The Invisible College

Nick Capaldi and Nadia Nedzel have inaugurated a new organization, Invisible College.

The organization seeks to promote live conversations about important books and topics through Zoom and other media, as well as in person. In addition to its own scheduled “conversations,” it will help others organize their own.

In the following conversation, Nick Capaldi and Marsha Enright discuss the meaning, origins, methodology and purpose of the conversations.



Featured image: Treatises On Natural Science, Philosophy, And Mathematics, ca. 1300.

The University Is A European Christian Institution Par Excellence

The existing consensus among historians is that the “university” was invented in medieval Chrisitian Europe. The first university was Bologna, founded in 1088, followed by Oxford in 1096. By the end of the fourteenth century, in 1400, there were about 34 universities across Europe; and in 1500 there were 66, and none outside (Verger, pp. 57, 62-65). In 1789, the year of the French Revolution, there were about 143 universities in Europe, with only one university outside in Turkey. The original Latin word universitas designated any corporation (from the Latin corpus, corporis a body) intentionally created by a group of individuals, be they guilds by craftsmen, associations by merchants, or municipal communes by town residents—to regulate their own affairs and security, independently of customary law, kinship ties, or religious and state authorities. While corporations were invariably self-organized and not originated by the state, the university was said to exist when it was authorized to act as a single entity (“born out of statute”) by an official document or edict from the Pope or a Bull from the Emperor. Corporations were self-governed in that their members participated in specifying the rules that regulated their activities; power was shared and leaders could be held accountable for their actions.

Gradually the word universitas came to be associated with the term studium generale, which referred to any institution (at the beginning of the thirteenth century) that “attracted students from all parts of Europe, not merely those of a particular country or district” (Rashdall, p. 6), and where at least one of the higher faculties of theology, law, or medicine was taught by a plurality of masters. In the course of the fourteenth century, the term “universitas became a mere synonym for studium generale” with numerous communities of students and teachers in charge of higher learning enjoying the privilege to conduct their own affairs, make their own rules for curriculum, and receive students from across Europe.

It is no accident that only Europe saw the rise of corporate bodies. In the rest of the world, outside Europe, kinship groups were in charge of governing the lives of extended family members, providing security, rules of inheritance and marriage, and choice of occupation. Kinship groups were governed by customary norms, by authoritarian chiefs, or by religious authorities. The situation in medieval Christian Europe was radically different. As Joseph Henrich has carefully documented in The Weirdest People of the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous (2020), the medieval Catholic church sanctioned monogamous marriages against polygamy and concubinage, and it restricted marriages among individuals of the same blood (consanguineous marriages). It also encouraged marriages based on voluntary choice or consent. By the 11th century the nuclear family was predominant in Europe. These changes freed Europeans from kinship ties and norms, leading them to form new voluntary corporations to cooperate economically, solve conflicts, and secure a livelihood with individuals from wider circles of life.

The reconstitution of medieval Europe away from kinship institutions in favor of voluntarily created institutions, such as urban communes, guilds, diocese of bishops, monasteries, and universities, came along with the rise of new systems of law based on universal principles. During the tenth and eleventh centuries, as the Church went about imposing monogamous and nuclear families, Europe underwent a legal revolution that conceded corporate rights for self-government to the Christian church and a variety of associations and groups to make contracts, to enact their own ordinances and statutes, “to own property, to sue and be sued, and to have legal representation before the king’s court” (Huff, 1993). Manors, cities, and merchant associations, among others, enacted whole new systems of law, including manorial law, urban law, canon law, and merchant law.

Such legislative, executive, and juridical powers were not a possibility in Islamic societies where polygamy and cousin marriages remained a powerful means for consolidating the power of kinship groups and where there was no legal separation between the sacred and the secular, no texts and rules to define and limit the jurisdictional powers of the courts, and no legal conception freed from the customary normative world of kinship groups. China never evolved a conception of law that recognized the right of corporate bodies, including cities, capable of composing and promulgating new laws independently of the state or the bonds of kinship.

It is within the context of the Catholic breakdown of kinship groups, the consolidation of nuclear monogamous families, and the legal revolution of the 11th century, that we should apprehend the unique invention of universities in medieval Europe. In conferring legal recognition and liberties to the universities, the kings of France, England, and Spain, and later Portugal, Austria, Bohemia, Poland, and Hungary, as well as dukes and princes, expected their universities to provide them with effectively trained lawyers and Roman legal principles to consolidate their expanding powers against the centrifugal forces of the old feudal landed classes.

Similarly, the popes that endowed associations of teachers and students with the title and privileges of a university did so in awareness that the teaching of theology and Roman law, with its natural law principles, was an effective means of making Catholicism a rationally intelligible and unified doctrine to counter the diverse and mutually contradictory beliefs of heterodox religious orders. Both the papacy and the monarchies of Europe sought to recruit educated persons who could serve as staff for their offices. From the 13th century onward, the majority of popes had attended university and were increasingly surrounded by learned cardinals. Likewise the cities recognized the advantage of having a partnership with universities that brought them prestige, and provided them with trained lawyers who could handle difficult legal problems in the conduct of businesses and the articulation of the newly emerging fields of merchant law, contract law, and maritime law. Municipal authorities recognized the corporate right of students and teachers (many of whom were foreigners in need of rights they did not enjoy in the cities) to conduct their own affairs as members of autonomous universities, as well as certain privileges such as exemption from tolls and taxes and the fixing of maximal rents.

It would be a mistake, however, to view the recognition by monarchs and popes of the corporate status of universities as driven solely by their self-interests. The desire for knowledge, and the ethos of common Christian values transcending national boundaries, were very strong in medieval Europe. This was a time of Christian belief in a world rational order created by God that was accessible to human reason and education. This belief cultivated an interest in scholarly research, going back to the establishment of Christian cathedral schools and monastic schools in the early Middle Ages, in which monks dedicated themselves to the preservation and transmission of Greek-Roman high culture.

At the same time, the Christian understanding of man as a creature fallen into sin, and thus as an imperfect being, encouraged the norms of intellectual criticism and collegial cooperation and the norms of “modesty, reverence and self-criticism” as the image of the ideal scholar (Rüegg, p. 33). As Frederick I Barbarossa said in 1155 in his justification for the granting of academic liberties: “it is by learning that the world is illuminated and the lives of subjects are shaped towards obedience to God.”

The medieval ideal was that the university was a universal community of masters and students, open to everyone interested in the higher faculties of knowledge as well as being at the service of the public interest to the benefit of the whole Christian world, without being hampered by national or regional borders. In the thirteenth century, universitas came to mean the totality of the branches of knowledge, the whole community of learners, in classical Latin. University teachers came to acquire the status of a group which transcended local and disciplinary boundaries in possession of a universally accepted corpus of knowledge. The fact that this one institution spread over the entire world, with the bachelor’s degree, the master’s degree, and the doctorate adopted in the most culturally diverse nations of the world, points to its universality.

European civilization originated this universal institution. No other society conferred the privileges of a corporation to institutions of higher learning wherein reason could find a “neutral space” of free inquiry. Medieval Christian Europe was the first civilization to “institutionalize reason” within self-governing universities which offered a curriculum “overwhelmingly oriented toward analytical subjects” (Grant, 2001). The universities tended to have four faculties (arts, theology, law, and medicine), with the most important being the arts faculty, which had the largest numbers of students, and the theology faculty. The program of the arts consisted of the three verbal disciplines of grammar, rhetoric, and logic (the trivium or threefold way to wisdom) and the four mathematical disciplines of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music (the quadrivium). While medieval teachers were prohibited from reaching ultimate truths that were contrary to revealed truth, natural philosophers were free to pursue knowledge about the universe “in a remarkably secular and rationalistic manner with little interference from the Church and its theologians” (Grant, 2001). Indeed, medieval theologians, by applying logical techniques to theological questions, cultivated a religion like none before: a systematized and rationalized Christian faith.

This interpretation of the origins of universities was widely accepted in academia. But the pressures of multiculturalism are leading some academics to argue that Muslims should be given precedent for the origins of universities. They are demanding that the University of al-Qarawiyyin be identified as the “first university”, although this place was designated as a “university” only in 1963, and was originally founded as a mosque in 859 (Esposito, 2003). Other academics are claiming that Al-Azhar University, which was also founded as a mosque in 970-972, should be designated as “the second oldest university in the world”.

They maintain that Islamic centers of learning originated the practice of organizing foreign students into associations, and the idea of universal validity of the qualification for teaching based on the title of the baccalarius. But according to Rüegg, “the term baccalarius could not be an Islamic import of the twelfth century because it was already in use in the ninth century as the Latin designation of a preparatory or auxiliary status in a variety of social careers” (p. 8). Even the Islamicist George Makdisi, despite finding some general affinities between Islamic centers of learning and European universities, has concluded that “the university is a twelfth century product of the West both in its corporate structure and in the privileges it received from Pope and King” (cited in Rüegg, p. 8). Makdisi himself cautions that “in studying an institution which is foreign and remote in point of time, as is the case of the medieval madrasa, one runs the…risk of attributing to it characteristics borrowed from one’s own [Western] institutions…The most unwarranted of these [comparisons] is the one which makes the ‘madrasa’ a ‘university'” (1970). The madrasa was not a high degree-awarding institution, but a “college of Islamic law” lacking corporate status and a rationalistic curriculum, supported by an endowment or charitable trust, that is a waqf, which consisted of a building or plot of land, for Muslim religious or charitable purposes.

It is unfortunate that current university students are unaware of the Christian medieval roots of the institution they will spend a very important part of their lives attending. Offering a lecture on the historical origins of universities to new students would be a far better way to provide them with the spirit of “higher learning” universities were intended to be about, rather than separating students into categories of “privileged” and “oppressed” races.


Ricardo Duchesne has been interviewed in the Postil. He the author of The Uniqueness of Western CivilizationFaustian Man in a Multicultural AgeCanada in Decay: Mass Immigration, Diversity, and the Ethnocide of Euro-Canadians.


Featured image: a lecture, from Bartholomaeus Anglicus (translated by Jean Corbechon), De proprietatibus rerum (Livre des proprietez des choses), France (Paris?), 1st quarter of the 15th century.

A Case For Teaching The Humanities

“I am Roman because Rome, from the time of the consul Marius and the divine Julius to Theodosius, drafted the first form of my France. I am Roman, because Rome, the Rome of priests and popes, has given eternal solidarity of sentiment, of morals, of language, of worship, to the political work of Roman generals, administrators and judges. By this treasure, which it received from Athens and transmitted that deposit to our Paris, Rome means without question the civilization of humanity. I am Roman, I am human: two identical propositions.” These words from the pen of Charles Maurras in Barbares et Romains (Barbarians and Romans) form a vibrant praise not only of Rome, the sweet anaphora, but also of civilization, conveying tradition and transmission and not oblivion and renunciation; perpetuation and not the clean slate; community and not individuality; permanence and not rupture.

For a few days now, the Minister of National Education has seemed inclined to see the teaching of Latin and Greek return to middle and high schools. The Latinist that I am and who used to unveil to students the mysteries of rosa, rosae can only be pleased. However, I am not fooled by these dupes. This kind of announcement is certainly enough to make a whole section of the conservative university and academic intelligentsia of the center-right feel good about the woke and progressive drifts already well underway, with inclusive language, the satanic and non-gendered pronoun “iel” and the convoluted discussions about male domination in language.

We shouldn’t imagine that the Macronian renaissance is about to be launched, as other renaissances were in the course of our history. Minister Blanquer is a liberal-conservative, certainly, but does not have the courage to be conservative. Is he the most cynical of the bunch? That is quite possible—he has already sabotaged the BA degree, reduced to a pittance, and is in favor of the digital school and even of the digital kindergarten.

If I were naive, I would believe that this sudden impulse is inspired by the spirit of Lucien Jerphagnon, whose death, ten years ago, we are commemorating and whose birth we are celebrating a hundred years later. Father Jerph was one of those sparkling, light spirits that contrast with the dullness and pomposity of academics. He was inhabited by joy, the kind of joy that delights youth, lifts the heart, sharpens the soul, and makes it rise above all misfortunes, torments, and distresses. The true joy of knowledge. Lucien Jerphagnon was neither of the Left, nor of the Right, nor a Marxist, nor an intellectual at the forefront of research. He was freelance and classical; close to Paul Veyne by originality, Désiré Nisard by taste, Jean Bayet by academic outlook.

His was a strange life: he dressed like a monk and was ordained a priest; then, a passionate lover, turned into a happy husband and ended up as a patriarch. He was in turn a theologian, historian of ideas, translator and philosopher; of high class, of good style, careful to be versatile if he could not manage the modern complexity of reality. Plotinus was his tender companion, with whom one shares a cigarette and a glass of cognac. In love with Augustine, he knew how to render the full measure of this author. A gifted young scholar, who became a professor in Milan in his thirties when others were at the Collège de France in their twilight. Jerpha revived Madauros, a university town in northern Algeria, that supreme and delicate refinement of Romanization, where Augustine, the orator Maximus, Apuleius and Martianus Capella lived. His biography of Julian the Apostate seeks to understand how a philosopher-emperor thought he could return to paganism and make Christianity a footnote in history. An unresolved death by the side of Mosul clinched it—Christianity would triumph.

Jerphagnon was a philosopher of time and banality. Influenced by Vladimir Jankélévitch, he was concerned with understanding the everyday, the alltäglichkeit, as Heidegger politely said, pretext to all the astonishments, typical of the wise. He was a serious discoverer of forgotten authors such as Marcus Varro or Favorinus of Arles; a historian of ideas of high caliber who made us understand, in les Divins Césars (The Divine Caesars), why the emperors of the 2nd century thought they were the sun and who envisaged Rome as the center of a cosmos—all the while writing with amusement and enjoyment a formidable history of Rome.

The young Lucien at the high school in Bordeaux was bored during a mathematics class. On his knees, he flipped through a book containing a few photos of the ruins of Timgad, the Palmyra of Algeria: “That’s where I want to live and die,” the young lad said to himself. From heaven came down a voice: “Jerphagnon, you will make up two hours!” Then his teacher stuck a future specialist in the Greco-Roman world. “I could never get used to the fact that Rome was dead,” confessed the wise old man to José Saramago, “because I loved it since my 6th grade. I lived my life there, faithful to this love of Roman civilization.” What a beautiful profession of faith!

If Lucien Jerphagnon is to be made an exemplum, let’s not forget that in matters of education, the Left is chopping our legs and causing us many problems. And this is not the end of the story! I hold as proof Vincent Peillon who writes in la Révolution française n’est pas terminée (The French Revolution is not Finished) that it is necessary to reinvent the revolution of the spirit, with the aim of destroying at all costs the Catholic religion and to invent a republican religion. This requires the total conversion of the elites and the young to the sciences and the disappearance of Latin and Greek, languages of the old regime, of Catholicism, of bourgeois domination.

Such is the pinnacle of the freemasons: radical leftists yesterday, social-democrats today; old-fashioned, stuck in the Third Republic, detached from reality and perfectly barbaric, since they claim, shamelessly, not to transmit any more, to cut themselves off from tradition and civilization. They swear only by individualities in the perspective of human rights. Now they promise inclusiveness, flattering the youth, corrupting it with vague ideas about freedom and equality.

In an interview given on TV in 1958, Pagnol felt the problem looming: specialization, the end of the humanities and the science of the technocrat. Specialization, by reducing the fields, reduces the possibilities of linking the fields. To have a rational mind is precisely to see relationships. But if the objects no longer exist, the relationships can no longer be made. It can only result in an impoverishment of thought. National education goes even further, since it has given up training literate people, to preparing only future employees for the labor market. The best will be slug-brain specialists, dumbed down like tabletops, the least good will be cashiers at Franprix, salesmen at Prisunic.

The professors stuff the heads of young people with new ideas, smelling of Pierre Bourdieu, ready-made and passed off as revealed truths, so they themselves can continue to dine at the faculty club during silly seminars on anti-racism in literature, and history colloquiums on North African minorities in the gay Paris of the 1920s. The education of yesteryear has degenerated into a total moron-factory based on the ideological teaching of soft sciences. We are far from the gentleman, far from the humanist, far from the cosmopolitan scholar.

Getting beyond her gavel, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem completed the work, explaining that Latin classes would be for the children of the rich and privileged, that elective classes had to be abolished, and that antiquity had to be made accessible to all by diluting Latin in French courses, thus putting ancient language courses to death in a gentle way; a bit like euthanasia.

Between this caricatured, barbaric Left, in the very sense in which Maurras took it, some have retained the opinion of Raymond Aron in this matter, like Paul Veyne, our dear friend, whose opinion that Latin and Greek should be abolished in secondary school and that a national establishment should be created to train solid scientists and researchers, I do not quite understand. This is a mistake. To dedicate Latin to research is to render it autistic; to leave it in the hands of the colloquium-makers who titillate the coffee-brewers and the editors of scientific articles in obscure journals is to render it mute, invisible, extinct.

It doesn’t matter if people are interested in Aristophanes’ scholia, or in the placement of an accent on a word in a twelfth-century manuscript in the Vatican library. One does not ask young people to read the Pharsalus in the original, even yours truly would not be able to do so. But to have a good head, made robust by the training in, and knowledge of, Greek tragedy, the functioning of the Athenian city, the Peloponnesian war told by Thucydides, the epic of Alexander the Great, Latin and Greek rhetoric, the work of Cicero, Caesar and Augustus, the personality of Seneca, elegiac poetry, Virgil, the bloody and mannered histories of Tacitus, the orientalism of the emperors, 312 and our world that has become Christian. It is grand to arrive, by love of the rei latinae, to the character of Des Esseintes in À Rebours by Huysmans who, in chapter III, gives us the menu of his likes and dislikes of all literature, criticizing the Chickpea (Cicero), judging the verses of a phony and vain poet, and preferring in the “fin de siècle” Roman authors the rot and the carrion, and at times the supreme refinement of precious stones and topazes.

I do not believe in progressivism and personal development, nor even in the scientific and academic elitism left to the Giscards of thought. I firmly believe in the tradition of inheriting and transmitting, of passing on the work of Hellenic-Christian civilization, from generation to generation. This is achieved through solid and serious learning of civilization, through language and grammar, literature, philosophy and history. It is necessary to go through the pain of declensions and conjugations; to make the effort, as in Pétanque, to have access to the texts, to their style; to reflect on the words and their concepts in order to understand the civilization. Nothing is more precious than to know the feeling of the language, to understand the spirit of an era.

