Alain de Benoist And Jesus: Manufacturing Misunderstanding

Communism declined and metamorphosed into secularized post-Christianity: “the last Marxist-Leninist will be a Breton rector.” The contamination of the ideas of the Left among its opponents is inversely proportional to the decrease of the social base on which it is based, which their application has the effect of destroying.

After a few decades of preachiness, the Left in France had as its spokesmen the heirs of Albert de Mun and a rallying Catholicism. It is a movement classified, rightly or wrongly, on the right of the parliamentary spectrum that today assumes the thankless task of defending the law of 1905, with shaky and quavering voices that its leaders can hardly get out when they reluctantly mention the Church of Christ.

At a time when the Left is advocating the breakdown of equality through affirmative action, the determination of individuals by race according to the decolonial agenda, and orchestrating the Sovietization of knowledge with the help of a sociology that hunts down elitism under its various disguises, it seems that the old Third Republic rationalism has taken refuge in the work of Mr. Alain de Benoist (hereafter, “A.”), founder of the New Right. His latest volume, L’homme qui n’avait pas de père – le dossier Jésus (The Man Who Had No Father – The Jesus File), delivers a chemically pure synthesis, which seems to have been sublimated in the lonely conservatory where A. has slowly distilled it.

A Problem Of Methodology

It would be dishonest not to take The Jesus File seriously. Certainly, A. cannot himself discuss the ancient sources on Jesus; this is quickly spotted by transliterations of the Greek that are almost always faulty when they contain some pitfall. The book is therefore a huge compilation of secondary literature—nearly 1000 pages. But on this particular point, the breadth of its information is to be commended. The author quotes hundreds of scholars. His bibliography in English, German and French is very up-to-date; he is not simply content with the latest titles, but can trace the genealogy of an exegetical opinion back to its precursors.

Since A. does not have access to the sources, it is the use he makes of secondary literature that poses a problem. Not having proved his scientific authority in the subjects he has dealt with, he solicits that of others in order to produce a synthesis thus endowed with a borrowed credibility. This is the fundamental weakness of the book. The number of proofs provided by A. decreases as he gathers clues in huge bundles, not always consistent. Whenever he needs to come to a conclusion, he is forced to deal with the the problem of authority which is lacking in his varied panoply. Such is the way that the entire book is written.

Some examples among so many. To prove that the virginal conception of Jesus and his divine filiation developed independently in the tradition, A. quotes “Jacques Bernard, former professor at the Catholic Institute of Lille,” or “Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope Benedict XVI” (p. 611). The age of 33 lent to Jesus on the day of his death corresponds to “the perfect age of the hero who disappeared in full maturity; it is the age of Alexander the Great at his death,” and A. quotes “Michel Quesnel, professor at the Catholic Institute of Paris” (p. 503). The existence of Jesus’ uterine brothers is asserted by resorting to “John P. Meier, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York and professor of New Testament studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington; François Refoulé, who directed the École Biblique de Jérusalem from 1982 to 1984; Maurice Sachot, a former professor at the Faculty of Catholic Theology;” and thrown in also are Jacques Duquesne and Jean-Claude Barreau (p. 394).

Note: it is only for Catholics that A. sees fit to leave out their university degrees. The precaution seems superfluous for Protestants or agnostics. No doubt the practice of free examination for some, of free thought for others, protects them enough against the ever-recurring suspicion of practicing a confessional or biased exegesis. For Catholics, the only way to portray them is to display their institutional positions. Moreover, when A. quotes Catholic authors without mentioning their academic pedigree, one can expect some very salty bondieuserie, which throws ridicule on the particular author. The great René Laurentin, Father Marie-Joseph Ollivier, this or that Father of the Church, are all at the expense of this rationalist prejudice which discredits a priori their words (cf. p. 353).

An Exemplary Case: Tacitus

This borrowed science, spread out over many pages, is based on a criterion of method which “consists in deconstructing, as any truly scientific investigation does, a false image of its object.” It is this science which is asked to provide facts independent of the subjective prejudice of faith. However, we can illustrate the defective handling of this science in The Jesus File from a case in point: Tacitus’ account of Nero’s persecution.

Having quoted the Latin historian (p. 129), A. immediately starts to point out the difficulties Tacitus poses, even before asking himself what Tacitus meant. Thus, he reduces the statement to a set of isolated elements, violently torn from the scriptural body in which they were harmoniously inserted. These scattered, disjointed pieces, this panting flesh to which the statement has been reduced, no longer maintain with their environment the solid and living links that make them resist the arbitrariness of an imputed meaning. The trick is played so that the critic imposes the meaning as he pleases, drawing randomly from epigraphy, ancient sources, and his imagination. Not surprisingly, the statement thus “reconstituted” has become a tissue of contradictions. Let us judge the evidence.

Tacitus defines Christians as taking their name from “Christ who, under the principate of Tiberius, was executed by the procurator Pontius Pilate” [Christus Tibero imperitante per procuratorem Pontium Pilatum supplicio adfectus erat]. The very first remark of A. is to point out that Pilate was not procurator (epitropos), but prefect (eparchos), as appears from a famous contemporary inscription found in Caesarea in Palestine. This anachronism is enough for the author to anticipate the end of his demonstration; namely, that the text “was interpolated in the fifteenth century (sic.), at a time when everyone thought that Pontius Pilate had been procurator” (p. 130).

By the way, it was not until the end of the Middle Ages that everyone popularly attributed to Pilate a title he did not have. Philo of Alexandria, his contemporary, and Flavius Josephus around 75 also give Pilate the title of procurator/epitropos. It is certain that Pilate bore the official title of prefect/eparchos, a magistracy that was mainly military. But it is no less certain that he also exercised a civil administration over the imperial province that Judea had become from the the year 6 AD. The two magistracies being often entrusted to the same persons, the governors of Judea officially took the title of procurators/epitropoi starting in the reign of Claudius, thus after Pilate.

Tacitus certainly presents an anachronistic title, but the explanation by a fifteenth-century interpolator is surely not the first to be considered. Tacitus may have voluntarily adapted the title to the one in use at the time. But it is more likely that he is quoting Christian documents. The fact is not implausible, contrary to what A. asserts (p. 132), since Tacitus was among the Quindecemviri sacris faciundis (Annals XI, 11), a priestly college responsible for the supervision of foreign cults in Rome. No magistrate of the city was in a better position than he to have access to information about the Christians. He would even have seriously failed in his duty if he had not had reliable and precise information on them. His information corresponded exactly to that which could have motivated their possession by a Roman magistrate: foreign cults were considered not according to the content of their beliefs, but according to the disturbance they could cause to public order.

It is in administrative and police terms that Tacitus depicts Christianity: his allusion to the execution of Christ is juridical, to recall the legal intervention of Pilate, the magistrate in charge of enforcing the pax romana. In Rome, Tacitus attaches such contempt to the name of Christian that it seems to be worth an indictment—“christianos” appellabat; these form a detestable superstitio—that is to say, in official language, a sect covering up for criminal acts. The way in which Tacitus links Christ and the Christians is another characteristic of the non-Christian sources, all of which point to the strong attachment of the disciples to their master.

In short, Tacitus’ text on the persecution of the Christians of Rome under Nero is perfectly coherent, in its outward approach to a phenomenon that he does not understand; or, rather analyzes according to the concerns of a Roman magistrate. This global understanding of Tacitus allows us to grasp why he speaks of the Christians tortured by Nero as an “immense multitude”: he does not proceed to a count, but allows himself a hyperbole that betrays his own fear, that of a wealthy man in front of the threatening and indistinct mass formed by the human mob populating the Suburra or the Velabro, followers of oriental divinities and practicing morals that would be abhorrent to a senator of good birth. But the fractional method of A. forbids him to understand this nuance. For him, “immense multitude” means “a great number of Christians.” Since they did not exist in Rome in 64, A. postulates an interpolation, dating from a time when they did. Believing that he has a solid argument, A. tries to squeeze all the juice of it: if Nero’s persecution had concerned a large number of Christians, one would find traces of that in the satirists, but they do not appear, etc. Always the reduction of the source to a few material elements.

This pointillist method is a forge of misunderstandings. The accumulation of secondary literature does not change anything. He who embraces too much embraces badly. The author triumphantly ends his section on Roman historians, having quoted dozens of modern authors, with a huge error: “the texts of Pliny the Younger, Tacitus and Suetonius that we have at our disposal tell us practically nothing about Jesus” (p. 136). This is not true. The first Latin authors approach Christianity and its founder from the outside, certainly. But they provide valuable information about certain distinctive features of the Church founded by Christ, which must be appreciated by comparing them with the mental revolution wrought by Him. In reality, A’s scientistic prejudice does not seek to understand the Jesus phenomenon, but to satisfy its definition of ideal objectivity through deconstruction.

Alain de Benoist’s Project

Once the object of study has been dissolved into an aggregate of primary elements, one would expect them to be reconstituted in a new form, as with fresh clay. A. however does not risk it. After having conscientiously atomized all the statements of the Gospels that had the misfortune to fall into his hands, he stops in the middle of this valley of dry bones that will not be resurrected. He did not even think it appropriate to write a conclusion. A sentence in the Introduction takes the place of one, in which one thought one could only read a captatio benevolentiæ calling for prudence: “What do we know today that is really certain about Jesus? The answer is simple: very little” (p. 1). The next 1000 pages will add nothing to this. Thousands of opinions and not a single truth.

Does this book, which is entirely based on the deconstruction of its subject, actually have any overall project? It seems to us that it is precisely this emptiness, this nothingness to which the investigation wants to bring the Jesus of history. The proof of this is the title of the book (“The man who had no father”); the final chapter on Jesus (“An illegitimate child” p. 771-862) which is in fact its conclusion. And, finally, the total absence of interest, which is surprising in such a large book, in the almost unique means by which Jesus exerted his impact: his word. A. will claim that his critique strikes down as inauthentic just about every statement attributed to Jesus in the Gospels. Like the notes on Tacitus or Pliny, nothing can be drawn from them.

However, there is only one word of Jesus which A. considers authentic enough to devote an in-depth exegesis to it: the adultery of which the one who repudiated his first wife to marry another is guilty (cf. Mk 10:11-12). True to his method of placing polemical statements in the mouths of foreign authorities, the author quotes an American polygrapher, Donald Harman Akenson: “Jesus’ very strict views on divorce, as reported in the Synoptic Gospels, stand in sharp contrast to his usual teaching and could refer to a personal uneasiness related to his illegitimacy” (p. 474). The curse on pregnant women (Mk 13:14-17) is interpreted as an absolute statement of Jesus, which Mark would have watered down by attributing it only to a particular situation. The preaching of the Gospel would thus float in a “Gnostic” atmosphere (p. 469).

