following historical sequence: romanticism – nationalism – Hitler.
All these thinkers had roots in Central Europe and brought their trauma to Anglo-American sociology from Central and Eastern Europe. It was a trauma of the persecution of Jews that ended in the Holocaust.
A similar interpretation was applied after World War II by the Communists in the German Democratic Republic. Because the roots of Nazism were said to be rooted in German Romanticism, in Jena, where the “Romantische Schule” was born, the Communists demolished part of the historic old town with the old buildings of the university and erected a gruesome modernist tower in its place, where they built a new communist university to break away from the traditions of Fichte and Novalis.
In reality, this was all much more complicated. In Poland, for example, there was a sharp conflict between the ideology of modern nationalism, represented by Roman Dmowski, and the Romantic tradition, which this nationalist and social Darwinist openly fought in his writings.
The Nazis, with whom, moreover, Polish nationalism had nothing in common, during the occupation fought fiercely against the memory of Polish culture, led by Chopin’s music and Mickiewicz’s poetry, whose monument in Krakow was demolished in August 1940. How do these facts reconcile with the theory of Romantic sources of nationalism and Nazism?
The claim that Romantic writers (but not only Romantic ones) contributed to the awakening of “nationalism,” or simply national consciousness among Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Serbs and Croats, seems obviously true. Pushkin, who wrote anti-Polish poems after the Russians suppressed the November Uprising in 1831, could also be called a Russian nationalist. So what?
The obsessive tracking down of nationalism leads only to the belief that communism was better in Eastern Europe, “threatened by nationalism.” However, it is also true that Polish literature of the 19th century, including Romantic literature in the first place, was the main bridge leading to the assimilation of the Jewish intelligentsia in Poland.
The poetry of the Romantics, both great and smaller but equally popular, was something that could fascinate in Polish culture and which could be relatively easy to accept, along with language, regardless of any other differences. Therefore, educated Jews got Polonized in the nineteenth-century; and among writers and historians of Poland of the next century we have many of them.
ZJ: The post French Revolution world created two categories: Liberalism and Conservatism. In his essay on Alfred de Vigny, sometimes referred to as, “On Conservative and Liberal Poets” (1838), John Stuart Mill makes a list of characteristics of Conservative and Liberal literature. One of the functions of Liberal poets or writers is, as Mill states, “to lay open morbid anatomy of human nature,” which is “contrary to good taste always.”
In short, Liberalism created a new realm of literary possibilities, where vices can no longer be swept under the rug, treated as vices, but as ingredients of human nature, which should not shock us. In fact, we should find enjoyment in reading about characters who embody these vices.
What comes to mind as examples supporting Mill’s interpretation are writers such as, Balzac, Zola and Dostoevsky; but above all Ibsen; hisA Doll’s House, where “sweet hypocrisy” is exposed for what it is. Yet Nora, who breaks social and moral norms, is by far a more sympathetic character than her husband, and as much as we may not like her decision. But it is impossible to feel sympathy toward her husband. Anna Karenina is another great example. And, let’s remember, Tolstoy came to regret writing it.
If Mill is right with respect to what constitutes the elements of Conservative and Liberal literature, is the liberal imagination an indisputable winner in this literary contest? Good literature is no longer a teacher of virtues and vices, has no unambiguous moral message; it is not supposed to give us moral warnings.
AW: The moral message, apart from moving emotions and satisfying the taste, was mandatory for a classical poet, of the type that reigned in all our literatures, before Jean-Jacques Rousseau, although he himself was not a poet and his La Nouvelle Heloise has a built-in moral core. Rousseau paved the way for “liberal poets,” because he recognized that it is not the individual who is morally responsible for evil. Rather, evil comes from a society corrupted by civilization. Byron’s heroes (and this is his influence), who commit crimes, are at the same time victims of the existing social order and the embodiment of interpersonal relations in this system.
Similarly, we can sympathize with Nora and Anna Karenina. It is Rousseau as a philosopher who is responsible for this, and since he is also one of the founders of liberalism, Mill’s opinion makes some sense. But literary currents are not simple equivalents of modern political ideologies. Dostoyevsky with his Demons is probably a conservative writer. But was Chateaubriand conservative or liberal? And Mickiewicz?
However, Mill’s biographer, Nicholas Capaldi, suggested that the roots of Mill’s argument for freedom of speech can be traced to the Romantic concept of imagination, without which an argument such as this could hardly be made: why should I allow you to say something I disagree with, unless I believe that your soul, your self, can express a truth, something which reason alone – common to us and praised by Enlightenment thinkers – cannot.
Here is what Capaldi says:
“Mill will remind us that Coleridge is the English bearer of the continental tradition, and especially of German Romanticism… More specifically, Mill will argue that modern liberal culture, as best exemplified in England, cannot be adequately explained and defended except with the resources of Romantic continental thought… The French Revolution of 1789 had momentous symbolic significance for liberals everywhere. It became the symbol of the overthrow of feudalism and the dawn of a new day of freedom. Liberals as well as conservatives in Britain were later horrified by the excesses of the revolution, but the destruction of feudal privilege was looked upon as a necessary prerequisite for a truly free and responsible society.
“The stress on imagination, as opposed to intellect, is a familiar Romantic theme. It reflects the nineteenth-century rejection of the eighteenth-century’s narrow rationalism… The first consequence of this view of the primacy of imagination is the recognition that ultimate values are apprehended through imagination… One of the reasons Mill will be so adamant about opposing censorship and encouraging debate is that it is only in the imaginative re-creation, the rehashing, of the arguments that we come to understand truly the meaning of ultimate values and to make that meaning a vital part of who we are.”
Is there anything else in the realm of political ideas that belongs in the Romantic tool-box?
AW: Creative imagination as a tool for learning about the world is undoubtedly a hallmark of romantic trends all over Europe, but these trends were very diverse, and the ways of understanding them were different. If the German readings influenced Coleridge, as Professor Capaldi reminds us, it must be remembered that earlier German translations of Edmund Burke’s On the Revolution in France inspired the Schlegel brothers and their entire generation in Germany. Thus, the exchange between England and the Continent was mutual. Liberalism is older than the Romanticism, as is republicanism, which is important to Poles. So, there were liberal and conservative romantics, and the great Polish romantic, Juliusz Słowacki, described himself as “republican in spirit.”
Hence Mill’s brilliant thought that the genesis of the idea of freedom of speech must be the Romantic idea of imagination, may be true in some cases, but historically speaking not at all. In short, the specific influence of Romanticism on the understanding of politics may consist in giving politics an eschatological dimension (messianism), in referring to pre-philosophical national traditions as an expression of the community spirit, in the observation that the poet has a special type of power – over the work he creates and over their recipients – and that authority should have such a character in general, and that the poets thus should be the charismatic leaders of the nation.
Let me add that in the 19th century the cult of poets (Mickiewicz, Słowacki, Krasiński) gained political significance in Poland; and in the 20th century, in popular culture, we are dealing with something analogous, when, for example, Bono from the band U2 speaks about politics, and all world agencies keep repeating what he utters.
ZJ: Nihilism which we’ve mentioned was not the only social worry of the second half of the 20th century. One can argue that hedonism is as pernicious as nihilism. I would like to invoke another song by Queen, “I Want It All;”
I’m a man with a one track mind, So much to do in one life time (people do you hear me) Not a man for compromise and where’s and why’s and living lies So I’m living it all, yes I’m living it all, And I’m giving it all, and I’m giving it all, It ain’t much I’m asking, if you want the truth, Here’s to the future, hear the cry of youth, I want it all, I want it all, I want it all, and I want it now, I want it all, I want it all, I want it all, and I want it now.
Each time I hear it, I think that this song is the utmost expression of hedonism, which is a product of an infantile mind. Only children want it all and want it now. It is their perception of time which makes them want to satisfy their wants and needs right away. They want immediate gratification. Adults know that you can’t have it now. But there are more serious problems that go beyond the song. First, immediate gratification of all desires would be deadly for moral discipline. Liberalism is the only political philosophy that tells us that we have a right to satisfy our wants. Would you agree that this kind of thinking – nihilism mixed with hedonism – is what our world today is made up of.
AW: I don’t know if this song is so clearly about a hedonistic attitude. Your question about modern hedonism is much more serious. Westerners, when they believed in God, wanted the salvation of their souls – eternal life beyond this world. Then, under the influence of humanism and the Enlightenment, happiness became their goal. Happiness on earth, not in the afterlife. But that happiness did not have to be immediate; it could be the achievement of some ambitious goal or perfection (per aspera ad astra), or the pursuit of perfection itself. In the end, happiness was equated with pleasure, which was independently invented by the Marquis de Sade and 19th-century Liberals. It appealed to simple people, because pleasure is not some abstract ideal, but something concrete, sensually experimental. And why shouldn’t we experience it too, here and now?
This ethical turn, which took place in the West in the 19th century, seems to be something permanently present in people’s attitudes to life today. In the second half of the 20th century, it coincided with the triumph of technology and capitalism, which turned out to be capable of producing an inexhaustible amount of consumer goods; that is, those that both satisfy our needs and provide us pleasure. Since constant enjoyment has become easy and readily available for all, a new hedonism has indeed spread in the society of “well-being.” It is based on the pursuit of immediate satisfaction of our whims. And after satisfying them, new needs appear, which are also immediately satisfied, and so on.
Mandeville noted, as early as the 18th century, that people who are accustomed to luxury buy more things that, objectively speaking, they could live without. In this way, which may not be beneficial to themselves in the long run, they nevertheless make money for the craftsmen and merchants, who supply them with these luxuries.
So, the need for pleasure drives the economy to work. The capitalism of our time creates these artificial needs in people in a systemic way, stimulating them through advertising, and by presenting the model of a human being present in pop culture, whose success lies in the fact that he has everything, here and now.
The contemporary ideal image, spread in commercials, in television series about the lives of millionaires, in photo essays about celebrities, is therefore the image of a hedonist – an ideal, i.e., the ever-insatiable consumer. So, hedonism drives sales – that is, the entire economy – and thus promotes it.
The problem is that all civilizations of the past that fell into this trap collapsed. While we can make our toys endlessly, we are not in danger of collapsing because of the wear and tear of our accumulated goods – waste was condemned by moralistic people since antiquity, but that doesn’t help.
The process of ceaselessly satisfying an appetite that is continuously, artificially stimulated, is destructive in itself. We need stronger and stronger stimuli, bigger and bigger doses of new stimulants. And in the end, they kill us – like the drugs that have killed a legion of stars of modern pop culture.
The biggest problem of any civilization, at some point, ceases to be the struggle with nature and hostile tribes, and it becomes the need to fight our own weaknesses, which come to us as a result of our own success. We are safe, rich; we have free time – and we don’t know what to do with all of this. This is when the self-destructive process begins. Giambattista Vico already knew that.
ZJ: Let me go back to what you said about the democratization of language, and that the success of Romanticism lies in using the language people use and emotions that they feel. As always, what at the beginning sounds like a well-intentioned idea, later can have unintended consequences. We talked about John Lennon and Queen, nihilism, and hedonism. One could still argue that they translated high-brow philosophical ideas into language that the ordinary people could understand as their own. Neither Lennon nor Queen are guilty; they just “expressed,” in the form of popular music, what philosophers said decades earlier.
Now, 50-60 years later, it is not Romanticism or Existentialism which stand behind the new trends in music. It is the naked, ugly reality of the street, to which once high-brow philosophy led society. In America it is called rap. Rap spread everywhere like a tsunami. It started as a form of expression of the feelings – or more likely resentment – of the destitute, undereducated Black segment of American population. However, because of its vulgarity and outright racism it is listened, for the most part, by Blacks, and it terrifies most of the Whites. Yet the liberal media bow to it.
One of the Founding Fathers of rap, JZ, is a musical icon, interviewed on National Public Radio and television in the US. University professors organize courses about JZ. When you listen to his public pronouncements you get the feeling that rap is not music but a form of mental imprisonment of someone who never grew up. Do you have an explanation as to what happened and why? Is rap the last phase of the Romantic rebellion led by adult children, like JZ?
AW: Paradoxically, I agree with this last sentence, at least to a certain extent. Yes, I can see that music videos of this type tend to be soft pornography and praise the lives of gangsters – obviously I’m not attracted to the stupidity of it all. There are also nobler forms of this music; but I do not follow or analyze them either. Both rap and hip-hop are artistic styles with their own rules and structure. I can imagine a masterpiece in this genre, although I cannot name it. Perhaps it is because of my own ignorance, or perhaps a rap-style masterpiece has never been created and will never be.
But since rap exists as a separate style – the existence of outstanding songs of this type is also possible and probable. In Poland, where all Anglo-American musical styles are imitated, the band Kaliber 44 enjoyed a short-lived fame some time ago, whose young soloist was considered a genius; but his life was short, because he killed himself jumping, out of a window under the influence of drugs.
This is hard to approve of in any way, but the interpretation you are proposing here also seems possible. Rap is a peculiar rhythm that is based on the intonation of individual sentences and crossed with relatively regular versification. The content of the rapper’s monologue is important; the music has a secondary role; it accompanies the recitation of the text and emphasizes its meaning. These are features that are well known from the folklore of bygone eras.
Thus, the romantic theory of nature poetry, which is born spontaneously among simple people, lacking knowledge of the conventions and rules of official art, fits it. Rap with its style and place of birth (in the dangerous neighborhoods of New York) fits well with this romantic theory.
Besides (probably) rap performers cannot be suspected of illustrating Sartre’s theses. So, maybe this is not a simplified adaptation of high culture, but a real inflow from below – the music of the roots? On the other hand, it is also not ordinary folklore, because in the process of producing recordings, the simplicity of style and the primitiveness of picture-suggestions are combined with technical and technological refinement.
ZJ: Going back to your remark about the use of ordinary language by the Romantics. Is this the beginning of the process which led to the birth of what we call “popular culture” – as opposed to High Culture? Today no one uses the distinction between High and Low/popular culture. The educational system in Western countries is structured in a way that what belonged to the Treasure of Western Culture or Kultur, is no longer taught. It is at best tolerated. The last attempt at defending High Culture was probably T.S. Eliot’s Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (1959). Do you see where we are today as a result and the end of cultural mutation of Romanticism?