This apparent need for Latin and Greek can take three forms: as a declaration in an electoral context; resistance and head-on opposition to progressivism; or a reconciliation with Wokism. The problem is not so much what Minister Blanquer says or thinks, but what the left-wing ideological machine, the Éducation Nationale, is capable of producing. The teacher conforms to the Houellebecquian image of the tired West. The teachers are mostly mediocre, cowardly and subscribe, under contract, to all the sickness of the modern world: deconstruction, diversity, immigration, inclusion, in the public as well as in the private. If this impulse for antiquity gets mixed up, dare I say it, with this kind of progressive thinking, it would do equally bad things for the mental health of our young people. I can already imagine the titles of the courses: “Migratory Crisis in Roman Gaul;” “the Roman Baths: A Space of Hybridization for Minorities;” “Conspiracy and Fake News: The Catiline Conspiracy;” “Being a Slave and Gay in Ephesus;” “Transidentity in Rome.” What a wonderful antiquity!

What we need are professors who are like Hussars in full cavalry at Jena—scholars like Bernard Lugan, like Marc Fumaroli; focused minds concerned with civilization—like Valéry, Thibaudet; intransigent polemicists—like Bloy or Julien Benda. The rest will follow. I began with Maurras, I end with Charles Péguy and Notre Jeunesse (Our Youth): ” What this entry was for me, in sixth grade, at Easter— the astonishment, the newness before rosa, rosae, the opening of an entire world, completely different, an altogether new world. That is what needs to be said, but that would get me tangled up in fondness. The grammarian who just the one time, the first, opens the Latin grammar on rosa, rosae will never know on which flowerbed he is opening the child’s soul.”


Nicolas Kinosky is at the Centres des Analyses des Rhétoriques Religieuses de l’Antiquité. This articles appears through the very kind courtesy La Nef.


Featured image: “Etruscan Vase Painters,” by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, painted in 1871.

A Bloom Off The Old Strauss: Rereading The Closing of the American Mind When America Has Lost Its Mind

It is almost thirty-five years since I first read Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Soul’s of Today’s Students. Back in 1987 I had completed a Master’s degree on Plato and Nietzsche, and I was in the final stages of a PhD on Descartes, Kant, Hegel and Marx. I had been introduced to writings by Bloom’s teacher, Leo Strauss, in my undergraduate days in the mid 1970s, and during my Masters, although I had a little Greek, Bloom’s translation of Plato’s Republic was my preferred translation. His translation came with a large interpretative essay that took Leo Strauss’s reading of the Republic even further in the direction of the claim that Plato intended the Republic to be a warning against utopia, rather than as a foundational text for people wanting to create a perfect state.

In the main, classicists, including my Greek teacher, at the time, who was passionately enthusiastic about Plato, found the Strauss and Bloom line exasperating. Thus, the fairly highly esteemed classicist, Myles Burnyeat, wrote in his New York Review of Books essay of 1985, “Sphinx without a Secret,” a review of a collection of Strauss’s Studies in Platonic Philosophy by Leo Strauss with an introduction by Thomas Pangle (another reasonably prominent “Straussian”): “What Strauss can do, and does, is give reasons why we should believe that Plato taught what Strauss says he taught. He undertakes the difficult task of showing that the Republic means the opposite of what it says; that Aristotle read it as Strauss does, and agreed; and finally, that the Platonic view of “the political things” was maintained, in essentials, by the entire tradition of classical political philosophy (not excluding Aristophanes and Xenophon) through the Stoics and beyond).”

Those who have been inspired by Leo Strauss will generally find such a summation of what Strauss was doing to be shockingly simple-minded—though I think Burnyeat has accurately identified Strauss’s main flaw, and it is a flaw that is replicated in the writings of many of his students.

Burnyeat’s criticism, however, extended to what would eventually become one more contribution to a torrent of accusations against Strauss and his students—that they were conservative elitists. Burnyeat’s hostility to the elitist nature of the Straussian enterprise misses the point that the Straussians are absolutely correct in identifying the fact that university students do belong to the social elite, and to pretend otherwise is completely delusional.

Feigning as the radical left did and still do that the university is some kind of egalitarian democratic forum when it produces the social elite who will largely run things is as ridiculous as Harvard and Yale setting themselves up as mouthpieces for social justice. The real issue concerning universities is which kind of thinking holds sway there—and, like Strauss and Bloom and all manner of others I think the ideas that do hold sway over the educated elite in the Western world are dumb, self-destructive, and completely infantile. So, when Closing came out, I enjoyed the fact that someone whose books I had read was sticking it to the ideologues who were politicizing everything and in the process pulling the Humanities into a cultural war.

This did not change the fact that I find Strauss and his followers somewhat irksome—and that has nothing to with their elitism (I generally prefer reading the best of them to any of the followers of Walter Benjamin or Theodor Adorno et. al.). Still, I get irritated by how they generally read and argue about political philosophy, how they bang on about greatness, how they foist onto the text all manner of things they think any wise person knows, and how lacking in attentiveness to the historical pressures and currents that informed the specific responses of the books they read they tend to be.

No matter what the topic, Straussians usually find some answer to any political problem in their Straussian version of Plato – an interpretation that is very big on imaging the real meaning of a “dramatic” word or gesture in a Platonic dialogue and very hermeneutically licentious in dealing with the plainer words and arguments. They remind me in none more than those disciples of Marx who always identify the answer to any socio-economic and political circumstance as already accounted for in Marx’s analysis of capital. Many of the critical treatments, such as those by William Altman and Shadia Drury, are just insane, but for anyone wanting to read a well-developed critical treatment of Strauss and the “Straussian school” (if school it be) more generally, I recommend Paul Gottfried’s Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America.

Even in the 1980s, when Strauss was far less well known than he would become after a slew of essays and some books connected Strauss’s students and the strategy of “regime change” with George W. Bush, there was as little agreement about what Strauss was really teaching as there is now. Partly this is because Strauss taught that serious philosophical writers provide a surface text (which is what most scholars beside Strauss read), and an esoteric message, which those, like Strauss, who have read the history of political philosophy with great attention see. Another way of saying this is that Leo Strauss taught that there are great books that have identified the essential things to be known and presented them in a guise that only the true lover of philosophy might grasp—with great thinkers, things are not what they seem. Likewise, Strauss is a great thinker, and hence must conceal his true teachings—ergo…

Unlike Strauss, Allan Bloom was not the founder of a school of thought, although Bloom is invariably identified as a Straussian. This would not have been obvious to anyone who had read Closing without knowing about Strauss or Bloom’s background—Bloom mentions Strauss just once in the book.

Although, of the many critical reviews that Closing attracted when it first appeared, two reviews by two students of Leo Strauss which appeared in the (largely) Straussian inspired journal Interpretation, were among the most damning and inciteful to appear. They were by Claremont’s two Harrys—Neumann and Jaffa, whose contrary philosophical positions (the former a self-described nihilist, the other an Aristotelian) made them unlikely pedagogical allies (they taught a joint seminar for ten years).

Neumann kicks his review off by saying: “Professor Bloom shares the error informing this book with most liberals. That error is their unwillingness to realize the nihilism or atheism responsible for their subordination of politics to individual freedom or self-interest. By liberal I mean anyone who believes that the individual is more important than the state; individual liberation takes precedence over political obligation however that liberation is interpreted. Bloom’s brand of liberalism gives rise to his unqualified preference for philosophers over nonphilosophers, for philosophy over politics, for Socrates over Achilles, for peace over war.”

Amongst other things, Neumann sees in Bloom a man preening over his own loves and interests, who is irritated by the lack of reverence in the temple of higher learning, and is completely oblivious to the clear and present geopolitical dangers to America. It is in a word a damning review. And the harshness of the review finds its apogee in Neumann’s suggestion that Bloom is a phony who lacks the courage, and wherewithal to see who and what he really is: “Without the courage to see it, Bloom has written a more Nietzschean than Platonic Book. The book on education for Bloom is not the Republic, as he insists (p. 381), but Beyond Good and Evil or Death in Venice.”

The suspicion that Bloom and even Strauss are really more Nietzschean than Platonic has been aired by others, but Neumann’s criticism lumps Bloom in with the enemies of the civilization that Bloom believes he is undertaking to bury. As for the comparison between Bloom and Mann’s Aschenbach (in Closing Bloom speaks somewhat disdainfully of Death in Venice as heavy-handed Freudianism), Bloom had publicly declared on several occasions that the title he had envisaged, but which was overruled by the publishers, was Souls without Longing.

Indeed, while the surface argument of Closing was the failure of higher education in America and the cultural demise that the various ideological occasions of the relativist malaise Bloom had seen as gripping the American university, the more “esoteric” argument—which Bloom spelled out every time he discussed the book—was that the bad German philosophical ideas of Nietzsche, Weber, Heidegger had conspired with American popular culture to destroy the erotic longing for wisdom that the tradition of the great books had nourished. On popular culture, Bloom’s criticism of rock music sounds like none more than the Frankfurt School’s doyen and aesthete in chief, Theodor Adorno when writing about the cultural oppression inflicted on the masses by jazz.

Moreover, in spite of Bloom’s diagnosis of the American mind being closed and the souls of its future elite being stunted also regularly appealing to the moral sentiments and habits of previous generations as if he were a conservative, Bloom could write of that most conservative of institutions: “The dreariness of the family’s spiritual landscape passes belief. It is as monochrome and unrelated to those who pass through it as are the barren steppes frequented by nomads who take their mere subsistence and move on.” So much for the millions of American families who may not read bedtime stories by Rousseau or Plato to their children, but who sacrifice themselves to raise them to pray, tell the truth and do their best to others.

In spite of the scorn Bloom pours onto the wreckers of the university, and the social damage they are doing, the voice and diagnosis of Closing belonged to an aesthete, rather than a moralist—hence “It is not the immorality of relativism that I find appalling. What is astounding and degrading is the dogmatism with which we accept such relativism, and our easy-going lack of concern about what that means for our lives.” And it is not at all clear that in spite of Bloom’s advocacy of rational inquiry, and his (Straussian) Platonism, whether he really thought there were any absolutes by which he should live other than the erotic pursuit of wisdom and the value of the philosophical life (which, to his credit, had nothing whatsoever in common with having a day job solving philosophical puzzles as was, and largely still is, the case with most of those employed in Philosophy Departments in North American).

Given the disdain with which Bloom treated the “life-style” view of values that had infected America, there is no small irony in how Bloom makes a case for a life of personal intellectual exhilaration as if that were of the same value as a life of righteousness (and it is far from obvious that Bloom has any idea or interest in what the righteous life might be—apart from reading great books and talking about them).

To be sure Socratic aesthetes are rare plants, but Bloom was nothing if not rare—and being a best-selling celebrity political philosopher is about as rare as one can be. Saying that does not change the fact that Closing does expose the moral confusion and idiocy that seized the collective imagination of the generation of students that Bloom observed. The book is laced with aphorisms and bon mots, and full of wit, venom, and learning—even if the details of his learning were often outrageous and, at the very least contestable, leading to some predictable academic carping that Bloom was a terrible scholar, but Bloom did more than almost anyone to make the educated public want to go off and read Plato, Rousseau, Locke et. al.

That is terrific, but it could never had been enough to save the United States. And while Closing was a book that not only had sounded the alarm about the dreadful state of higher learning in the United States and the social poisoning it was doing, its author was an embodiment of what higher learning looked like in the incarnation of a very well read, highly articulate, balding professor in a sharp suit. Bloom may not have liked rock stars, but he was as close to one as any middle-aged professor, not gone completely to seed, could be.

While Bloom and the book had style, it was not simply that that rocketed the book to the top of the New York Time’s best seller list, in 1987 his exposé of the ideological state of university campuses did touch a social nerve, because plenty of people, including educated ones, could see that these new social movements were pouring out of the university, and taxes were being poured into an institution that had a great deal of influence that was doing much to turn the youth of America against the traditions and (dare I use the word?) values at its founding.

Any reader today who opens Closing for the first time will recognize that identity politics was already wreaking social and cultural havoc some thirty-five years ago, and Bloom had done a good job of yelling, “Fire!” This is irrespective of whether one is swayed by the depth, accuracy or even pitch of his diagnosis—relativism is the cause and Weber—yes, Bloom did write this—“was the chosen apostle for the American promised land.”

Now that we live in a time of rabid censorship, denunciations, sackings and non-hiring of those who do not kneel before the (to be sure ever changing) absolutes of contemporary liberalism, the claim that relativism is the cause and the end of all this seems wildly wrong (though it amazes me how many conservatives still repeat this). Woke absolutes are imbecilic, but they remain absolutes, and reading Bloom is like being transported back to a time when the American mind might have been closing but it was not completely lost to the imbecilic absolutes of its own servitude.

I cannot imagine that a book that is so caustic (and funny) in its criticism of feminism and the shibboleths of identity race politics would garner such reviews as it received in the New York Times, New York Review of Books, San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, and the Chicago Tribune when it first appeared. Indeed, the books that now receive glowing reviews from these bastions of cultural taste come out of the very ideological swamp that Bloom hoped might be dredged. Though, it is possible that Bloom’s critique, even then, found enthusiastic support for its weaknesses rather than its strengths. That seems to have been Harry Jaffa’s, as well as Neumann’s, take on the book.

If Bloom had thought Jaffa a fellow traveller along the Straussian path he was certainly in for a rude awakening when Jaffa’s review essay appeared. The review is most brilliant when it comes to schooling Bloom in American politics, though it is perhaps most remembered for slyly and unceremoniously blowing the lid off Bloom’s homosexuality – an open secret in Chicago at the time. Years later Bloom’s friend Saul Bellow would make public Bloom’s sexual ‘life-style’ in the thinly veiled portrait of Bloom in Ravelstein, a book which in turn triggered another wave of anti-Bloom hysteria—this time for his hypocrisy.

Before Ravelstein, Jaffa wrote that Bloom’s “remarks about feminism, and the changing roles of men and women, for example, are dated not because they are mistaken, or irrelevant, but because in the intervening years the so-called “gay movement,” which Bloom hardly mentions, has emerged as the most radical and sinister challenge, not merely to sexual morality, but to all morality.” Given that Bloom had referred to “perverse sexuality,” and “gay rights” being “the most consequential social movement of the last three decades,” Jaffa may have been hitting below the belt, but when he observed that by “Looking only to books, politics for Bloom is a closed book. And no one can comment instructively on the relationship between political life and the philosophic life who does not know what political life is,” he had landed a KO.

The problem with the Closing is not that Bloom is wrong to think that students are being served up mindless ideological stew as if it could nourish their souls and minds, it is not that he is wrong in thinking that Humanities students should know the philosophical tradition, but while the crisis he is confronting and diagnosing is a cultural, social, and political crisis he is extremely naïve in thinking that a library is the place to save a civilization. Jaffa holds nothing back when he attacks Bloom for essentially holding a view of the world as if the world were a library writ large.

There is something of an irony (and reading Bloom I am struck by how ironic almost everything about him is) in a man who wrote a fine book on Shakespeare and politics remaining untouched by the warning in Shakespeare’s most philosophical of plays—The Tempest: a library can cloud the mind and thus lead a ruler (the Duke of Milan, Prospero) to neglect his obligation to safeguard the territory from the ruthless ambition, cunning and rule of unscrupulously evil men.

While Neumann and Jaffa were opposed in their philosophical appeals of last resort what they shared was a commitment to the United States as a political entity, and what they saw in Bloom was a fundamental failure to fathom what that entity was founded upon—and hence what would be required to preserve it into perpetuity. Thus, while Bloom was celebrating his celebrity status, and in various talk shows oozing charm and the smarts given in the midst of the cultural and social destruction his book was describing, men like Jaffa and Neumann held Bloom to be guilty of what no Straussian ever wishes to be—he was guilty of a lack of seriousness.

According to Jaffa, “As far as I can see, everything Bloom says on the subject of the American Founding is derived from his readings of Hobbes, Locke, or Tocqueville. I have found not a word of serious interpretation apart from his birdseed scatterings coming from an American source: not Jefferson, Washington, Madison, Hamilton, or Lincoln. No one has maintained more persistently than I have, during the past thirty-five years, the importance in the American Founding of Locke’s teachings as they were understood and incorporated into their handiwork by the Founding Fathers. But to say that a radical atheism discovered in Locke’s esoteric teaching was part of what they understood, believed, and incorporated into their regime when every single document bearing on the question contradicts it, and there is not a shred of evidence to support it is just plain crazy.”

Along similar lines, “Bloom has completely misread not only the American Founding, but all political life, since he does not read political speeches to discover the form of the consciousness of political men. He assumes that political men are mere epigones of philosophers whether they know it or not. The political nature of man is however understood by the Founders if one reads what they say, and not only what Hobbes or Locke or Kant say in the light of the inequality of man and beast, as well as in the light of the inequality of man and God.” And finally: “Someone who can write of the American and French Revolutions as scenarios thought out beforehand by Locke and Rousseau, and who can say that “the English and American regimes [had been] founded according to [Locke’s] instructions, is hardly in a position to reproach others for the lack of ‘the study of… history.’”

This last citation is a failing that I see as fairly common among followers of Strauss, and I (unlike Jaffa) cannot help but tracing it back to Strauss himself who wrote of the importance of political philosophy as if it were a conversation across the ages addressed to those seekers of wisdom who more or less saw the same things as they each contribute to insights that make the whole more accessible to the rational man, i.e., the man who sees the problems and solutions much like Strauss. The different historical circumstances within which men find themselves is treated as essentially irrelevant, and those who think those circumstances to be all too relevant are dismissed as historicists, who are but one more variant of relativism.
Strauss himself had sought for a cure of the ailments of his time by turning to Plato as a teacher of an ahistorical nature, a nature which seems impossible to locate outside of the tradition of great books of political philosophy.

But whereas all scholars of Plato agree that the forms or ideas are timeless, and in this sense, ahistorical, in The City and Man, Strauss says that “the doctrine of ideas” in the Republic is “very hard to understand; to begin with it is utterly incredible, not to say that it appears to be fantastic…No one has ever succeeded in giving a satisfactory or clear account of this doctrine of ideas.” Whether that is true or notand it takes a lot of hermeneutical ingenuity to deny that Aristotle thought he had done a pretty good job of showing the problems with the doctrine – the fact that the American higher educated mind is not just closed but lost is indicative of the fact that the problem of saving the Western world from the mad and bad ideas largely, albeit not exclusively, churned out in American universities today extends far beyond reading great books, and pursuing a life of greater longing.


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


The featured image shows, “The Orator,” by Magnus Zeller, painted in 1920.

How To Reverse The Widespread, Nonsensical Principles Of Utopianism. Part 3.

To combat the mis-educational and anti-cultural, anarchic influence of Marxism, crucial for its opponents to understand is the nature of common sense (especially real common sense) and where, as utopian socialists, Marxist principles must incline Marxists to begin to:

  1. drive out real common sense from the souls of children and replace it with a fictional narrative devoid of real common sense;
  2. promote humanistic atheism, the notion that humanity is God, and, especially, anti-Semitism;
  3. mistake ethnic races for real genera and species;
  4. and deny the evident existence of real natures with internal principles of organization, powers/faculties/capabilities within things in general and human beings especially.