From then on, a certain overall coherence emerges. As an illegitimate child, Jesus would have sublimated his dubious origin by preaching an immaterial, immaculate birth, a celestial paternity and by claiming it first of all for himself. He would have refused the flesh to tear himself away from the congenital malaise in which his bastardy would have locked him. By resentment, he would have instilled in the morals the shame of the flesh and sexual repression. Paul and the Church (cf. p. 476-480) would have extended his teaching by the morbid exaltation of virginity. One understands why A. wants to disjoin the traditions on the messianic and divine filiation of Jesus, and on his virginal conception: He holds them to be so many ways, contradictory according to him, of diverting attention from Jesus’ illegitimacy. The Christian dogma, the sublime composition of the Gospels, the beginning of a tradition, are there to make us forget an inglorious truth.

Christianity is a culturally sublime phenomenon—A. is far from denying it—which eludes the nothingness of its origin in a man who had no father and whose itinerary resembles the reveries of the Foundling. This conclusion is absurd, of course. It takes literally much later Jewish polemics, towards which A.’s credulity belies his hypercriticism for once. It is based on a single misunderstood word of Jesus and on an arbitrary reconstruction of his origin. Finally, it attributes all of Jesus’ effectiveness to a guilt-ridden nihilism that is absolutely belied by the biography of Jesus, who “was never anything but ‘yes’. All the promises of God found their yes in his person” (2 Cor 1:19).

Jesus Is Deprived Of His Words

Jesus autem tacebat” (“Jesus was silent”, Mt 26, 63). The Jesus File: where Jesus observes a stubborn silence. Not a whisper is heard from the one to whom Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and known that you are the holy one of God” (Jn 6:68), and who declared, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not” (Mk 13:31). Without his words, Jesus is inaudible. In fact, all of Jesus’ effectiveness comes through his words.

The authentic tradition, the dogmas, are nothing other than the efforts made to understand what he had said. Quoting Ps 109/110, he says that the Messiah is Son of David and prior to David (cf. Mk 12:35-37). Much later, the Christology of Chalcedon defining a person in two natures results from the maturation of this statement (and of many others) made one day very consciously by Jesus on the Temple square. His pre-existence is affirmed by himself when he says “I have come to…” (cf. Mt 10:34-35; Lk 12:49; Jn 9:39; Mk 10:45, etc.).

But there is no one deafer than the one who does not want to hear. In The Jesus File, the logos of logic silences the Logos of the Prologue. The madness—in Greek alogia, literally, “absence of the Logos”—is not to have lost one’s reason; it is to have retained only one’s reason. Not a single word of Christ crosses this bleak desert, similar to “the silence of the ether, when the wooded valley silenced its foliage and not a single animal cry was heard” (8). Jesus is gagged like “the voiceless Lamb that is led to the slaughter and did not open its mouth” (Is 53:7). But “the stones will cry out” (Lk 19:40). Beginning with those of the conceptual tomb in which Adam covers his ears so as not to hear God, who says: “Where are you?”


Brother Renaud Silly is a Dominican who recently oversaw and edited Dictionnaire Jésus (the Jesus Dictionary), the major work recently published by the École Biblique de Jérusalem andÉditions Bouquins. This article comes to us through the kind courtesy of La Nef.


Featured image: “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas,” by Matthias Stom, painted ca. 1641-1649.

The Meaning Of The Surah Al-Kawthar In The Qur’an

The shortest Surah of the Qur’an is the 108th. In the Sahih International translation and in transcription it reads:

bi-smi llāhi r-raḥmāni r-raḥīmii
(In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful)
al-Kawthar. ˈinnā ˈaʿṭaynāka l-kawṯaraa
(Indeed, We have granted you, [O Muhammad]),
fa-ṣalli li-rabbika wa-nḥar
(So pray to your Lord and sacrifice [to Him alone]).
‘innā šāniˈaka huwa l-ˈabtaru
(Indeed, your enemy is the one cut off).

On the basis of this very short textual segment, one of many of such disparate origin that were later compiled into the book we know today as the “Qur’an,” almost all principles and methods of historico-critical textual interpretation can be demonstrated. The common Muslim understanding is that the three verses of Surah 108 refer to an event in Muhammad’s life, who is then regarded as the addressee of this urgent revelation. The “one who hates you” (šāniˈaka) mentioned in verse three is then in this view his adversary, whom God apparently cursed. But let us now treat this short Sura verse by verse in order to show some textual and exegetical problems, pars pro toto, for the holy book of Islam in its entirety and to offer possible explanations: often, the usual modern translations are by and large based on exegetical understandings of classical (secondary) Islamic commentary culture, and as such are mere speculations or exemplifications.

Firstly, for the introductory formula, the Basmala, which in the Qur’an, with the exception, generally speaking, of the first Surah, is not counted as a verse, much could be said. For Muslims it is controversial whether this formula belongs to the revealed text of all Surahs, or whether it is an introductory formula later seen as necessary, a posterior editorial addition. Bismi, literally “in the name,” here as in nomine Dei, is a widespread formula and not at all specifically Islamic. The two ornamental adjectives following the name of God “Allāh” are also of pre-Islamic, of Christian and Jewish (‘Ha-Rachaman’) origin (originally “uterus” = σπλάγχνα). But as far as the name of God Allāh itself is concerned, it should not be translated as “God,” despite the common objection that Muslims, Jews and Christians believe in the one God, the same God. But this is obviously a logical fallacy: etymological relationship does not mean that the common term denotes an identical entity.

In the initial two verses, the addressed person is, according to traditional Islamic exegesis, reminded of the benefits (verse 1) rendered by Allāh and the resultant obligations (verse 2). Almost all non-Muslim explanations follow this received interpretation without criticism. Wherever possible, the underlying exegetical method tries to see in Quranic sentences a reference to the hypostasised founding figure of Islam, i.e., Muhammad, and alleged events in his life in the sense of the “occasions of Revelation” (Asbāb an-nuzūl). In other words, a prophetic hagiography was secondarily read into the Qur’anic text.

Although this understanding of these verses has gradually become generally accepted, it is ultimately based on unfounded assumptions, since the three key terms on which this interpretation is based, namely al-kawṯar (usually “the fullness”), nḥar (usually imperative sing. “sacrifice”) and al-abtar (usually verbatim “the cut-off”) are only found here in the Qur’an (so-called hapax legomena). Their actual meanings are therefore difficult to determine; and different explanations, mostly without much linguistic support, can be found in the commentary literature. Kawṯar in verse 1 is either interpreted as “abundance” or as a proper name. In the first case—according to Muslim tradition, this term also comprehends the entirety of divine benefits, but especially the revelations of which the Qur’an consists—the word would then have an unusual linguistic form, since in Arabic this is the noun kathīr, which, by the way, is well attested in the Qur’an.

However, here the diphthong -au- (compare in English “Beer” vs. “Bear”), remains without any convincing explanation. The second interpretation follows the “proven” pattern of explanation: “If you cannot understand or interpret the word, then it must be a proper name.” In this explanation, which is dealt with extensively, especially in various hadiths, i.e., in later sayings attributed to Mohammed, the word is understood as the name of one of the rivers of paradise or its source, to which believing Muslims are led on the Day of Judgement. The last unusual Arabic word al-abtar, perhaps literally “cut off”, i.e., either from Allāh’s goodness or—from descendants (i.e., emasculated, or literally “dickless”). How “sacrifice” (nḥar) is to be understood in the light of Islamic orthopraxis remains obscure.

Since the orthography of the early Qur’ans did not use the diacritical points that distinguish the consonants—i.e., these are secondary—the next step, even if seen as controversial by some nowadays, can be to attempt to read the respective letters without or with different pointing. The many “linguistic-alchemical” details necessary for this, such as the shifting of reading points and the exchange of vowels (also added later), cannot be dealt with in detail here.

1) Kawṯar would then be an Aramaic borrowing from kuttārā/ܟܘܬܪ (consonantal kwtr, i.e. according to the Arabic Form كوتر testified here) meaning “Duration; steadfastness; persistence.”

2) Naḥara (ن-ح-ر) is read as Syriac ngar/ܢܓܼܪ (in Arabic script ن-ج-ر – both have the same consonant skeleton [rasm]; namely, “be persistent, steadfastness) ں-ح-ر

3) Abtar/ابتر without diacritics is identical to اتبر\atbar: ا-ں-ں-ر), probably from an Aramaic root ܬܒܪ often used in the Qur’an “completely smashed, destroyed, ruined;” or the Arabic form of this root ṯbr/ثبر – also identical when written without dots.

By this comparative linguistic approach, common in philology and especially biblical studies, otherwise unattested lexemes are avoided—the influence of Syro-Aramaic vocabulary, especially in the domain of theological terms found in the Qur’an is well-known. The resulting text reads:

1. We have given you firmness!

2. So pray perseveringly to your Lord!

3. Truly the one who hates you (scil. the devil) will be shattered!

One might consider reading the first word of the third verse as anna and not as إِ َّن inna, i.e., “That truly the one who hates you will be shattered”.

If one works with methods that are more controversial in Quranic scholarship, although well-established in textual criticism, the text becomes, as can be seen in this case, easier to understand. In order to avoid the accusation that we have imposed an interpretation on the text or read it into it, it should be said here that Syro-Aramaic loanwords are omnipresent in the Qur’an; Aramaic was, after all, together with Greek, the cultural language of the Arabs in Late Antiquity (much like Latin during the European Middle Ages). And, the text is now better both grammatically and in terms of content. The central idea of this Surah is then perseverance in prayer together with patient trust in God, a motif that occurs frequently in the Qur’an, mostly and for which most often the Arabic verb ṣabara (nominal ṣabr) “patiently persevere, persevere, persist” is employed. Examples are:

2:45: wa-staʿīnū bi-ṣ-ṣabri wa-ṣ-ṣalāti wa- ˈinnahā la-kabīratun ˈillā ʿalā l-ḫāšiʿīna (And seek help through patience and prayer, and indeed, it is difficult except for the humbly submissive [to Allah]).

2:153: yā-ˈayyuhā llaḏīna ˈāmanū ṣ bi-ṣ-ṣabri wa- ṣ-ṣalāti ˈinna llāha maʿa ṣ-ṣābirīna (O you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient).

3:200: yā-ˈayyuhā llaḏīna ˈāmanū ˈāmanū ṣbirū wa- ṣābirū wa-rābiṭū wa-ttaqū llāha laʿallakum tufliḥūna (O you who have believed, persevere and endure and remain stationed and fear Allah that you may be successful).

And of course, this passage reading will make sense to those familiar with the Bible, e.g., “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” (I Peter 5, 8-9).