AW: I prefer to think of Romanticism and pop-culture, and, more precisely, of the specific elements of these different, certainly broad and difficult to define phenomena, not as mutations, but as cultural modalities. In similar cultural phenomena, the actualization of similar potentials, constantly inherent in human nature, takes place. Cultural updates are historical and the potentialities of nature’s people are unchanged.
ZJ: Thank you Professor Wasko for this wonderful interview.
Andrzej Waśko is professor of Polish Literature at the Jagiellonian University, Krakow. He is the author of Romantic Sarmatism, History According to Poets, Zygmunt Krasinski, Democracy Without Roots, Outside the System, and On Literary Education. The former Vice-Minister of Education, he is curretnly the editor-in-chief of the conservative bimonthly magazine Arcana and is presently Adviser to Polish President Andrzej Duda.
The image shows, “Sielanka (An Idyll),” by Józef Chełmoński, painted in 1885.
In November 2020, I helped to organise the Burlington Magazine/ Public Statues and Sculpture Association (PSSA) Webinar on “Toppling Statues.” It was a massive success, with speakers of a multiplicity of political views, representing multiple nationalities and ethnicities, multiple professions from curators to politicians to artists, with anything from Confederate monuments to Rhodes and Colston in Britain to the contemporary Philippines covered in the papers. I am publishing my own paper here and am most grateful to Nirmal Dass and the Postil Magazine for making this possible.
1. The Rule Of Law
Kudos to Sir Keir Starmer, the British Labour Party’s best leader for 25 years, for saying that Black Lives Matter protestors were “completely wrong” to pull down Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol, and if they advocated this, due process should have been followed. I was forcibly reminded of W.B. Yeats’s famous quotation: “Things fall apart. The centre cannot hold… The best lack all conviction, while the worst are filled with passionate intensity.” These were the parting words of my teenage hero Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation, reflecting on its fragility.
Had I been present at the scene, I too would have remonstrated with the protesters, demanding: “Don’t you know your Locke? ‘Where there is no law, there is tyranny.’” I rest my case, even if the likely rejoinder would be a word half-rhyming with Locke. Another important Lockean precept is the sanctity of public and private property in civil society. Colston was not the crowd’s to wrench off its base and toss into the water. “The law of nature hath obliged all human beings not to harm the life, liberty, health, limb or goods of another,” here the people of Bristol and their statue.
2. Have We Got Colston Wrong?
According to an eminent British historian who must remain anonymous, as opinions are so charged and friendships can be lost – yes, we have. They say this:
“Colston is less culpable than his public reputation has made out. Commentators on both sides describe him on the news as a ‘seventeenth-century slave trader’ pure and simple. He was not: he never ran a slave trading business himself and never made major investments into the trade or drew a steady income – even a minor one – from it. Instead, he made a fortune from trading in other commodities, though twice in his life he became a lesser shareholder in slave-trading voyages launched by others. This was – for whatever reason – not an attractive experience for him because he did not continue it. Instead he became the greatest philanthropist in Bristol’s history, the merchant who did most to help his fellow humans. In particular he ploughed back his huge fortune into three enterprises. One was a school where poor children could receive a free education good enough to enable them to rise in society. Another was a hospital, where those who could not afford medical fees would be treated for no payment. The third was a set of almshouses where elderly poor people were given comfortable retirement homes, each with their own flat. All three survive to the present day. I presume that the school was initially just for boys, but it has long taken girls as well, and all three institutions have lately benefited people from all ethnic groups. The late Victorians – themselves much concerned with finding ways of attaining better social justice – gave him a statue in gratitude for them. I myself think that his contribution to human misery, by those ill-chosen investments, is balanced by his efforts to relieve it in other ways.”
So, even an offending statue demonstrably has a far more complex sub-text once we’ve done our homework. Don’t let your opinions gallop ahead of your knowledge. Be a curious and respectful “pastist,” not a judgemental “presentist” – and remember that was then, this is now. I’ll return to this shortly.
3. Do We Ignorantly Bad-Mouth The Victorians? Are We Willfully Ignorant About Statuemania?
Yes and yes. Remember that not just Rembrandt or Andy Warhol but public statuary is art too, art which excels both in quantity and often quality. Before modernism did so much to de-skill art, if you had the standard training through a sculptor’s studio, art school or a large firm like Farmer & Brindley, your work attained a remarkably proficient technical level. Your attitude to imperialism was immaterial. Harry Bates, a working class, arts and crafts trained sculptor, could make a number of rather fine imperialist monuments.
What mattered was whether you could literally hack it. Very few of the myriad Victorian and Edwardian public monuments could be called inept. What has this got to do with toppling statues? Lots. Scratch a toppler and you’ll find they are with few exceptions ignorant of, or hostile to, Victorian art, whatever the quality. Professor David Olusoga has many interesting things to say about the politics of imperialist statuary but reveals disappointingly little art historical knowledge of, still less aesthetic responsiveness to, the works in question. Remember we’re dealing with art here, not disembodied political texts.
Talking of great Victorian art, earlier this year, I pointedly refused to sign an open letter organised by Australian academics, curators and cultural commentators, demanding the relocation of Captain James Cook’s memorial in Hyde Park, Sydney to a museum. Perusing the signatories, almost without exception, they were modernists or contemporary buffs; the number who knew anything about Cook’s sculptor, Thomas Woolner, and Victorian statuary was perhaps two or three, and they probably cared even less.
4. Beware Of Presentism!
Historically, topplers are deeply into presentism, which is worse than the Whiggery from which it derives. Presentism involves the wholesale application of present-day values, e.g., deploring slavery and racism, to a very different and often resistant past – a foreign country. Imagine if we could travel back in time in the Tardis just 60 years to Gilbert Ledward and his immense – and rather beautiful – Africa Awakening relief for Barclay’s Bank and confront him with a criticism made by a South African friend who should have known better, that it was “patronising.” Ledward would not have been offended, so much as completely baffled and bewildered. We have a nerve to assume we know far better than our equivalents in 1960 or 1860. What will they be saying about us in 2060? The Ledward relief badly needs a new home, but sadly is suffering for its – and his – whiteness.
5. How About A New Empire/Colonial Museum?
A possible new home for relevant statuary could be a UK Empire Museum, a museum of Imperialism if you like. Formerly there was one in Bristol (the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum), but the director’s conduct 10 years ago led to his dismissal and the subsequent liquidation of the museum; that’s another story. I was saddened at the time that they threw out the baby with the bathwater.
William Dalrymple is a prominent advocate of such a museum and I agree with him in principle. My main reservation about both Dalrymple and the prevalent political climate is that if established today, the museum would almost certainly be instantly dominated by decolonising “woke” forces, the Edward Saids of this world rather than the Robert Irwins (or Mark Stockers!). Politics – and Britain’s dire economy – conspire to put such a putative museum on hold, but let’s not lose sight of it. The museum could indeed serve as some kind of repository for victims of statue toppling or shifting.
6. Problems With Museums
Should offending monuments go to museums, as sometimes relative moderates in this debate argue? To contradict my previous point, mostly the answer is, No. How come?
Firstly, the basics – museums worldwide are critically short of storage space and offering them a 3-metre-high statue plus pedestal would exasperate any reasonable collection manager.
Secondly, Colston aside, and even Colston before June 2020, Robert Musil’s famous dictum that there is “nothing in the world quite as invisible as a public monument” held good and perhaps should still do so. It’s not as if a monument’s offensiveness will suddenly be dispelled by its more prominent location and visibility within a museum. The arguments against it won’t miraculously stop – or still more miraculously become more intelligent.
Thirdly, having a Victorian worthy or three in your atrium would almost certainly clash aesthetically with any desired installation of art after c. 1920.
Fourthly, which explains why any proposed relocation of Cook to a museum is crass, how can you possibly do justice to the modelling, the aspect, the halation, the everything really, of a colossal four-metre-high statue on a seven metre columnar base? It would dwarf its new setting, whereas its original location, carefully envisaged by Woolner, is ironically too commandingly successful and dramatic. Cook pays the price in today’s fraught political climate.
Yet a museum just might be a suitable location for a work like Francis Williamson’s statue of Sir George Grey in Auckland. Despite its te reo Maori pedestal inscription translating as “The Future will be grateful for thy universal goodness,” it wasn’t. Grey was decapitated by activists in 1987, while in recent months his replacement head, together with fingers, have been vandalised and his body daubed with paint, in obviously crude copycat actions. Marble is particularly vulnerable, Grey with his fairly recent head still more so, and in the absence of alternative measures a museum could provide an appropriate refuge when out there in Albert Park he’s too much of a risk to society.
7. Copycat Activism
I take a dim view of copycat attacks or calls to defund the police. Just as statuary needs to be appraised on a case-by-case basis, so do the historical records of respective nation states. New Zealand’s colonial past rendered deep injustices to Māori, but these should not be equated with the US’s brutal past. I said this in response to the New Zealand historian Professor Tony Ballantyne when he advocated removal to museums of figures “who propelled colonialism and whose values and actions are now fundamentally at odds with those of our contemporary communities.” I demanded to know “which statues does he mean?” and Tony didn’t answer me. The great white Empress Queen Victoria obviously upheld the Empire but was not racist, and her carving at Ohinemutu was honoured and indeed appropriated by the Ngāti Whakaue sub-tribe, placed on a splendid post and sheltered by a canopy. In Canterbury province, J.R. Godley established a colony which deliberately sought to avoid conflict with Maori and is immortalised in another outstanding statue by Woolner.
Sir George Grey’s role is highly equivocal, reviled in his lifetime by some Maori, eulogised by others; working closely with his friend Te Rangikaheke, he recorded Maori legends, traditions and customs, doing much more here than most academics today. The list goes on, and I concluded: “We should think twice before we violate our legally protected heritage.” Famous last words – but heated discussion has definitely died down locally.
8. Not Everyone Has It In For Statues
The art critic and cultural commentator Alexander Adams has noted the merciful immunity from iconoclasm in the European continent, which views woke excesses with intelligent scepticism, and the perceived heritage value of its historical monuments prevails over politics. President Emmanuel Macron has explicitly stated that France won’t indulge in tearing-down operations, while Ian Morley’s paper has just explored the refreshingly different attitude in the Philippines. Perhaps this is yet another unfortunate instance where the exceptionalist British world, as seen in Brexit, sets itself apart and tears itself apart.
An irony of the peaceful BLM demonstration in Wellington was the crowd gathering under the watchful eye of Thomas Brock’s parliamentary statue of R.J. Seddon, New Zealand premier from 1893 to 1906. While his relations with Maori were benign, Seddon’s racism towards New Zealand Chinese today appears disgusting: he denied them state pensions, imposed stiff poll taxes on them and called them racial “pollutants.”
I asked a good friend who is a Professor of Chinese if Seddon should go. She replied: “I’m probably more conservative than you on this issue. For me, we should leave the statues alone and they are only and can only be partial representations of history. Destroying statues doesn’t destroy historical injustice or biased historical narratives. Besides, historical fashions come and go. The Russians and the Chinese have destroyed enough statues but failed to rectify any historical wrongs. So, for me, debate historical figures and events as much as one likes but leave material historical remnants alone. I guess that also answers your question about Seddon. The statue can also enable a conversation about racism in NZ.”
Wise words, don’t you think?
Statues and monuments are art, they are heritage – and sorry, Professor Richard Evans, as a historian you need to realise they are also fascinating and insightful, highly charged historical documents. And unless they are Gilbert & George, statues can’t answer back when abused by the crowd. What we should do with them will be addressed by subsequent speakers, but I personally advocate additional plaques or virtual ones through QR codes and apps to spell out the case for people’s perceptions today. Conciliation not confrontation, love not war, and thank you Church Monuments Society, don’t expunge, explain. And, last but not least, heed the watchword of the PSSA, “retain and explain.”
Dr. Mark Stocker is an art historian and art curator who lives in New Zealand. His publications are on Victorian public monuments, numismatics and New Zealand art. His recent book, When Britain Went Decimal: The Coinage of 1971, will be published by the Royal Mint in 2021.
The image shows, “Pulling Down the Statue of George III in New York City,” by Johannes Adam Simon Oertel, painted in 1859.
As we know, history is one of the oldest sciences in the world. But the benefits of it are far from obvious and have been constantly questioned over the centuries. How was the question of the purpose of writing history, and the tasks of a historian, answered in the past?
Moses, who began compiling sacred history, did not use the concept of “history” itself – there was no need for it. For Moses, the story of creation, humanity, and the people of Israel was not some useful knowledge, but a proclamation to Israel of Israel’s purpose. God, leading the people out of Egypt, gives history to man as a vow of salvation.
Nevertheless, the emergence of history as scientific knowledge is usually associated with ancient tradition, and Herodotus is traditionally considered the first historian (5th century BC). Herodotus saw himself as a collector of “information” about “great and surprisingly worthy deeds” so that they “over time would not go into oblivion.” Herodotus (in his work The Histories, although this name is most likely later, for earlier the work was called The Muses) for the first time appears as an “historian” – an observer and narrator about the events that took place. The goal is not soteriological, but antiquarian.
But it is Thucydides (5th century BC) who introduces a more “scientific” task – he is engaged in “investigation.” In his Peloponnesian War he writes: “As for the events of this war, I set myself the task of describing them, receiving information not by questioning the first person I met and not at my personal discretion, but to depict, on the one hand, only those events, at which I myself happened to be present, and on the other – to analyze the messages of others with all possible accuracy. A thorough verification of the information was not easy, because the witnesses of individual events gave different coverage of the same facts, depending on their location to one of the warring parties or the strength of memory. My research, in the absence of everything fabulous in it, may seem unattractive. But if anyone wants to investigate the reliability of the past and the possibility of future events (which may someday be repeated by the property of human nature in the same or similar form), then it will be enough for me if he considers my research useful. My work was created as an eternal property, and not for momentary success with listeners.”