All these effects are pernicious and are driving the contemporary West and the world toward total madness. Once again, the Enlightenment West is turning the Jew into a cultural scapegoat onto which it inclines chiefly to fix all its cultural and individual problems and blame for all its cultural and individual failings. In addition, by denying the reality of real natures, including human nature, no human faculties can exist in which human habits exist, in which unequal virtues and talents can and do exist. As a result, apart from temperance and courage, the cardinal moral virtues of justice (especially distributive justice based upon individual talent can be recognized to exist) and prudence (upon which, together with the other cardinal virtues sound leadership essentially depend), cannot exist at all, much less flourish.

Beyond this, denying the existence of really-existing organizational wholes (real substances), the principles of conceptual and behavioral contradictions and non-contradictions become incomprehensible. Conceptually, contradictory opposites involve the impossibility of some one substance or parts/properties of a substance having essentially opposite differences. If real substances do not, cannot, exist, neither can the principle of conceptual non-contradiction. Worse, neither can behavioral non-contradictions. The concept of really, or naturally, doable or undoable deed becomes intellectually incomprehensible. And if neither conceptual nor behavioral contradictions are comprehensible, neither are common sense, truth, or language.

In addition, because they lack any common sense ability to recognize the reality of unequal talent and justly reward it as a contribution to a community or society, utopian socialists tend to do several things:

  1. reduce the whole of justice to commutative justice, exchanges of equal value of benefit or damage, such as monetary exchanges of equal or unequal goods and services;
  2. explain inequality of distribution of goods, wealth, not to reward for talent, virtue, but to exploitation, taking advantage, of the weaker (victims) by the stronger (victimizers);
  3. reduce what remains of justice to being tolerant/sincere (good-willed), and injustice to being intolerant/insincere (bad-willed);
  4. claim that all human inequality is based upon social victimization of innocent, sincere (good-willed), tolerant, sinless, just victims, by insincere (bad-willed) unjust, sinful victimizers;
  5. always attempt to remedy the disastrous, impoverishing effects that application of this flawed understanding of justice/injustice has on a community/society by periodically reversing within a community/society the roles of victims and victimizers (at one period making the victims one social group or another [such as, black males, females, religion, this or that religion, black males, white males, and so on] and the victimizers the same groups]) and at another time reversing these victims/victimizers roles.

Setting aside the evident absurdities and cultural evils with which Enlightenment utopian socialism and, especially, Marxism has infected the West, evident to readers by now should be that a Western and global return to sanity related to understanding the nature of truth and language essentially depend upon the ability of Western and world leaders to restore real common sense to national cultures. To do so, these leaders must, as precisely and quickly as possible, understand the nature of common sense considered in general, and especially real common sense.

Happily, through the examples and descriptions of it I have given in this essay, and especially through examples of its contrary opposite, a more or less precise definition of common sense appears easy to give. When we first consider the idea of common sense in relationship to examples of people who are more or less psychologically-healthy adults, it appears to be simply what most of us would call common knowledge, or common understanding.

In English, we have an expression we often give to people who say something evidently true, something everyone knows—“That goes without saying.” By this we mean that what a person just said was so evidently true that no need existed to say it. The term common sense expresses this concept. In it, the word sense is synonymous with the word knowledge, or, more precisely, understanding.

In general, a person with common sense is someone possessed of what Aristotle and St. Thomas had identified as the natural and acquired intellectual habit (habitus) and virtue (virtus: virtual, or intensive quantity [quality]), of understanding. Such a person is someone who, in relation to observational (what Aristotle and St. Thomas had called speculative or theoretical) knowledge immediately understands (induces, intuits) some thing or action to be what it is, or be true; or, in relation to practical and productive knowing, through practical or productive experience at living, immediately induces (intuits), understands, what something is or is not, or that it is right or wrong to choose.

Aristotle and Aquinas had maintained that all human beings are born with natural habitus (qualities they imperfectly have). These include all the natural moral and intellectual qualities, virtues of temperance, courage, justice, prudence, art, philosophy/science, understanding, and even wisdom, and their contrary opposites. While not perfectly so, even young children are somewhat (at least naturally inclined to be) courageous or cowardly, hopeful or fearful, sensitive to pleasure/pain, more-or-less artistic, even prudent, wise, possessed of understanding and common sense. The truth of this claim is evident from the fact that, at times children, are more prudent, wiser, than some adults. In addition, some are precocious: masterful musicians, painters, mathematicians, and so on.

To become perfected in such psychological qualities, however, Aristotle and Aquinas were convinced human beings need repeatedly to apply prudence and wisdom (common sense/understanding in its more perfect form) to their increasingly-perfected understanding to add perfecting qualities (virtues) to their naturally-possessed habits. In its most perfect form, common sense is simply the perfected, naturally-possessed habit of understanding (the virtue of understanding) applied to this or that subject in this or that situation that makes the nature of some subject immediately intelligible!

Following St. Augustine, some contemporary Christians, including Pope Francis, have recently started to refer to this quality of common sense in the form of wisdom/prudence in immediate understanding by use of the term discernment. No need exists for a discerning person, someone with common sense in this form, to reason to the conclusion that this something exists, or about: what it is, whether it is true, false, or fake; or whether it is good or bad, right or wrong, to pursue or avoid. The answers to such questions are immediately evident to this person. And so, too, is the adequate self-knowledge of personal nature and abilities immediately to draw this conclusion.

Consequently, especially in relation to productive and practical matters, healthy, adult human beings commonly identify a person with common sense as being someone possessed of the habit of good decision making, a good judge, either in general, or related to some particular subject. A person with common sense is a person possessed of common knowledge, common understanding: what everyone else who knows a subject understands about this subject in general or particular. The example I gave toward the start of this article related to an engineer who claims to be an engineer mistaking the principles of grammar for those of engineering is a fitting, suitable, one to use to help make intelligible, understandable, to an audience what I am chiefly talking about, the chief intellectual point I want to make, related to the nature of common sense.

As opposed to the person possessed of common sense, the person lacking it, the fool, is devoid of knowledge of what everyone else knows, or should know about some subject. In a way, this person lacks knowledge of some principle of measuring, known truth, that comes to people possessed of the virtue of common sense immediately from observation or from common sense-experience at living.

As a result, the person who lacks common sense is often publicly ridiculed, is the butt of jokes. University professors, people who tend “to live in ivory towers,” especially some logicians (those with little practical experience at living), incline to be such individuals. In college, I had a friend like this to whom I used to refer as an “encyclopedia open to the wrong page.” While he was terrific in some forms of academic work, he tended to have no practical skills, or if he did, not know when and/or how to apply them.
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Aristotle actually had a word he used to describe such individuals that came close to, but did not completely capture, the nature of a person lacking common sense: “asinine.” In ancient Greek, this was the person lacking synēsis, someone who had the personal quality of a-synēsis, a species of foolishness (non- synēsis/sense) that caused a person to be a bad imaginer, conceptualizer, judge, estimator, evaluator, especially of what a person should know in this or that situation.

To make intelligible to others more precisely the understanding (which he apparently acquired from Socrates) that wisdom is more or less identical with common sense, in his masterful work in moral psychology, the Nicomachean Ethics, when talking about the nature of prudence and working as a physician of the soul (behavioral psychologist), Aristotle went out of his way to explain that the person possessed of wisdom (of which prudence is a species) combines in his or her nature all the essential elements needed to be an excellent judge.

Recall that in Plato’s dialogues the stone-mason/philosopher Socrates had repeatedly maintained that what, more than anything else, got him into trouble was an ordinary kind of wisdom he possessed, one unlike that of the professional orators and poets of his day. Unlike their wisdom, Socrates claimed that his was the ordinary kind of human wisdom, examples of which, to the chagrin of professional sophists like Thrasymachos, Gorgias, and Callicles, he constantly gave examples in reference to people like cooks, medical doctors, sailors, home builders, shoemakers, and tailors.

Psychologically, Aristotle claimed that this sort of wisdom, which someone like the prudent man Socrates possessed, combines in its nature four different qualities of excellent judging that, when rightly combined with the psychological quality of understanding, give to its possessor a generic, psychological quality of virtuous shrewdness, of which prudence, and apparently wisdom in general (whether practical, productive, or contemplative/speculative/theoretical/metaphysical) are species:

  1. eubulia (excellence in deliberating);
  2. eustochia (being a lucky guesser, somewhat excellent at being able to determine precisely the right thing to do at the saw that moment: a good evaluator/estimator);
  3. synēsis (right judgment about what happens in the majority of cases, what is really doable and not doable); and
  4. gnome (right judgment about what is equitable in this or that situation).

Special difficulty understanding the nature of common sense arises at times from two facts about it:

  1. To some extent, all human being possess some of it, are familiar with it; and
  2. when we talk about it, we generally do so the way we talk about anything real: concretely, in terms of qualitatively unequal relationships to that of which it is said—that is, analogously.

Regarding this first fact, understanding common sense presents a difficulty similar to that which in Book 11 of his Confessions, St. Augustine admitted he had related to the concept of time: When someone does not ask him what it is, he is so familiar with it that he has no trouble knowing what it is; but when someone asks him what it is, he appears not to know. Common sense has a similar nature. When someone does not ask us what it is, we have an implicit knowledge of it as the virtue of understanding applied to this or that subject in this or that situation that makes the nature of some subject immediately intelligible. On the contrary, when someone asks us what is common sense (common synēsis), initially we tend to become tongue-tied, do not know how to reply.

As far as fact 2 is concerned, when we talk about a subject, apply objects of sentences to their subjects to identify them in relation to a subject, we always to so indirectly, according to relational meanings. We never do so directly; and the way logicians and ordinary people, as well as real scientists/philosophers, do this essentially differs. In their everyday, common sense way of talking, philosophers/scientists and ordinary human beings do so by noting qualitative, nuanced (chiefly causal) distinctions, differences in relation that they immediately recognize exist between and among these relational meanings as they say, refer, them to a subject.

For example, in the ordinary course of conversation, two people might note that Mother Theresa was more of a human being (in the sense of being qualitatively more perfect metaphysically and morally [psychologically, in her soul!] than was Joseph Stalin. Such a statement would strike a logician thinking as a logician as nonsensical, likely as an ad hominem attack violating the well-known, common sense logical canon that words, terms, definitions said of subjects must always have one, absolutely-fixed meaning, definition— when put in the technical jargon of a logician, must always be predicated univocally, never predicated equivocally.

For example, if I call Socrates and Plato men, a logician working as a logician naturally inclines to assume I mean that Socrates and Plato are equally men, that whatever the definition of man signifies is equally, not unequally, in one and the other—that Socrates is not more man than is Plato. Both are equally men.

If, on the other hand, a medical doctor says that John is not as healthy as Mary, in some way he is saying that, while John is healthy, the quality, or nature, health is causally related to John as one that exists less in John than it does in Mary, that some cause called health exists more in Mary than it does in John. In addition, if I call bread or exercise healthy, in the first case, generally I mean that, when eaten, bread tends nutritionally to cause, promote retention and increase of bodily health; and in the second case, generally I mean that exercise tends to cause, promote retention and increase of muscular coordination and stamina/strength.

While, to some extent, all human beings tend to have a difficult time understanding the nature of analogy, my experience is that logicians generally have an especially difficult time doing so. Since analogy dominates the language of everyday life, especially productive and practical matters, logicians often have a difficult time understanding the psychological disposition of business people and ordinary people with real, not syllogistic, common sense.

Since logicians tend to think in one fixed way, they also often have a hard time understanding comedy, not understanding jokes. This is especially true of Enlightenment logicians, Marxists in general, and the contemporary Woke crowd of anarchists, who deny the reality of real natures. Since real common sense is chiefly said, referred to subjects analogously, Enlightenment intellectuals in general have a hard time grasping its nature.

Be this as it may, common sense mainly refers to common, evident intellectual understanding or knowledge that some person possesses in general, or related to a specific or individual subject as a natural or supernatural faculty or habit of the human soul. Analogously, people often extend, transfer use of, apply, this term to other human faculties (like will, memory, imagination, hearing, and so on); and even to subjects and circumstances, situations such as time and place in which they do not directly exist, but to which, somehow, they are relationally connected.

For example, adult human beings throughout the world often say that performing this or that action generally, particularly, or individually makes sense or is commonsensical, or is nonsensical, makes no common sense. For instance, someone in the third century B.C. making plans to create a ship to fly to Mars would be planning something that most people today would say makes no common sense for that person; but they might likely agree that it could make common sense for Elon Musk seriously to consider.

St. Thomas Aquinas went so far as to locate moral prudence, and with it all practical and productive prudence partially on the sense level in an internal sense faculty that he analogously identified with the estimative intelligence, instinct, and brute animals. He called his faculty cogitative, or particular, reason. Together with the virtue of intellectual understanding, all the other cardinal and intellectual virtues and moral virtues, the integrated activity of all these faculties and their habits and virtues, plus whatever supernatural grace can add to these, appear to comprise the whole of common sense in its most perfect form: perfect human wisdom.

Crucial to understand today about Marxism, Enlightenment utopian socialism in general, and all the mis-named cultural institutions they have created over the tenure of their existence is that all of these are intentionally (or at least in principle) designed to drive common sense, especially real common sense, out of the human soul, the psychological constitution of individual persons; and to do so at the earliest age and throughout an entire lifetime in every aspect of human life.

A good example of this is mis-educational influence are faculty members and administrators who are miserable human beings living miserable lives. Hating themselves, they tend to hate anyone who is not as miserable as they are. As a result, by intentionally influencing them to adopt the same nonsensical principles they use to direct their choices in life, they intentionally seek to make students as miserable as they are.

Other good examples considered in general of it are contemporary middle-management executives, corporate human resources executives/managers, and college/university administrators, ministers of education, all of whom, having been mis-educated in common sense at Enlightenment mis-educational institutions, tend to think univocally, not analogously; and tend to be sorely lacking in real common sense as I have described it.

While, considered as human beings they might be wonderful, kind people, as administrators, Western colleges and universities and educational institutions that have been influenced by their Enlightenment mindset have pretty much driven out of their administrative psychology any comprehension of prudence, and common sense in general, and justice, especially distributive justice, which (instead of race, sex, political influence, diversity, and so on) is the chief just measure of equitable distribution of rewards for quality of work contribution to an organization).

The net result of the disordered educational psychology inhabiting cultural institutions throughout the contemporary West and world is that pretty much all of these institutions, and especially those of higher education (colleges and universities), have become ships of fools mistakenly thinking of themselves as creating local, national, and global world leaders, while they often tend to do precisely the opposite. Consequently, expecting most contemporary college and university faculty members and administrators to come up with a plan to reverse the current dire cultural situation in the West and globally, including their own, makes no real common sense. Doing so defies their natural and acquired abilities, which, related to such a feat, are largely disabilities, job-application disqualifiers.

For this reason, as colleges and universities increasingly begin to go out of business, collapse, on a global scale, colleagues of mine and I have decided that two institution of higher education)—an introductory Common sense Wisdom Liberal Arts Academy (CWLAA) and an advanced executive leadership Common sense Wisdom Executive Coaching Academy (CWECA) )—which immerse their students from all parts of the Earth in common sense wisdom, must immediately, on a global scale, be created to replace the disordered, mis-educational, intellectual institutions (colleges and universities) that Enlightenment hatred for commons ense has caused to come into being culturally and civilizationally increasingly to wreck the West and the world. Anyone seriously interested in discovering more about this project and perhaps joining, supporting, us in this effort is more than welcome to do so by checking out the nature of CWECA.


Peter Redpath was Professor of Philosophy at St. John’s University. He is the author/editor of 17 philosophical books and dozens of articles and book reviews. He has given over 200 invited guest lectures nationally and internationally, and headed many prestigious organizations. He is the only non-Polish scholar to hold the Laudatio Achievement Award for attainment of intellectual and organizational wisdom, from the Department of Philosophy, Culture, and Art at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, in Poland. More information is found at his website.


The featured image shows a detail of a wise virgin, from Friedrich Wilhelm von Schadow’s “Die klugen und torichten Jungfrauen” (The Wise and Foolish Virgins); painted in 1842.

How To Reverse The Widespread, Nonsensical Principles Of Utopianism. Part 2.

As some Marxists readily admit, Marxism is a religion, or a secularized version of Christianity. As scholars like Eric Voegelin have well documented, Hegelians and Marxists are full-blown, secularized Christian heretics: neo-Gnostic millenarians who conflate in their nature principles of neo-Pelagianism, neo-Catharism, and neo-Albigensianism (the three being pretty much identical). They tend to consider this conflation to be true science (as opposed to the hate-filled, backward thinking rhetoric of those they call, “science-deniers”).

Heavily influenced by the millenarianism of the 12th-century Catholic monk, Joachim of Flora (aka, Joachim of Fiore), the neo-Averroistic dream of 14th-century Italian humanist, Francesco Petrarcha (Petrarch) to unite poetry, philosophy, and theology into a humanistic/historical social science capable of reviving the cultural greatness of Rome in a Christianized form, and then greatly shaped by the neo-Gnostic spiritualism of 18th-century Enlightenment intellectual, Jean-Jacques Rousseau – all Enlightenment thinkers came to divide human history into four ages, one of which they considered to be prehistoric/pre-cultural and pre-social science:

  1. Prehistory (an initially barbaric, pre-socialist age of war of individual human being against individual human being; for Hegel, Humanity’s/Absolute Spirit’s Age before logically-planned, external emergence);
  2. The first age of human history (imperfect social science, under the Old Law, from the time of Adam to Christ), characterized by a heavy influence of external formalism on human consciousness and behavior (Humanity/Absolute Spirit wandering around the Far East, China and the environs for Hegel);
  3. The second age of human history in which human consciousness achieved greater perfection in historical consciousness as social-science (in the sense of being a more universal and deeply emotional love of humanity). Human consciousness, under the New Law, by the entrance of Spirit into human history, within the context of the administrative Catholic Church (the Greek and Latin Age for Hegel); and
  4. The final age of human history, the Age of the Eternal Gospel, of Perfect Social Science, in which the influence of Spirit perfects human behavior so widely, deeply, and intensely that no need any longer exists for a Church administration or organized religion (the Lutheran/Germanic Age and end of history for Hegel during which, for the first time in human history, conscience and all science come into being and humanity becomes aware that it is identical with Perfect Social-science: Perfect Good Will Consciousness/God).

Sometime after his death, Europeans started to refer to followers of millenarianism of Joachim of Flora as “Joachitic enthusiasts” and often called their teaching “Joachitic enthusiasm.” As is evinced in his famous work, Education of the Human Race, 18th-century Gotthold Ephraim Lessing was one of these millenarians. So, too, under his educational influence, were 18th-/19th-century Enlightenment intellectuals, Immanuel Kant and Georg Hegel.