This interpretation of Surah 108 fits much better into the corpus of Quranic texts; or rather can be contextualised in a meaningful way, and is no longer an impenetrable oddity.


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


Featured image: Surah Al-Kawthar, Naskh calligraphy, by Mirza Ahmad Neirizi, late Safavid era (18th century).

The Beginnings Of Islam: A Conversation With Hela Ouardi

We are pleased to present this interview with Hela Ouardi who has recently published the third volume of the series, Les califes maudits (The Cursed Caliphs), Meurtre à la mosquée, Murder in the Mosque). She has previously published Les Derniers Jours de Muhammad (The Last Days of Muhammad). In these works she seeks to demythologize and thereby humanize the founder of Islam. Professor Ouardi teaches French literature and civilization at the University of Tunis.

Here, she is interviewed by Annie Laurent, for La Nef, through whose kind courtesy we are bringing you this translation.


Annie Laurent (AL): Your work challenges the history of early Islam as it is generally transmitted, You teach French literature at the University of Tunis. How did you decide to dive into this work of a historian and is both iconoclastic and titanic?

Hela Ouardi (HO): There are two important points in your question. The first one concerns “questioning.” I think I am doing exactly the opposite insofar as I am trying to restore the true history of the beginnings of Islam and to highlight the mythical and mystifying character of the version “generally transmitted” as you say. At the beginning of my investigation, I asked myself this double question: where is this authentic version? Who is in charge of transmitting it? The answer to both questions is: nowhere and nobody. All that the Muslim knows about the genesis of his religion are bits of legendary and incoherent stories. So, I believe that my investigation is based on two major tasks that have nothing to do with any subversive attitude: to bring order to this history and to make it intelligible. The narrative approach in my books allows me to achieve this double objective.

Hela Ouardi © Albin Michel.

As for the relationship with my academic specialty, that speaks for itself. My literary training, far from making me a stranger to the work of historical investigation on the Muslim Tradition, has prepared me very well for it. The corpus of this tradition is a literary corpus par excellence (and we have only this to inform us about the beginnings of Islam—there is no archaeological trace dating from the period of the Prophet and even of his first successors). The historian of Islam is thus condemned to analyze a literary tradition. And here I must admit that I am a bit “like a fish in water” because my great familiarity with the analysis of texts puts me in a very good predisposition in this regard. The only notable change in relation to my previous research (French literature and civilization) is that of the language. However, as I am bilingual, the study of texts in Arabic and their rendition in French do not pose any particular problems for me.

AL: Your investigations refer to a multitude of Islamic sources, both Sunni and Shiite. How were you able to access them when many of them seem to be untransmitted, as if one wanted to make them suspect, so as not to interfere with the hagiographic approach to history?

HO: As I told you, there is no “official version” of Islamic history. On the other hand, I do not entirely agree with the idea of suspicion that you evoke: Muslims venerate the sources of Tradition without reading them and without knowing them; and all my work consists in revealing the contents of these books, to make them accessible by breaking a little the glass cage in which they have been imprisoned over the centuries.

AL: You point out that no text written by Muhammad or dictated by him to his secretaries has been preserved, even though, contrary to legend, he was not illiterate. Can you enlighten us on this point?

HO: Muhammad’s alleged illiteracy is a theological ruse to support the dogma of the Qur’anic miracle. In order to show that the Qur’an is a divine work and not a human work, the idea was conveyed that an illiterate man was not capable of producing such a scholarly and well-written book. In my books, I provide irrefutable evidence from the Muslim tradition that destroys the legend of the illiteracy of the Prophet of Islam. This legend has moreover imposed itself thanks to the semantic vagueness that surrounds the Arabic adjective “ummî” with which Muhammad is often tagged. This word designates at the same time the illiterate, the follower of a religion without a Book (at the beginning, Mohammed’s detractors refused to recognize his prophecy because he did not bring a sacred book). Finally, the word “ummî” can also designate a man from Mecca who was nicknamed “Umm al-qurâ” (this nickname appears in the Koran). So, you see, the vagueness surrounding Muhammad’s illiteracy is the pure product of lexical polysemy!

AL: The “Rightly Guided Caliphs.” This is the name reserved for the first successors of Mohammed, who are presented as models to be imitated even though they were particularly violent. Do you think you can convince your Muslim readers of the validity of the label “cursed Caliphs” that you attribute to them?

HO: I don’t want to convince anyone. I make Montaigne’s famous phrase my own: “I do not teach, I report.” So, I report facts that are not at all of my own invention or even the fruit of my interpretation. Thus, the label “cursed caliphs” does not reflect a personal position on these historical figures. It emphasizes a very specific event (on which Sunnis and Shiites are curiously agreed): the first two caliphs were cursed by Fatima, Muhammad’s daughter, because they disinherited her; abused her so much that she died of grief (or of something else less natural!) only a few weeks after her father. This is a fact reported in great detail in all the sources, and I defy anyone to contradict me on this point.

AL: Your series stops at Omar, the second Caliph (634-644). Will you continue your research on the following ones?

HO: That is planned, of course; but the next two (Uthman and Ali) will not be included in the cycle of the “Cursed Caliphs;” they will be the subject of separate monographs.

AL: Don’t you fear being accused of disbelief or suspected of discrediting Islam as a religion at a time when it is presenting itself under worrying aspects from which Muslims also suffer?

HO: And you, when you get on the road, don’t you fear to have an accident? I don’t think about virtual threats because if I did, I wouldn’t do anything. Besides, whoever accuses me of being a disbeliever and of undermining Islam is in fact only accusing the “venerable” authors of the Muslim tradition, because I am only reporting what they say.

AL: In recent years, a growing number of Muslim intellectuals have called for a reform of Islamic thought. Do some of them join you in your enterprise of historical deconstruction? In other words, can Islam reconcile itself with history without risking annihilation?

HO: I prefer to speak of “historical reconstruction” because the mythification and the ideological instrumentation of the past have literally annihilated the history of Islam and have made of this religion a mummy, a timeless and anachronistic object. I regard my work as a restoration-reconstruction. I want to give life to this fossilized memory, by giving back to the founding characters of Islam their human dimension which would show them closer to us. So, Islam, by reconciling itself with history, does not risk annihilation; on the contrary: it will revive.

AL: Many emphasize the need to put an end to the dogma of the “uncreated” Koran, which blocks the contextualization of the most inappropriate passages for today’s world (the status of women, the legitimization of violence, etc.), while others stress the absence of a recognized authority that could assume such a responsibility. In what form do you see this resurrection?

HO: The resurrection will not take place at all on a dogmatic level, but by working on representations, such as, for example, humanizing the character of the Prophet and his Companions in films, serials, and documentaries that portray them so that they cease to be disembodied ghosts. And there, I think that the aesthetic appropriation of the history of Islam by artists, creators, playwrights, etc., could cause a lasting influence on the minds. The Renaissance in Europe was accompanied by atrocious religious conflicts. However, this period continues to shine on universal history, precisely because it was the bearer of a decisive aesthetic project. Islam awaits the aesthetic revolution that will revive it from within.


Featured image: The Angel of Bounty and the Arrival at the Second Heaven by Muhammad. Timurid Herat, ca. 1465.

Come, Light

Something extraordinary happened one morning in December 2020.

When he got up the night was still lingering in the sky. London plane trees, so doleful in the rain, were still dripping. The ground below was piled thick with soggy leaves, and a dull foreboding hung in the air.

Shards of streetlights shone on the wet asphalt. It looked as though the rain was about to end.

The day before Christmas in London in the year of the pandemic, Shifa thought to himself. The year of sorrow and dejection. The preceding few days things had gotten even gloomier. Every now and then an ambulance would dart through the deserted streets with sirens wailing. Hospitals were over-stretched, the news said, and the city cemeteries were just about full.

He had been reading Daniel Defoe’s account of the bubonic plague that scourged the city in 1665. About cartloads of dead being dumped into mass graves and about some, still alive, screaming and clawing out of the shallow pits. A brutal record of the fright, the deaths, the stench, the greed, and of the evil lurking in men as the pestilence ravaged the city.

A gnawing awareness of a similar agony—of having seen the horror and of a solemnity of being still alive—rippled through’s Shifa’s mind. The old plague lay mingled with the spectre of the present.

The weather too had been miserable. For weeks torrents of rain whipped up by gusty winds had been blighting the country, causing severe flooding in places. The lockdown had made everyone forget that a year consisted of four seasons. That there were nights and days of varying lengths and temperatures. That the once familiar outdoor still displayed facets of beauty and changing vistas.

Sickness, convalescence, separation across continents. Misery had struck his family too as it had so many others. There would be no Christmas celebration this year.

It was Thursday, the day of luminous mysteries. Shifa took out his rosary and sat down facing the charcoal sky. Slowly his eyelids closed.

By the time he finished the third decade Shifa had sunk into a rhythm of repetition. Praying the rosary for him sometimes turned into an unconscious and vague ritual. This morning, however, he was curiously alert as he came to the fourth decade. The mystery of the transfiguration. With blinkered eyes he tried to imagine how the illumined face of the teacher might have looked like to the apostles assembled on the bald mountain that night.

It was then that he was shaken by the irony. To meditate on a body made up of blood, flesh, and bones transforming itself into light—on a day like this? How could one contemplate light when the earth was awash in blinding darkness?

With eyes shut he whispered all this to himself. Drowned earth. Denuded trees, barren gardens, empty streets. Overhead a pouring sky. Wake up. Shed off your stupor.

Fingers still clasping the beads Shifa opened his eyes, and an unearthly beauty greeted him. The sun had pierced through the clouds, and a pale golden hue lay diffuse in the glistening air. Bewitched, he watched a curtain of liquid, diaphanous gold silently settling on grey, red, and beige buildings.

The leafless skeleton of the majestic tree of paradise across the window stood sheathed in a preternatural luster.

This was transfiguration, it occurred to him. Light had entered the darkness, gently spreading its silken luminosity. As it increased in brightness, the glow turned the earth itself into its glory. It appeared as though the world was being consecrated by an act of benediction promising the return of hope to a saddened world.

Ezekiel had once encountered the glory of God. “As the appearance of the rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day,” said the prophet, “so was the appearance of the surrounding radiance.” And he continued, “Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face.” (Ezekiel 1:28).

What a mystery light is!

“It is a universal, firmly-held opinion, the very voice of nature,” wrote Marsilio Ficino in 1493, “that nothing is more beautiful to behold, nothing more lovable, nothing more astonishing than light.”

Scientists say about 80% of our experiences are visual. The eye’s response to light constitutes our external reality and thus determines our interactions with the world. Yet “What is light?” never elicits a simple answer, writes Glenn Stark in the Encyclopedia Britannica, because light is “experienced, explored, and exploited” in so many contexts that its literal meaning is inextricable from the metaphorical.