In other words, the benefits of history are pragmatic, avoiding mistakes in the future. It is also worth making a reservation here: history for ancient and later authors is not some kind of historical process, but a text, a story about events. Later, ancient authors were engaged in similar “investigations” (collection and analysis of information). For example, Aristotle (4th century BC) wrote The History of Animals, which became the basis for the creation of philosophical works on fauna: On the Parts of Animals, and On the Generation of Animals.
A step forward was made by the historian Polybius (2nd century BC), the author of The Histories. He believed that “knowledge of the past, rather than any other knowledge, can benefit people,” since “lessons learned from history most likely lead to enlightenment and prepare for engaging in public affairs,” and “the story of the trials of other people is the most intelligible, or the only mentor teaching us to courageously endure the vicissitudes of fate.”
It was Polybius who spoke about the “lessons of history,” which for him had a universal meaning and concerned every person. In addition, “diligent study of history, enriching us with this kind of experience, can beautify our leisure and provide us with entertainment.” Polybius thus not only raised history to the pedestal of human knowledge, but also gave it moral and entertainment value. The famous phrase of Cicero “history is the teacher of life” was already a repetition of Polybius’s thought. Subsequent ancient historians in different ways repeated what Polybius, Herodotus, and Thucydides said.
The first Christian historians interpreted their writings in an ancient context. Eusebius (4th century AD) wrote about “instructive lessons of history.” However, Sozomen (1st half of the 5th century AD) posed a more significant task: “Since for the reliability of history one must take special care of the truth, it seemed to me necessary to investigate these written monuments as much as possible… The narrator, as has been said, should do everything to serve the truth.” It is important to take into account that in Sozomen’s view truth was of divine origin, and history itself, in his words, is “not a human matter.”
Thus, already early Church historians were gradually beginning to bring their tasks closer to those that were characteristic of Moses. These principles were most clearly formulated by the blessed Theodoret of Cyrus (5th century): “Painters, depicting ancient events on panels and walls, of course, give pleasure to the viewers about what happened long ago; they keep that happening fresh in memory for a long time. But historians, instead of panels used books, and instead of paints – use the color of words, to make the memory of the past even stronger and firmer, because the painter’s art is worn down by time. Therefore, everything that has not yet been included in the history of the Church, I will try to describe: for indifference to the glory of famous deeds and oblivion of the most useful legends, I consider criminal.” He considered writing history to be a spiritual duty and a heroic deed.
The Christian West right up to the Renaissance retained the ancient understanding of history. However, from the end of the 17th century, with the emergence of science in Europe in the modern sense, an idea of the world historical process was formulated, which had its own clear and invariable laws.
Thus, there were the French Catholic Bishop Bossuet (Discourse on Universal History, 1681) and the Italian scientist Vico (Principles of a New Science Concerning the Nature of Nations, 1725) for whom the laws of history were a divine institution, like the laws of nature, and were associated with ethical norms. One way or another, for the first time, it became possible to talk about the “meaning of history,” with attempts to deduce it in the manner of a mathematical formula. Now history had begun to be understood rationally – and man became its hostage, a cog in a grandiose mechanism.
The Age of Enlightenment made its own adjustments here: it began to look at history as a self-developing process. Agnostic Lessing (The Education of the Human Race, 1780) spoke of historical progress and stages of religious and social development (by which he understood paganism, Judaism and Christianity).
Another inevitable conclusion from this idea was the thought of the pantheist Condorcet (Sketch for an Historical Picture of the Advances of the Human Mind, 1794): “If a person can, with almost complete certainty, predict the phenomena whose laws he knows, if even when they are unknown to him, he can, on the basis of past experience, predict, with a high probability, future events. Then why consider the desire to draw, with some plausibility. a picture of the future fate of the human race, based on the results of its history, as a chimerical enterprise?”
Historical science was already beginning to turn into an ideology and predict a happy future. True, Condorcet himself was sitting in a Jacobin prison, while he was writing his work, waiting for the guillotine.
After Hegel, who most clearly formulated the idea of a single historical process, the “philosophy of history,” which became the foundation of political ideology, blossomed in magnificent color. It was understood both in the materialistic “formational” aspect (Marx, Braudel) and in the idealistic “civilizational” one (Danilevsky, Spengler, Toynbee). More often, the first model was adopted by the Left (socialists and liberals), and the second – by the Right.
Later, the liberal “anti-philosophy” of history (Popper) was formulated, which generally denied any meaning in history and placed technical progress at the forefront. The circle of development of European thought was closed, and man was completely lost in the heap of “laws” and the whirlwind of “processes.” Historians, inspired by philosophers, and then experiencing some disappointment from the abundance of groundless schemes, went into “pure science” – into the study of small plots (so-called microhistory) or individual texts (postmodernism).
Perhaps the most profound criticism of the “philosophy of history” belongs to the outstanding theologian of the twentieth century, Archpriest Georges Florovsky. It was the identification of history with nature, in his opinion, that became the starting point of European utopianism.
Father Georges fundamentally opposed the idea of historical progress and human responsibility for history, a certain faceless “cosmic process” and personal “moral creativity.” Instead, history is to be understood as “the mystery of salvation and the tragedy of sin.” It has no other meaning. The historian is complicit in this dilemma because his work should be evidence of it. Proclaiming a “return to the fathers” in theology, Father Georges was faithful to them in his understanding of history and the tasks of a historian.
Following Moses, theologians of the 5th and 20th centuries spoke of history as an event centered on the communication of God and man, feat and salvation. Thus, human history rises above the laws of nature, goes beyond its inherent cyclicality and strict subordination to circumstances, gives each human action the status of unique and unconditionally significance. “If you are led by the spirit, you are not under the law” (Gal. 5:18). In this understanding, human history cannot be calculated, put into a mathematical formula, but only in this understanding does it acquire its true soteriological meaning.
Fedor Gaida is Associate Professor in the Faculty of History, Lomonosov Moscow State University. His research interests include, the political history of Russia at the beginning of the 20th century; Russian liberalism; power and society in a revolutionary era; Church and Revolution.
In Return of the Strong Gods, R.R. Reno makes this perceptive point: In “the second half of the twentieth century, we came to regard the first half as a world-historical eruption of the evils inherent in the Western tradition, which can be corrected only by the relentless pursuit of openness, disenchantment, and weakening. The anti- imperatives are now flesh-eating dogmas masquerading as the fulfillment of the anti-dogmatic spirit.”
Reno is entirely on the mark when he tells us that fighting the “dogmas” of the past has become integral to our political culture. In Western countries, particularly in Germany, this struggle has taken the form of a perpetual battle against fascism, which has become the hallmark of what is supposedly an almost uniformly evil Western past.
In pursuit of a fascist-free society, social engineers in government and education have trampled on freedoms and engaged in nonstop persecution of those who are regarded as standing outside of necessarily leftist, political conversation. In a book, in press with Cornell University, I undertake to show how utterly pernicious antifascism has become and how little it has to do with what was once understood as fascism or Nazism.
Antifascist bigots manufacture their own dogma to combat alleged “fascist” intolerance, which by now means disagreeing with progressive gatekeepers. “Fascist” is also attached to anyone who doesn’t march in lockstep with the antifascist elites and who therefore must be destroyed socially and economically to protect a multicultural society.
Where I depart from others who may agree with these premises is in my insistence that certain political developments promoted the antifascist anti-dogma dogma. The Russian or Japanese government does not push this as a state ideology. Only Western countries promote this stuff; and there may be something specific to these societies that predispose them toward antifascist crusades.
All antifascist countries have undergone similar political and educational experiences, although the Germans previewed this transformational process with the “democratic” reeducation inflicted on them by their American and British conquerors after World War II. Such conversions are not attributable simply to the “spirit of the age,” or because of moralizing on the editorial pages of the New York Times or Le Monde. The conversion to antifascism as a state-enforced doctrine, particularly in Western Europe, has happened incrementally for quintessentially political reasons.
Although we can trace back this antifascist fixation to an earlier point, the best time to start may be after World War II, when there were already an entrenched concept of antifascist education and a new stress on universal rights that were to be globally enforced. In the 1960s first in the US and then in other Western countries, an expanding crusade against racism and its supposedly twin evil of sexism was taking place. This enthusiasm gained in intensity, partly under state sponsorship, and brought along a government apparatus to fight “prejudice” and “discrimination.”
In the US, this undertaking was bound up with fighting racial discrimination, while in Europe it built on the struggle against Nazism and colonialism. But this crusade, once begun, just went on and on. It became ever more intrusive and obsessive and enjoyed the support of myriads of administrators, an expanding media empire and a state-subsidized educational establishment.
Throughout this conversionary enterprise, the focus has been on a constant enemy “fascism,” but never communism; and those who have wielded power have conjured up the specter of Hitler, or his right-wing stand-ins to underline the perpetual threat to democracy.
The point to be underlined is that identifiable turning points and coercive policies contributed to the problem that Reno mentions. There were also actors who helped advance a particular model of “liberal democracy,” which supplanted other less controlling and less radical forms of constitutional government.
Certain variables might have made this all-controlling ideology less oppressive and less pervasive, e.g., fewer young people having their brains laundered at our universities by madcap academics, a smaller electorate made up of long resident, literate property-owners, and the absence of a centralized administrative state that in the name of social policy set out to reconstruct the family.
All these factors, and other discernible ones, contributed to the rise and continuity of our antifascist state religion. Here concrete interests came together with ideology in a war against “the evils inherent in the Western tradition.” These evil supposedly culminated in fascism, understood as both Nazi tyranny and whatever obstacles the cultural Left was opposing at a particular time.
A major vehicle for this new dogma has been the managerial class ensconced in both government and corporations. Although this class could conceivably profess non-radical values, this is not the case at the present time. Its members are out to expunge such values and the culture that created them.
Admittedly the “flesh-eating dogmas” we are addressing make no sense to me as a coherent, demonstrable set of beliefs related to any reality that I can grasp. But I am interested in knowing who is benefiting from this crescendo of madness. The old question of “cui bono?” remains relevant here.
Marxian thought has at least an economic component and an ontological one. I would like to address the topic of exploitation in Marxian economics, and in Marxian ontology I will examine the driving role of contradiction in human cultural evolution, the emerging forms of matter, and the reification within commodities.
The Marxian Theory Of Exploitation: An Assessment Of The Austrian Response
The Marxian conception of exploitation in capitalism conceives of the latter as the appropriation – within entrepreneurial profit – of a non-remunerated portion of the wage-earner’s daily working time.
The Austrian response to the Marxian conception notably consisted of highlighting the complementarity of the respective temporal preferences on the part of workers (preferring a smaller but quicker remuneration over a more tardy but greater one) and entrepreneurial capitalists (preferring the latter over the former). It also consisted of underlining the role of adjustment which operates freely determined equilibrium prices (via occasioned losses and profits). Friedrich A. von Hayek points to this when he speaks of Karl Marx’s alleged inability to apprehend “the signal-function of prices through which people [including entrepreneurs] are informed what they ought to do” by reason of “his labor theory of value” – namely, Marx’s theory that selling prices, at least in the long run, are fixed by production costs – and the alleged objective value of goods by the incorporated quantity of abstract labor.
It turns out that neither the complementarity of temporal preferences nor the adjustment role of equilibrium prices (in the direction of the long-run equilibrium, in which each factor finds itself to be optimally allocated) are actually inconsistent with the Marxian conception of exploitation.
The Marxian argument can be put as follows. Like any commodity, labor power is sold (at least in the context of the long-term equilibrium, i.e., the equilibrium in the presence of a completed, henceforth optimal allocation of capital) at its cost of production – therefore the employee’s living cost. In the long-run equilibrium, the entrepreneurial profit strictly appropriates the remuneration of the margin between the employee’s total working time and the working time strictly required to cover the employee’s living costs.
That said, when the economy, in the long run, does not find equilibrium, then salary and entrepreneurial profit will both oscillate around a level strictly equal to the production cost. Hans Hermann Hoppe’s answer (inspired by Eugen Richter von Böhm-Bawerk) can be put as follows. According to Hoppe, Marx’s analysis does note that the selling price of any produced good is (at least when demand is properly anticipated) greater than the wages paid to the workers involved in the production of that good. Therefore, the paid wages only cover the purchase of goods requiring fewer hours of work than those goods the wage-earners help to manufacture. Yet there is a complementarity of time preferences between the employee (who prefers a lower and faster remuneration to one more delayed and higher) and the entrepreneur (who prefers the latter to the former). It follows the selling price’s superiority, besides allowing for entrepreneurial remuneration higher than the wage bill, and supposes convergent interests in the wage earner and the entrepreneur.
Actually, Marx’s argument turns out to be misunderstood by Hoppe – and rigorously unaffected by the complementary of time he invokes. The exploitation phenomenon Marx describes does not lie in the difference between immediate salaries and postponed entrepreneurial remunerations, which is only a symptom of the aforesaid exploitation. Instead, exploitation lies in the furnishing of a salary which, instead of covering the whole daily working time (as it formally seems to do), strictly remunerates the working hours needed to cover the workforce’s subsistence costs. Marx believes incomplete remuneration to be at the origin of the subsistence – in the long-run equilibrium – of the margin between the selling price of goods and the remuneration of production factors, said margin allowing entrepreneurs to grant themselves a remuneration greater than the distributed wages.
As for the coordination of production factors, Marx fully recognizes adjustment spurred by short-run fluctuations in the rate of entrepreneurial profit (above and below its long-run level, strictly corresponding to unpaid, surplus labor time), and by the concomitant gradual equalization between production costs and the selling price of commodities – including labor power, whose remuneration is thus rendered equal to its subsistence costs in the long run. Not only does the labor theory of value (such as understood by Marx and before him David Ricardo) claim the fixation of selling prices by production costs to occur only in the context of long-run equilibrium, but the labor theory of value itself does not occupy the center of Marx’s political economy. The latter is in fact articulated around the notion of commodity fetishism, as pointed out by Soviet Marxian economist Isaak Illich Rubin.
The Flaws Of The Marxian Theory Of Exploitation
Despite the flaws of the Austrian criticism, Marx’s approach to exploitation remains wrong. Let us start with recalling the notion of “abstract working time” in Marxian economics – abstract working time boils down to working time conceived independently of the physical or mental effort associated with the considered task. Even assuming the alleged correspondence between abstract working time and (the long-term level of) exchange value, i.e., selling price, the Marxian elucidation of entrepreneurial profit as the margin (between the exchange value of a given good and the remuneration of the involved production factors) allowed by the payment to the workforce of a wage limited to strictly covering the aforesaid workforce’s subsistence costs is quite unsatisfactory.