After the crumbling of the Berlin Wall (9 November 1989) and dismantling of Soviet communism toward the tail end of the 20th century, the period celebrated by Western liberal elites and popularized by Francis Fukuyama, was supposed to be “the end of history,” in the sense of being the time in which enlightened liberal democracy would finally transcend the transitional period of communist dictatorship and eradicate from the world the influence of backward religious consciousness.

To understand the euphoric, Joachitic enthusiasm, that overtook Western Europe during this time and fully to comprehend the nature of Marxism, Enlightenment-Utopian Socialism in general, and neo-liberal, atheistic democracy (like that of John Dewey), it is crucial to recognize this enthusiasm as neo-Averroism, deeply influenced by the neo-Averroistic, religious, and educational humanism of Petrarch which devolved – through 19th-century neo-Averroistic social science (with its three stages of social evolution: [1] theological, [2] metaphysical, and [3] positive/scientific) proposed by Isidore Marie Auguste François Xavier Comte – into the secular educational humanism of the 20th-and 21st-century West.

During a late Medieval, academic battle about the relationship between philosophy and theology that the great Islamic scholar Averroes (ibn Rushd, 1126-1198) had with a previously-existing Islamic scholar named al Ghazali (who died in 1111 and had considered philosophy to be inferior to theology and fake science), Averroes had countered Ghazali’s reductionist claim that the whole of truth is contained in the Quran, by, knowingly or not, reviving a threefold distinction about the hierarchy of human knowing, first introduced centuries before by Plato, through his famous analogy of a divided-line of learning in which Plato had made a distinction between three lower and higher forms of knowing: the qualitatively-lowest being belief (which Averroes would later identify as a mindset common to poets);
a second, qualitatively higher one, being a kind opinionated imagining (that Averroes would later maintain is proper to theologians); and the highest one being science (which Averroes would later reserve for Aristotelian philosophers).

According to Averroes, while the whole of truth is contained in the Quran, only the Aristotelian philosopher knows how to read and unravel that hidden truth, or the meaning of what the Quran actually says.
Seizing upon this method of Averroes, Petrarch made the mistake of buying into an esoteric interpretation of philosophy/science as a hidden teaching, or body, or scientific system of knowledge, known only to an enlightened group of intellectuals. In so doing, he treated philosophy/science as if it were reducible to a dialectical logic apprehensible only by some spiritually-elect group. While Petrarch hated Averroes (had called him a “mad dog”) and was no fan of Aristotle, in criticizing Averroes, unwittingly he came to adopt the understanding Averroes had promoted that:

  • philosophy is a hidden teaching, or body of knowledge known only to some enlightened individuals,
  • who alone can pass this understanding on to posterity.

Unhappily, to paraphrase a common sense gem of wisdom from Étienne Gilson: We think, and choose, the way we can, not the way we wish.
Outraged by Averroes’s disdain for poetry, because Petrarch made the mistake of doing no more than dialectically turning Averroes’s teaching on its head and not essentially changing it. But, unwittingly, by so doing, in effect he adopted in his own principles a kind of neo-Gnostic understanding of philosophy/science for which he would become a conduit to intellectual posterity. Petrarch assumed, and popularized among humanists of the Italian Renaissance, that philosophy/science is an esoteric metaphysical and moral teaching, or body of knowledge, that was first given by God to Moses.

Subsequently, to protect this teaching from being ridiculed by unenlightened, vulgar, illiterate masses, Petrarch and other Italian Renaissance humanists claimed true philosophy/ science had been intentionally buried in the works of epic poets like Homer, Hesiod, and Virgil and esoterically transmitted to other enlightened poets.

Over the several centuries that comprised the Italian Renaissance, this Petrarchan popularization of philosophy as an esoteric teaching, or body of knowledge (which was to become a general assumption about philosophy maintained by Italian Renaissance humanists) became the popular understanding of philosophy that entered into Western Europe around the time of the Father of Modern Philosophy – René Descartes. Disliking the poetic nature of the Jesuit education he had received, and much favoring logic over poetry as the only sort of knowing worthy of being called philosophy/science, Descartes maintained that the whole of truth is a body of knowledge buried, hidden, in some train of obscure thought of wandering images seeking to become a clear and distinct idea which he called a “mind,” or human consciousness.

Descartes claimed, further, that this hidden teaching was apprehensible not by poets, but only by a person of exceptionally strong logically-regulated will-power who alone could focus on the idea of a Perfectly-Good God, and thus was capable of stabilizing the wandering imagination common to poetic types in order to be see truth as a systematic train of ideas, so clear and distinct that a strong, logical human will (one with which Descartes identified common sense) cannot deny their reality, including that of a human person being a totally-disembodied mind or spirit. In short, centuries before Friedrich Nietzsche, Descartes had moved truth, and with it common sense, out of human intellect, and placed it in some logically-systematic train of ideas or feelings, thoughts – which he called human “will.”

In so doing, however, as the more poetically and historically/humanist-inclined Rousseau had immediately recognized, Descartes cut off philosophy/science, and with it, common sense, from human wisdom, and from what Petrarch and the Italian Renaissance humanists in general had considered to be its historical roots, namely, a somewhat obscure religious body of knowledge first given by God as true philosophy/science to the Jews from whom all true culture and cultural institutions were born and passed on to posterity as historical descendants of an original race.

In so doing, Descartes entirely destroyed the nature of philosophy/science, and real common sense, as a somewhat social-science history, or historical, educational humanist enterprise. The principles he laid down for the nature of philosophy/science as a real genus included the clear and distinct conviction he inherited from Petrarch and Italian Renaissance humanists that the Jews were the historical conduit, historical race/genus from which all false philosophy/science and subsequent philosophical/scientific mistakes, intellectual and cultural backwardness, foolishness, lack of common sense, and sins had historically descended upon Europe and the world, prior to the coming of Descartes and the later Western Enlightenment.

Unwittingly, Descartes became a conduit to Rousseau’s educational principles, which in turn became a conduit for later forms of anti-Semitism, and as an essential principle of Nazi forms of philosophy/science. This included making the Jews a scapegoat for all of Europe’s prior socially- and culturally-caused problems, evils, and sins.

In a similar way, through Rousseau’s critique of him, Descartes unwittingly became a historical conduit passing along to posterity the mistaken notion that a real and scientific species is identical with a race historically descended from original parents (instead of being part of an organizational whole that generates proximately causes and organizational action: a division, or part, of a generic whole, or substance). In truth, a real genus only exists in a real species; and a real species only exists in real individuals. As Gilson once quipped, in the present, real species of animals exist only in real animals, such as those in zoos, not in historical descent or transmission, which no longer exists. If real species were historical descendants of ancestral species, since ancestors cannot historically-descend from themselves, the absurd consequence that would follow would be that historical ancestors could never belong to the same species as their historical descendants!

Worse. The only way we come to know anything is in and through defining it. Doing so, however, essentially involves locating some being within a genus and species. By becoming conduits for essentially racializing the concepts of genus and species, Petrarch, Italian Renaissance humanists in general, Descartes, and Rousseau became an essential part of the historical conduit that brought into existence the contemporary enlightened Woke, anarchic, youth generation, the “useful idiots” (who tend not to be able to distinguish real from apparent, anything logical or not logical, much less genera and species).

Rousseau contributed to the present-day fiasco, in part, by rightly criticizing Descartes for cutting off philosophy/science, and education in general, from its historical roots. While he admitted, with Descartes, that philosophy/science is a hidden body of knowledge, he denied that it (and with it, real common sense) is esoterically buried in an individual mind.
Instead, Rousseau maintained that philosophy/science/real common sense is/are a historical project of discrete, disconnected, emotions to assemble themselves into a historically-driven, social-science consciousness: Perfect humanity. In addition, he denied Descartes’s distinction between matter (which Descartes had conceived as inert extension) and mind (which Descartes had identified with thought, spirit).

According to Rousseau, only spirit exists. Matter is simply unconscious thought/spirit. And, in a way, clear and distinct ideas (clear and distinct, more progressive genera and species), historically and progressively descend from one time to another (earlier emotions being historic ancestors of later, more progressive, enlightened ones somewhat resembling historical, backward ones, like later races historically descending from and somewhat resembling ancestral parents).

After Rousseau, the idea of a real substance or nature, and real genera and species in the common sense way that Aristotle and Aquinas had conceived them to be (as organizational wholes possessing faculties like intellect, will, and emotions), became replaced in the West by essentially different ideas of human beings, genera, species, individuals, and real common sense.

According to Hegel, for example, human beings are born as essentially illogical, un-systematic trains of unscientific, barbaric, emotions, historically driven to project themselves and come into conflict with other historically driven, illogical, unscientific, barbaric emotions that (much like the savage Fuegians that the cultured, Enlightened-socialist Brit, Charles Darwin would later encounter on his first voyage on the Beagle) inhabit a wild geographical region (genus), so as eventually, at the end of history, to unite together into a systematic, or logical train of scientific, self-understanding, qualitatively-higher emotions (species): Perfect humanity, a Scientific, Pure Good Will in which all complete truth and perfect religion and perfect/science/wisdom will coincide in nature.

Understanding human beings in somewhat this way, in his educational tome Émile, or Abstract Man (humanity), Rousseau wedded a Western neo-Gnostic, millenarianism to a neo-Pelagianism on a historical march to become Perfect Social–science Consciousness aware of itself as such – that is, aware of itself as god!

In so doing, like ancient Pelagius, Rousseau denied the reality of original sin as part of humanity, as pre-historic, selfish, barbaric, uncultured, abstract man: Someone like conscience-deprived, crude, vulgar, selfish, intolerant, insincere, socially and culturally backward, brute Donald Trump, emerging into concrete, selfless, socialistic, domesticated, cultured, sincere, tolerant, historic-scientific man: Someone like neo-Gnostic, neo-Averroestic, double-truth-advocate Catholics, like Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Mario and Andrew Cuomo. And Rousseau did so for precisely the same reason that, as neo-Gnostics spiritualists, all Enlightenment intellectuals incline to so: They are, as he was, and as Chesterton rightly recognized about Hegel – Monomaniacs.

Like all the Enlightenment descendants he spawned, including Auguste Comte and his followers, Rousseau denied the evident, real, common sense truth that real multitudes (real organizational wholes, natures), exist independently of something he understood to be social consciousness. To him and them, reality is social consciousness – or the consciousness (systematic, scientific train of thoughts that once was blind emotions that has become Pure Social-Science Good Will). In actuality, for Enlightenment thinkers (the contemporary Woke culture), only one being is real – only total unity exists. Unity and social consciousness are identical and constitute what Marxists and all contemporary utopian socialists and neo-liberals call “humanity,” which they consider to be “God.” Hence, their often-repeated claims to be theists, good Catholics, and so on, not atheists or heretics.

The psychological constitution of a Marxist causes him to think that humanity is real, but “John Smith” is not. Like Hegel, the Marxist thinks that “John Smith” is simply where Absolute Spirit (which Hegel identified with God, which he conflated with Humanity) happens to be conscious of itself, at this or that historical moment. Reality, to a Marxist, is consciousness, historically and progressively realizing that only humanity (understood as collections of socially-conscious feelings, emotions; or consciousness feeling itself historically growing into self-awareness of being scientific feeling: Perfect, Pure, Sincere, Good Will) – is real. Anything apart from humanity, considered in this way, is an illusion, caused by disordered economic relations (the cause of all cultural illusions).

Quite frankly, if seriously maintained intellectually, to a sane human being, one with actual common sense, such a way of looking at reality would be considered sociopathic. Nonetheless, this way of looking at reality is a fundamental assumption, non-negotiable, Marxist and utopian-socialist, and Enlightenment-educational first principle – an essential part of Marxist and Enlightenment self-definition, self-identity, and self-understanding. And education for both begins with (and remains throughout its operation) – the application of this psychological principle behaviorally to modify the psychology of students. Knowingly or not to a Marxist and all Enlightenment utopian socialists, their educational principles essentially demand that they drive out from the psyche of their students any scintilla of real common sense.


Peter Redpath was Professor of Philosophy at St. John’s University. He is the author/editor of 17 philosophical books and dozens of articles and book reviews. He has given over 200 invited guest lectures nationally and internationally, and headed many prestigious organizations. He is the only non-Polish scholar to hold the Laudatio Achievement Award for attainment of intellectual and organizational wisdom, from the Department of Philosophy, Culture, and Art at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, in Poland. More information is found at his website.


The featured image shows the Tree of Pansophia, from Speculum Sophicum Rhodostauroticum by Theophilus Schweighardt Constantiens, ca. 1604-1618.

Ancient History? What For? Strength And Decadence Of The Classical Tradition

There is currently a debate about the usefulness or uselessness of history for postindustrial or postmodern societies. While some authors argue that history has entered into crisis, others continue to proclaim its vigor and believe in its validity, whether in its more traditional forms, as evidenced by the return of politico-military oriented historiography; or in other forms, more adapted to the world of the image and mass media. In the latter case, highlighting the link between historical knowledge and the notion of heritage, which can bring with it the danger of trivialization and commodification of this old knowledge.

Now, if all this is true in the field of history in general, in the field of ancient Classical history the question arises with an even sharper focus. And this is so, on the one hand, because of the very crisis of the Classical paradigm in the Western world, and on the other hand because the artistic and archaeological wealth of the Greco-Roman civilizations makes them easy prey for the cultural exhibition industry, which still knows how to exploit the component of exoticism that for a long time was associated with the world of Greece and Rome.

It is curious to note that, even among the defenders of historical science (for those who no longer believe in it, the study of the most remote times is evidently no longer of interest), the value of the study of ancient history is increasingly questioned for several reasons. In the first place, because it is a history based fundamentally on the study of literary sources and because of the scarcity of primary sources (inscriptions and papyri cannot be compared in their richness to the documentary sources of the other types of history). It should be noted that, in the opinion of these authors, the abandonment of literary sources is, as Leopold von Ranke wanted it, almost a sine qua non condition for the emergence of history-science. Secondly, those historians who cultivate quantitative methodologies tend to look with benevolence, if not contempt, at historians of the Classical world, because of their evident impossibility of handling this type of sources, almost non-existent in the field of their studies.

And to this we may add the fact that Classical historians have been showing an almost absolute disregard for theoretical and methodological reflection, remaining faithful (especially in England and Germany) to the most traditional ways of doing history, and therefore seem to give an image of outdated professionals.

As if these were not enough, historiographical and ideological debates, such as the one provoked by the publication of Martfn Bernal’s work (1991), with all its replicas, and counter-replicas, in which the clear ethnocentric component, and even the colonial ideology of Classical historians, as analyzed by J.M. Blaut, have come to light, and have put the finger even more on the question of the current validity of this type of historiography

Leaving aside the misunderstanding of different groups of historians towards ancient history, derived from their poor knowledge of it, from their belief in the omnipotence of its supposedly scientific methods, or from their incomprehension of the entire past that is not proximate. What is certain is that we can speak of a certain crisis of Greco-Roman historiography, derived fundamentally from the loss of vigor of the Classical paradigm, a paradigm that is forged in antiquity itself and which it is necessary to examine.

I.

It is evident that the process of idealization of the Greek and Roman past had its beginnings in antiquity itself. This process was centered around two axes: a) the creation of a literate culture considered worthy of imitation; and b) the construction of political models endowed with supposedly supratemporal validity.

To understand the first process, we have to analyze how in the Greek world, fundamentally, there was a passage from a basically oral tradition to the creation of a corpus of texts considered traditional and worthy of study.

It is a well-known fact, starting from the studies of Milman Parry, that Homeric poetry is only explicable if we start from an oral matrix. In the world of oral literature (if it can be called as such) we can say that the pragmatic dimension of language is predominant over the syntactic and semantic component. In this world, it is the context that allows us to understand the meaning of the utterances; and therefore in this world literary creation is the product of a spatial and temporal circumstance, of a context in which the poet and the public enter into communication in the ambit of a situation that allows them to share a series of meanings.

But the Homeric poems were put in writing, perhaps by the invention of the alphabet. From the moment in which this process took place, the texts began to lose their pragmatic dimension and to be transmissible in time, thus creating a literary culture, in which the works that were considered worthy of transmission had to be the object of an interpretation, which in the case of the Homeric poems developed from their first being set down in writing in the Athens of Peisistratos until the Byzantine era.

This process, which Florence Dupont has called the “invention of literature,” was at the time inseparable from the creation of libraries in the Greek world. Whatever the first important library in the Greek world was, whether that of Euripides or that of Aristotle (according to tradition), what is clear is that the library that serves as a reference is the library of Alexandria. In it, the compilation of Greek manuscripts was systematized; and in it also, parallel to this work of compilation, the philological technique was developed by Aristarchus of Samothrace and his disciples who established the editions of the Homeric poems that we now possess, in which we try to distinguish the original from the added.

The birth of philology, in trying to find the original versions of texts and trying to eliminate their contamination with the passage of time, implies an effort to tear the text from its contexts, to eliminate its pragmatic dimensions, thus involuntarily laying the foundations for a process of incomprehension of the text. In fact, by distancing ourselves from the texts in time and losing the context in which they were born, we also lose part of their intelligibility, which makes it necessary to make an effort to interpret them. The effort, in the case of the Homeric poems, or in that of the Jewish Bible in Alexandria in the case of Philotheos, led to the birth of allegorical exegesis. In it, the text hides a message behind the appearance of its literalness. To discover it, a key becomes necessary, which can be euhemeristic (reducing the Homeric myth to a historical event; the naturalistic to a physical phenomenon or to moralizing) to a moral lesson.

In any case, what we are interested in emphasizing is the existence of a distance between the text and the reader, a distance that must be bridged with a hermeneutic effort. In this effort, as H. G. Gadamer has pointed out, two notions are fundamental: a) the notion of corpus and b) the notion of the hermeneutic circle. In the Greek or Jewish case, a culture is defined by the possession of a group of texts considered canonical, which serve to establish its identity. One is Greek because one is situated in a certain literary tradition, symbolized by the Homeric poems that hide the truth of our past and ultimately of our being. These texts, as we say, have to be interpreted; and this is made possible by the existence of a positive prejudice, which is born of our identification with them and leads us to enter into a hermeneutic circle. My identity resides in the texts that encode my past. I am therefore part of them. But to really know myself I have to go deeper into them, which are also something different from what I am.

This interpretative work gave rise to the whole of classical philology, from antiquity to the present day; and, consequently, also to the development of ancient history. Ancient history is within the scope of the hermeneutic circle. But this circle has something of magic about it – we place ourselves in it on the basis of a belief in a certain philological faith; and it is precisely on the basis of this credibility that the vigor or decadence of ancient history derives.