The English language is especially rich with its nuances. The sun lets us see the world and helps us know it. The mind enlightens us with understanding. Visions and inspiration help us gain insight.

Even a scientist, while observing light’s nature (its impacts and interactions with objects), must walk a tightrope between the opposite properties of light: particles and waves. Others – theologians, poets, philosophers – often imagine light in paradoxes.

In art, two painters rarely approach it from similar angles, even though what they paint mostly is light. Renaissance master Vincenzo Catena (“Saint Jerome in his study”) painted it coming directly from its source, the sun, illuminating the world as it did the saint in his study. For both the saint and the painter, the direct trajectory of light, increasing in brightness until it attained the perfect brilliance and clarity, emanated from God, its true origin. For George Seurat, on the other hand, the interplay of tiny contrasting strokes of colours (or particles) nearly invisible to the naked eye, made up the lustrous domain of light that enwrapped objects and things. The source of light for him was in the environs.

So, what is light?

The illumination we encounter as visible light is the effect on our environment of the sun’s radiation, or electromagnetic spectrum, as science calls it. This spectrum is made up of waves of energy the star dissipates over the universe continuously. On one end of the spectrum pulsate immensely destructive gamma rays with less than an atom of space between waves; on the other undulate radio waves that have thousands of miles of distance between crests.

All this radiation is hostile to life. Yet somewhere near the middle of its length is a tiny portion (less than 1%) of the spectrum that becomes supremely benign.

It is bizarre why this minuscule segment of deadly radiation should soften itself, but it does. As it enters the earth’s atmosphere the electromagnetic spectrum attains the wavelength of the extremely narrow range of 0.3 to 14 microns (a micron is a millionth of a meter). This range, writes author and scientist James Le Fanu in “Here comes the all-powerful sun,” is so narrow within the entire spectrum that, by analogy, it takes up just “a few seconds” in a timespan 100 million times longer than the 4.6 billion years since the Big Bang, or the beginning of our solar system.

As our planet wakes up to greet the sun in the morning, an incredibly small amount of radiation is extracted, as if by some invisible hands, from the massive body of deadly destruction and turned gently into life-generating munificence.

Michelangelo’s “Separation of Light from Darkness” in the Sistine Chapel celebrates this drama as narrated in Genesis 1:2-3. We see a colossal God separating swirling white gases from surrounding darkness with his enormous, sinewy hands, thus initiating creation. It brings to memory Isaiah’s words: it is God who “forms the light and creates darkness” (45:7).

From this moment on, a new story more breathtaking than an Arabian tale begins to take shape.

During those few seconds that it touches the sleepy earth, the radiation turns itself into visible light and its companion heat, setting off the cycle of life. Working in tandem with the earth’s orbit, its daily turning on the axis, and the planet’s tilt towards the sun, light creates a unique orchestra by arranging time’s endless permutations of varying lengths of night and day.

Fecundity follows. Light translates time into seasons of tilling, growing, and harvesting. Into seasons of courtship, nesting, and raising fledglings. Light makes life possible and ensures that the mystery continues. For the sake of the princess Scheherazade and the king inside the palace as well as for the ladybug in the garden.

The farmer casts the seed in the ground, the gospel tells us, but “knows not how the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.” (Mark 4:28). It is the benevolent hand of light that waves the magic wand.

The spectacle carries on. The beam that descends on treetops, mountain peaks, oceans and rivers also lights up fireworks in our brains. Electrical nerve impulses generated by the reflected light tell our brains how to detect objects, colours, shapes, dimensions, and textures. We acknowledge, differentiate, classify, and interpret images by comparing them with old images stored in our memories.

As the light creates sparkles and ripples on a stream or paints the wings of a butterfly it is only the human eye that can capture this panorama. Through the lenses of our eyes, only we can witness the rainbow of the seven hues.

There is more.

Light keeps time and measures distance in the universe. Whether fathoming the vastness of space or reading the faces of our digital devices, we return to light to get our bearing. Scientists measure the distance of galaxies, from us and among themselves, by the speed of light. And when an object acquires the speed of light, they say, it becomes infinite.

There is an instructive episode in the Venerable Bede’s history of English kings and churches.

A courtier in the Anglo-Saxon king Edwin’s castle compares the life of a man to the swift flight of a sparrow through the king’s banquet hall on a winter night. The king sits at supper with friends and family while the fire blazes and the storms rage abroad. The sparrow flies in at one door and immediately out at another. While the bird is within the warm hall, he is safe from the wintry tempest, but then he vanishes out of everybody’s sight, passing from winter to winter again.

“Such is the life of man,” says the courtier to the king, “appearing for a little while in the well-lit and warm banquet hall, but what follows or what went before we know nothing at all.”

Like Bede’s sparrow flitting through the warm hall on a wintry night, light, traveling at a speed of 300,000 km a second takes a little over eight minutes to traverse ninety-two million miles before reaching the earth, the banquet hall of life.

Unlike the sparrow, however, this radiant visitor quickens life, clothes nature, replenishes granaries and then leaves everything behind. Back into the vast endlessness. Whence it comes we know but where it goes in the end, we do not.

The first act of God narrated in the Bible was the creation of light. “Let there be light’ said God, ‘and there was light” (Genesis 1:3).

This light, created “when the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while the Spirit of God swept over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2), became the icon of divinity in human imagination. This surreal picture of the beginning has been the enduring anchor for our physical and moral understanding of the world as well as of our relationships with it.

Following the gospels, apostolic narratives and patristic traditions, Christian theology has from its inception understood the transfiguration of Jesus to be the revelation of the glory of God. The accounts appearing in Matthew, Mark and Luke are remarkable: “There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.” “There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them,” and “As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.” Later, Peter spoke of having been an eyewitness of Christ’s “magnificence” (2 Peter 1: 16-18). In his gospel as well as in the first epistle, John described God as light.

The significance of these accounts lies primarily in the transcendental impact of light. The apostles do not merely refer to their visual susceptibility; they allude to the event’s transformative impact. St Paul articulates this transformation most eloquently in his letter to the Ephesians: “But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light” (5:13).

One of the earliest Church fathers, Saint Irenaeus, also described the transfiguration by establishing a correspondence between the glory of God, the vision of God and the life of man. “[T]he glory of God is a live human being, and a truly human life is the vision of God.”

Light perceived in this way can lead to a sea-change in the heart of a man. It may rekindle a novel awareness of God; it may even lead to an experience comparable to Saul’s on the road to Damascus. After all, he was blinded by intense light.

Life transcendent. Is that not what transfiguration is? What else can turn an inert possibility into a living luminescence, if not light?


Pius Manutius is a husband, father, and traveler.


Featured image , “The Penitent Magdalen,” by Georges de La Tour, painted ca. 1640.

Against the West: Exiting The Liberal-Libertarian Empire

We are so very pleased to provide this translation of the Prologue to the recent book by Jesús Sebastián-Lorente, entitled, Contra Occidente. Salir del imperio liberal-libertario (Against the West: Exiting The Liberal-Libertarian Empire). The Prologue is by Alain de Benoist, the well-known thinker and philosopher of what is known as the New Right.

The subject of the book itself is an intriguing one in that it calls into question the commonly used terms, “the West” and “Europe.” This excerpt comes through the generous courtesy of El Manifesto.


The title of this book, Contra Occidente (Against the West), published by EAS, will undoubtedly surprise some readers, accustomed to thinking that the terms “Europe” and “the West” are more or less synonymous. However, one of this book’s great merits is precisely to demonstrate that these terms, far from being synonyms, refer today to totally opposite realities.

Raymond Abellio observed that “Europe is fixed in space, that is, in geography,” while the West is “mobile.” In fact, “the West” has not stopped traveling and changing direction. Initially, the term referred only to the land of the setting sun (Abendland), as opposed to the land of the rising sun (Morgenland).

From the reign of Diocletian, at the end of the 3rd century AD, the opposition between East and West was reduced to the distinction between the Western Roman Empire (whose capital was Milan, later Ravenna) and the Eastern Roman Empire established in Constantinople. The West and Europe then became permanently and lastingly confused. However, from the 18th century onwards, the adjective “Western” was also used in maritime cartography to refer to the New World, also called the “American system,” as opposed to the “European system” or the “Eastern Hemisphere” (which then included Europe as well as Africa and Asia).

In the interwar period, the West, always assimilated to Europe (e.g., Spengler), was globally opposed to the East, which became, at the same time, an object of fascination (René Guénon) or a counterpoint (Henri Massis). During the Cold War, the West regrouped Western Europe and its Anglo-Saxon allies, England and the United States, to oppose, in this case, the “Eastern bloc” dominated by Soviet Russia. This understanding, which allowed the United States to legitimize its hegemony, survived the fall of the Soviet system, as can be seen in those who always try to mobilize the “Western bloc” against Russia (and also against China).

Today, the West has changed direction once again. Sometimes, it is given a purely economic definition: all developed, modernized, industrialized countries are called “Western,” including Japan and South Korea, as well as Australia, former countries of the East, North America and a part of Latin America. “Ex Oriente lux, ex Occidente luxus,” as the Polish writer Stanislaw Jerzy Lec jocularly put it. The West thus loses all its spatial content to become confused with the notion of modernity. At other times, it is globally opposed to the latest incarnation to date of the furor orientalis in the eyes of Westerners: Islamism. In this vision, an essential fracture opposes the “Judeo-Christian West” to the “Arab-Muslim East.” Since there is no longer a unitary “West,” just as there is no homogeneous “East.” This is a new source of misunderstanding.

But more importantly, above all, the notion of the “West,” as it is understood today, is a geopolitical aberration. Europe belongs to the “land power,” while the United States represents the “sea power.” History, said Carl Schmitt, is first and foremost a history of the struggle between continental powers and maritime powers. Despite all that is repeated in Brussels and Washington, the interests of Europeans and Americans are not convergent, but opposed. As for the notion of the “Christian West,” which for too long has made us forget the universal (and universalist) dimension of the Christian religion, it has lost all meaning since religion has become a private affair and, above all, since the majority of believers are located in the Third World. Europe and the West are, today, totally separated—to the point that defending Europe means, quite often, fighting the West. As it no longer relates to any particular geographical or even cultural area, the word “West” should be abandoned.

Since its conversion to universalism, the West has always considered its specific values as “universal” values, and has since then been legitimized to impose them on the whole world. In the Third World, attempts were first made to make people worship the “true God” (the only one, of course), then to bring “civilization,” “progress,” “democracy,” and, finally, “development” to the Third World. The ideology of human rights does not escape the rule. Although it is historically and geographically perfectly situated, it seeks to reshape the planet in the name of an “abstract man,” a man from everywhere and nowhere. The United States is, naturally, the first champion of this ideology, because, for them, Africans are nothing more than black-skinned Westerners, and Europeans are “Americanizable” populations speaking (provisionally) a foreign language. This explains their disappointments in international politics. The world will only be comprehensible to them when it has been totally Americanized.