The argument Marx invokes is that the exchange value of all goods (including manpower) revolves around a long-term level, strictly equivalent to the exchange value of the incorporated abstract working time – and therefore strictly equivalent to the production costs of the aforesaid goods, which in turn means the workforce’s subsistence costs in the case of manpower.
Hence – according to Marx – wages granted in the long-run equilibrium actually leave unpaid an entire section of the daily work-time of wage-earners. The equalization (in the long-run equilibrium) between the workforce’s subsistence costs and the workforce’s remuneration does not imply that the actual work-time on the part of a wage earner is partially remunerated.
Rather, it implies that in the long-term equilibrium, the one established once the allocation of capital in the various branches of industry – given a certain state of economic conditions, from preferences on the part of consumers and investors to technology and demography – has reached its completion, the correct, total remuneration for a wage earner’s complete performance is then fixed at a subsistence level.
It also implies entrepreneurial income is nullified at the long-term equilibrium, in which there is nothing left for the entrepreneur, once the factors of production have been wholly remunerated. Therefore, entrepreneurial profit can only exist within the framework of the process of capital allocation – with the aforesaid profit remunerating the speed (and the accuracy) of the allocation of production factors in anticipation of jointly mobile and uncertain demand. Austrian economics, especially Mises and Kirzner, extensively deals with the process through which the entrepreneur – when earning profit – adjusts the daily-generated equilibrium prices in the direction of the long-run equilibrium, in which the allocation of production factors is henceforth achieved and optimized, and in which each selling price is henceforth equal to the production costs.
The Austrian approach to equilibrium prices (and therefore the law of supply and demand) and their gradual entrepreneurial adjustment is sometimes praised for its purported realism. Yet the law of supply and demand, such as understood in Austrian economics (but also in neoclassicism), is hardly realistic. It claims, indeed, that any subjectively homogeneous product is sold at a unique price that happens to coincide with the intersection of supply and demand curves. But such claims make sense only in the framework of an auction market in which, indeed, an auctioneer may gather the different supply and demand propositions and determine the equilibrium price.
Besides, the Austrian conception of entrepreneurship applies only in the case of those of profit opportunities which are preexisting (and more or less manifested), while a number of entrepreneurs in the real world do not earn a profit through adjusting (towards the long-run equilibrium) the allocation of capital on the basis of preexistent profit opportunities, but through inventing new profit opportunities. In other words – that which results in the apparition of a new long-run direction for the economy, i.e., the breaking of the previously scheduled long-run equilibrium for the benefit of the economy’s re-direction towards a new long-run equilibrium.
A Word About The Partnership Of Opposites In Cosmic Evolution
Marxian thought is also ontological (besides its economic, political considerations). Marxian ontology stresses the driving role of contradiction in human cultural evolution – more precisely, the evolution of the emergent forms of matter in successive human cultures. Before looking more closely at the Marxian approach to contradiction in human evolution, let us turn to an example of the partnership between opposites in the cosmos. In addition to his unfortunate exclusively determinist view of human history, Marx precisely failed to notice the harmonious, collaborative character of opposites in the course of human cultural evolution – a harmonious character that at times accompanies conflictual character.
The concept of communication, generally defined in terms of consciousness, is an eminent example of a notion whose definition must be updated in view of a sharper distinction between those qualities of its object – the particular genre of things it subsumes – which are necessary, and those which are contingent. Conscious communication only comes as a modality of communication, so that the conscious character of a given conscious communication in the cosmos comes as a contingent (rather than necessary and constitutive) character of the genre of things called communication.
Communication should be redefined, consequently, as the interaction between two signals: the first acting as a stimulus; and the second providing a response which depends on its interpretation of the aforesaid stimulus. It is really the prerogative neither of humans nor even of animals endowed with consciousness. Like war, love, hierarchy, and sociability, communication preceded consciousness and a fortiori homo sapiens in the order of the universe. It was even prior to the point where the behavior of the Big Bang’s progeny, the elementary particles, was already (and has remained to this day) the behavior of communication.
Throughout the cosmos, individual and collective entities are communicating with each other by means of words, chemical signals, or gravitational force – and communicating according to patterns of opposition (integration and differentiation, fusion and fission, or attraction and repulsion), whose iteration pursues itself at each level of emergence. Let us take the very first entrepreneurs of the cosmos – namely the quarks (of which there happens to be six varieties) – communication – via the phenomenon known as “strong force” or “strong interaction” – between two quarks-entrepreneurs, which are of the same variety, will be a communication of their mutual repulsion.
Nevertheless, the communication between two quarks which are exactly different in the right way will be one of mutual attraction – and one of their attraction towards an additional quark which is of the type suitable for mounting the proton start-up (composed of two quarks “up” and one quark “down”), or the neutron start-up (composed of two quarks “down” and one quark “up”).
The Flaws Of Marxian Ontology – The Approach To Contradiction And Matter
Heraclitus understood the collaborative character of opposites. He nonetheless failed to grasp the perpetually declined (as well as complexified) character of their partnership – and the evolving character of the cosmos (including human societies).
Marxian ontology certainly has the merit of stressing the role of contradiction in the becoming of the forms which matter acquires in the world of humans – especially the industrial organization of the mineral or human material, as well as the ideology and the law structuring a human society. Nevertheless, it erroneously deals with the evolutionary process in question – and with the driving role of contradiction in the latter.
First, there is its denial of the informing action (and the existence) of the archetypal, supra-sensible forms. Second is its retention of only the passive ideological and legal “superstructures” of the sort of matter which happens to reside in the “relations of production,” which themselves serve as the passive organization that emerges from other sorts of matter that are the technological resources available at a given time.
What is more, Marxian ontology, thus delivering an incomplete understanding of the material foundations for law and ideology, reduces the aforesaid foundations to technology and to the “relations of production.” This renders Marxism entirely ignorant of the truly biological component of the material backing of ideologies and legal systems – that is, the set of genetic dispositions shaped and selected over the course of human biological evolution in groups and individuals.
As for contradiction in the process of human evolution, Marxian ontology exclusively conceives of it as a tearing apart whose particular version (characteristic of a particular time of human history) calls for its resolution through the “leap” (to quote Lenin) to a superior bearing of human history, the course of which is, besides, seen as rigorously determined – and thus seen as being spurred – through the successive resolution of the different encountered cases of contradiction – towards a prefixed final stage of human history.
Instead, contradiction should be envisioned as a harmonious (though sometimes it can be simultaneously tearing) partnership, between opposites, which perpetually manifests itself in various modes over the course of the wholly improvised process of human (and even cosmic) evolution.
Such misunderstanding in Marxian ontology is all the more devastating as the aforesaid ontology envisages the interindividual or intergroup conflict as rooted in economic life alone – and as fated to disappear through a purportedly inevitable return to primitive communism, while, nonetheless, conserving advanced technology.
Interclass struggle can no longer simply be reduced to a struggle that involves properly economic classes, technology; and the relations of production cannot be envisioned as the sole and necessary origin of ideologies. Thus, a given ideology does not necessarily accompany a given economic system – so that, for instance, capitalism of the globalized and digitized type is not necessarily accompanied by a cosmopolitan ideology (in the sense of moral relativism and universal leveling).
What is more, their perceived economic interests – instead of idealistic considerations or their perceived ethnic interests – do not serve as the only and necessary motives on the part of the dominant economic classes, for promoting the particular ideologies whose standard bearers they pretend to be. The fact is class struggle does not necessarily occur between economic classes and for economic motives – instead it comes as a derived form of the “struggle for life,” and likely to engage all kinds of classes and motives.
This point was remarkably raised in Vilfredo Pareto’s The Socialist Systems: “The class struggle is only one form of the struggle for life, and what is called ‘the conflict between labor and capital’ is only one form of the class struggle. In the middle ages, one could have thought that if religious conflicts disappeared, society would have been pacified. Those religious conflicts were only one form of the class struggle; they have disappeared, at least in part, and have been replaced by socialist conflicts.
Suppose that collectivism is established, suppose that “capitalism” no longer exists, it is clear that then it will no longer be in conflict with labor; but it will be only one form of the class struggle which will have disappeared, others will replace them. Conflicts will arise between the different kinds of workers in the socialist state, between “intellectuals” and “non-intellectuals,” between different kinds of politicians, between them and their citizens, between innovators and conservatives.”
The Flaws Of Marxian Ontology – The Approach To Commodity
In addition to excessive Marxian emphasis on economy when it comes to the backing of superstructures and the background of conflict, a word deserves to be said about the Marxian definition of merchandise. The latter retains (as necessary, constitutive characteristics of the merchandise genre) use-value and exchange-value, as well as the above-mentioned “fetish” character. This amounts to retaining the outlet for the purpose of offering goods for sale, where matter is the aforesaid merchandise – which, in the Marxian approach, sees itself notably assimilated to the “concrete” and “abstract” work incorporated in the manufacture of the aforesaid merchandise. Finally, its form, which is exclusively perceived as the reification of the relations of production.
Such conception notably commits the error of omitting the commodity’s efficient, external cause – namely the entrepreneurial expectations on the course of the demand for consumption or investment. Those expectations then become the only effective, rational aspect of economic calculation, which means that economic calculation is simply impracticable in the absence of the private ownership of capital – and the central planning Marx praises and prophesizes is necessarily dysfunctional and irrational.
Marxism also commits the error of developing a simplistic approach to the form of merchandise, which really consists of a reification above all of the immaterial capital of fantasy – the stock of dreams and legends which inspires the economic not less than cognitive development in humans.
Conclusion – And A Word On Herbert Spencer
The Marxian approach to exploitation in capitalism is flawed in that it misunderstands the alleged equalization (in long-term equilibrium) between subsistence cost and earned wage, as leaving unpaid a whole portion of the work-time. Instead, such equalization implies the work-time’s properly correct and total remuneration strictly equates a subsistence level in the long-run equilibrium. Thus, entrepreneurial profit does not exist outside the allocation of capital goods; it is not rooted in exploitation – but into the speed (and the accuracy) of anticipations before an uncertain, mobile demand.
As for the Marxian approach to the emerging forms of matter in human evolution, it neglects, for instance, the biological compartment of the involved matter – and restricts the material foundations of ideology and the law to the economic, technological component. Thus, Marxism believes ideologies come only and necessarily as the “superstructure” of the “relations of production,” themselves the superstructure only and necessarily of technology.
The truth is that a certain ideology or legal system is not necessarily indissociable from a certain economic system (just like a certain economic system is not necessarily indissociable from a certain ideology or legal system). By the way, Marxian ontology fails to notice – among merchandise’s reified components – the presence of the infrastructure of fantasy, thus neglecting the reification of human dreams and restricting itself to just one of the relations of production.
As for the Marxian approach to contradiction in human evolution, it commits the double mistake of restricting intergroup conflict to the struggle between economic classes for economic motives – and restricting contradiction to disharmony and tearing. It also commits the mistake of believing human evolution to be rigorously predetermined – and scheduled to gradually reach its predefined finish line through gradually solving and dissipating the different successive encountered cases of contradiction.
The Spencerian vision of cosmic and human history is materialist (in the sense of denying the ideational, archetypal field) like the Marxian vision of human history. It also has this characteristic in common with its great rival that it underlines the driving role of contradiction – although it conceives of the aforesaid contradiction as a harmonious tension manifesting itself perpetually. Nonetheless, the Spencerian also approach remains flawed.
Herbert Spencer rightly believed that the partnership between differentiation and integration, discerned by Karl Ernst von Baer in the growth of the embryo, to be transposable to the evolution of the cosmos and of humanity. Nevertheless, he made the mistake of considering that collaboration exclusively in the mode of the increase in the division of labor. As if, as the division of labor progressed on the scale of the world, individuals became more and more differentiated in their professions; but also more and more integrated in a humanitarian embryo leveling the nations and dissipating the borders. That faith in the advent of a division of labor. supplanting the nations (and thus war between the nations) to let subsist sole individuals producing and exchanging on the scale of the world, fits very well with Spencer’s anarcho-capitalism.
It fits less well with anthropological and historical reality – namely that, as the economic and military interaction between nations increases, those, far from disappearing (for the benefit of a humanity integrating increasingly uprooted, denationalized individuals), only further differentiate – and only further oppose each other.
Thus, the executed integration comes down to an intensification of the intergroup “struggle for life;” and applies as much to the individuals engaged in the global division of labor, as nations engaged in increasingly integrated military and economic competition.
Grégoire Canlorbe is an independent scholar, based in Paris. Besides conducting a series of academic interviews with social scientists, physicists, and cultural figures, he has authored a number of metapolitical and philosophical articles. His work and interviews often appear in the Postil.
The image shows “Iron and Coal,” by William Bell Scott, painted can 1855-1860.
Characteristic of the work of the late Greek scholar, who spent a large part of his life in Heidelberg and who mostly carried out his conceptual drafts in German, was his interpretative starting point based on claims to power. In contrast to other historians of ideas and social affairs, who are inclined to moralize, Kondylis never fought for the “good.” Although influenced by the Enlightenment, his editor, Falk Horst, is right when he speaks of a philosopher of the Enlightenment without a mission.
Kondylis dissected successive world views based on the Middle Ages; but he undertook his task as impartially as possible. He called this approach “descriptive decisionism,” which he differentiated from value-based understandings of human decisions and claims. And he called the scientific approach, which he pursued in his mature works, as “social ontology.”
First and Foremost A Social Being
Kondylis starts from the basic assumption that the human being cannot be separated from a certain social relationship. From his point of view, man is primarily a social being, whose relationship to fellow human beings and to the world outside must be taken into account through his position in a given hierarchy.
First and foremost, one takes care of self-preservation, which requires the cooperation of others, and then of defending one’s niche against opponents. In his small volume, Macht und Entscheidung Die Herausbildung der Weltbilder und die Wertfrage (The Formation of World Views and the Question of Value ), Kondylis focuses on the combative and power-striving side of interpersonal interactions.