But this process of identification was not only merely literary or religious (in the case of Alexandrian Judaism), but was also, and from this derives its strength, a political process. At the same time that the Library of Alexandria was created, the Greeks colonized the entire Near East. And while Aristarchus was establishing his edition of Homer, the Greek clerics were settling in the Egyptian countryside and fighting in the army of the Ptolemies. In the Hellenistic world the Greeks reinforced their identity against the barbarians, as they had been doing since the Median Wars; and that identity was linked to the idea of their superiority over barbarians, which in turn was derived from the very nature of their political models, as Herodotus tells us in a famous dialogue in which he contrasts the Greek who lives under the law, to the barbarian who lives under the despot.

The idealization of the Greek political systems began in the Classical Period, both in the Athenian and Spartan cases. Sparta was the object of idealization by Plato, Socrates or the Cynics, who made of it a model state for its cultivation of the virtues of courage, austerity and continence, initiating a long process which, as we shall see, continued in European thought with authors such as J. J. Rousseau and others. The same is true of Athenian democracy, idealized in the “funeral oration” that Thucydides puts in the mouth of Pericles and a model to be imitated, both in the Classical period itself and throughout European history.

In the world of politics, however, more than the idealization of Spartan militarism or Greek democracy, which was only revitalized in Europe after the French Revolution, what had greater importance was the idealization of the Roman constitution and the idea of Rome. As it is known, it is a Greek, Polybius, who, applying the theory of the mixed constitution of Pythagorean origin, maintained that the Roman constitution is the best of the possible constitutions and is destined to last in time, because it unites the virtues of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. Such a constitution, not subject to change, and the efficacy and power of the legion as a tactical instrument, ensured Rome’s survival over time, thus laying the foundations of Roma aeterna as a political myth.

The eternity of Rome, achieved thanks to two new ideas – enovation and enovation, which made it possible to move the empire by Constantine and to invigorate it periodically, gave rise to the Germanic Holy Roman Empire, up to the contemporary age, or to the Second and Third Reichs in Germany.

It was the imperial model that shaped all medieval political theology, starting with Eusebius of Caesarea, conditioning all Western political thought up to Machiavelli or Hobbes, two assiduous readers, moreover, of Titus Livy, in the first case, or of Thucydides in the second.

It was this mixture of cultural tradition with political models, together with the assimilation of Classical culture by Christianity, which kept the Classical tradition alive throughout the Middle Ages, and which laid the foundations, so that with the process of secularization that began with the Renaissance, this tradition would continue to live on.

In the medieval world, the classical tradition, domesticated by Christianity and linked to the development of the idea of empire, had a basically conservative character, since it justified the existing order; it was with the Renaissance, and especially with the Enlightenment, that the Classical world changed its meaning in this respect. The Enlightenment, on the one hand, vindicated the republican ideal, breaking with the imperial idea and with the theologically justified power of the king, and on the other hand, in authors such as F. Schiller or F. Hölderlin, Greece became not only the world of political freedom but also of sexual freedom and freedom of thought, together with the liberation from the notions of guilt and sin, which in Germany weighed especially heavily because of the weight of the Lutheran tradition. This nostalgia for lost love, political and spiritual freedom was expressed in great works of German literature such as Hölderlin’s Hyperion.

But this vein of freedom of the Aufklärung that was politically embodied in the French Revolution could not continue after the defeat of the Revolution; and with the Restoration of the monarchical powers, and the beginning of the 19th century, we see a process in which Classical history, while constituting itself as a science, assumed a conservative character.

II.

The development of Classical studies is inseparable from the study of social history and the history of each culture. So, it is necessary for its understanding to take into account the context of each country, be it Germany, England, France or the USA.

It is not the intention here to carry out a synthesis of Classical history, as this would require a great deal of space, and other authors such as Carmine Ampolo, or Karl Christ have already been doing this. Rather, we will outline which are the images, or metanarratives on which Greek and Roman history has been configured. To this end, we will choose a minimum number of authors; those who created the great overviews of the history of antiquity, starting from a contrast of two focal points: Prussia and England, in the first half of the nineteenth century.

We will start with the figure of Karl Otfried Müller, who with his book Die Dorier, the first volume of what would become a history of the different Greek Stämme, marks the beginning of the scientific historiography of ancient Greece.

Müller possessed an exhaustive knowledge of the sources; but these sources were read by him under a certain hermeneutic key, which is the one we are interested in unraveling. Müller chose Sparta as a place of reference, because he carried out an unconscious process of identification between Sparta and Prussia. The destiny of both was to unify their peoples: Greeks and Germans respectively, to which they were called by their superiority, derived from the cultivation of a set of virtues. Spartans and Prussians were two strong agrarian-based peoples, as was Müller’s Prussia, in which the link to the land and the cultivation of virtues, such as, moderation and military courage, allowed the formation of armies that were called to be the backbone of the new states. Both peoples faced a historical destiny that prevented them from fulfilling their national destiny, when confronted with industrial and mercantile powers of a democratic nature, which prevented their military expansion and the establishment of the aristocratic military regimes of government in which Müller believed.

Müller erroneously contrasted the Doric spirit with the Ionian spirit, making it a supposed key to understanding Greek history and thus distancing himself from historical reality, as E. Will pointed out at the time. If he acted in this way, it was motivated by his political passion. In doing so, however, he did not act in vain, since he created a historiographical meta-narrative that strongly conditioned German historiography, which saw in the aristocratic, military and agrarian values something superior to the English democratic and industrial tradition, believing to find in that vision of Greek history a key to what some have defined as the German Sonderweg, or the special destiny of Germany from the Franco-Prussian War to Nazism.

This conservative tradition about the Greek world was embodied by most German historians and philologists and went hand-in-hand with the process of idealization of Greece in the fields of art, philosophy and culture in general. But it faced in the twentieth century a double process that came to question its credibility. On the one hand, the identification of these antidemocratic values with Nazism caused them to enter into crisis after the Second World War, which consecrated the triumph of democratic capitalist or socialist values. And this, together with the decline of the study of Classical languages, the basis of the elitist education of the Gymnasium (to which five percent of young people between 12 and 18 years of age had access in the 19th century), caused Hellenic studies to lose a good part of their social weight.

But this image coexisted with an opposite one; that cultivated in England by George Grote, a liberal politician, a utilitarian philosopher and a banker, author of the voluminous, History of Greece, which in the mid-nineteenth century laid the foundations of knowledge of the Greek world in England. Grote did not idealize Sparta, but Athens, a bourgeois republic of merchants and artisans, which cultivated democracy as a political form and favored the development of art and culture, together with its economic prosperity.

Athens was the kingdom of political freedom and freedom of thought and also of pleasure for the majority, one of the principles of utilitarianism, in which Grote believed (1876) as a philosopher. Greece became a reference for the development of modern democracies, as it had been since the French Revolution and the predecessor of industrial societies, thanks to the development of its science and technology. But that Greece, incarnated in Athens was also, like England, an imperialist power, mistress of a maritime empire, based not on oppression but on the development of trade and the gentle imposition of a cultural superiority, linked to the development of Classical culture.

It was said in Victorian England that Classical culture, offered at Oxford and Cambridge, was something that, once acquired, allowed us to feel superior to others. And this was due to the small number of students of Classical languages and their high social status, which gave them enough leisure not to engage in a practical activity.

The validity of this model also depended not only on the credibility of democratic values and faith in industrial civilization, but also on the belief in the superiority of Europe over the rest of the world, which was called into question after the process of decolonization that took place after World War II.

If we move from the Greek world to the Roman world in Germany itself, we encounter the figure of Theodor Mommsen, author of The History of Rome, which won him the Nobel Prize for literature. Mommsen was not an ultra-conservative politician like Müller, nor a fervent Prussian patriot like Johann Droysen, the creator of the idea of Hellenism, who thought that Alexander’s destiny should have consisted in fusing the East with Greek culture, thus creating a new culture, the basis of Roman culture, and therefore of European culture. Like Droysen, Mommsen was also a liberal.

Mommsen read the history of the Roman Republic from a contemporary point of view. For him, the confrontation between patricians and plebeians was a confrontation between political parties: one conservative and the other pro-Greece, fighting for access to political power, and consequently to the distribution of public goods that the possession of this political power brought with it in republican Rome. These parties had their own organization and ideology, like contemporary political parties; and the development of their struggles ended with the figure of Julius Caesar and the foundation of the Empire. Mommsen abandoned the History of Rome when he reached the Caesars, perhaps because he could not apply that political logic to the development of imperial history, focusing more on other works, such as the systematization of the systematization of Roman public law or criminal law.

Roman history in Mommsen, or in his great predecessor Edward Gibbon, was associated with the ideas of the Enlightenment. But in it, by a curious paradox, the problem of the decadence, or the end of the Roman Empire, which symbolized the end of a culture also worthy of imitation, became a central theme. Gibbon attributed it, as is well known, to the triumph of religion and barbarism, two antitheses of the enlightened ideal, now curiously associated. The Roman Empire, at the time of the Antonines, was associated with the best and happiest period in the history of mankind, and permitted an understanding of the cause of its end and perhaps could allow for the discovery of the key to the history of Europe. Gibbon developed a progressive historiographical vision, since he was an enlightened man; but after Mommsen, at the arrival of the 20th century, other historians changed the sense of the meta-narratives of Roman history, since Rome no longer incarnated the values of the Enlightenment, as in Gibbon, or the triumph of liberalism, as in Mommsen, but the bourgeois or aristocratic values.

The aristocratic and anti-democratic values were brought to light by prosopographers like Munzer or Gelzer, who overthrew Mommsen’s vision of Roman political parties, showing how on both sides, patricians and plebeians, it was the aristocrats who controlled the political game.

This was so, but its discovery was not innocent, since such theories, as Luciano Canfora has pointed, out went hand-in-hand with the critique of democratic systems by Vilfredo Pareto and Gaetano Mosca, developed at the time of the incubation of fascism. Both emphasized the apparent rather than real character of democratic regimes, since in politics it is always the elites who, whatever the system, control power.

A particularly important case is that of Michael Rostovtzeff. This Russian historian, author of the groundbreaking Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire, a work of the first magnitude for its use of epigraphic, archaeological and literary sources, interpreted the history of the empire as that of the rise and fall of a social class, the bourgeoisie, builder and creator of the city.

Rostovtzeff defined the Empire as a federation of free cities. These cities were based on the development of trade, industry and “scientific” agriculture and were linked to the life and death of the bourgeois social class. This class entered into decline because of fiscal pressure, which stifled its economic activity and favored the development of the army and the state, increasingly controlled by the peasant masses. The decline of the Roman Empire would thus be a revenge of the countryside against the city. With it, and the death of the city, art and Classical culture disappeared in all its aspects, all of which were creations of the bourgeoisie and the urban world.

Marinus Wes has brought out the concordances between Rostovtzeff’s life and his vision of the history of Rome. Our historian, was a Classicist, and therefore a member of a double minority in tsarist Russia – urban and Western and Classical culture – who identified himself with the inhabitants of the cities in a predominantly rural world, as tsarist Russia was at that time, a world in which a revolution of the lower classes collapsed a political system that had allowed the flourishing of cultured minorities. The fall of the Roman Empire was thus a transcript of the Russian Revolution; and those peasants who controlled the army and the state were a transcript of the Revolt of the Masses analyzed at the same historical moment by Ortega y Gasset (1929), or in The Decline of the West, foreshadowed a few years earlier by 0. Spengler (1923), who also felt himself a prophet of a similar decadence to that of the Empire.

The decadence of Rome thus became a goal of the transformations of the contemporary world and the advent of mass society, rejected by Spengler, Ortega and Rostovtzeff. In this way, the history of Rome became one more instrument of conservative thought, in which there continued to be an identification with the Classical world and its culture, understood as the patrimony of the minorities and as a rejection of the more radical forms of democratic government, embodied not only in the amorphous masses, but in political movements such as socialism.

Leaving aside these conservative visions, which compromised the survival of Classical culture by associating it with their political approaches, we must now look at those visions of Classical history that saw in it perhaps the possibility of thinking about some forms of liberation, as had occurred in the Renaissance or the Enlightenment.

III.

Until now, we have been seeing a process in which Classical antiquity functioned as a paradigm, as a model to imitate, whether from a cultural or political point of view. With the last third of the 19th century, we saw the beginning of a process that had precisely the opposite effect. It was an operation of unveiling, as if an attempt were being made to remove the mask of the Greeks and Romans and to discover behind it a hidden truth that no one had wanted to reveal until then.

The discovery of this truth also meant that the ancient world lost its paradigmatic character on the one hand, but on the other hand, precisely by losing this exemplary character, this world became closer to us. By approaching us it also became more intelligible; but not in an immediate way and through a process of assimilation, as had been the case until then, but through a complex operation, by means of which the proximate becomes comprehensible through its encounter with the alien, which, in turn, is revealed to us as something that could also have some affinity with us.

The first author to participate in this unveiling operation was Karl Marx. Marx was neither a philologist nor a historian of Classical antiquity, which does not mean that he was not attracted by it. On the one hand, like all Gymnasium students, he had a good command of Classical languages, and to Greek thought, in particular to the atomists (Leucippus and Democritus) he dedicated his doctoral thesis, perhaps sensing in them the roots of a materialism that was becoming indispensable, in a Germany dominated by Hegelian idealism.

Marx therefore had a double attitude towards Classical culture. On the one hand, like every educated German of the mid-nineteenth century, he was an admirer of it, and continued to consider Greek art as art without compare, or else admired the results of Greek science and philosophy. But, on the other hand, he discovered a hidden truth that was the key to the whole of Greek and Roman history.

It is well known that in the funeral oration that Friedrich Engels gave at Marx’s tomb, he stated that just as Isaac Newton had discovered the fundamental law that governed the functioning of the physical world and Charles Darwin had done the same with the world of life, likewise Marx was the discoverer of the fundamental law that regulated the course of history, and that law was the “law of value.”

According to this law, in all human societies, we must look for how the process of extraction of the surplus value that the working class produces, and from which the ruling class benefits, is articulated. In the ancient world this process took place either under the form of appropriation of surplus value by the state, more or less sacral, in the Asian Mode of Production, corresponding to Egypt and Mesopotamia. Or when we refer to the Greco-Roman world, the key to its history was given to us through the exploitation of servile labor in its different modalities.

Classical civilization was made possible by the labor of slaves and their exclusion, like that of the Metics, from the system of citizenship rights. The political and economic systems of antiquity can in no way, therefore, be worthy of imitation, but must be judged under an eminently negative gaze, since they contradict our ethical and political principles as they have been formulated since the French Revolution, and whose validity, at least at an abstract level, a large part of European society never grew tired of proclaiming.

But the question does not end here since, discovering in parallel the concept of ideology Marx, and some of his followers in the twentieth century, like Benjamin Farrington brought to light how the Greek philosophy, thus far the philosophy without compare, was also a product of class interests, which were not limited to justify only slavery or political domination of the Greeks over the barbarians, but also impeded the very development of Greek science itself, by preventing it, in Farrington’s formulation, from reaching the threshold of the Industrial Revolution.

Farrington’s theory is based on a clear idealization of Greek science, incapable, by its own internal structure, of developing machinism. By overvaluing that science and making it similar to modern physics Farrington continued with a logic that Marx himself had not completely abandoned – the logic of the idealization of the Classical world, although now that logic was limited to the scope of his theoretical constructions in the world of physics and chemistry.

The revelatory potential of Marxism was thus limited by the presence in it of this idealizing component, and by the very idea of history considered as a science. The idea that we are in possession of a method that allows us to understand the key to history can be a dangerous idea. In the first place, because history is not like a riddle whose resolution brings us great relief and puts an end to the problem. And secondly because if we claim to be in possession of the secret that makes us understand the development of history and society, and we try to apply it to the political level, which is typical if, following the Platonic tradition, we think that the one who knows the most should rule, we will then have to develop a totalitarian system, in which those who are in possession of power are also in possession of the truth in general and of the truth about history, with which the liberating potential of Marx’s theory is reduced to nothing.

In any case, Marx’s contribution is there. Thanks to it, when we look at the Classical world, we can no longer have that old sense of complacency which, as we have seen, had been developing since antiquity itself. In the Classical world there was also a hidden truth, a truth whose discovery we find unpleasant and which, through the discovery of power in its pure state and of economic exploitation without further ado, has come to place the Greeks and the Romans on the same level as the prosaic contemporary world in which Marx and we ourselves have had to live.

In a different framing, but sharing the same logic as Marx, we have to place the figure of Friedrich Nietzsche. Contrary to Marx, Nietzsche was a professional in Classical studies. Professor of Greek at the University of Basel, he was a great connoisseur of the Hellenic world, although many later philologists and historians have refused to assume his legacy, precisely because he questioned the value of Classical antiquity elevated to the level of a paradigm worthy of imitation.

References to the Greek world never ceased to be present throughout Nietzsche’s work; but the most systematic ones are found in his writings of the Basel period and in the work that made him known and which served as a stone of scandal and as the milestone that marked his abandonment of Classical philology. We refer, obviously, to Die Geburt der Tragödie (The Birth of Tragedy).

Nietzsche participated in the same operation of unmasking as Karl Marx. But just as Marx found the secret key to the Greek world outside, in society, in the social relations of production. Nietzsche found it inside, in the soul of the Greeks themselves.

Nietzsche made two fundamental discoveries. First, that the so-called Greek spirit, centered on the idea of proportion of measure and rationality, is but one of the two facets of the same spirit. The Hellenic culture cannot be reduced to a single guiding principle; but that within it nestles a profound contradiction between two elements: the Apollonian, which corresponds to the image that Europe wanted to assume of the Greek world, and the Dionysian, which embodies the powers of passion, irrationality, life, and the surpassing of all limits. It was from Socrates onwards, when the Dionysiac was reduced to second place, and the Apollonian spirit came to predominate, a spirit that reached its most perfect formulation in Plato and that, with the assimilation of his philosophy by the Fathers of the Church, was assumed by Christianity, that kind of Platonism for the people, as Nietzsche himself says.

But this irrational component did not remain in Nietzsche in a mere vindication of passion or the nocturnal and dark aspects of life. Rather, the philosopher showed how Greek culture would have been impossible without the work of slaves and how it was the product of a dominant minority, whether we like it or not. And depending on how we interpret this, we will have the key to the conservative or progressive readings of Nietzsche. The Classical ideal is therefore neither democratizable nor extensible outside the Greek world. The values of the Greeks are not the values of liberal democracies nor those of industrial civilization. The Greek world is radically alien and unattainable to us; but it is not unattainable because of its perfection, but because it implies a radically different configuration of life.

This world has also undergone a process of falsification which has tended to make it reasonable and measured, thus allowing it to be assimilated to the Christian ideals of submission and continence. Our approach to it should, if we wish to affirm the values of life, lead us away from the Apollonian, and ultimately Christian, ideal, and lead us to delve into the Dionysian. The Dionysian presupposes the world of life, of becoming, of the liberation of the passions and of the bonds through which social structures are kept in operation. Access to the Dionysian is the key to any process of emancipation, since our chains are not only on the outside, where Marx had placed them, but also inside ourselves, in our ways of feeling and thinking.