It is because of their universalism that Westerners find it so difficult to understand (and admit) otherness. Their deep conviction is that differences between cultures and peoples are transitory, secondary, soluble in folklore, even downright harmful. In other words, they admit the Other only to the extent that they believe they can demonstrate that the Other is “like everyone else;” that is, the Same. The ideal of the society of individuals is a society where all men are interchangeable, substitutable for one another, all equally committed to the compulsive model of happiness through consumption. A certain egalitarianism, which makes equality a synonym for “sameness,” pushes in this same direction. It is another form of racism: in the absence of being able to make those who are different disappear, differences (between peoples and between the sexes) are devalued as illusory or insignificant. Political universalism, the demand for a “right to indifference” and gender ideology converge in this same aspiration to indifferentization, which is, at bottom, nothing more than a “death wish.”


So far, slightly more than 200 books and academic works have been published, in various languages, entirely devoted to the French New Right and to my writings. Their quality is obviously uneven. Favorable or hostile, some are quite serious, or at least scientific in appearance; some are even quite good. However, the truth demands to say that the vast majority are properly miserable.

Reading this infra-literature, one finds that the procedures employed are always the same. The most common method consists of coldly copying what other authors have previously written, without bothering for a moment to investigate whether or not it corresponds to reality. Ten previous books are taken and summarized to make the eleventh. This is how the same factually false information, invented quotations of all kinds, the same amalgamations, the same judgments of intention, travel from one writing to another, as if the indefinitely repeated lies became many truths.

Another common procedure is that of selective reading: the conclusion to be reached is already established beforehand, everything that can serve to prove the thesis is retained, discarding everything that could contradict it. There is also the “anti-historical” or anachronistic method, which does not understand the need to periodize the history of a school of thought that is already more than half a century old: quotations are never dated, which makes it possible to unearth phrases that are forty or fifty years old, while pretending to keep them as contemporary or as representative of what the same author is writing today, as if in half a century his thought had never evolved. In other cases, phrases are cut, mutilated, extracted from their context, or even sent back, not to what this or that author may have said, but to a comment made by a hostile author.

Speculations on the “unsaid” are equally fruitful. Failing to find in an author’s writings what we would like to find there, we try to “decode” his discourse, to “read between the lines.” Rather than being interested in what is actually written, the main concern is to know “from where it is inspired,” in the hope of establishing imaginary connections, fantastic organizational charts that allow us to conclude what the Anglo-Saxons call “guilt by association,” the eternal resource of low-level conspiracy theorists.

In all cases, the underlying idea is that what is written does not correspond to what is really thought, and may even mean the opposite. The idea that an intellectual or theorist would immediately discredit himself by saying something different from what he thinks (in which precisely he differs from the politician) is not even taken into account. The practice of suspicion is widespread. If something is written it is done only for “strategy,” to “make believe that,” to “play into the hands of” this or that. Those who engage in these contortions are, of course, in a better position than anyone else to know what everyone really thinks. And, of course, any denial is taken as confirmation! One can immediately see the policing nature of this way of doing things. The policing of the (supposed) ulterior motives of thought is added to the policing of thought, for whatever one does, one is always guilty. The work of thought is simply ignored.

Another thing that has always struck me is that many foreign authors who have written on the French New Right are obviously incapable of reading French, which at first sight is surprising. At best, they have only been able to have access to a few books published in their language, which is completely insufficient to acquire an overview of the issue. Rather than a major book that has not been translated, they will cite a minor book that has. Otherwise, they are reduced to relying on more or less trusted secondary sources.

Of course, they could try to verify some claims, but apparently that does not seem to suit them. One revealing fact: I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of authors who have written books about my work and who have taken the trouble to contact me, in one way or another, to ask me some questions, to try to clarify some problematic points, etc. The rest obviously had no need, or even any desire, to meet in vivo with the supposed subject of their studies. It is a way of “working” that says a lot about such authors.

This is not how Jesús Sebastián-Lorente works. He works with method, with honesty, with passion. We will see this by reading this book, in which his multiple references to the works of the New Right do not prevent him from expressing personal thought. In general, I agree with everything he writes, with a few exceptions perhaps, but this is just a detail! I am convinced that his book will be a landmark in Spain.


Featured image: “Leaving the Studio,” by William McGregor Paxton, painted in 1912.

The Beggar Boy At Christ’s Christmas Tree

I am a novelist, and I suppose I have made up this story. I write “I suppose,” though I know for a fact that I have made it up, but yet I keep fancying that it must have happened on Christmas Eve in some great town in a time of terrible frost.

I have a vision of a boy, a little boy, six years old or even younger. This boy woke up that morning in a cold damp cellar. He was dressed in a sort of little dressing-gown and was shivering with cold. There was a cloud of white steam from his breath, and sitting on a box in the corner, he blew the steam out of his mouth and amused himself in his dullness watching it float away. But he was terribly hungry.

Several times that morning he went up to the plank bed where his sick mother was lying on a mattress as thin as a pancake, with some sort of bundle under her head for a pillow. How had she come here? She must have come with her boy from some other town and suddenly fallen ill. The landlady who let the “concerns” had been taken two days before the police station, the lodgers were out and about as the holiday was so near, and the only one left had been lying for the last twenty-four hours dead drunk, not having waited for Christmas.

In another corner of the room a wretched old woman of eighty, who had once been a children’s nurse but was now left to die friendless, was moaning and groaning with rheumatism, scolding and grumbling at the boy so that he was afraid to go near her corner. He had got a drink of water in the outer room, but could not find a crust anywhere, and had been on the point of waking his mother a dozen times. He felt frightened at last in the darkness: it had long been dusk, but no light was kindled. Touching his mother’s face, he was surprised that she did not move at all, and that she was as cold as the wall.

“It is very cold here,” he thought.

He stood a little, unconsciously letting his hands rest on the dead woman’s shoulders, then he breathed on his fingers to warm them, and then quietly fumbling for his cap on the bed, he went out of the cellar. He would have gone earlier, but was afraid of the big dog which had been howling all day at the neighbor’s door at the top of the stairs. But the dog was not there now, and he went out into the street.

Mercy on us, what a town! He had never seen anything like it before. In the town from he had come, it was always such black darkness at night. There was one lamp for the whole street, the little, low-pitched, wooden houses were closed up with shutters, there was no one to be seen in the street after dusk, all the people shut themselves up in their houses, and there was nothing but the howling all night.

But there it was so warm and he was given food, while here—oh, dear, if he only had something to eat! And what a noise and rattle here, what light and what people, horses and carriages, and what a frost! The frozen steam hung in clouds over the horses, over their warmly breathing mouths; their hoofs clanged against the stones through the powdery snow, and everyone pushed so, and—oh, dear, how he longed for some morsel to eat, and how wretched he suddenly felt. A policeman walked by and turned away to avoid seeing the boy.

There was another street—oh, what a wide one, here he would be run over for certain; how everyone was shouting, racing and driving along, and the light, the light! And what was this? A huge glass window, and through the window a tree reaching up to the ceiling; it was a fir tree, and on it were ever so many lights, gold papers and apples and little dolls and horses; and there were children clean and dressed in their best running about the room, laughing and playing and eating and drinking something.

And then a little girl began dancing with one of the boys, what a pretty little girl! And he could hear the music through the window. The boy looked and wondered and laughed, though his toes were aching with the cold and his fingers were red and stiff so that it hurt him to move them.

And all at once the boy remembered how his toes and fingers hurt him, and began crying, and ran on; and again through another window-pane he saw another Christmas tree, and on a table cakes of all sorts—almond cakes, red cakes and yellow cakes, and three grand young ladies were sitting there, and they gave the cakes to any one who went up to them, and the door kept opening, lots of gentlemen and ladies went in from the street.

The boy crept up, suddenly opened the door and went in. oh, how they shouted at him and waved him back! One lady went up to him hurriedly and slipped a kopeck into his hand, and with her own hands opened the door into the street for him!

How frightened he was. And the kopeck rolled away and clinked upon the steps; he could not bend his red fingers to hold it right. the boy ran away and went on, where he did not know. He was ready to cry again but he was afraid, and ran on and on and blew his fingers. And he was miserable because he felt suddenly so lonely and terrified, and all at once, mercy on us! What was this again?

People were standing in a crowd admiring. Behind a glass window there were three little dolls, dressed in red and green dresses, and exactly, exactly as though they were alive. Once was a little old man sitting and playing a big violin, the two others were standing close by and playing little violins, and nodding in time, and looking at one another, and their lips moved, they were speaking, actually speaking, only one couldn’t hear through the glass.

And at first the boy thought they were alive, and when he grasped that they were dolls he laughed. He had never seen such dolls before, and had no idea there were such dolls! All at once he fancied that some one caught at his smock behind: a wicked big boy was standing beside him and suddenly hit him on the head, snatched off his cap and tripped him up. The boy fell down on the ground, at once there was s shout, he was numb with fright, he jumped up and ran away.

He ran, and not knowing where he was going, ran in at the gate of some one’s courtyard, and sat down behind a stack of wood: “They won’t find me here, besides it’s dark!”

He sat huddled up and was breathless from fright, and all at once, quite suddenly, he felt so happy: his hands and feet suddenly left off aching and grew so warm, as warm as though he were on a stove; then he shivered all over, then he gave a start, why, he must have been asleep. How nice to have a sleep here! “I’ll sit here a little and go and look at the dolls again,” said the boy, and smiled thinking of them. “Just as though they were alive! …” and suddenly he heard his mother singing over him. “Mammy, I am asleep; how nice it is to sleep here!”

“Come to my Christmas tree, little one,” a soft voice suddenly whispered over his head.

He thought that this was still his mother, but no, it was not she. Who it was calling him, he could not see, but someone bent over to him, and … and all at once—oh, what a bright light! Oh, what a Christmas tree! And yet it was not a fir tree, he had never seen a tree like that! Where was he now?

Everything was bright and shining, and all around him were dolls; but no, they were not dolls, they were little boys and girls, only so bright and shining. They all came flying round him, they all kissed him, took him and carried him along with them, and he was flying himself, and he saw that his mother was looking at him and laughing joyfully. “Mammy, Mammy; oh, how nice it is here, Mammy!” and again he kissed the children and wanted to tell them at once of those dolls in the shop windows.

“Who are you, boys” who are you, girls?” he asked, laughing and admiring them.