Moralism or Nihilism
Fundamental to his lengthy books on the Enlightenment, classical conservatism and the age of world politics is his use of a power-oriented perspective of interpretation. Even with scholarly disputes and strictly developed theoretical work, a fighting spirit that shapes all concerns can be discerned. The scientist sets his thesis against that of his opponent.
The Enlightenment thinkers set out to assert nature and sensuality against a medieval way of thinking. But the former participants went their separate ways when the question arose whether the struggle against the rejected metaphysics should result in a normative morality or in a nihilism that decomposes everything. The Enlightenment thinkers, the advocates of a rational morality like Kant and Voltaire, and nihilistic materialists like Holbach and La Mettrie, split into two opposing groups of thought.
The bourgeois society, which upheld the cultural world of the Enlightenment, had to wage a two-front war against conservatism, which wanted to reassert the ideals of a premodern social order, and against mass democracy, which advocates the equality and exchangeability of the crowd. Without considering this dialectical, militant thrust, Kondylis believes, successive ruling classes and leading ideologies can hardly be understood. Only with regard to a counterpart does the individual develop collectively, as being-like and abstract.
A Synthesis of Marx And Carl Schmitt?
Kondylis’ social ontology and anthropology is usually interpreted as an imaginative amalgamation of the thought of Marx and Carl Schmitt. It may be astonishing that Kondylis recognized Marx, but far less Schmitt, as a pioneer. He also generously admitted as influences in his world of ideas both Reinhart Koselleck, with whom he had a long-term correspondence, and his doctoral supervisor from Heidelberg, Werner Conze. He also mentioned Spinoza, whose theological and political treatise helped shape his concept of power.
But why did Kondylis treat Schmitt, whose friend-foe thinking he shares, almost neglectfully? It may be that Kondylis wanted to emphasize the originality of his terms. Just as relevant, as Horst’s anthology makes clear, Kondylis was radicalized in his youth when he had protested against the Junta of the colonels in his Greek homeland.
The Marxist character can be traced back to these youthful years, even if the mature thinker could hardly be classified as a Marxist or as a leftist. The focus on the course of history and socially determined major cultures point back to a Marxist-inspired focus. It is clear, however, that Kondylis like Koselleck and other leading German historians of ideas from the second half of the last century, was influenced by Schmitt.
The fact that Kondylis handled a single-track or overly simplistic view of the world is a common criticism of his anthropological and political perspective, which revolves around self-preservation and striving for power of the socially settled individual. But that presupposes that the social researcher Kondylis wanted to provide an overall picture of political, community and ideological action. Instead, his ideas can be used to shed light on human behavior and to provide insight into human motivation in individual situations.
Not An Optimist
For all his devotion to the Enlightenment and the associated insights, Kondylis by no means represented the optimistic view of the future which shaped eighteenth-century rationalism. He belonged to the group that Zeev Sternhell and Isaiah Berlin characterized as “les Contre-lumières,” and which were supposedly up to no good. These brooders used the critical approach of the Enlightenment to question and even devalue their final vision.
In other words: Kondylis understood his teaching assignment differently than the moralists he mocked. Apart from the decision-making of socially located and motivated individuals and groups, who act in the area of conflict, with other similarly determined beings, Kondylis cannot offer us a world-picture or a vision of the future. To his credit, he warns against those whitewashers who want to abolish our freedom and our sobriety.
Dr. James Patrick has spent his life teaching, and in this book he seeks to tell on a larger scale the story of the Christian mind as it developed according to what he refers to as the “adventure” of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, the Christian mind moved from faithful intuition to writing and composing original ideas of concrete truths, and this in turn led to inspired foundations upon which a new kind of world became possible. Patrick does not wish the reader to think the Christian mind has ever intended to create utopia on earth or to proselytize, rather that the dynamic Christian intellect indicates a human heart made new and from this newness still spring horizons of hope and culture.
The Christian mind is, says Patrick, not only inspired and moved by the restless Paraclete, but revolves around the event of Jesus Christ. Christian history is therefore best understood not simply as chronology of events but as the vision of “the new heart in time,” one that strives to be like that of the one who sent the Spirit into history.
“Matthew: The Making Of The New Heart”
Matthew was the Gospel. When early Christian writers turned to a source of Jesus’ words and deeds it was to Matthew, or what became Matthew, that they turned. And within Matthew, their pattern of quotation suggests, they turned first to chapters five through seven, containing the Beatitudes and the dominical transformation of the law from the propositions of the Mosaic law as these were understood by the observant Jew to an interior, life-forming participation of the heart in the will of the Father. Jesus sat down, opened his mouth, and taught them. Thus began the Sermon on the Mount. Luke knows something of this text (6:20–49), but neither Mark nor John contains obvious parallels. Jesus’ words in Matthew 5–6 as he transforms the Mosaic law held a hope for the regeneration of the human heart greater than the virtuous life Aristotle had taught in his Ethics and Cicero in his On Duties.
The opening verses, the eight Beatitudes, are at the center of the moral vocabulary of Christian mankind, although on any showing they are challenging at first sight. They are not prescriptive but descriptive, proposing no course of action but promising beatitude or blessedness to those possessing the right state of soul or, as in the seventh and eighth, able to bear persecution. In this way they are truly kerygma or preaching, a proclamation describing the blessedness that accompanies those on the Christian way. The Greek makarios is sometimes translated “happy,” but “blessed” is better, for happiness is a subjective state of contentment or well-being, while blessedness is the state of being fulfilled by God at his will and in his presence. Blessedness is not a virtue, not a natural virtue that the best efforts of man can achieve at least episodically, or even a supernatural virtue given silently at baptism, but a gift following upon that supernatural infusion of grace, life lived in the Christian way, the steady result of day by day, charity-inspired cooperation with the Holy Spirit. They are echoed in what Paul knows as the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 5:22).
In this Matthean text Jesus does not tell the disciples how to seek blessedness; he does not, as elsewhere, urge repentance. The Beatitudes are gifts, and they are proleptic, looking forward to the coming of the Kingdom. Blessedness will come at Pentecost, when hearts will burn within and the question will be “Brethren, what shall we do?” Jesus is waiting: “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled” (Luke 12:49). But now, on the threshold of the last day, is the time to prepare the disciples for the new life that is coming, to give them words that they will remember when Jesus’ first great promise, “I will send the Holy Spirit, the Advocate or Counselor,” is fulfilled.
This is the life prophesied by Jeremiah: Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with house of Israel and the House of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of Egypt. [. . .] I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts, and I will be their God and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor, and each his brother, saying “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me from the least to the greatest (Jer. 31:31–34). And Ezekiel: “A new heart I will give you, a new spirit I will put within you. And I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances” (11:19). When Peter stood up at Pentecost he declared the descent of the Spirit to be the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17–18, Joel 2:28–32). In that Day they all will possess the Prophetic Spirit. But the new way must possess the mind as well as the heart; the gift will be fulfilled in those who have been taught: “Go, baptize, teach.”
The best of the Greeks and Romans had known that the good all men seek is not some possession extrinsic to the self but a state of soul. Aristotle’s Ethics, with a spirit echoed in Justin’s day by the stoic Epictetus, begins by asking what it is that all men seek for its own sake, not as an instrument leading to something greater such as wealth or wisdom, which we may desire because they promise happiness. Rather, happiness itself, eudaimonia, is what all men desire for its own sake. But quickly Aristotle turns to the observation that happiness is not possible without goodness.
So the Philosopher does not, as Epicurus would later, propose happiness as the complement of pleasure, but as the best state of the soul in the righteous man. And this, famously, is to be achieved not through the appropriation of theoria, not through the exercise of intellect, but through the practice of the moral virtues—justice, temperance, prudence, and courage—and that not in a world-pleasing way, but as a good man might practice them. The means was the natural capacity of the self-commanding man to become virtuous. Aristotle’s Ethics is the high summary of the best of Hellenism’s moral proposals. Yet it neither elevated the eye of the soul above the realm of nature, which Aristotle would have considered impossible, nor purified the will.
When after Pentecost Christians looked at the world around them, they saw the ravages of the flaw that would be called original sin, ignorance and that deformation of the will called concupiscence, which five centuries of the best of Greek and Roman moral advice had not been able to repair. Against this was set the moral proposals and the moral power of Jesus. Christ came not only with good advice but with the ability to change hearts. And first came the revolutionary ideas found in the fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, the prophetic descriptions of the Christian life called the Beatitudes or blessedness, a reward attached to each, and then the transformation of the law from divinely given rule to the very form of the redeemed heart.
Given the classical expectation regarding happiness and virtue, Aristotle’s eudaimonia or good-spiritedness as the result of natural virtue, Jesus’ words in the Beatitudes disappoint; many would find them puzzling, some would find them impossible, for the heart of natural man does not reach out to embrace poverty of spirit and mourning, to say nothing of persecution. Yet the Beatitudes are signposts along the royal road that leads citizens of a fallen world to the vision of God, to sonship, and to citizenship in the kingdom of heaven, a description of the realm of Our Father that stands contrasted with the kingdom of the earth.
Humility, sorrow for one’s sins, gentleness, desire for God, mercifulness, purity of heart, peacemaking, acceptance of persecution for Jesus’ sake; Jesus is describing God-given dispositions of the heart that may or may not always be evident to the world in actions. Indeed to the degree that any Beatitude excites public notice, it is in danger of betraying its divine purpose; humility and piety displayed already have their reward (Matt. 6:1). Later, in the series of dominical sayings beginning with “You have heard it said but I tell you,” there will be specific teaching that tells the blessed heart how to live in the world (Matt. 5:21–7:29).
The Beatitudes have been the subject of commentary by great teachers, but generations lacking scholarly insight have also understood his words as they walked in the way. Jesus, who knew what was in mankind (John 2:25), begins with the counsel that one who would be blessed will be humble, which means seeing oneself as one really is: a creature, clay in the Potter’s hands, helpless in the one thing that matters most despite possessing many impressive competencies, reliance upon which as justifying before God is always deceptive (Isa. 29:16, Jer. 18:6, Rom. 9:21). “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” God is forever ordering the moral universe by putting down the mighty from their seat and exalting the humble (Luke 1:52).
Jesus reminds his followers to seek the lowest place, assuring them that the order of this world is not the order of the kingdom of heaven; there many of the first shall be last and the last first (Mark 9:35). He opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:10). “He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts [. . .] and exalted those of low degree” (Luke 1:31– 32). God’s opposition to the proud is a lesson humankind must repeatedly learn, rooted in the very nature of God, in whose sight a lie cannot stand, and who while summary of power and majesty, expresses his life in Trinitarian self-giving, the divine Son humbling himself for our sakes, “who being in the form of God did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Phil. 2:6). To fail of humility and to cultivate pride is to fail to see things as they are; a broken and contrite heart God does not despise (Ps. 51:17).
This was the great lesson given Job, a good man, whom God never accuses of sins, but a man “wise in his own conceits” (37:24), clinging in the most subtle and unrealistic way to his own rightness before God, redeemed only when, having had his ignorance and littleness demonstrated by the Almighty most dramatically (38–41), he falls silent before the gift of the vision of God: “Now my eye sees Thee” (42:5). So, the Beatitudes open by declaring blessed one who is ptōxoi in spirit, a word for which the least dramatic definition is “poor in spirit,” but connoting a deeper range of meanings that include “crushed, beggarly, mean or low.”
The reference is clearly not to lack of this world’s goods, but to that abandonment of self which opens upon the faith of the elect. There was a reason for Saul’s having changed his name from that of the great king to Paul, which resonated with the Greek word for mean, of no account. The central psychological mystery of the religion Jesus taught is the necessity for that reordering of the soul that sees one’s self in the order of reality as of no account in the light of God’s glory, as deserving his wrath in the light of his justice.
The self-deception called pride is the natural defense of every man from this truth. Enjoying justly some human esteem, avoiding public shame, capable of good deeds—God never accused Job of moral failure— mankind will find it easy to ignore that fact that our decency is fragile, our self-interest perfect, our thirst for something other than the righteousness of God ever-present. There is a sweetness in reality, always hard for the sin-encased soul to see, and perhaps especially hard to see in an age when self-esteem is considered a cardinal virtue. But it is the locating of one’s self rightly in God’s just order that is a sign of blessedness, and this awareness of who we are is the basis of every other Beatitude and the ground of every gratitude. The poor in spirit are blessed because theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The interior greatness of every human action on earth is rooted in the acknowledged littleness of every man before the glory and majesty of God. This humility, this poverty of spirit, has as its companion the reality of sorrow for sin and sinfulness (5:5). “Blessed are those who mourn; they shall be comforted.” Christians are never encouraged to ruminate on past failures; we are ever to be putting behind us the past with its failure and looking to the future, “forgetting what lies behind, pressing forward and straining forward to what lies ahead” (Phil. 3:14).
But for the burden of our actual sins, forgiven but perhaps still bearing the debt of undischarged penance, our weakness and instability in the face of temptation, not despair but holy sorrow is the medicine for the soul. The great spiritual writers seem inhumane when they counsel against light-mindedness and denounce hilarity as being inappropriate to the pilgrim, but life is in the end no laughing matter. To have holy sorrow is to begin to hate that to which we have been attracted. This is the happy sorrow that is blessed. God, we are promised, will wipe away every tear from our eyes (Rev. 21:4), but to enjoy that supernatural friendship there first must be tears of sorrow.
The word translated meek (praus) in the third Beatitude is equally well, or better, translated “gentle.” Jesus will say, “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 29:11). And again Jesus quotes Isaiah: “Your king comes to you, gentle, seated upon an ass, and upon the foal of an ass” (Matt. 21:5, Is. 62:11). It is these, the meek, the gentle, who, contrary to the claims of power, will inherit the earth when it is God’s earth again. The adjective used in Matthew 5 occurs only four times in the New Testament, but as the abstract noun “gentleness” Paul includes it among the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22.