However, as in the case of Marx, Nietzsche was not faithful to his message in the end, since, as Martin Heidegger pointed out at the time, in developing the theory of the eternal return, Nietzsche returned to restore metaphysics, from which he had wanted to flee. In effect, the Dionysian supposes that the ground beneath our feet collapses, that we lose the points of reference that until now have made us sure of ourselves, that we become disoriented. If we do not want to follow to the end this path that might lead us to the madness in which Nietzsche himself spent his last ten years, we would have to combine this process with something that would allow us to return to the outside, to the world. Or, what is the same, to raise that process not as a psychological process, but as a social and historical process, channeling individual liberation in the framework of collective liberation processes that the solitary of Sils-Maria, the follower of Zarathustra, that anchorite preacher who lived accompanied by his animals could not or would not conceive.

A third author who also contributed in a decisive way to the process of dissolution of the Classical archetype was Sigmund Freud. Freud himself said that Western man had to suffer three great wounds to his narcissism. The first was inflicted by Copernicus when he discovered that the Earth was not the center of the Universe, but just another planet among thousands or millions that should not have any privileged destiny. The author of the second wound was Charles Darwin, when he taught us that we are nothing more than another link in the chain of life, a product of a process of selection and adaptation, which can also be destined to have an end and which shares with other living beings most of its characteristics, thus losing the privilege that God had given to Adam and Eve in Paradise, when He gave them the earth, the plants and the animals to establish His dominion over them.

The author of the third wound was Freud himself, who came to tell us that our rationality is only the tip of an iceberg in which the unconscious psychic processes occupy those three quarters that are submerged. Human beings are not defined by our reason, but by our passions, by our libido, which is what configures us individually and collectively, and which manifests itself in its raw state through suicide, mental illness or through collective creations such as myths and rites.

Freud, as a good Viennese bourgeois, also possessed a great Classical culture, and it is curious that it was Oedipus, precisely from the Sophoclean Oedipus Rex, the figure that would serve Freud as a metaphor for the key mechanism that allows us to understand our psychic life: the Oedipus Complex.

Obviously, Freud was neither a historian nor a philologist. But psychoanalysis, as he himself pointed out, has multiple purposes. In addition to being a therapeutic technique, whose usefulness can be accepted or not, psychoanalysis is also a theory of culture, and therefore an anthropology. After Freud, we can no longer have the same image of human beings as before; and this will have obvious consequences in the field of historiography and the study of Classical culture.

We can focus the impact of Freud’s work, in addition, for example, in the study of the interpretation of dreams, about which antiquity still offers us Artemidorus’s work, in the areas of the study of myth and rite and in the terrain of a force, whose importance Freud greatly emphasized, as in the case of sexuality.

Freud, in Totem and Taboo, established a classic parallelism between infantile thinking, the signs and symptoms of neurosis and primitive thought. Today he is criticized for his vision of the primitive, the result not of his invention but of the image anthropology of the early twentieth century gave him. But, in spite of this, his interpretations are of great interest because, in the case of rites and myths, Freud discovered that both possess a logic, but a hidden logic that must be unveiled.

As in the cases of Marx and Nietzsche, we find again the contrast between appearance and essence, with the idea that truth always remains hidden and must be unveiled. In Freud’s case, this unveiling allows us to discover the logic of the irrational, the meaning of nonmeaning, thanks to the method of interpretation of signs based on the principles of condensation and displacement that constantly disfigure the message that the unconscious wants to transmit; although, in the end, this message, thanks to interpretative work, can also be deciphered.

The logic of rite and myth reveals that the former is nothing more than a set of meaningless gestures, and that the latter is not an exemplary story worthy of being remodeled artistically or literarily in a process of endless reinterpretation. Ritual and myth are a manifestation of the desire of the psychic energy that Freud metonymically designated with the name of sexuality.

This energy flows through the same channels in every culture, and therefore Classical rite or myth loses its exclusivity. A Greek rite of initiation need not be different from an African rite of initiation. Comparativism, which the nineteenth and twentieth centuries developed in the study of religion, finds in Freud a secure basis, inasmuch as he believes, like Marx, in discovering the fundamental law; the key that regulates the functioning, in this case, of psychic life, and consequently of society.

But there is another field in which Freud’s contribution was particularly important in the process of dethroning the Classical image. It is the field of sexuality. It used to be said in Victorian times that Greece had committed two great sins – that of slavery and homosexuality. The secret of slavery had been uncovered by Marx. The study of homosexuality would still have to wait a long time.

The problem of Hellenistic homosexuality was perhaps even more serious because it was in fact an institutionalization of pederasty, which was very difficult to make sense of. Some authors, such as, Eric Bethe, had tried to do so by framing it in the world of warrior initiations and trying to erase the images of effeminacy and sexual inversion that the nineteenth century associated with the image of the homosexual.

The path initiated by Bethe was continued in the 20th century by another series of authors, such as Dover, who emphasized its educational and initiatory character, in order to continue to find meaning for it. More recently, however, there has been a change in the approach to this problem, when authors, such as, Eva Cantarella, go on to introduce new concepts such as bisexuality, which breaks the framework of warrior initiations and brings to light the fact that sexual relations with persons of the same sex need not necessarily be a problem to be explained, but may be more or less consubstantial to human nature.

In this sense, the history of sexuality could bring with it a danger: the idealization for the umpteenth time of the Classical world, now considered as a place where sexuality could have developed freely, as it did in authors such as Schiller or Hölderlin. Michel Foucault has warned us against this temptation and has shown how sexuality is not a natural substratum that is always the victim of social repression, and whose liberation, until it reaches its pure state, should be our objective. On the contrary, sexuality is a social construction based on an unquestionable biological basis. A construction that is one of the keys to our identity. The history of sexuality is inseparable from the history of the ego, which is why Foucault used authors such as Plato or Seneca as a fundamental source.

The sexuality-identity correlation is of great importance, since it is evident, from Hegel onwards, that there cannot be an “I” without a “You” and a “We.” Or, in other words, that the individual and society are not two antithetical terms, but complementary. Thus, the aspiration to unite the interior (subjectivity) with the exterior (objectivity), which Nietzsche and Marx had not even achieved, each in his own way, can be possible from now on with authors like Foucault and with the development of the historiography of the genera, a field closely related to the history of identity and sexuality.

The historiography of gender has known a great development in the Anglo-Saxon countries, since the sixties of the twentieth century, and there are already classic works, such as, those of Sarah Pomeroy. We will not try now, as in any of the previous cases, to list them, not even briefly. Our purpose will be simply to indicate that the introduction of genera as a historiographical theme will also change the images of Classical culture understood as a paradigm.

It is evident that the woman as a genera is practically absent in the literary culture and political life of Classical antiquity. Leaving aside more or less exceptional figures in the literary field such as Sappho or some women who achieved political relevance, such as some Hellenistic queens or Roman empresses, it seems clear that the values on which Greek and Roman culture were built were mostly masculine, just as men were the main active subjects of political and social life.

Women in antiquity, like European women, were relegated by virtue of the so-called “sexual contract” to the domestic and private sphere, which resulted in them becoming passive subjects of historical events rather than protagonists; and consequently, they were practically absent from the works of Classical historians and from the development of European historiography until relatively recent times.

The history of the genera also represents another challenge to the images of the Classical tradition, since it possesses the same logic as that of the proposals of Marx, Nietzsche or Freud. Here, too, a hidden truth seems to be brought to light, thus revealing in a certain way the key to Classical history. It will no longer be a dominated social class, or a submerged continent (such as the Dionysphalic or the unconscious) that will now be brought to light; but the idea that more or less half of the human race had also been excluded from the discourse of history; that it could not find its meaning, in this case as in so many others, except from a negation of one of the basic components of social reality.

The development of the history of the genera is incomprehensible without the development of the feminist movement, just as Marxism is inseparable from certain political or trade union struggles. For this reason, the transformation of historiographical models was not only an intellectual process, but also a political and social process that would come into conflict with the socially and politically conservative ideology of most of the Classical philologists and historians of antiquity throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The figure of a woman may serve as an emblem of this process of social, political and intellectual transformations: Jane Ellen Harrison, professor of archaeology at the University of Cambridge and one of the first women who not only acceded to an academic position in England, but also made an important contribution to Classical studies, through works, such as, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, оr Themis. A Study on Social Origins of Greek Religion.

The life, the work and the social and political world in which Harrison lived form a unity that has been highlighted by her three biographers. Leaving aside her personal and family problems, analyzed by S. Peacock, it is clear that her access to Classical studies, or her conquest of a teaching position, were not easy, since Victorian values and academic and political prejudices were opposed to it. However, Harrison, once she achieved her goals, did not limit herself to reproducing the dominant discourse on the Greek world in England in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; on the contrary, she tried to renew its image through the study of archaeology and religion.

To try to do so, she set aside the image of mythology and Classical religion understood as aesthetic phenomena and applied different theoretical models borrowed from anthropology, sociology, or even psychoanalysis to try to understand Greek mythology and religion, first developing a theory, which would become famous, about the relationship between rite and myth, emphasizing the chronological and ontological priority of rite over myth. This priority allowed her to socially connect Greek religion and myth through a procedure that led her to seek the keys to the understanding of classical religions beyond the Greco-Roman world, broadening her horizon to all those peoples who in her time were being passive subjects of the process of colonization of the world; the so-called “primitive peoples.”

Comparing the Greeks with the “savages” may be more or less routine today, especially if we want to understand the most primitive stages of Greek history, but at the end of the 19th century it was a real heresy. It meant questioning the superiority of the ruling classes of the British Empire over its rulers and bracketing the superiority of Europe over the rest of the world.

Harrison’s reference to the primitive world was not only an attempt to contextualize some stories or mythological characters that were difficult to understand from the moment when the myth was no longer believed in, in Classical antiquity itself, and place them in social and historical contexts that could be similar, but also somehow more. If Harrison acted in this way, she was driven by an epistemological motive – it was a matter of explaining the similar by the similar.

But behind her epistemology, there was also an ideology and a moral proposal. The discovery of the irrational, the passionate and the primitive in Greece, already undertaken earlier by Nietzsche and Freud, is not only the discovery of a new world in the past, but also in the present. The liberation of Classical religion and mythology from the Classicist canon is the same process as the personal and social liberation of Harrison, who was forced into spinsterhood and solitude by academic and social conventions and who could not fully develop a full personal and social world because of her situation. For her, to liberate myth and to liberate Greece was the same as liberating herself and liberating the bourgeois society of late 19th century England.

The work of Harrison, together with that of Gilbert Murray and F. McDonald Cornford came to be known as the “Cambridge School” or “School of Myth and Ritual.” If I take it as a benchmark, it is because it contributed to change the image of the Classical world by making Greece and Rome lose their superiority over other historical cultures that may have been more or less similar to them, and by forcing Classical studies and ancient history to take into consideration the concepts and results of a social science whose development, which in the 19th century was parallel to history, was sometimes not very closely interrelated with these studies – namely, anthropology.

The rapprochement between ancient history and anthropology, carried out by different scholars in England, оr in France, by J. P. Vernant, M. Détienne and P. Vidal-Naquet, entails a risk of loss of identity of Classical studies for two reasons. Firstly, because it could dissolve them in the framework of a science of society in general and thus make them lose their supposedly proper categories (if they ever had them); and, secondly, because it establishes an equality before history between Eastern and Western peoples, primitive and civilized. This means putting aside the ethnocentric image on which these studies were built, as Martin Bernai has pointed out, and consequently making them to lose the privileged role they have been playing for centuries in the process of defining European identity. A role from which the cultivators of these studies benefited socially, through the social prestige that their cultivation carried with it.

After the decolonization of the world, a consequence of the Second World War, the boundaries between primitive and civilized, East and West, underwent a process of adjustment, which would partially lead to put all peoples on an equal footing. Perhaps because, as Ranke said, referring to Europe, all peoples are in history equally close before God.

At the present time, the Western world, on the contrary, seems to want to reaffirm its identity again vis-à-vis the East and the Third World, not unrelated to the attempt of some Classicists, such as Edward Luttwak or Victor David Hanson, to draw from ancient history lessons for contemporary politics, especially in the sense of reaffirming, as in Classical antiquity itself, the domination of minorities over the masses and of “superior” cultures over “inferior” ones. Naturally this would bring with it a retreat towards more historiographically conservative positions, returning to the social and political paradigm of Classicism and the abandonment of Marxist, gender or anthropological proposals. However, this will not be the case today in a clear-cut way, since ancient history and Classical studies are concretely structured as follows.

IV.

When writing about the history of historiography, it is common to allude to two types of circumstances that contribute greatly to explaining the genesis of the ideas of the great historians. First, their biographical circumstances are analyzed. Second, their political ideas, which on many occasions make up the essence of the thinking of the great historians, as Arnaldo Momigliano has masterfully taught us to see in his Contributi.

In spite of Momigliano’s undoubted prestige, many academic historians are reluctant about this type of studies, since they consider that the historian as such is a scientist and his political ideas should not condition his work, his personal circumstances being something that should be reduced to the personal or family sphere. If we want to understand the typology of Classical historians and philologists at the present time we must, we believe, follow Momigliano’s advice and also be guided by the recommendations of a philologist of antiquity, Friedrich Nietzsche, who in his The Untimely Meditations, carried out a masterly and still valid analysis of the figure of the Classical philologist and the contemporary European historian.

Nietzsche distinguished three types of historiography and historians, valid in 1873 and still today. Namely, the antiquarian historian, the monumental historian, and the critical historian. The antiquarian historian was and is defined as a professional historian. He is driven by his love for the past and his research is guided by the accuracy, thoroughness in the collection, preservation and reading of documents. This type of historian is very similar to the ancient collectors, studied by Krzystof Pomian. In the case of Classical studies, our historian is usually a philologist, a lover of texts, a faithful connoisseur and interpreter of Classical languages, who believes he has mastered the whole universe of the Altertumwissenchaften, the “Sciences of Antiquity,” so pompously called by the Germans. He, like Wilamowitz, masters everything from the most insignificant Greek language to the most sublime metaphysical ideas of Plato.

Similarly, if he is an archaeologist, numismatist or epigrapher, he carefully collects objects, coins or inscriptions, which he offers us in exhaustive catalogs. If he is not only an epigrapher but also a prosopographer, he will know the cursus honorum, senatorial or equestrian of the main personages of the Roman Empire, being aware of their careers and vicissitudes of life. In the same way, if he is an archaeologist, he will master the topography of ancient Rome, and of hundreds of other places.

All these scholars define themselves as “scientists.” They master a method that allows them to read, translate and interpret texts and documents from the past. And they do so objectively, dispassionately and faithfully. If we ask them about their ideology, they will tell us that, as scientists, they lack it. And even if they did have one, it would never interfere with their research. Their probity would not allow it in any way. They do not aspire to direct consciences. Their ideal of life is that of a secluded, almost monastic life, in which they like to relate to their colleagues, who are the ones who truly understand them and with whom they share their love of the past and of dead languages, languages whose cultivation is perhaps one of the few things that can allow us to become fully human.

Epistemologically they will define themselves as empiricists. They hate philosophy and speculation, because they are always attached to the positive, to the data, whose knowledge is the only thing that justifies the historian’s job. Politically they can be more or less conservative, but always discreet. Their natural place will always be the second piano. Their kingdom is apparently not of this world, although it really is. They will always be in favor of the established order. For them, as for Hegel, although always in a much more prosaic way, everything rational is real and everything real is rational. If something exists, it will exist for a reason; and that is precisely what we must learn from history; that the past and the present will always be justified. They are justified by their factual character. And if history teaches us anything, it is that a fact is a fact and that we must accept it as such. History is the realm of the contingent, but also of the necessary. That is what we have to learn from it as a science, that things are so, that the best we can do is to study them and consequently accept them.

The second type of historian is the monumental historian. In 1873-1876, this meant the nationalist historian; and today, it again means the nationalist historian; or, a few years ago, it meant the politically committed Marxist historian. This type of historian, on the contrary, does not aspire to isolate himself from the world, but to live in it. But not to live in it in any way, but to govern it. He is a historian who defines himself as an ideologist of the nation and as a discoverer of its essence. As a result, he aspires to social recognition of his merits and to be given a role in the direction of the nation or society. And if he knows the hidden things that make up the apparent reality, it is logical that he be the one who governs us. Plato said that if we want a pair of shoes we will go to a shoemaker; if we want to make a sea voyage, we will look for a good sea-captain; while if we are looking for who governs a city we resort to the vote, to the opinion, being wrong consequently.

For Plato, the one who should govern is the philosopher-king, since he is the one who knows the true nature of political things. In the contemporary world, from the birth of the nation-state in the 19th century, the one who claims for himself this role is the national historian who aspires not only to know the past and expose it in his books, but also to mobilize his compatriots by instilling in them enthusiasm for knowledge, and defense, if necessary, of their homeland.

This same mobilizing role was later assumed by the Marxist historian, also a connoisseur of the essence, of the hidden laws that regulate the march of societies and of history. It is this scientific knowledge, free of ideology that, from his commitment to the workers’ party, which allows the historian to place himself in the only valid observatory for the contemplation of historical reality, thus being consequently qualified to govern a country directly, when he is a political intellectual, like Lenin, or at least to guide the rulers. Although, in most of the cases, the numerous politicians simply imagined themselves as thinkers, with intellectual results that oscillated between the mediocre and the ridiculous. Just think of Ceaucescu.

The last type of historian is the critical historian, who, according to Nietzsche, does not place his life at the service of history, but places history at the service of life. For this historian, not everything is worthy of remembrance; after all, as Heidegger would later say, what is proper to the past is oblivion. We must free ourselves from the past, when the past is a weight that weighs upon us, when this weight consecrates everything that exists; and we must place the past at the service of life.

This type of historian is above all a more or less isolated intellectual. But if he becomes a solitary intellectual, it is not because that is his vocation or his preference, but he is forced by circumstances. His participation in this process of liberation must be both individual and collective. The historian writes оr speaks for someone; and that someone is his contemporaries, with whom he shares the world.

If we follow the terminology of Alfred Schutz, we could say that every historian lives, first of all, in an Umwelt environment, but is not isolated in it, but lives in it with his contemporaries, with his Mitwelt. In turn, this world derives from a previous world, Vorwelt, and will continue in a successive one, Folgerwelt. The historian must try to understand all these interrelated worlds, which should not necessarily mean that he must also justify them or be the main protagonist of their transformation.