“This is Christ’s Christmas tree,” they answered. “Christ always has a Christmas tree on this day, for the little children who have no tree of their own.…”

And he found out that all these little boys and girls were children just like himself; that some had been frozen in the baskets in which they had as babies been laid on the doorsteps of well-to-do Petersburg people, others had been boarded out with Finnish women by the Foundling and had been suffocated, others had died at their starved mothers’ breasts (in the Samara famine), others had died in the third-class railway carriages from the foul air; and yet they were all here, they were all like angels about Christmas, and He was in the midst of them and held out His hands to them and blessed them and their sinful mothers.… and the mothers of these children stood on one side weeping; each one knew her boy or girl, and the children flew up to them and kissed them and wiped away their tears with their little hands, and begged them not to weep because they were so happy.

And down below in the morning the porter found the little dead body of the frozen child on the woodstack; they sought out his mother too.… she had died before him. They met before the Lord God in heaven.

Why have I made up such a story, so out of keeping with an ordinary diary, and a writer’s above all? And I promised two stories dealing with real events! But that is just it, I keep fancying that all this may have happened really—that is, what took place in the cellar and on the woodstack; but as for Christ’s Christmas tree, I cannot tell you whether that could have happened or not.


The featured image shows, “Petite misère (Mendiant au chapeau), Little Misery (Beggar with a Hat),” by Fernand Pelez; painted ca. 1886.

Wokism – Or Capitalism?

Some speak of Black Lives Matter and of LGBT,
of Cancel Culture, Wokism and such great games as these.
But of all the world’s great challenges, none can compare
With banks, stocks, and production – the Real Capitalism.

All the Western World is engaged in great changes under the guise of “Wokism,” whose most extreme aspects occur in English-speaking countries and are exported and then mirrored in various non-English-speaking countries. But what is being “woke?” I do not pretend to have the answer, and yet there are some possible interpretations that inform us as to what lies before us.

As I see it, the real problem is not Wokism, BLM, or the LGBT et similia movements, but what is behind them, and what silently exploits such movements, the honesty of whose members I do not object to at all. I regard them attack columns – but they are not the headquarters. And if we just focus on the “foot-soldiers” and disregard the HQ and its objectives, we will be misled because we will not have the panoramic view, which alone can give us the much-needed insights.

So, what is the HQ? In the USA, many people are certain that they know for sure: Communists, or former Communists; Soviet Zombies who have come back to life to destroy the USA. To be fair, there are certain aspects of Cancel Culture which suggest a link with what took place in the past. In Stalin’s day, books were modified, in order to cancel those parts related to the “enemies of the people;” or entire books were canceled. Paintings too were modified. In Stalin’s time, the famous painting showing Lenin’s 1917 speech at the Smolny changed very many times – each time cancelling (deleting) a recently liquidated prominent Bolshevik who had fallen out of favor – so that at the end, in its definitive version, only Lenin and Stalin appeared to have been there.

Whilst Mussolini never played this game, Hitler indulged in the same Stalinist tricks, along with book-burning. And the sport of destroying statues is as old as the statues themselves, being an integral part of any given riot or revolution, since the ancient Egypt – think of Akhenaton.

We could suppose that the root of this phenomenon lies in Hegel’s philosophy, and the evolution of left and right Hegelianism (hence, Nazism and Communism). But I do not think so. Not at all.

Rather, capitalism is the answer. I know that such an answer will sound quite misleading, odd, amazing, especially in capitalistic countries – what has capitalism to do with Wokism and the various movements derive from it?

An explanation is very much needed; but it will involve a broader and greater context. So, bear with me, even if what I am going to say may seem off-topic. But it will all make sense once we reach a conclusion.

Let us go back a couple of centuries. In the early days of the 19t century, when Britannia ruled the waves, when Wellington had just defeated Napoleon, and the London stock exchange ruled the world of finance. The incipient Industrial Revolution was triggering a deep change of British, and then European and American, society – for the new entrepreneurs had to resolve a remarkable problem: How to balance supply and demand?
Anyone who has studied at least some economics knows what a problem this is. But for those who are not aware of this problem, let me provide an explanation.

Let us take the example of a hypothetical early 19th century tissue producer, Mr Tissue, whose factory works well, is powered by coal, and its production is shipped by horse-towed wagons.

Let us say that this Mr. Tissue created a new cotton tissue, which becomes a fashion hit; and is so successful that suddenly everybody wants it, and ready to pay – let’s say – $1.00 per piece. Mr. Tissue’s factory is flooded with orders. What does Mr. Tissue do? Seeing the success, he decides to exploit the situation and to at once fulfill all the orders. He immediately improves production. His factory now operates longer hours and Mr. Tissue buys all the cotton that he can find.

Then, he encounters his first problem. The cotton producer he normally relies on, just does not have as much cotton Mr. Tissue needs, who now has to look for additional cotton producers he has never dealt with. The new cotton producers that he contacts say, “OK, we have cotton, but you must pay it 10 cents per pound, instead of 9 cents as you previously did.” Well, Mr. Tissue knows that he will sell a lot of his products, so, if he pays 10 cents of 9 cents, he will earn a bit less than he hoped, but his loss is not so great either. So, Mr. Tissue accepts. But shortly after, even these new producers are not enough, and Mr. Tissue has to find additional producers, and he now accepts paying 11 cents per pound for the cotton that he greatly needs.

At the same time, Mr. Tissue realizes that he does not have as many specialized workers as needed to increase production. So, he looks for additional specialized workers. But, unfortunately, there are none available, as all are already working in other factories and all are paid the same wages as his own workers – $1.00 a day. What does he do? He offers to pay $1.10 per day to new specialized workers. But gets his old specialized workers upset. And so, to keep production moving along, Mr. Tissue has to pay his old specialized workers $1.10 per day as well.

Of course, given such a remarkable 10 percent wage increase, he gets all the workers he needs – but he now has all his fellow entrepreneurs very upset, who must also increase the wages of their specialized workers’ wage – to keep them from all moving to Tissue’s factory.

Then Mr. Tissue realizes that he needs much more coal than in the past, because his factory is working twice as much as before. This means that he also needs more wagons (and horses and fodder) as well as more carriages to bring in the additional cotton and to ship out the finished goods (the tissues). And in all these cases too, given what is available on the market, he can’t get the needed additional coal, horses, wagons and fodder unless he pays more than the price he usually paid in the past. Costs rise; but Mr. Tissue doesn’t care, because he has plenty of orders still coming in.

Then, orders start to decrease, because almost everybody has the new cotton tissue, and suddenly, in a month, Tissue’s production must be reduced by one-third. What does he do? To limit his losses, he reduces the price of his tissue to 90 cents, lays off many workers, stops purchasing cotton and sells some horses and wagons, perhaps at a loss.

Finally, Mr. Tissue also is stuck with a lot of cotton, coal and fodder. He could use it in production, but the problem nobody needs Mr. Tissue’s products as much, since most people have bought lots. So, it is possible that Mr. Tissue will have to further reduce production, or stop it altogether. Hence, many more workers will lose their jobs, and their wages.

This brings about a small financial crisis will start, because without a wage the laid-off workers won’t buy as much as they used to. This leads to a domino effect, affecting other producers whose products will also not be sold in the same quantities as before. On the other hand, it is also possible that, when looking at his budget, Mr. Tissue’s business proves less convenient than he thought – he may have spent much more than he anticipated in wages, and in the purchase of horses, wagons, cotton, and coal. Tissue may end up losing everything; or, he might lose a percentage when business got bad. How does Mr. Tissue avoid these problems in the future? What does he do next time?

The early 19th century economists faced this problem. It was a new one, because never in the past did so a massive production occurred, which also meant that a massive amount of money could be lost or earned in a matter of weeks, or even days.

The main problem affecting economy was clearly the economical crisis. You can have a crisis because of overproduction – Mr. Tissue’s case at the end of the story – and underproduction – Mr. Tissue’s case at the beginning of the story.

Bear in mind that the final price is made up of the cost of the raw material, the cost of manpower, the cost of power, the cost of logistics, the cost of the infrastructure maintenance, the savings to invest in new machinery, and, last, by the entrepreneur’s profit.

In case the market suddenly asks you for more items than you are producing, or can produce, you must find the raw materials and do the handiwork as fast as you can, practically on the spot, no matter how expensive that can all be. And this means that you can earn less than usual – because if you sell your products always at the same price – and you must do that, otherwise you lose market shares – the expenditure rate composed of the prices of raw materials, wages and all the other items, will be higher than usual. Thus, your net income will be lower.

On the other hand, when the market suddenly stops purchasing your products, you may find yourself with a lot of unsold products. And, no matter if you hang onto unsold inventory or sell it at a lower price – you lose money.

Boring? Very boring? How does all this useless economics stuff pertain to the topic at hand? Wait a bit more and you’ll start matching the dots.

How to avoid this crisis in the first place was the question. The answer provided by some economists in the first half of 19th century was – “planning.” But planning what?
The crisis occurred depending on how many goods were sold, or not sold – thus, it depended on the buyer. Hence the analysis of economist focused on the consumer, and they soon realized how unpredictable the single consumer really is. Therefore, would it not be better if, somehow, one could predict which kind of goods and assets the consumer could want over a lifetime?

But soon economists also realized another cause of this crises – the unpredictable number of consumers. If a single consumer was a “mad variable,” whose needs more or less could be somehow predicted, thus allowing for production synchronized to consumer demand – what if the number of global consumers changed suddenly? A consumer plus another consumer meant a family; and in nine months one could expect the consumers to become three. But what if the consumers – especially in Catholic countries – did not stop and kept increasing like rabbits? The family could hardly enhance its income as much as needed to keep their initial life standard, and this would cause a reduced in purchasing power, and thus a reduction in the goods they bought, which on a general level would be mirrored by a reduction of industrial production. So what?

The smart answer was “social planning,” because a planned society was supposed to have planned behaviors and thus planned and predictable needs, to be fulfilled through predictable and planned consumption – and hence by a long-term planned economy.

Are you connecting dots? What renders consumption unpredictable? Families. Why? Because families have children, and often they do not care how many they have. So, what does it all mean?

Such behavior has two bad consequences: Families can’t spend so much on other expensive goods, because they must eat, and dress, first. Plus, the unpredictable number of children renders consumption by families, and thus family behavior and expenditure, absolutely unpredictable. And this is bad for a planned economy – and economy in general.

In other words, traditional, unplanned families cause an economic crisis. Additionally, an economic crisis is the nightmare, the doom of capitalism. It must be avoided at any cost. Consequently, traditional, unplanned families are the enemies of capitalism because they are the origin of the economic crisis.