To be gentle is to refrain from using power rightly possessed to achieve a purpose that, while it may be just, reads out the moral requirement of the second commandment, love your neighbor as you love yourself, by imposing one’s own just will without mercy. Jesus assures his followers that it is not the grasping and aggressive but the gentle who will inherit the earth. The divine ground of Christian gentleness is the Lord’s willingness to show us just so much of himself as we can bear, to enwrap his power in his humility. He did not cling to his divine nature in a way that prevented his display of that divine gentleness that is the unvarying companion of his majestic justice. The images of Jesus with the woman at the well, calling little children to himself, not condemning Peter and the twelve when they cannot watch for one hour, and washing his disciples’ feet, have always engaged the Christian heart.
Gentleness is the choice of reserve rather than rashness; in its most common form it is the gentleness of politeness, standing aside for another, not claiming the highest place, that will find fruit in the gentled civilization founded upon the Beatitudes. What inheriting the earth means is surely that these will inherit the new creation when Christ returns, but it may also means that even now the gentle will know the good life of the soul as it belongs to this present age.
The fourth Beatitude describes the blessed soul as one who hungers and thirsts for righteousness. Jesus is not speaking of the desire to be righteous as the Pharisees on a certain day might have understood righteousness, but of the desire to be in communion with God, to be right-hearted in relation to the creator and redeemer, which disposition has itself a justifying power. This is the desire, itself a gift of grace, that shapes life in Christ.
Whether the words belong to the playwright Robert Bolt or to a contemporary account, we are told that when Saint Thomas More mounted the scaffold he tipped the executioner with the words, “Do your work quickly for you send me to God,” to which the cleric standing by replied, “Are you so certain Sir Thomas?” More replied, “He will not refuse one who is so blithe to come to him.” Those who hunger for righteousness will be satisfied. This blessed hunger, this holy restlessness, made ever memorable by Augustine’s words, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee,” is the gift to every person who will listen, for we will in the end achieve what we have desired.
If our wills are formed to the neglect of God who is reality, the end may be darkness and waste. But for those who can grasp just one of the rays of glory that God has scattered across the world, who can long for something other than themselves, there is the promise of satisfaction, of the fullness of which the world offers a thousand intimations.
This hunger for God leads through the trials of life to our sharing in the great banquet that every Eucharist foreshadows. “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.” The Christian call to mercy is founded in God’s own mercy to us. That mercy, rooted in his justice, began in his will never to abandon his rebellious creation but rather to heal it through long ages. In the fullness of time his plan was perfected in the merciful gift of his Son who brought regenerating life with water and the spirit, giving those he called the white robe of justification at baptism (Tim. 1:4–7, Rev. 7:9).
At the sixteenth-century Council of Trent when, Luther’s advocacy of justification by faith alone having raised the issue, the question arose as to whether, having been made righteous once and perfectly through the gift of baptism, the wayfarer at life’s end, having marred the robe of baptismal purity, required and would be offered a second justification by the merits of Christ’s passion, the conciliar conclusion was in the negative. Christians are assured that, while called to be perfect, “If we say we have not sinned we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8–10).
For our post-baptismal sinfulness the Church offers the repentant the mercy of true forgiveness, sealed by the power of the keys (Matt. 16:19, John 20:19–23). And for the still imperfect heart, marked with holy sorrow and freed of any note of rebellion, there is the merciful fire of purgatory, a state imagined differently in different ages but one whose end is certain: the fruition of life in the vision of God. This is the ultimate mercy promised by the fifth Beatitude: the merciful will obtain mercy. This greatest mercy, this perfecting love, rooted in God’s own mercy, is the hope of Christians, shining down the days of every life and inspiring the gentling of the world by those who have been shown mercy. The apostle James writes, “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy; yet mercy triumphs over judgement” (2:13).
Since Paul wrote to the Corinthians of the necessary purification of the elect by fire, it has ever been the teaching of the Church that those faithful in whom love exists but which has not found full fruition will by the mercy of Christ be perfected in holiness after death (1 Cor. 3:10–15). But pure in heart we all then will be. This mercy is then the ever present background for the making of the pure heart which has as its purpose and reward the renewal of that conversation which sin interrupted in the garden. This is the mercy of the love that will not let us go until we are fit for the innumerable company of angels, the spirits of just men made perfect, and God who is the judge of all (Heb. 12:22). “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” The creation of the clean heart is ever the master-work of the apostolic mission, a work which while it begins with the proclamation of the Gospel is effective in the sacraments, with the elect, God’s chosen, being perfected by the means to holiness Jesus purchased with his death, when the Holy Spirit came with his regenerating gift of baptism and with forgiveness and communion that light the Christian way.
The heart sees; it has an eye which, sin-clouded, cannot behold its maker. Purity of heart is a way, a praxis, that requires more than emptying the soul of evil like the demon-cleansed house in Matthew 12:43–45 that soon was to be filled with demons more vicious than the first. Purity of heart requires that the house of the soul be filled with the light of grace by the Holy Spirit; the human heart cannot be purified of sin without being filled by God, and then, the eye of the soul wiped clean, we will see. Peacemakers, says the seventh Beatitude, are the sons of God, whose will is that peace of the kingdom that Augustine calls the order of tranquility.
The rhetoric of the world has as its underlying purpose incitement to strife, to emulation, to aggression, to self-pity, grievance, and ultimately to perpetual warfare. God’s sons, his children, bring peace into the world by bearing rather than striking, by walking the extra mile when one has already walked as far as justice requires, by giving more than is just. The presence of evil in the world is never mitigated until it is borne. Those who enjoy the blessings of the first seven Beatitudes will be rewarded with citizenship in the kingdom of heaven, and inevitably will be persecuted by that mystery of evil called the world.
For the first three centuries, and even now, faithfulness might mean death. But presently in the West that persecution will not often be with rack and rope; it cannot be resisted with any violence, only with patience and finally suffering, but it will nonetheless be real. Christians living through modernity know what it is, if not to be reviled publicly, to be held in gentle contempt and on a certain day to be thought an enemy of all that is best by one’s neighbor. Less obvious is the persecution inherent in the world that while it assaults the senses allures with the enchantment of technology’s transcendence over nature, offering comforts that often seem to render restraint and discipline pointless.
This new war with the world does not threaten with the executioner’s fire and lions, but with the subtle luring of the soul into self-willed pusillanimity. Bearing the cross and denying oneself in a culture whose ignorance of the true dimensions of life makes such actions meaningless, may seem harder to bear than the inquisitor’s fire. Yet living a life that bears witness when one can never know the world is listening makes Christians part of that great company who, beginning with the prophets whom Israel despised and persecuted, have been a light in this world, and who have ever been rewarded with the presence of God.
Jesus’ description of the gift of blessedness to the soul is followed by the images of salt and light that establish the character of Christian witness in the world. Christ’s followers are the salt of the world, and in that sense a gift to it, but if the salt has lost its savor, “What is there left to give taste to it?” It is Christian witness that lifts up the world in hope. This witness is a light that is not to be put under a barrel but lifted high, set on a lampstand so that the Christian way can shine brightly before men who see its good works and glorify our Father in heaven.
Having described the blessedness that belongs to the kingdom, its consequences for believers, persecution, and the necessity of their witness in the world, Jesus turns to the question raised persistently by the charge of the Pharisees that he and his disciples have no regard for the Law of Moses. His disciples pluck grain from the fields on the Sabbath (Matt. 12:1); he eats with sinners, and without ritual purification (Matt. 15:1). So, Jesus will assure the Pharisees of every age: “Think not that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I have come not to destroy the law but to fulfill them. For truly I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot will pass from the law until all is accomplished,” until the holy ones who are the citizens of the kingdom are called and fulfilled.
And then the warning and the promise to teachers: “Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men to do so shall be called least in the kingdom, but who obeys them and teaches them shall be called great” (Matt. 5:13). And the new standard: Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, those whose whole work is fulfilling the propositions of the law while leaving the heart in shadow, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. And how is this to be achieved? By entering perfectly into the love of the Lord through the door to that interior castle, the will. Hardly a new idea: “You shall love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind.”
But what Jesus does not reveal in this place is the fact that this new law will require a new heart which can only be formed by his Pentecostal gift his death will bring. Six times the phrase “You have heard it said” is repeated, to be followed by “But I tell you.” What has been said by men of old is the Law of Moses. What Jesus teaches those listening is the new law of the heart that places moral weight not in good deeds, although these will follow, but in the renewed will. It is not what goes into a man that defiles him, the working of the world upon us is to be borne; what makes the man is that expression of the heart that forms our words and actions (Matt. 15:11).
The renewal Christ commands surpasses the righteousness of the Pharisees for it will make men and women of a flawed and fallen world citizens fit for eternal life in the kingdom of the new heart. The first contrast between what has been said and the new law teaches that the death and destruction that characterize life and history begin with contempt, anger, and insult, which can only be amended by the willingness to ask forgiveness, perhaps even when just grounds for anger are present. Be reconciled to your brother before you offer your sacrifice. Litigiousness and contentiousness unlamented lead to prison from which you will not escape until justice has been fully served (5:25–26). It is not enough to refrain from adultery; one must reject from the heart the desire for the pleasurable possession of one not yours but another’s, for the settled desire is as good as the deed done (27).
There is then the new law of language: abjure hyperbolic claims that presume a power you do not have. Jerusalem is not yours but is the city of the great king; you cannot make one hair of your head white or black (5:33–36). And do not take refuge in ambiguity; let your pledged word be sealed with a yes or no (37). This means that in the kingdom of the new heart the duty of the rhetor and the author, of every man as he speaks and writes, is to be ever obedient to the reality of the thing, whether it be an object or an idea or an emotion. And as for revenge, give it up, putting it away with the willingness to bear something, to do more than the importunate or the would-be oppressor asks. And this turns upon the extension of the second great commandment to include not only the neighbor, but the neighbor who wishes you harm (5:43–48). “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” had been at the heart of justice as the Old Covenant commended it. It was a principle of Greek morality that revenge was the justifying motive of morality, but among Jesus’ followers, something is to be borne.
Of the six contrasts through which Jesus teaches, the most shocking to his hearers was surely the abrogating of divorce, which had been allowed, as Jesus would tell his disciple in the nineteenth chapter of Matthew, because of the hardness of men’s hearts, but which now was to be done away with in obedience to God’s will as expressed in the primordial unity of man and woman in the Garden; “It was not so in the beginning” (19:8). This renewed vision of marriage would be developed by Saint Paul with the analogy of the relation of husband and wife to the indissoluble union between Christ and the Church (Eph 5:25). But in the context of Matthew 5, Jesus only teaches that, assuming the divine justice of the Edenic disposition to be true, putting a wife away inevitably sends her into another household and to another husband, if not into the street, and by doing so makes both her and the head of the household into which she may have been taken adulterers. Jesus’ teaching on divorce would be put forward fully in chapter 19:3–12, where divorce would be seen as a violation of God’s will that “the two shall become one” (5).
The disciples answered for fallen mankind: “If it is this way between a man and woman, better not marry.” This might have been said of the entire body of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. If it is this way; forego revenge, love your enemies, abjure contempt and insult, walk the second mile, achieve purity of heart, who can bear it? But the divine teaching of Matthew 5 does not consist of moral maxims addressed to the world but to citizens of the kingdom of the new hearts that Pentecost will bring. These six recastings of the law in Matthew 5 offer the clear outlines of the new way of life that marks the kingdom. They are redolent of the nobility of the faith and presuppose the humility the giver of the new law displayed on the night he was betrayed (John 13:1–17).
Jesus’ sermon on the mountainside was the foundation, laying down the principles of the way that would blossom from his words after his sacrifice made the new heart a possibility and a reality through the gift of the indwelling Advocate and Comforter at Pentecost. “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away; the Counselor will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). The Spirit comes with power to confirm memory and to lead into all truth, to comfort, to convict, and to convert, and to give the peace the world cannot give, and finally, our work done, to bring us to himself.
The Holy Spirit redefines the meaning of life and of history. Sin is now not simply a violation of the law but failure to believe Christ’s words and to accept the gifts that make for holiness. Righteousness is rightness of the heart formed by faith and by participation in Christ through his sacramental gifts so as to become a new creature. Mankind is made for the holiness that pleases God, enabling the sons of Adam at last to enter the conversation that was forestalled when our first parents chose the serpent’s way.
The entire Pentecostal faith, with its promise of forgiveness and the reward of communion introduced the waiting world to the great adventure that gave every man the possibility of becoming a new creature. Thus it would be that when Christians began to write they would turn to this text, to Matthew 5 and 6, to discover the foundations of the kingdom of the new heart. Other Matthean texts would be cited by writers of the post-apostolic age, the apocalypse of chapters twenty-four and twenty-five would find a permanent place in Christian faith, and the Gospel parables have never ceased to form Christian conscience and imagination: the wicked servant who, having been mercifully forgiven his debt, grasps his fellow servant by the throat demanding payment of the small debt owed him (18:20–35); the householder who gave those who had labored little as much as those who had labored long because it was his to be gracious as he chose (20:1–16); the king who gave a wedding feast to which many refused to come, and one who did was cast out as not being properly attired (22:1–14); and the parable of the talents.
These would always engage and teach, but it was the words of Chapters 5 and 6 that rippled out from a mountainside in Galilee to make a new world. The teaching of the new way issued in a new piety, with prayer, almsgiving, and sacrifice; things not to be done in order to be seen by men or to earn their approval, but privately and without calculation (6:1–15). Jesus’ followers do not need to storm heaven with many words, for they do not like the prophets of Baal need to arouse God with their shouts. Christian prayer is made in the knowledge that Our Father in heaven knows what we and every other creature needs this day, for the new heart beats within its living relationship to the ever-providential God who made it.
The first petition of the great prayer recognizes with praise that God’s name, that is his being, is holy, asking that his will, reigning gloriously in heaven, may soon be perfected in the Church and in the world. The words, “Give us this day our daily bread,” have been variously understood because the word for “daily” may be understood to mean “supersubstantial” rather than daily in the ordinary sense, so that the prayer for daily bread refers as well to Eucharistic bread.