If what he wants is simply to understand them, he may end up justifying them, just like the antiquarian historian. If he tries to change them too quickly, it could be that, reversing the sense of the Marxian thesis on Feurerbach, that his desire to change the world leads him to forget that he first had to study it. The fundamental thing in him must be to think that it is not possible to change the world, the outside, if one continues to think in the same way as the Vorwelt. The work of the historian is above all an intellectual work. His mission, like that of other intellectuals, is to try to think the world according to new concepts. However, this intellectual work will not be pure intellectual work. For, if we can learn anything from the history of historiography, it is that it has either kept pace with, or slightly lagged behind (sometimes by a lot) the transformations of social reality.

History is not an eternal science but a historical product. It is probably not even a science but something very close to the common sense of each culture, if it is only a form of storytelling. What is certain is that it is itself a historical product, and that, as such, it is in continuous transformation. Heidegger said that what defines temporality is precisely the future. The past as such no longer exists. The present can be reduced to the insignificance of the instant. Thus, if we can say that time exists, it is because there is still a future. Human life, as Ortega y Gasset said, is like a bow, which must always be taut. The moment it ceases to be taut life will come to an end.

For this reason, the work of the critical historian must consist, in 1872 and today, in helping to liberate individual and collective life by seeking and disseminating new ways of thinking about it, and thus contributing to its transformational process. This work will ensure that the study of history does not find its meaning in reference to the past, but paradoxically in reference to the future. Antiquity, that part of history which, precisely because of its own chronological scope, might seem more inaccurate, has, like no other stage of history, no meaning in itself. The sense it had is that of its protagonists, who are no longer alive. If we want to give it meaning, we can only act in two ways: either by glorifying it and thus consecrating the present, which will be conceived as its correlate, or by writing ancient history with an eye to the future, a future that will soon also be the past.


José Carlos Bermejo Barrera is Professor of Ancient History at the University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain). He has published numerous books in the fields of mythology and religions of classical antiquity and the philosophy of history. Among these are The Limits of Knowledge and the Limits of Science, Historia y Melancolía, El Gran Virus. Ensayo para una pandemia, and most recently, La política como impostura y las tinieblas de la información. He has published numerous works in academic journals, such as History and Theory; Quaderni di Storia, Dialogues d’Histoire Ancienne, Madrider Mitteilungen. He is a regular contributor to the daily press.


The featured image shows, “The Girl or the Vase,” by Henryk Siemiradzki; painted in 1887.

Western Civilization Must Be Affirmed

Gerson Moreno-Riaño recently stated, “American colleges and universities have always positioned themselves as the bastions of knowledge and truth for the moral formation of their students. Regardless of intellectual debates surrounding the meaning of such terms, universities in America have never rejected implicit commitment to moral formation.”

By simply using the word “moral,” President Moreno-Riaño is already sending a message that he stands against the trend in modern institutions of higher education. The word “moral” connotes right and wrong within a Judeo-Christian matrix of understanding. The Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule, and loving one’s neighbor as oneself are increasingly portrayed by the apostles of heteronormative reality as covers for a hidden malignancy of exploitation and rejection that is unbecoming of civilized persons.

Instead, we are increasingly told by campus pundits and other self-proclaimed prophets of post-modernism that LGBT+Q (a couple of hundred varieties of sexuality come under the “Q”), feminism, anti-racism, and anti-white, male gender hegemony, are hallmarks of needed change in society.

To this crowd of miscreants – many of whom hold PhDs and teach at leading institutions of higher education – our entire society is living a lie. Our legal system is infected with racism from top to bottom which is why we see proportionally so many more African-Americans and Latinos in prisons than white people. The promotion of whiteness is the historical essence of American society, according to the proponents of the 1619 Project. These non-historians want to claim that the very founding of the USA was to glorify whiteness and to heap contempt on the non-white people of the Earth. We were not founded on true Christian or democratic principles like the furthering of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut that was the first constitution of Connecticut (1642) did not, according to those intent on demonizing whiteness, define the principles of government by which a people living in a state might enjoy self-government. Rather, that constitution like all the mores of colonial America, was a cover for a more sinister cover-up of an inherent, cancerous white supremacy. The underlying motive was not as might appear to be the case: “We deserve to rule ourselves because the principles of self-government are Biblical, and the affirmation of freedom is part of God’s plan for the universe;” but, according to the 1619 Project, that we are only claiming these goods because we are white and based on our racial superiority can and ought to claim them.

Everything we have been and are as a society is merely a rationalization to cover the sense of racial superiority and macho sexuality that underlies anything and everything we have done and achieved, anything and everything we take pride in having accomplished – politically, educationally, economically, medically, scientifically, socially, and legally. Straight male white society has built this monolith called the USA on the suffering of people of color, the oppression of women, the cruel suppression of non-heterosexual persons, and the rejection of Marxist ideology, even though, according to its proponents, that ideology would bring about the betterment of the greatest number of people in our society.

President Moreno-Riaño in the same article quoted above recommends, “the re-integration of the true, beautiful, and good within a context of pervasive and consistent open inquiry.” He also recommends the removal of funding from colleges that fail to do this. This writer found his shift to this position surprising since his article acknowledges that the teaching of Western Civ courses in colleges and universities has been decimated. Instead, this writer would cry out for a re-institution of those courses.

Western Civ encompasses the powerful traditions of Reason, beginning with ancient Greece and Rome; the power of Love via the great Christian commandments of loving one’s neighbor as oneself and loving the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength; the love of Beauty and Truth in our great literature and art works (John Keats’ “Ode To A Grecian Urn” says it better than this writer); and the great trans-racial and supra-racial achievements of Science, such as humankind has enjoyed since the 16th century. Without acknowledging the highest ideals embodied in Western Civ as being valued above all other ideals, we are doomed to demoralization, disruption, and decay.


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


The featured image shows, “The Architect’s Dream,” by Thomas Cole; painted 1840.

Founding A Real Christian University In An Age Of Unreality

The Age Of Unreality

Two decades ago, much talk existed globally of a “post-911” world and its permanency: “We’re never going back to the world that existed before the Two Towers fell,” we were told. Sometime in 2020, “The New Normal” was declared. Both these announcements signify paradigm shifts in global culture and mass psychology. Such shifts have occurred before in history, and we have learned all about them in our history books: From the Homeric to the Axial age to the Dark Ages, from Medieval Christendom to the Renaissance and to the Reformation, from the Enlightenment to the Industrial Revolution and to the Information Age. Is there anything unique or exceptional about this latest shift into “new normality,” or is it just one more in a long litany of human cultural evolutions?

In 2020, all public Masses throughout the Catholic world during Holy Week were cancelled. This has never happened—never—in the history of Christendom. The reason for the cancellation was, we were told, the worst plague in history. The fact that the Church was shut down—indeed, shut herself down—during her most sacred and otherwise inviolable celebrations reveals that this is a unique and exceptional paradigm shift.

The paradigm shift that has occurred and is still underway, with each day witnessing an ever-deepening shifting, is, I maintain, to the Age of Unreality. The most compelling evidence for the accuracy of this description is the fact that the Church herself has not only succumbed to this propaganda-concocted unreality, but has also taken a leading role in spreading it to the world.

As all the actual scientific evidence now indicates—and the data was available soon after March 2020 for those with eyes to see it and some conversance with credible alternative media journalism—no “pandemic” (in the traditional sense of the word, i.e., hundreds of millions of terminally sick and dead people all around the world) had actually existed.

What existed was a treatable, mostly non-lethal disease with an infectious fatality rate comparable to the common flu. And a pandemic exists, as I am writing this essay; it is not one of “variants,” but the mass deaths and injuries of the injected. Yet, an official Vatican conference was held in May of 2021 that supported with spurious and tendentious moral and theological rhetoric the false narrative, its attendant propaganda, and its final cause and raison d’etre: the injection of the entire global population with what the consensus of true science indicates is, not a vaccine at all, but an experimental, untested, and manifestly harmful—and fatal for a significant number—gene-altering serum.

As the abovementioned facts indicate, we are truly in uncharted waters: a worldwide propaganda onslaught the scale and malice of which the world has never seen hypnotizing the global populace into state of psychotic fear in which millions consented to, or at least did not widely and forcefully resist, a global economic shutdown—a crime against humanity on a massive scale. This shutdown included a deprivation of fundamental human rights, the physically and psychologically dangerous and medically useless masking of whole populations, including young children, and now the coercive program of injecting every living human being with a untested, gene-altering serum, all for a disease that according to the actual numbers is no more fatal than the flu.

Add to this the official endorsement of this totalitarian program by vast majority of Catholic clergy—indicated by closing of Churches, refusing to hear confessions or give Last Rites, mandating masks and social distancing, and even using their parishes as injection sites (not to mention the ever increasing celebration and normalization of abortion, sodomy, transgenderism, and the recent emergence of a full-fledged secularist, totalitarian technocracy), and it is easy to see we have truly transitioned into a physical, moral, intellectual, cultural, political, and spiritual Age of Unreality.

We know from Sacred Scripture and Tradition that a Great Tribulation will come upon the world in which the Antichrist will make his first personal appearance, coinciding with a great chastisement and persecution of Christians under his behest. After this, along with his counterfeit “church” now globally established and ubiquitous among Catholics and non-Catholics alike—“even the elect will be deceived, if that were possible”—he will be vanquished, followed by an Era of Peace in which Christ in the Eucharist will reign over the world in a spiritual state of supernatural and natural harmony, a civilization of love. The Age of Unreality we are now in is, if not the complete establishment of this counterfeit, global “church,” the inauguration of it; and we are undoubtedly now living in the Great Tribulation.

Real Christian University (RCU)

In the remainder of this essay and in a follow-up essay, I would like to inquire into the kind of college or university that would need to be founded to educate young people most effectively in and for the Age of Unreality. I shall call this hypothetical institution, “Real Christian University” (RCU). My thesis is that such a university would have to be both radically traditional and radically new.

The kind of teachers, students, curriculum, and pedagogy that enable any university’s mission to succeed must be determined in light of that mission; and the mission of any university must be determined in light of both the perennial and universal principles of education and the human soul and the exigencies and dictates of the time and place of its founding.

As a robustly Christian and integrally classical, liberal-arts university founded in early twenty-first century America, RCU would have only to consult as her models the successful colleges and universities of similar mission that have preceded her in the last several decades to discover these perennial principles in both theory (in their founding documents) and in practice (in the concrete and dynamic life and shape of their communities). Thus, RCU would take its essential core from the Christian, predominantly Catholic, intellectual and educational tradition and institutional models that have recently been built upon it.

But these institutions, however excellent and resonant with our mission, were founded before the Age of Unreality had reached and revealed the fullness of its nature. Thus, their capacity to serve as models for a similar institution founded in 2021 is significantly limited. The cultural and educational crises to which these colleges’ founders responded were profound—the culture of death, secularism, scientism, the dictatorship of relativism, the instrumentalization and fragmentation of curriculum, the loss of wonder—but none of them compare to the crisis we now face, for it is both the synthesis and culmination of all of them: the global, totalitarian, technocratic supplanting of Reality by a man-made counterfeit. As C. J. Hopkins puts it:

“The New Normals — i.e., those still wearing masks outdoors, shrieking over meaningless “cases,” bullying everyone to get “vaccinated,” and collaborating with the segregation of the “Unvaccinated” — are not behaving the way they’re behaving because they are stupid. They are behaving that way because they’re living in a new “reality” that has been created for them over the course of the last 17 months by a massive official propaganda campaign, the most extensive and effective in the history of propaganda.”

Thus, in addition to being traditional and conservative, RCU would need to be radical and experimental. Józef Życiński has written:

“To live the faith of Abraham is to be ready at a day’s notice to pack the tents symbolizing everything that is dear to one and to go to a new, unknown place, which God will indicate, completely independently of rational calculations or our emotional predilections. To live the faith of Abraham in the cultural context of postmodernity is to be able calmly to pack up the tents of congenial concepts and arguments, not in order to set out on a desert path, but to set them up again in a different context and in a different form, in a place indicated by God. In an Abrahamic testimony of faith, one may not lose heart on account of the wildness of new places or on account of a feeling of loneliness in a foreign landscape. We must constantly seek the face of the Lord (Psalm 27:8), listening carefully to His voice, which could be either a discreet whisper or a delicate breeze (1 Kings 19:12). We need to love God more than the logic of convincing deductions and the collection of respected authorities, to which we like to refer in times of difficulty. We need to accept the provisionality of contingent means, in order that the Divine Absolute might all the more clearly reveal in them his power. Only then does the contemporary “wandering Aramaean” reveal the style in which, amidst the darkness of our doubt, flashes the light of the great adventure of our faith.”

For our purposes, the “tents of congenial concepts and arguments” are the curricula of the predominantly and traditionally Christian, integrated liberal-arts colleges and universities. The “different context” is the Age of Unreality. The “place indicated by God” is yet to be determined. As for the “different form,” we will attempt to set this out in the remainder of this essay and in a future essay, but we can say now that whatever form the “faith of Abraham” must take for today, it will not only have to incorporate, integrate, and transmit the classical and predominantly Catholic intellectual and educational tradition, modeling itself upon them, but also render this tradition fit and fruitful for an age whose discontinuity from all preceding ones is all but absolute.

An Education Into Reality

Many Catholic colleges and universities have articulated well the perennial principles and curriculum of Catholic liberal education in their founding documents. And their foundings share essentially the same raison d’etre, though expressed differently according to their particular charisms. The reality of American Catholic higher education to which their founding was a grace-ordained response was etsi Deus non daretur, “as if God did not exist.”

Of course, there were then courses offered in the humanities, philosophy, and theology where the idea of God was discussed, but His reality was not taken seriously by a critical mass of students, faculty, and administrators—especially the large, big-name ones that I need not mention. If it had been, the end result of four years at these institutions would have been, and be, greater Faith, wisdom, and holiness in the graduates, instead of greater confusion, immorality, worldliness, and apostasy. For the newer integrally Catholic colleges and universities, taking the reality of God seriously meant revising of the entire curriculum and culture to be ordered mainly to the study of God as its first principle and end, with the reality of God as the heart of their institutions’ mission.

When the Living God, the Most Holy Trinity, was dethroned from Catholic higher education in America, reality itself became obscured. For God is ultimate reality, and when education leaves God aside through practical atheism, or relegates Him to one belief or idea among others through theological relativism and subjectivism, it is bound to become an education into the unreal, regardless of how ‘scholarly’ or ‘scientific’ it might claim to be. As Frank Sheed wrote decades ago:

“Therefore if we see anything at all—ourself or some other man, or the universe as a whole or any part of it—without at the same time seeing God holding it there, then we are seeing it all wrong. If we saw a coat hanging on a wall and did not realize that it was held there by a hook, we should not be living in the real world at all, but in some fantastic world of our own in which coats defied the law of gravity and hung on walls by their own power. Similarly if we see things in existence and do not in the same act see that they are held in existence by God, then equally we are living in a fantastic world, not the real world. Seeing God everywhere and all things upheld by Him is not a matter of sanctity, but of plain sanity, because God IS everywhere and all things are upheld by Him. What we do about it may be sanctity; but merely seeing it is sanity. To overlook God’s presence is not simply to be irreligious; it is a kind of insanity, like overlooking anything else that is actually there.”

For Sheed, education into reality meant first reauthorizing the Church in Catholic education, and not just one community of like-minded religious believers among others, but as the true and unique Mystical Body of Christ whose infallible teachings on nature, humanity, and God, and whose eternal-life-giving sacraments and liturgy serve as the bulwark and guide for all learning.

And it meant a rejection of the anti-tradition of Enlightenment scientism, naturalism, and pragmatism, with its soulless curriculum of fractured disciplines ordered to will-to-power and ideology. It meant a return to the medieval, sapiential Tradition of the marriage of Faith and reason, with its soul-nourishing curriculum of the trivial and quadrivial arts and humanities ordered to the architectonic natural and divine sciences of philosophy and theology.

The means of education are determined by its subject and end. The subject is the human person who is to be educated, and the end is the transformation we seek to make in his soul. The telos of this educational transformation is, generically, the same for all ages and places—perfection of the human soul and person through attainment of contemplative wisdom in intellectual virtue through perfecting of the speculative, or contemplative, powers of the intellectual soul and moral virtue through perfection of prudential powers of choice within the same soul.

In modern cultures, this end is prudentially adapted to the exigencies of practical life, including an orientation of the curriculum and pedagogy to the needs of the Church for evangelization and vocations, the common good of large-scale, technologically conditioned political and economic order, and the flourishing of family life through professional education and career success. This is not to say that liberal education must become mere job training and preparation for career, but only that it must have an eye to these things as at least indirect, subordinate, and prudent, or common sense, ends.

The various curricula developed by these colleges were identical in the end to which they were ordered: natural and supernatural contemplative wisdom. Thus, they were also very similar in fundamental content and pedagogy, with philosophy, theology, and Great Books at the core, and Socratic discussion as the primary mode of teaching and learning. The trivial arts, mathematics and the natural sciences, and classical languages were also considered essential and given varied but serious weight, and lecture and pure seminar were employed, again, to varying extents, to complement the primary pedagogy of Socratic dialectic.

The main differences were in emphasis and charism, with colleges like Thomas More and the University of Dallas focused more on humanities, Thomas Aquinas College giving Thomistic philosophy pride of place, and Wyoming Catholic College attempting a balanced synthesis of theology, philosophy, and humanities undergirded by an experiential outdoor curriculum ordered to physical, emotional, and moral virtue.

All sought to provide their students a deep, comprehensive, and integrated immersion in the Real, both imaginatively, intellectually, and spiritually (with WCC including physically), through a curriculum and institutional milieu grounded in the Catholic intellectual, spiritual, and cultural tradition and leading their students from wonder to wisdom to God.

RCU would be no different than the aforementioned colleges and universities in being a Catholic and classical “school of reality,” with its curriculum, pedagogy, and culture essentially modeled upon these institutions—there is no reason to reinvent the wheel. Yet, as all of these institutions were founded before the Age of Unreality, RCU could not use these as adequate models. Indeed, there is no model for her to use that would be adequate to her traditional, yet unprecedented mission. We are literally in unchartered territory. So, a sense exists in which the educational wheel must be reinvented. What would educational immersion in the Real look like in an Age of Unreality?

Lovers Of The Real

The proper means of liberal education, especially the curriculum and pedagogy, is determined by the result at which it aims. Liberal education aims at the perfection of the rational powers of the soul of a rational animal—to the attainment of wisdom. Pater Edmund Waldstein has put it well:

“A liberal education aims at helping educating persons to attain to universal truth, and thus be truly free. Such an education is worthwhile for its own sake, rather for the sake of some further end, such as professional success. Nevertheless, it also enables persons to contribute to the good of society. It provides the foundation for sound political activity, based on a true understanding of the common good. Moreover, it helps to articulate the theological understanding necessary for the life of the Church, and the habits necessary for the Christian life.”