On the other hand, as it has more or less been explicitly said over the 60 years ago, whoever has fewer or no children, has much more money to spend. Thus, whoever has no children is welcomed; well, not completely welcomed, otherwise in a generation the market would be over, due to the death of all the consumers – and then who would capitalism sell to? Think what a bad business proposal that would it be. Now what? Well, the best thing is to have planned families – two parents and two children. Don’t forget the UN supported Family planning campaigns, mostly in the 1960’s, in places as different as India and the USA. If at that time it was said everywhere that India was overcrowded in comparison to her food production, and this such a campaign could be understood as reasonable – what about the USA? Were they short of food? Not at all. Let’s keep this in mind and let’s go move forward.

If a family plans to have two children, there is an additional unpredictable factor – how many males and females? One and one? Two and zero? Zero and two? This is troublesome, for how can you have a long-termed plan for shaving blades, or for make-up production in the next twenty years? It’s annoying. What to do? Well, for instance one could introduce a planned system but… but that would mean planning in advance what you want to have – not how many children, but how many children of which sex? It is scientifically doable, but how do you introduce the concept?

If you destroy the standard traditional family – as the Nazis did, and as the Soviets before Stalin did too – and if you introduce a “new” family, relying on birth-assistance, that is to say, on birth-planning, you can do it.

Are the dots connecting yet? The “new” family can be exploited as a tool to let the capitalistic enterprises gain much more through a planned economy based on planned life. Thus, if the capitalist system supports such a family, it is in its own monetary interests – not in the interests of families and the people.

One step more. And it will be a nasty one, but we’ve already taken quite a few nasty steps that one more is not such a tragedy.

There is another group of “bad consumers” – the old and ill. What do they live for? Only to be a burden on the public health system, if any, or on their families. Thus, aside from the expenditures welcomed only by some of the Big Pharma, what do they live for?

Moreover, they don’t have that many needs (except for medicines and assistance), and most of them can’t pay for it, either. So, what to do? How can they live without assistance, if they can’t pay for it? It would be a life without dignity… so, let’s kill them off, because no life deprived of dignity is worth living, is it? And this is what is currently done – officially in half a dozen countries of the world, and unofficially probably in many more. In fact, these people are killed simply because they are a financial burden and no longer an active portion of the consumer-world.

And, and what about those affected by mental illness? They too can’t have a life with dignity (and are unable to spend their money, if they have any). So, what do they live for?
OK, there would be small problem, that is to say – who defines this “standard of dignity?” And who determines whether these “standards” are being “enjoyed” or not the people to be killed? But this is a small and negligible problem. It’s not worth discussing, as every is on agrees that life without “dignity” is not worth living.

Next point – how do you achieve all these goals? By destroying mankind as it is now and by modeling, by shaping a new one.

If you want to build something, the first thing you must do is to clear the ground. Now, this is exactly what Liberals, Wokists, Cancel Culture and so on are doing. They are cleaning the ground to “build back better” – which means a new society, a new society they claim that will be more equal, more democratic, and so on. But this new society in fact will be shaped as I described above.

As things are, they are sweeping away whatever that is linked to identity – identity in general. They are sweeping out existing culture, removing statues, modifying books, and they are sweeping away personal identity – because what kind of family can here ever be, if gender is a choice and does not depend on how the body is, and identity is no longer something determined by nature and self-existing but is something determined by…? What? Whom?
By the rulers. And the rulers will determine it using an indirect approach – there will not be a law telling the people how to be. There will be a system of laws allowing this or that and causing a pre-emptive self-censorship – as already happens – and an instinctive conforming to the general behavior.

Once personal identity and identity in general is cancelled, people will simply be a mass of units, whose behavior will be directed from outside in an indirect and effective way by, and according to, indirect pressures. The more time will pass, the more rigid and apparent the pressures and conditioning will be.

Additional point. How to prevent insurgency? Simply by depriving the people of its own money. How? By paying low wages to all who are not embedded, or enrolled into the system. And how can you keep wages low? By the same system used at the eve of the Industrial Revolution – by relying on a wide offer of manpower, because there will always be the poor – who are poorer than the workers working for you – and who will therefore accept that same job for a lot less wage. Thus, you can blackmail your worker; and, if that worker does not accept your terms, you can say “goodbye.”

Really? Yes, really. Otherwise, what are we importing illegal immigrants for? For the sake of human solidarity? If that were true, we would be investing and developing instead in their countries (with lesser and longer-termed profit). What a terrible idea! No, no! We need them to keep the price of tomatoes low in the supermarket! Were the tomatoes to be picked by regular workers, they would cost four times their current price! Would you like that? And what about the onions? Would you really like to spend that much for your salad?

And what can we do with all this manpower? Well, the not-specialized manpower can die when exploited, just like a squeezed lemon. Specialized manpower will get something more, because, by the way, they are also the consumers. But they will get a low wage, big enough to purchase what the planned economy allows them to get, but not a cent more.
Think of how expensive and time-consuming it is simply to buy a new car, not to say a home. But in the happy planned future, the vast majority will have long-termed rented cars (as it is usual and cheaper in the USA and not at all in Europe) and will live in rented homes, because only the happy very few will be able to purchase a home, because of their wages, and because of the high prices.

If the majority of the people have to depend on a small wage, just allowing them to have all they think they need for their daily life (and “daily-life” will be precisely planned), the big corporations will earn a lot more money, a lot longer, given the combined effect of planned production to fulfill planned consumption, all feeding the planned life of each human being. And when the human being can no longer afford to pay for what he/she needs, how can he/she still live with dignity? Thus, euthanasia, and requiescat in pace, and let’s make use of the body for transplants, for beauty farms and, last but not least, ash for the ground (never waste anything – don’t forget – that is an economic moral duty).

Is it all clear now?

So, as you see, Wokism, LGBTQ, Black Lives Matter, Cancel Culture they all appear as tools used and exploited by something different. And they are effective because they do not know how, and which way, they are being exploited, and to which aims. They are genuinely certain that they are fighting for rights and liberty, for a better new society. But in fact they can be compared to a smoke screen – and behind that screen you have the worst and most greedy capitalism.


Ciro Paoletti, a prominent Italian historian of military history, is the Secretary General of the Italian Commission of Military History. He is the author of 25 books, and more than 400 other smaller works\, published in Italy and abroad, and mostly dealing with modern and contemporary Italian military history and policy.


The featured image shows, “The Tower of Babel,” by Lucas van Valckenborch; painted in 1594.

Long Live the Dead!

The dead, like old coins, are the currency that are out of circulation. Cemeteries, the places where graves enshrine their bones, are the sack of Hades. By the rules of nature inscribed in biology, the dead are replaced by new generations which, one day, will themselves be replaced by a new series, minted by future generations.

This biological rule was applied to the life of human societies by Edmund Burke who, in his Reflections on the Revolution in France, defined society as a contract between the dead, the living and the unborn – “a clause in the great primaeval contract of eternal society, linking the lower with the higher natures, connecting the visible and the invisible world, according to a fixed compact sanctioned by the inviolable oath which holds all physical and all moral natures.” By saying that the goal of historical writing is to preserve great human deeds from falling into oblivion, the Greek historian Thucydides gave us another insight – memory is the glue with which the past and future are held together. T.S. Eliot was not far from Burke when he wrote:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.
Other echoes
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?
Hans (Jan) Collaert, Christ and the Robbers, ca. 1570.

To conservatives, the dead are very much alive. Conservatives carry the memory of the dead and their achievements. It is a memory filled with words and ideas of writers, poets, thinkers; with images created by sculptors and painters; and with sounds from composers of music. The words and ideas of the dead are never rendered obsolete or superseded. To the conservative, they resound in the present with the same vitality they had when they were first uttered decades or centuries ago. Homer, Sappho, Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides, Virgil, Dante, and others are as much our contemporaries as they were the contemporaries of those who knew them personally.

Burial sites are a great proof of this; and what they look like is also a reflection of who we were and are. The Pere Lachaise and Montmartre cemeteries in Paris are probably the most famous necropoleis of the Western world. But first and foremost, they are monuments of France’s national history and French greatness. You find there many famous French cultural figures you’ve heard of, or have studied in school. Alfred de Musset, Balzac, Molière, Racine, Abelard and Héloise, several of Napoleon’s marshals, or foreigners, such as Oscar Wilde and Chopin. (On November 1st, lovers of Chopin’s music place a boombox on his grave which plays his compositions.) And, of course, Jim Morrison!

It may sound strange that Italians, who outnumber all Western nations in artistic genius, do not have a cemetery like Pere Lachaise. The reason is of historical – the lack of a central government (which came about only in 19th century with the unification by Garibaldi), and the fact that no single Italian city came to fully dominate others, like Paris did in France – which explains why the bones of famous Italians are scattered all over the country, with several in the Church of Santa Croce and in the cloister in Florence. Dante is in Ravenna. Rafael and the late 17th-century music composer Corelli are in Rome, in the Pantheon with the kings of Italy. Boccaccio is buried in the small Tuscan town of Certaldo. Petrarch lies in the town of Arquà, not far from Padua. Verdi is in Milan; and Garibaldi on the island of Caprera. The dictator Mussolini is in the small town of Predappio, where he was born. Finally, even though the tomb of Julius Caesar does not exist, contemporary Romans lay flowers by his statue in Rome.

Germany, too, consisted of principalities, and the fate of the German dead is like that of the Italians. One would look in vain for a cemetery in Berlin for famous Germans. However, if you are a student of philosophy, you can place a lit candle on the grave of Hegel and his wife, which is right next to Fichte and his wife. Literature students can do the same on Bertolt Brecht’s grave.

Betrand Defehrt, after Andreas Versalius, Anatomical Study – Skeleton. Hand-colored Engraving, ca; 1770.

There are also special cemeteries for kings, such as, the St. Denis Abbey near Paris, or Wawel cathedral in Krakow. Other nations have similar places. And, of course, the Vatican, where the Popes rest.
Yet politics (the existence or non-existence of central government and the dominance of one city over the rest) is not the only factor that has had influence on what, where, and how the dead rest. Walking through cemeteries, we realize how different they are.

The characteristic thing about most American cemeteries is that they look like grass fields with vertical tombstones, between which the maintenance man drives a lawnmower, making it look “good.” Such design goes beyond what we might suspect is a matter of American efficiency that makes maintenance of cemeteries easier. Just like in all aspects of visual arts, there is a significant difference between the Catholic and Protestant mentalities and their respective sense of aesthetics. While simple tombstones reflect Protestant austerity, Neo-Gothic or Classical Greco-Roman styled temples are characteristic of Catholic cemeteries – though Lafayette Cemetery in New Orleans (a former French colony), Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia, and a few others, mainly in LA and San Francisco, speak the language of Catholic aesthetics in Protestant America.