There follows the petition that our debts or transgressions may be forgiven as we forgive others, a reference to both the fifth Beatitude above and to 6:14–15 below. “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly father also will forgive you.” Always considered the first Gospel, Matthew, with the Beatitudes and Jesus’ perfecting of the law, “You have heard it said of old, but I tell you,” laid the foundation for the life of the new heart that his sacrifice would bring to the world, accomplishing in the elect the perfect virtue that the philosophers and Pharisees had foreseen but which the fallen could never accomplish apart from the cross of Christ and the regenerating Pentecostal gift he bought.
When Jesus sat down on a hillside in Galilee to teach, his words made a new world.
The image shows, “Sermon on the Mount,” by Ivan Makarov, painted in 1889.
In their eternal quest to remake reality, a perennial target of the Left is the family: man, woman, and children, the bedrock of all human societies. The family, by its existence and by what it brings forth, mocks the Left project, and so the Left has tried to destroy it for 250 years. But only in the twentieth century did this effort gain real traction, when our elites became converts to the fantasy that sex roles as they existed were artefacts of oppression, not organic reality. What followed was mass indoctrination in falsehoods about men and women, in which this infamous book played a key role. If you see a sad wine aunt (they are all sad), and you see them everywhere, you see a small part of the resulting social wreckage.
The Feminine Mystique was chosen in the 1960s, the decade that really began our decline, as the central pillar of the enormously destructive myth that a woman can “have it all” – both a fully-realized family in the home and a fully-realized career outside the home. Many elements of our present ruin can be traced back to this propaganda. The myth itself is duplicitous, however. For its purveyors, a woman’s career is far more important than the family – lip service is only paid to the family because women keep stubbornly insisting they want a family. To their great frustration, this is a problem our rulers have been unable to solve, causing them to resort to ever more extreme and ultimately self-defeating falsehoods about men and women. It would be funny if it had not been so catastrophic.
I could spend hours amusing myself blowing holes in this execrable book, but I have sworn off reviewing books merely to show how they are wrong. Therefore, we will instead use this book to discuss some of the defects in societal structures in America today as they relate to men and women, and how those structures should be remade. A sneak peek: men and women are very different. They always have been, and they always will be. And from a societal structure perspective, the crucial truth is that men drive a society forward, while women bind a society together. So, it will always be in any successful society, and any society that attempts to contradict truth will only find its own obliteration.
But you will be disappointed, I am sure, if I do not at least summarize this book, and doing so is helpful to frame discussion about recapturing our future. It’s not easy – a reader has to excavate in layers, removing all the primitive psychobabble and 1950s ephemera. Moreover, he must reconcile himself that there are no hard facts in this book with which to grapple. None. It is purely a series of cherry-picked anecdotes, presented in a pseudo-scientific manner in order to compel conclusions the author, Betty Friedan, had already reached about society.
She was born into and raised in a far-left family, and from her earliest youth to her death in 2006 worked unceasingly to impose on our society all her radical politics. Agitation was her life. In 1957 Friedan, bored with her part-time job writing for the radical press and unhappy with her marriage to an advertising executive, sent an amateurish questionnaire to her classmates from her 1942 graduating class at Smith College (an all-women’s college still extant).
The survey had thirty-eight questions, all yes-no or multiple choice. None are surprising or all that interesting, and the survey is loaded: the desired responses are indicated by the choice of questions and by using guiding adjectives (e.g., “Is your marriage truly satisfying?” – meaning that unless it is truly satisfying, the only possible answer is “no”). Friedan claims that the responses surprised her, so she then conducted interviews with eighty women. Upon the supposed results of these interviews a book claiming to show a new understanding of all of American society is built.
What, then, is the “feminine mystique?” It is the “strange discrepancy between the reality of our lives as women and the image to which we were trying to conform.” “Our” and “we” here mean a small set of women very similarly situated to Friedan, but in a neat sleight of hand, Friedan manages to pretend that “our” and “we” is all American women, or at least all educated, married, upper-middle class American women. (Working-class women receive a grand total of zero words in this book, other than a suggestion that career women hire cleaning women. LGBTQQIP2SAA people get more attention, at least – in the form of Friedan’s complaint that bored women without careers turn their sons into homosexuals).
According to Friedan’s “data,” women are “unsatisfied,” even though they objectively had gotten everything they wanted. They have “a hunger that food cannot fill.” They all say “I want something more than my husband and my children and my home.” The “mystique” is the supposedly-false belief that they don’t have a hunger, that they don’t want something more, but are instead very happy, or at least satisfied, with traditional sex roles, the “image to which we were trying to conform.”
OK, then, what do women actually want, if it’s not family and home? Well, Friedan meanders a lot, but basically she tells us women want self-fulfillment through “the life of the mind and spirit.” So, do we all, I suppose, but to Friedan, this means a job, any full-time job, outside the home – nothing more. A housewife, that is, a woman who raises children, has a sound marriage, and acts feminine, but does not work full-time outside the home, is a sad and contemptible person in Friedan’s eyes.
In an early instance of the scientism that has, during the Wuhan Plague, swallowed the world, Friedan lectures us that “In [the] new psychological thinking… it is not enough for an individual to be loved and accepted by others, to be ‘adjusted’ to his culture. He must take his existence seriously enough to make his own commitment to life, and to the future; he forfeits his existence by failing to fulfill his entire being.” This piece of infantile babbling is illustrative of the entire book.
Friedan faces a problem in selling this story, though, which she grudgingly admits – all other contemporaneous surveys showed that what women actually want is to be a housewife. This makes Friedan angry. She is greatly offended that at a time when more and more women are getting college degrees, an ever-higher percentage of women show no interest in a career.
But there is an easy answer! They are not lying; they have been tricked. They have been bamboozled by women’s magazines written by men, which exist to sell them products they will only buy if they are kept in the home, just like Adolf Hitler did, you know. If these poor, deluded women could only be objective, they would all know they suffer “terrible boredom,” which can only be cured by working outside the home.
Without a career, you see, a woman can have no identity at all; she is “barred from the freedom of human existence and a voice in human destiny.” She’s also “doomed to be castrative to her husband and sons” (a clear instance of projection by Friedan, who was nothing if not that to her own husband and sons). But good news! Friedan has uncovered the “truth” that has escaped us all.
The rest of the book, 500 sophomoric, tedious pages in all, is terrible. Repetitive anecdotes interspersed with bad history; cut-rate Freudian analysis (Friedan can’t get enough Freud) that no doubt seemed very daring at the time; praise for the ludicrous and discredited Margaret Mead’s fantastical lies about sex relations in primitive cultures; claims that colleges are failing women because women don’t choose the same subjects as men; demands for population restriction; psychological drivel about nuclear weapons; praise for the silly Dr. Spock; comparing the position of American housewives to that of inmates in Nazi death camps; endless pushing the idea that women are kept in the home so they will buy things (ignoring that they can buy a lot more things if they work outside the home); lecturing the reader that women forced to be housewives “offer themselves [sexually] eagerly to strangers and neighbors” because they’re so bored; and numerous variations on the claim that any woman without a career is infantile and prone to “severe pathologies, both physiological and emotional.”
All this is gloriously evidence-free; Friedan’s usual technique is to make a sweeping statement, quote from an (always anonymous) “expert” supporting her, and blare triumphant conclusions.
The author’s contempt for children permeates the book. The only thing worse than a woman who wants to stay home and make her and her husband a happy home is one who wants to add children to her living nightmare, which only seems like a dream to her because she can’t see as clearly as Friedan. She herself threw over her family, including three children.
In an Epilogue, written in 1970, Friedan crows about how wonderful the reception to her book was. As a result, she “finally found the courage to get a divorce,” from which she concludes that “I think the next great issue for the women’s movement is basic reform of marriage and divorce” (the wreckage of which we can see all around us today). She herself has moved into “an airy, magic New York tower, with open sky and river and bridges to the future all around.” She has “started a weekend commune of grownups for whom marriage hasn’t worked – an extended family of choice, whose members are now moving into new kinds of marriages.” She does not mention that she conducted a long affair with a married man (who refused to leave his wife); it seems likely that, like John Stuart Mill, she constructed an entire philosophy around justifying her own bad behavior.
You get the idea; there is no need to continue examining the details of this book, the pages of which are only useful to line birdcages. This is all propaganda, which we have been fed so long that we believe it as history. As with other, slicker propaganda, such as the television series Mad Men, it portrays a set of falsehoods, laced with enough true background facts to pacify the reader eager to agree and comply. (It is always crucial to remember that much of what “everybody knows” now about many periods in the past is simply lies, and there is no better example of this than the 1950s and 1960s, in nearly every facet of their history, fed to us through our screens). Boring. Let’s talk instead about what a well-run society would look like.
But first, let me expand my thinking about why this book “succeeded” in its goal of massive social change. As with all major social changes, mere propaganda is not adequate explanation. The propaganda was successful because it hit our society at precisely the right moment, when it was open to the infection. First, emancipation was in the air; as Yuval Levin discusses at considerable length in The Fractured Republic, the 1950s were a unique moment in American history, when it falsely seemed like everyone could have unlimited freedom without cost, and this belief was not confined to those on the Left, but permeated society.
Second, and tied to the first, intermediary institutions, and the thicker web in which families were set, had already evaporated. Housewives, at least the suburban housewives who are Friedan’s sole focus, were in fact very frequently alienated and atomized, because the organic social structures that had supported both men and women had declined sharply (and would disappear entirely, as Robert Putnam narrated in Bowling Alone). These women did have more free time as the result of labor-saving devices; Friedan claims work expands to fill the time available – but the real problem is that given their removal from the thick social structures of previous decades, free time had no satisfying social outlet, giving Friedan’s explanatory fantasies a surface appeal, like a poisoned apple.
Third, and perhaps most important, the Left goal of destruction of the family fit precisely, in this case, with the unbridled capitalism, the excessively free market, that has worked hand-in-glove with the Left for decades to destroy our society (aided by the government). As a result of this book, or rather the propaganda campaign built around it, we got a massive movement of women into the workforce. Did those women get fulfillment, as Friedan promised? Maybe a few did, but most of them got BS jobs of various types, and we all got a massive increase in consumerism, which we are told is wonderful, because “look how much GDP has increased as a result of women entering the workforce!”
Of course, even this “fact” is a lie, because GDP excludes work inside the home. If two women raise their children, their work is excluded from GDP, but if each is paid by the other to raise the other’s children, GDP expands. But then GDP is largely a fake statistic and much of our economy a fake economy; and anyway it is simply false that any expansion in GDP is a social good, especially when the resulting costs, in the form of mass social destruction, are treated as disconnected, mere happening coincident in time but unrelated.
Regardless, with the assistance of the government and free-market enthusiasts eager to enrich a rotten ruling class, now a two-income family is required for what is regarded as a decent lifestyle, or even just to make modest ends meet, and this was independently a goal of too many in our society.
Better yet for our neoliberal overlords is a one-income family consisting of a permanently single woman. If you want to shudder, read a completely insane CNN article from 2019, titled “There are more single working women than ever, and that’s changing the US economy.”
The point is that single women spend an ever-greater proportion of the money spent on consumer goods, so we must further this trend, in particular by ensuring that those such women foolish enough to have children are given a place to park their children while they work to get money for the consumer goods that should be the real focus of their lives. There is more and more advertising, if you pay attention, to single women of luxury goods that in the past would be bought as gifts for those women – who now have nobody in their lives who will buy them any gifts at all, and must purchase artificial joy. It is enough to make one cry, if one wasn’t already fully occupied in flogging the cretins who brought us to this stupid pass.
So, enough abuse of the stupid. What should the social roles of women and men be in a well-run society? As you can doubtless tell, we are working our way to a call to limit women working outside the home. Let’s start by asking what women want. We are often lectured today, by the commissars of the loathsome ideology of “diversity and inclusion,” that fifty percent of all jobs should be held by women (or at least desirable jobs – men will keep all the dangerous and dirty jobs).
The usual response of “conservatives” is to point out that, empirically, most women simply don’t want the same jobs as men, so in a world of perfect choice far fewer than fifty percent of most jobs would be held by women. This fact is on actual display in countries that are most egalitarian about sex-role choice, notably the Scandinavian countries, where women choose traditional roles at very high rates. The timid “conservative” naturally begins, as demanded by the Left, with a preemptive apology. “Of course, I think women should be allowed to choose the path they want.”
Wrong. I don’t think women should be allowed to freely choose the path they want (nor should men). They should make the choice for family. To that end, society should largely nullify choosing career over family as an option, and coerce women into certain occupations and modes of life – and should in like manner coerce men, among other things to lead a life of being the sole provider for a family (unmarried men, beyond say, thirty, and men who fail to provide, should also be socially penalized)
In other words, society should reflect the natural division of the sexes, regardless of whether some people in society would prefer to make some other choice, whether because of their outrider nature, excessive focus on self, or because of ideology. We should return to social compulsion, shame and ostracism, to achieve this, as well as major changes to tax and legal structures, such as by absolutely barring no-fault divorce and offering (like the government of Hungary) massive payments to married couples with multiple children.
I’ll end with more thoughts on specific structural changes, but to expand on this positive vision, let’s begin with the end in mind. How should society recognize and beneficially implement the telos of both men and women? Therefore, let’s talk about astronauts. That is, let’s discuss Space, the first pillar of Foundationalism’s twelve pillars, and the role of women in Space.
The overriding principle of Foundationalism is reality, and restoring a realistic understanding of the roles of men and society is another pillar of Foundationalism. The crucial fact about men and women in society is that they are, and must be, partners. That women cannot do everything that men can do, and men cannot do everything women can do, and that even when each can do what the other can do, usually cannot do it as well, does not make one sex subordinate. But without recognizing and honoring this basic fact of different competencies, no society can operate for long.
Astronauts show how this works in practice. What is the purpose of astronauts? This is really one question in two parts. First, what is the purpose of astronauts in the present day, when astronauts are limited to short trips to, and short stays in, near-earth orbit? At most, perhaps, astronauts might visit Mars in the relatively near term, if Elon Musk has his way, although I’ll believe it when I see it. And second, what is the purpose of astronauts if humanity were to expand permanently, as often depicted in science fiction, such that astronauts are not just travelers, but off-earth inhabitants, the conquerors of a new frontier?