Here is another detail which one should not bypass. Walking through the cities and towns of Protestant countries, especially in the US, we notice small cemeteries near churches, close to the main streets, something you hardly ever see in Europe, unless you happen to be in the UK. The reason is simple – these churches are or used to be denominational – Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Anglican, Lutheran, Adventist, etc. – and no single cemetery was supposed to belonged to the whole population united by the same confession. The exception to this rule in Catholic countries was the split between the Christian and the Jews who had their own burial places, which since the beginning of the 19th century were situated outside the city limits. As the cities grew and expanded, today they are within the city proper, but still form separate enclaves.

Over a decade ago, my daughter and I flew from Baltimore to Krakow where I was born. We stayed with my friends who happened to live near a cemetery. Each day we would walk through it. What was unusual for us — visitors from the New World — was that there were lots of flowers. It was May and I could not think of any holiday. “Daddy,” my daughter, who was in seventh grade at the time, said, “your people love the dead.”

Rakowicki Cemetery, Krakow, Poland.

“My people” sounded strange, but she was right. We visited several cemeteries in Baltimore as part of her art history education, looking at designs on tombstones, but we did not see any flowers or candles. “My people” love the dead, but it is not just a Polish predilection; and visiting loved ones who passed away is very much alive in other Catholic countries as well. All Saints’ Day is exceptional and most festive. According to historians, the first celebrations of All Saints’ Day took place in the fourth century, around the Feast of the Lemures on May 13th. November 1st, the day we celebrate now, goes back to the seventh century, when Pope Gregory III founded a repository for the relics of all the apostles, martyrs, and saints.

All Saints’ Day is not merely a celebration of the memory of great men and saints. First and foremost, it is a day when we face the dead members of our own families. As we stand by the grave, we experience their painful absence in our lives. The quiet that fills our minds, as we stand there, is their voice that reminds us that we are mortal; that we too, one day, will rest there. We can only hope that we will not be entirely forgotten by our own family; and that at least once a year, someone will visit us to light a candle and lay a chrysanthemum (the flower associated with this day) in memory of us.

Those of us who happen to live in the New World, optimistic and future-oriented, are often oblivious to what cemeteries remind us of – death and the connection to the past. Most cemeteries in big American cities and towns look like they have been deserted for decades. The tombstones stand higgledy-piggledy like scarecrows; the epitaphs badly eroded. It is real-estate, whose inhabitants have no identify. Not many people have visited them for a long time; and over time they have deteriorated. The reason for this is, partly, the mobility of American society; probably unprecedented in world history. In Europe, it is still the case that you die in the same place where you were born; and if you happen to live in a different city, you are close enough to travel to see the family graves.

There is another reason, however. All Saints’ Day, November 1st, like a name day, is part of the Catholic calendar, and because 365 days could not include all the names of the saints, one needed to establish one day to honor them. The practice originated in the Middle Ages, to commemorate the martyrs; and each saint falls on one day of the year. If your name happens to be Patrick, your name day is March 17th. The lavishly celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in the US is one of those Catholic imports to Protestant America. However, as the Reformation did away with the cult of the saints, the name day and All Saints’ Day ceased to be celebrated in most Protestant countries as well.

Now that religious differences between Protestant denominations on the one hand and Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox on the other are, at best, a matter of the past, and being Jewish or Christian matters less than ever before, it is not religious zeal that makes cemeteries look different. It is our perception of life and death. In his essay “Modernity on Endless Trial,” Leszek Kolakowski put his finger on the problem in a way characteristic of his style of thinking:

“The taboo regarding respect for the bodies of the dead seems to be a candidate for extinction, and although the technique of transplanting organs has saved many lives and will doubtlessly save many more, I find it difficult not to feel sympathy for people who anticipate with horror a world in which dead bodies will be no more than a store of parts for the living or raw material for various industrial purposes; perhaps respect for the dead and for the living –and for life itself – are inseparable. Various traditional human bonds which make communal life possible, and without which our existence would be regarded only by greed and fear, are not likely to survive without a taboo system, and it is perhaps better to believe in the validity of even apparently silly taboos than to let them vanish.”

An organized mafia of medical oligarchs trading human organs is not difficult to imagine; and we should not exclude the possibility that as the world becomes more and more rational, some will get sacrificed for others. Two films, Coma (1979) with Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas, and Extreme Measures (1997), with Hugh Grant and Gene Hackman, explore this issue. The desire to prolong life, even at the expense of the living who have parts necessary for the survival of others, is a way of abolishing life. In such a world, I no longer see you as you, but as a walking store of parts necessary for my own survival.

Rakowicki Cemetery, Krakow, Poland.

But there is another scenario, perhaps even more morbid. Why not to give the poor the opportunity to improve their living conditions for a certain number of years, provided they sell their parts in advance. Such a scenario does not involve coercion or the abduction of people, as the two above-mentioned movies suggest, let alone the existence of a medical mafia. All that is needed is a voluntary act on the part of the seller. The argument that says that it is better to live a shorter life than a longer one in poverty is perfectly rational, and thus would have to be considered perfectly legal. Pacta sunt servanda – it would be difficult to question the validity of such a decision. It could even be called “the Faustus clause,” or “the Faustus New Deal,” with a modern-day Mephistopheles. In such a world, cemeteries will no longer be what they were – a place where we venerate the dead or ponder our place in society and the world – but a vast area filled with incomplete human remains.

All scenarios are possible; but something else should worry us too. The dead can become an object of attacks by those who are alive. Recent cases of desecration of Jewish graves in the US, France and Germany show the irrationality of hatred. The “woke” ideology’s onslaught on the Dead White European Males which led wild crowds to tear down monuments of famous people can make them to go after the graves of the famous dead. History knows many cases of grave desecration, and we should not exclude that something like that can happen. It most likely will.


Zbigniew Janowski is the author of Cartesian Theodicy: Descartes’ Quest for Certitude, Index Augustino-CartésienAgamemnon’s Tomb: Polish Oresteia (with Catherine O’Neil), How To Read Descartes’ Meditations. He also is the editor of Leszek Kolakowski’s My Correct Views on EverythingThe Two Eyes of Spinoza and Other Essays on PhilosophersJohn Stuart Mill: On Democracy, Freedom and Government & Other Selected Writings. His new book is Homo Americanus: Rise of Democratic Totalitarianism in America.


The featured image shows, “The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs,” likely by Fran Angelico; painted ca. 1420.

Mulled Wine À La Broadbridge—A Christmas Delight!

Mrs. B.: “Would you like a punch, Vicar, ’tis the season?”

Vicar of Aldenham and Radlett: “Well, I don’t mind if I do, Mrs Broadbridge!”

So, quick as a flash, I gave him a playful and fairly gentle punch on the rib-cage. He was quite rattled.

Scrooge and Bob Cratchit enjoying mulled wine, by John Leech.

“Only joking, Padre!” I reassured him. “Look what I’ve just been cooking up!”

“Oh, I say, Mrs Broadbridge, the devil’s brew! I’d be most partial to some, just a drop or two, mind. I don’t wish to be had up for failing my breath-test.”

“Don’t let those interfering socialists bother you, especially at Christmas, Vicar! We can toast Margaret and Dennis Thatcher!”


Ingredients

  • 2-3 bottles of red Hirondelle wine
  • ½ -¾ cup of Leslie’s Drambuie or Glayva
  • ½ – ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon cloves
  • 1-2 oranges, sliced, or even 1 orange and 1 lemon

Instructions

  1. In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine all ingredients and bring to the boil. Stir occasionally.
  2. Once boiling, reduce heat to simmer and cook for a further 5-7 minutes.
  3. Pass it through a strainer into the Broadbridge punch bowl.
  4. Garnish with a further slice of orange and, if you are really being fancy, a cinnamon stick. Les quite likes canned tangerines rather than an orange in the mixture but to me this removes all the subtle tanginess from it.

Serve hot, and enjoy with cheese footballs or Marmite ™ twiglets. Serves 4.

Vicar: “In the name of the Father, Son and not forgetting the Holy Spirit, I give you my thanks and blessing – may I call you Lilian?”

Mrs B: “Ooh, vicar, you’ve made this little girl blush!”

Vicar: “I feel a jolly Christmas Carol coming on. ‘When shepherds washed their socks by night… 🎵’”


The Two Cravats: A Broadbridge Christmas Anecdote

I thought I’d give Leslie a pair of silk cravats, one polka dot and the other paisley, for Christmas. They give a man a certain je ne sais choir [sic], a sophistication, and a cravat looks very good worn with a suede-fronted cardigan. Just the ticket, too, at Porters Park clubhouse at the 19th hole.

Once when we were holidaying in Sussex, I even saw an old chap in a cravat picking blackberries! So, I went to Austin Reed in Watford, and enjoyed a pleasant half-hour choosing and discussing the niceties of cravats with my favourite assistant there, Roger, a real lady’s man but with an intelligent eye for other men and their needs too.

Man wearing a cravat.

So, the great day came and Leslie seemed quite chuffed: ‘A nice variation on the theme of the two ties, Lilian, and very smart they are too’. Every other Boxing Day we book a buffet table, usually with Violet and that smoothie of a husband of hers, Lionel, at the Red Lion (in alternate years they take us to the Griffon in Godalming, a somewhat chi-chi place but they do an excellent Dover sole there).

Well, Leslie was all ready to go and what do I see but him with the paisley cravat round his neck and beaming, perhaps just a little full of himself.

“So,” I said, “You didn’t like the other…”

But then I noticed he had folded the polka dot one into his Burton jacket top pocket.

“Les, you didn’t go to Watford Grammar or manage a branch of Barclay’s for nothing! Our Liam would call you a cool dud, or whatever the slang is.”

And I gave Les a real smacker of a kiss, which I had to immediately wipe off, having carefully applied my Max Factor not ten minutes earlier. But I’m a spontaneous woman and, I hope, a warm-hearted one!


Editor: That’s it, Dr. Stocker, you are now retired as the Postil Magazine’s gag-writer!

Dr. Stocker: Hey! That’s a grave blow, I’m taking this real hard.

Editor: Man up! In 2022 you will be our regular pop music correspondent. And I fully expect our dear lady friend, Mrs. Broadbridge, to make the odd appearance in these columns.

Dr. Stocker: Okay, bro… whatever!


The featured image shows, “The Spirit of Christmas in Regent Street,” by William Heath Robinson; painted in 1928.

Verse And Worse: A Response To Philip Larkin

They tuck you up, your Mum and Dad
So you sleep sweet the whole night through
Their values really are quite trad
They only want the best for you!

And they were much loved in their turn
By grandparents in duffel coats
Who, though they seemed a little stern,
Were kindly souls, this poet notes.

Man hands on happiness to man
And with it comes both health and wealth
Make the most of life – you can!
And you’ll have happy kids yourself!


The featured image shows, “Mother Tucking Children into Bed,” by Norman Rockwell; painted in 1921.