There are quite a few female astronauts today. If sex were ignored, would there be as many? Of course not. Far more men than women have the characteristics that make one want to be an astronaut, and make one a good astronaut. All our children are collectively assaulted from their earliest youth with massive propaganda pushing the idea of female astronauts.
Try something – go to any museum exhibit related to Space, and count the number of female astronauts depicted. It’ll be around eighty percent of the total, always with hagiographic sub-exhibits about specific women astronauts who accomplished nothing at all. Women who express any interest in being an astronaut are giving an unmerited boost at every stage, beginning in kindergarten, and when the time comes to choose astronauts, are placed at the front of the line. I doubt if astronaut selection were sex-blind there would ever have been a single female astronaut.
The purpose of astronauts today is to increase our knowledge and make possible future expansion outside the confines of Earth, what I think is a very important part of our society’s work. What are the costs and benefits of distorting the reality of female astronauts? Among other costs, choosing inferior candidates must mean, on average, not only that inferior work is done. It also means that the pool of outstanding candidates diminishes, because there is a strong incentive for the most talented and driven, and thus the most prideful, all men, to walk away in disgust from a rigged system.
A society that does not seek out and reward its best is a doomed society, and this is just one example of our such habits tied to sex roles. There are other costs to coddling female astronauts, of course – many of them very similar to the costs of allowing women in the military. What are the benefits? None, really, but I suppose the argument is that some women feel better about themselves, in the same way a child praised for crude finger painting by his parents feels better about himself. That is, unjustifiably, but in this case, knowing the praise is unjustified, and thus made simultaneously humiliated, and aggressively on the lookout for anyone adding to the humiliation by pointing out the obvious.
As to permanent human expansion, an excellent depiction of this is the books and television series The Expanse. Well, it’s excellent, except for its depiction of women, which is insane. In fact, there are no women at all in The Expanse. There are many men, each of whom acts like a stereotypical high-testosterone man, who are given female names and female physical characteristics, but none of them bears any resemblance to actual women (except for one, a Margaret Thatcher type, real but extremely rare).
In real life, if our society were to expand into the solar frontier, no “female” character in the show would occupy any position she occupies in the show – even if there were no social barriers to occupying that position. Real women as characters are totally and completely absent. Children almost never appear, and never under the care of any female character (except the lesbian “wife” of one character, who abandoned her “family”). All this is extremely jarring, making the show difficult to watch, except if you are deluding yourself, or have given it no thought at all. Yet, sixty years after The Feminine Mystique, this lying propaganda is not only ubiquitous, but ever more aggressive – probably because our ruling classes feel their hold on the greased pig of reality slipping away.
If we really got the frontier world of The Expanse, as far as sex roles, it would be like Little House on the Prairie with fusion drives and rail guns. Not only would no woman fight, and spaceships crewed only by men, both military and commercial, be the absolute rule, but women would have large families, over which they, embedded in a larger web of families and women, would exercise most of the responsibilities.
The simple reality is that men, far more than women, are interested in what’s involved in conquering Space, or conquering anything: fighting, risk-taking, adventure and glory, as well as dangerous and physically demanding jobs. Men and women would partner to achieve the near impossible tasks required to push mankind forward, but men would do the pushing and take the risks, in large part to protect the women. Such natural partnership is demanded by any harsh environment – it is only in our current softness that we can pretend otherwise. When reality is busy asserting itself in the form of hard vacuum silently waiting to kill you and your children, nobody will pretend that women and men are interchangeable.
Sadly, we must return to today, and hope our future in Space will work itself out, or that we can work our future out to make that possible. What did women, and all of us, get when women were pressured for decades to work outside the home? Let’s see – the women got BS jobs, often make-work funded by government dollars or the expansion of worthless work such as human resources, or innumerable other forms of paper pushing (many the result of pointless and destructive government regulation of one sort or another).
Friedan promises that women who listen to her siren call will be “mastering the secrets of the atoms or the stars, composing symphonies, [or] pioneering a new concept in government or society.” A wave of bitter laughter from millions of women can be heard, women who discovered too late that those type of jobs were not on offer, and they gave up children and a decent family life for a delusion. It’s not just women, though – only a tiny segment of men has a job that offers real accomplishment, “the life of mind and spirit,” either.
The job does not give them fulfillment; it is a means to their real method of fulfillment, providing for and protecting their family. And two careers maximizes success for neither spouse; meaning that men, who in their nature do get meaning much more than women from their success in the outside world, are more damaged by the demand for two careers – not collateral damage, but intended damage in the Left’s age-old war on the family. The result, when the natural order of sex roles is upset, is that nobody benefits, and society circles the drain.
I keep banging on about the differences between men and women, as if they were self-evident. They are, of course, and that used to be a commonplace, but dispelling the fog of self-induced unknowing is, I suppose, necessary. There are many differences between the sexes, and I have discussed them before in other, but related, contexts, such as the insanity of allowing women into the military.
As regards the question of work within and outside the home, the key facts are as follows. First, women are far better suited to, and far more interested in, raising children than men, and the point of the family is children – a family consisting of a childless couple has a great sadness at its core (yes, I know we’re not supposed to say that out loud).
Second, men seek glory, power, and dominance. Women simply don’t. (Offering exceptions to this general rule does not prove anything; it is equivalent to pointing to hermaphrodites to argue against the unalterable truth that mankind is divided universally into male and female). True, few jobs offer the chance for glory – but providing and protecting largely satisfy, for most men, this urgent drive.
Women therefore don’t choose to do what it takes to have a successful career, meaning achievement in a hierarchy earned through competition. The vast majority of women lack the drives necessary. They may in fact be smarter, better organized, and have other traits associated with career success. But their essential drives are directed toward family.
By studying societies of the past, we can see how a non-ideological society organically develops. In Western countries, the usual structure for well over a thousand years has been a partnership between men and women, where each is supreme in one sphere of family life, contained in a larger family web, but consults the other. Women do hold up half the sky – it’s just that their role, in its nature, is inward-facing, and men’s is outward-facing.
In the West, there has never been any equivalent of the “eastern” approach, typified by purdah, the separation and seclusion of women (driven by defective religious or cultural imperatives that, just as Friedan did, mar the natural order of a society).
Muslims during the Crusades were famously scandalized by how the men of the Franks allowed their women not only to appear in public, but to scold them and order them about. To take a more recent example, one cannot do better than Matthew B. Crawford’s talk in Why We Drive about women and men in Appalachian motocross racing, where, on and off the track, men and women act in (sometimes coarse) partnership, together striving towards excellence (something Crawford heretically contrasts with the sickening inversions he sees in Portland).
As with any human society, within this broad truth, there have been many local variations. Even Friedan admits that until near her present day, American women were not oppressed or unhappy. (Friedan does not make the flatly untrue claims about historical “patriarchy” that are the norm now, such that “everybody knows” that The Handmaid’s Tale is both history and future. She doesn’t because everyone would have laughed at the obvious untruth and pitched her book into the trash; it is only now, after sixty years of propaganda, that we believe there ever was a patriarchy). “Until, and even into, the last century, strong, capable women were needed to pioneer our new land; with their husbands, they ran the farms and plantations and Western homesteads.” (She should be cancelled for mentioning plantation).
Friedan doesn’t make the obvious conclusion – that if the subset of women on whom she is focusing are alienated by their circumstances, returning to the thicker social web even Friedan praises, not destroying the family, is the answer. But then, after all, destroying the family in the pursuit of emancipation from all unchosen bonds was her real end, not offering fulfilment within families to women.
This does not exclude women from ever working outside the home. Quite the contrary, actually. In the past, young women often worked. When rural life was the norm, women and men both worked, but neither could be said to have a career – this was division of labor, rather. As city life became the norm, young women often worked, until they found a husband. Often this was in work at which they excelled and tied to female talents and preferences, such as teaching and nursing.
Higher-status women, like Friedan, went to college and found a husband there (something Friedan, famously masculine and no doubt finding it hard to find a husband, bitterly complains about). Women whose children had left the home might work as well, or women with children might work-part time upon necessity. There is nothing inherently societally destructive of this. What is destructive is where the woman prioritizes that work over family, demanding it become a career – that is, a main focus of her life, and the driver of her happiness, or more likely, the lack of it.
What of a woman who does not get married, not purely by choice? That is, some women, because of their personality or physical appearance, find it difficult or impossible to marry. Or maybe failure to marry is some combination of bad luck and bad management; past a certain age, as everyone knows, a woman’s ability to get married drops precipitously (hence wine aunts). Usually, in our modern atomized society, such women have no choice but to substitute career for family – in the past, they would be woven into the structure of an extended family.
Until we can return to that latter, career is really their only option – like my own recently-deceased aunt, who chose a career in virology, after getting an M.D. from Harvard, and with whom I was close. She loved children, but never married (though she could have – she was indoctrinated into “career first”), and as a result was desperately lonely and unhappy for decades. I blame Friedan (and my aunt’s mother, my grandmother, who pushed anti-family ideology years before this book was published).
I have to admit, though, that had you had asked me twenty years ago, I would have largely bought into the myth that women having a career, and being treated as the equivalent of men in pursuit of that career, was a sound social choice. My wife and I met as big-firm M&A lawyers in Chicago; we presumed, early on, that we’d both end up with legal careers at large firms, with a nanny for our children.
We were conditioned to believe that any other system is monstrous, and that women lawyers should be viewed the same as male lawyers, even though everyone knew that women lawyers dropped out of law firms at vastly greater rates than men, either after they had a child or simply because the aggressive, high-pressure, competitive hierarchy of a large law firm is not congenial to the nature of women in general. (That it is congenial to some is irrelevant; one can always find exceptions to most general rules, and social structures are built on general rules, not exceptions).
My wife soon realized that wasn’t for her, though, and quit her law firm job some time before I quit mine to become an entrepreneur. But what followed has been an organic partnership. I was the public face of our company, but it would have been a failure without her guidance, encouragement, and support, since she balanced, among other defects, my disagreeable tendencies and limited ability to judge character (although, contrary to questions I get sometimes, I am not in the least autistic).
On the other hand, along the way we formed a spin-off company for which I suggested, or insisted, she be CEO, and that was a grievous mistake, only corrected after some years. But it all worked out great for us. For many of our friends, who refused to change course as we did, it has not worked out so well at all.
It is true that if women are discouraged from working outside the home, there will be some price to pay. Nothing is free. First, some women will be less happy than if they had careers – few perhaps, but not zero. Second, to the extent women working outside the home are producing real value, actual economic output will dip, and people will be able to afford fewer goods and services.
This may or may not be a problem; the reason most two-parent families must have both parents work is to make ends meet, because unbridled capitalism has allowed employers to squeeze “efficiencies” out on the backs of the workers, in order to enrich executives and stockholders, and claim these steps are necessary (expertly covered by James Bloodworth in Hired). Yes, it’s also social expectations on the consumer side; if you “need” a large house, frequent new cars, and a $1,400 phone, you need more income. Changing this terrible system to make it the norm that one income adequately supports a family, by limiting the “free market,” will be essential.
Third, you will give up those relatively rare occasions when a woman working outside the home makes, through her employment, a significant contribution to advancing society. I don’t mean, say, women working as scientists at pharmaceutical companies – any discoveries made by them would also be made by men, and probably sooner and better, given the real differences in men’s and women’s capabilities and drives, and the destructive advantages bestowed on women in any male-dominated profession. I mean exceptional production.
True, the bumper sticker phrase, “Well-behaved women rarely make history” is only fully accurate if you delete the “Well-behaved.” As I say, men drive a society forward, while women bind a society together; and this necessarily means that all, or nearly all, spectacular achievements will be those of men. But this is still a potential cost.
What structural/legal changes should be made, other than the social compulsion mentioned earlier? No, not ticky-tack programs such as new family leave policies, which anyway just encourage women to work outside the home. Rather, government policies, tax and otherwise, should massively favor single-income married families where the man works.
Employment discrimination (and all other types of discrimination) on the basis of sex, and marital status, should not only be completely legal, but socially encouraged, even demanded. Not only is sex discrimination, like age discrimination, almost always entirely rational, such discrimination is affirmatively necessary to accomplish the desirable society.
Again, no-fault divorce should be banned, and modern technology that erodes healthy relationships between men and women, from Tinder to online pornography, should be rigorously suppressed. No doubt other matters will deserve similar attention, and a new propaganda campaign, especially in popular entertainment, to reverse sixty years of indoctrination will also be needed. Let’s get started!
Life being what it is, some women will always choose to work outside the home. Sometimes this is in their particular nature; sometimes they actually need the money. This should not be made illegal, but there should be a substantial social penalty for women who make work a career.
In the same way as for decades women who choose not to have a career have been held in contempt, viciously portrayed across all popular media and vilified by our ruling classes, a married woman who chooses to have a career should be looked down upon, especially if she has children, and most of all if she chooses not to have children. (One can multiply special cases – what if a woman cannot have children? Hard cases make bad law, and bad social policy; the median case is what matters). And a “career woman” should presumptively be discriminated against in favor of a man competing in the same career path, and most of all in favor of men with children.
It is doubtless true that we cannot turn a switch. If all women in the workforce today left the workforce tomorrow, much disruption would result. A lot of it, that tied to BS jobs, would be temporary. But in some jobs, such as family-practice physicians, where women are the majority, rebalancing jobs could only be done over time. And some jobs, such as elementary-school teaching and nursing, will always have women in the majority, since those jobs always appeal more to women, and it is possible to enter and leave those jobs as a woman’s life changes – most of all, before, and perhaps after, a woman marries and has children. The exact result will derive organically from general rules, not from an artificial ideology.
The goal, across all of society, is to return to a natural partnership between men and women. This is very much not a siloed partnership, where the man and woman each operate completely separately in pursuit of a unified goal. Instead, there is necessarily overlap – a woman advises her husband in his role outside the home, and the husband assists his wife in her roles inside the home, in particular with children, especially with boys as they come of age, but also simple relief of the drudgery that characterizes much household work. But human nature dictates that those spheres and roles be different, and only by a return to this can human flourishing be reborn, relegating this book to history as an unfortunate footnote.
Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.
The image shows, “Dans le bleu (Into the Blue)” by Amélie Beaury-Saurel, painted in 1894.