To attain universal truth and be truly free, to contribute to the good of society, to engage in sound political activity based on a true understanding of the common good, and to articulate theological understanding and develop the habits necessary for the Christian life are the ends for which
RCU would be established; and, in light of these ends, its curriculum and pedagogy would be essentially similar to the colleges that have come before it.

In all ages, the means to attain these perennial ends are also perennial: master teachers and master works in dialectical discussion, theology, philosophy, and the seven liberal arts in a community of learning ordered to truth and holiness. How these curricular and pedagogical means would themselves be applied to the educational end, the ‘means to the means,’ as it were, will be different, adapted to the particular language, culture, habits of mind, and exigences of the place and time in which they are engaged.

For example, the medieval trivium and quadrivium have been radically revised and extended due to the exponential growth and complexity of the arts and sciences beginning in the Renaissance. And so, what a successful and fruitful liberal-arts college education means and requires for an eighteen-year-old, middle-class, homeschooled freshmen in twenty-first century America is, however alike in essentials, dramatically different from what even a late twentieth-century American student would have required, let alone a European or Middle Eastern one.

But in an Age of Unreality, the age-place-time requirements and hence the differences will need to be even more dramatic. For, again, what we are dealing with in our day is something unprecedented and unimaginable to prior generations. Therefore, RCU would teach theology according to the Catechism, the Encyclicals, Council Documents, the Fathers, and the Scholastics, as well as those modern and contemporary theologians faithful to the Deposit of the Faith. It would teach the perennial philosophy in accordance with the Catholic philosophical tradition, with St. Thomas Aquinas as Master-guide, again, along with those modern and contemporary philosophers who have continued and developed this tradition.

And while it will teach the humanities, contemporary physical sciences, and the fine arts in an integrally Catholic manner ordered to the True, Good, and Beautiful, the exigencies of our time would require a radical and innovative adaption of these perennial sources and disciplines.

We must prepare future evangelists and religious for a Church that has been deeply coopted by the evilest of forces, and for a world that is awash in the most sophisticated, effective, and malicious propaganda ever created, causing the vast majority of people in the world to be in a perpetual state of psychological trauma and delusion.

We must prepare future Catholic families to flourish in a world where men and women no longer exist as stable identities, where children are seen as exploitable commodities or insufferable burdens, and where marriage no longer exists as a natural, let alone a supernatural, reality. We cannot afford merely to have ‘an eye’ to these challenges.

We must incorporate them intimately and intrinsically in the curriculum and pedagogy. This does not entail any essential change in the traditional Catholic liberal-arts program in its means and end but it does mean more than keeping these challenges in the background. RCU must face them head on.

In a future essay I hope to delve into the details of what this would look like in terms of mission, curriculum, pedagogy, and culture. To give you a taste, let’s just say that Jacques Ellul’s Propaganda, Andrzej Łobaczewski’s Political Ponerology, and the complete works of René Girard will be some of the Great Books we study; courses will include the liberal art of deconstructing media and government narratives, the history of false-flag terrorism, the nature of the Deep State, Catholic prophecies if Antichrist, and the reality and power of occult societies, such as Freemasonry.

There will be practical, skills courses on economic independence and self-sufficiency. There will be deep teaching in psychology, especially psychopathy, narcissism, and ritual scapegoating. In sum, to claim that our students will become aware of the actual world in which they live and adept at Socratic inquiry and dialectics would be a bit of an understatement. Lastly, education of their hearts to love the One, Good, True, and Beautiful will take precedence over mere intellectual formation. For it is only wise and prudent, loving and courageous hearts that can supplant the Age of Unreality with the Civilization of Love, and usher in the Great Era of Peace.


Dr. Thaddeus Kozinski is former Associate Professor of Philosophy and Humanities at Wyoming Catholic College and Academic Dean. He teaches Great Books for Angelicum Academy and Spiritual Direction for Divine Mercy University. His latest books are Modernity as Apocalypse: Sacred Nihilism and the Counterfeits of Logos, and Words, Concepts, Reality: Aristotelian Logic for Teenagers.


The featured image shows, “The Education of the Virgin,” by Michaelina Wautier; painted in 1656.

Antiquity Under The Guise Of Melancholy

In one of the problems in the Aristotelian corpus (The Book of Problems, XXX, 1), which deals with those related to thought, intelligence and wisdom, its author asks: “why were all men who have excelled in philosophy, politics or poetry or the arts melancholic” (XXX, 1, 10-14), as were many heroes of mythology, such as, Heracles, and “in recent times so have been Empedocles, Plato, Socrates and many other notable men” (XXX, 1, 26-30).

The answer is that there is a direct relationship between melancholy and what we call creativity, as Maria Grazia Ciani has shown. The melancholy of the Aristotelian problem actually encompasses all forms of mental disorder. Aristotle relates it to the loss of control of the passions and assimilates it to drunkenness, and links it to sexual desire and to sleep disturbances in such a way as to give the impression that the common origin of all desires and passions, which later in St. Augustine and later in Sigmund Freud, will receive the name of libido, is the engine that contains the energy which allows for different types of artistic and intellectual creation. Thus, in this brief text we have the origin of the romantic idea of association of genius with madness, analyzed in recent times by the philosopher and psychiatrist Karl Jaspers. Before Aristotle, one of these melancholics, Plato, in his dialogue, The Phaedrus, (244 A) had already stated that “our greatest goods are born thanks to madness” (mania), and there being four kinds of it: the prophetic, whose patron is Apollo, the telestitic or ritual, whose patron is Dionysus, the poetic, whose patrons are the Muses, and the erotic, inspired by Aphrodite and Eros.

Platonic mania is directly related to poetic inspiration, conceived as vision or trance; and therefore, it is also understood as a source of creativity. What happens with Platonic mania and melancholia is that they become metonymies, confusing the part with the whole, because in Hellenic tradition and medicine, mental illness, when conceived under an organic model, a model that coexists with the religious, in which the disease is understood as possession, and the philosophical, in which it is related to the passions and thought, is structured in a more complex morphology.

The Greeks in fact divided the alterations of the passions and thought, madness, into two large groups: delirium with fever, which corresponds to the inflammation of the brain, and delirium without fever, which would be our mental illness. This is structured in two great poles: mania, or agitated madness, with delusions and hallucinations, and sometimes accompanied by violence, and melancholia or sad and apathetic madness, reaching immobility and resemblance to death in catatonia. Next to these two great groups we have senile dementia, epilepsy, and the disease proper of women, hysteria.

Plato and Aristotle reduce all forms of madness to one, because what interests them is analyzing how the imbalance of the passions allows intellectual creation. The melancholic desires to live in solitude, like Heraclitus, the philosopher who wept, as opposed to Democritus, the philosopher laughed, in the Hellenic tradition. This solitude is the condition of his superiority, because it allows him to observe things and people objectively, thanks to the distance and detachment from passions. It is supposed that Heraclitus, like the Nietzschean Zarathustra, went to live in the mountains, became a vegetarian and, after returning to his hometown, died of dropsy, because of the water that accumulated in his body because of his diet. Euripides, the misanthrope of tradition, the first possessor of a library, is supposed to have lived in a cave; and Aristotle himself, who was called “the reader” in the Academy, made writing to be read, not recited or dialogued, the key to his philosophy. The first Christians practiced anachoresis as a way of life and a way of seeking knowledge; and with them was born silent reading, mentioned for the first time in history by St. Augustine in his Confessions, when he recounts his surprise at seeing Ambrose reading silently in Milan.

Solitude and melancholy were considered the indispensable condition for observation; and the artist, the philosopher or the historian thus became neutral observers of the passions and catastrophes of others, as described by Pseudo-Longinus in his treatise, On the Sublime, in which the scene of the spectacle of the shipwreck, seen from the cliff, as the source of the aesthetic feeling of sublime beauty, understood as that which overrides the passions and elevates thought, as opposed to the pleasurable feeling of the beautiful, became a key element in Western thought.

The paradigm of the melancholic spectator, observer of the past, or of the present, was fundamental in Europe from the Renaissance onwards. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw a brilliant revival of melancholy. Robert Burton, an Oxonian clergyman, was the author in 1628 of a masterpiece (The Anatomy of Melancholy), that drew upon an exhaustive study of biblical and classical sources on this feeling.

For Burton, who was a neo-Stoic, all disorders of the soul are due to the uncontrolled passions of all kinds; and all of them are nothing more than different forms of melancholy in his monumental and erudite treatise. His study is so complete that all aspects of human life of the present and the past are reflected in it, for what is history but the study of the joys and sorrows, the ambitions, hatreds, loves, thoughts and feelings of human beings? The work of the anatomist of melancholy is to try to describe from a distance the story of all these passions, seen from the dispassion that provides academic isolation and the disenchantment of all passions, typical of the philosopher and historian, which would lead Burton himself to also fall into melancholy.

Burton’s book is situated on a very expansive context. Already in 1586, in England itself, Timothie Bright had devoted another book to the subject. And in France the same had been done by André du Laurens in 1594 and Jourdan Guibelet in 1603.

Melancholy came to know a bright future, in the literature of romanticism; and some sociologists, such as, Wolf Lepenies tried to associate it with the ways of thinking and feeling of the emerging and frustrated German bourgeoisie. For example, those whose role was essential in the birth and consolidation of classical studies, focused on the evocation of a vanished past. However, long before that, melancholy was directly associated with visions of the past.

The Greek author of the Qoheleth, better known as, Ecclesiastes, a treatise attributed to the wisest king, Solomon, developed a whole theory of history, which tried to make sense of the time he lived in, the Hellenistic era, characterized by its endless succession of wars, which would affect the Jewish people very directly.

According to the Qoheleth, history cannot recover the past, definitively lost and impossible to reconstruct:

“Vanity of vanities! Everything is vanity. What profit does anyone gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun? One generation passes away and another generation succeeds it, but the earth stands firm forever. The sun rises and the sun sets; then it returns to the place where it rises.
The wind blows southward and then veers to the north, constantly turning as it repeats its course. All the rivers go to the sea, and yet the sea never overflows, for the rivers continue to return to their place of origin. All things are wearisome and very difficult to express. The eyes are not satisfied with seeing and the ears do not have their fill of hearing. What has been will be so again, and what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Whatever is perceived to be new has already existed in the ages before us. Those people who died in ages past are no longer remembered, and the people yet to be born will not be remembered by those who come after them. I have seen everything that has been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a chase after the wind”
(Ecclesiastes 1).

The impossibility of recovering the past through the evocation of it that historians can do was a substantial part of European thought, which contemplated it until the Renaissance under the rubric of melancholy. Here is just one example from Jorge Manrique, when he says:

Let us leave the Trojans,
For we have not seen their evils
Nor their glories;
Let us leave the Romans,
Though we have heard and read
Of their victories.
Let us not care to know
What of the century past,
And how it went.
Let us come to yesterday,
Which is as well forgotten
as all of that (Coplas, XV).

These verses are especially pertinent because they deal with the classical tradition, never lost in the Middle Ages and again in force from the “Renaissance” of the twelfth century. Greek and Roman history, together with biblical history, is fully alive in Jorge Manrique, as well as in late medieval Spanish literature, as María Rosa Lida de Malkiel pointed out.

If we read one of the first incunabula, the Weltkronik by Hartmann Schedel, published in 1493, which is interesting not only for its text but also its hundreds of illustrations, we can observe how this history of the world that begins with the biblical creation intermingles, following the historiographic tradition of St. Augustine and Orosius, the Jewish, Greek and Roman histories. All its characters are equally present in the text and the engravings, as are the oriental cities and those of the classical world in the miniatures. From all of them, from their lives and sayings, a moral lesson can be drawn, in the style of Valerius Maximus. Here the loop of melancholy has been broken, for the past becomes present, but at the cost of anachronism and imitation of it, as will happen in the European Renaissance, incomprehensible without the birth of the printed book, which will later be key to understanding the role of classical studies.

The printing press was an essential agent of change to make the Renaissance possible, and also the Reformation and the scientific revolution; for without it, the codification and general transmission of knowledge would have been impossible. In the case of Spain, for example, it was precisely the scarcity of printing presses and publishers which, together with the Counter-Reformation, largely explains the weakness of Spanish humanism, as Luis Gil Fernandez has shown in a very detailed study.

The birth of history and philology as sciences is inseparable from the overcoming of anachronism, which fully identifies the past and the present; and from the establishment of what is called estrangement, or the distancing of the present and the past. This process of estrangement makes it possible to create the necessary distance for the development of an objective method, as Anthony Kemp and David Lowenthal have pointed out. However, this distancing must be accompanied by an interest that promotes the study of a distant past and brings with it the birth of a certain process of assimilation.

The scientific study of all aspects of classical culture was institutionalized in Germany, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The importance of German scholarship was such that we can say that, just as classical Greece and Rome were the ideal homeland of many Germans, Germany itself is in a sense the common homeland of all scholars of antiquity.

In order to understand this process, two kinds of factors must be taken into account. External factors, referring to Germany’s own political and social situation and the development of its new university system; and internal factors, which allowed the institutionalization of all this systematic body of knowledge, Wissenschaften, without which it is impossible to access the ancient world.

Germany at the end of the 18th century was a conglomerate of small kingdoms, with the exception of Prussia, and dozens of free cities, known today as “Home Towns,” which the Germans called Heimat. Their population was more than 80% rural, and political domination corresponded to the nobility and the different churches. An average German town had between 3,000 and 5,000 inhabitants, was under the power of a local nobleman or ecclesiastical authority and its municipal life was controlled by guilds and corporations and was clearly restricted, which did not prevent the development of an important culture and a certain publishing industry. Germany’s economic and industrial development was very limited and its industrialization took place late in the 19th century. For this reason, a significant bourgeois class did not emerge that would allow the social and economic advancement of, for example, the intellectual professions.

We may take as an essential and social model the figure of Friedrich Schiller, poet, playwright and historian. Of humble origin, he trained as a military doctor, but became one of the first professors of history in Germany and author of the first great publishing success of the 19th century, his History of the Thirty Years’ War. Schiller and Goethe lived under the protection, and many times the whim, of the nobles and petty princes; and both considered, like many German intellectuals, culture as a way out and an escape route from the situation of social constraint.

Heinrich Heine said that in Napoleonic times, England dominated the sea, France the land and Germany the air, thanks to its cultural creations. Culture was conceived as a way of sublimation and escape from the present, and it was thought that there could be full human freedom, civil, cultural and intellectual, without full political freedom, thus creating what Leonard Krieger called the German idea of freedom, a freedom under the cloak of authority, often times arbitrary.

Such freedom under surveillance and such constraint of a social class, the bourgeoisie, meant that culture was understood as a form of nostalgia for a past in which that freedom had been possible – and that was the role of Greek and Roman culture, evoked as absence in Schiller’s own poems, which we can clearly see in his Die Götter Griechenlandes:

Ja, sie kehrten heim, und alles Schöne,
Alles Hohe nahmen sie mit fort,
Alle Farben, alle Lebenstöne,
Und uns blieb nur das entseelte Wort.
Aus der Zeitflut weggerissen, schweben
Sie gerettet auf des Pindus Höhn,
Was unsterblich im Gesang soll leben,
Muß im Leben untergehn.

(Yes, they returned home, and everything beautiful,
Everything high they took with them,
All colors, all sounds of life,
And all that was left for us was the lifeless word.
Torn away from the tide of time, they float
They are saved on Pindus heights.
What shall live immortal in song,
Must perish in life).

The idealized past of Greece is the poet’s true homeland, as it was for Goethe; the land where the lemon tree blooms. The poet understands the evocation of the past, in which freedom and beauty were lost, as an essential function of poetry and historical narrative. This is also the case in Friedrich Hölderlin’s epistolary novel, Hyperion. In this novel, Hyperion’s letters to Diotima evoke both the loss of freedom, love and happiness, through creation and reading. The Germans created a culture understood as a remembrance of the national past and of a past they identified as their own in Greece and Rome. This explains the importance of the study of all aspects of the past in the development of their national culture. In it, this German idea of conditional freedom was directly linked to the idea of Bildung, or education and shaping of the mind and life of each individual; and fundamental in that Bildung was the creation of the new European university by Wilhelm von Humboldt, at the University of Berlin, under the protection of the King of Prussia.

Wilhelm von Humboldt created the so-called research university, in which a professor had full freedom to teach and research his knowledge and was provided with the means to do so. This professor, be it L. von Ranke, G.W.F. Hegel, K. von Savigny, J. Liebig and so many others, would train not only students but also researchers; and thus, the institutionalization of the Altertumswissenschaft became possible. The new university gave birth to a new social and personal type, the professor, with his specific ideology and ethics analyzed by A.J. Engel.

In Germany, the university and the liberal professions (doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists), were the essential means of social ascent, in a country where the delayed industrialization did not allow until very late the birth of a rich bourgeoisie. The Jews, excluded from the university professions almost until the 20th century, took refuge in them. The German professors were free in their privileged world, isolated from politics by their knowledge; but they always depended on the political power in the public universities; and that is why they were always politically very conservative and could not react to the rise of Nazism, according to Fritz Ringer. Such was the internal framework in which the Altertumswissenschaft was institutionalized. Let us now see what it consists of.

The German word, Wissenschaft, designates any kind of systematic knowledge of a given subject, and is not exactly equivalent to the English term, “science.” There is a Judentumwissenschaft, a set of knowledge necessary to be able to understand and study Jewish culture and history; and for the same reason there is a Religionswissenschaft, which does not consist in reducing religious phenomena to a science, because then the specifics of religious experience would be reduced to nothing. The Altertumwissenschaft is a whole system of knowledge necessary to be able to study what is considered a strongly unitary phenomenon, which is the world of classical antiquity.

Its basis is the knowledge of two languages, Greek and Latin, in all their aspects: morphological, syntactic and semantic, the study of their history and all the metrical, stylistic and rhetorical forms necessary to be able to understand the texts in these two ancient languages. But this study of languages is only a part of it, since it also includes the study of archaeology, epigraphy and numismatics, as well as, of course, classical history and all literary genres: epic, lyric, tragedy, comedy, prose, history, oratory, and philosophy in its various parts, as well as all the sciences developed by the Greeks and Romans. August Boeck pointed this out in 1886; but he also indicated that philology was “the knowledge of what is known.” By this he meant that its aim was to achieve the understanding, or in other words, the updating of the experiences lived in all fields, felt and thought by the men and women of Antiquity.

Naturally, only very few authors managed to master all these fields, although some did, such as Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, who wrote on Greek language, literature, history, philosophy and religion. By doing so, Wilamowitz maintained the idea of the unity of the subject of study, and because he was aware of the hermeneutic character of all these disciplines. A classical philologist turned philosopher, Hans Georg Gadamer, thus developed a theory that gave a perfect account of the work of the philologist, the historian and the philosopher. For Gadamer, these disciplines, called hermeneutics, were structured as follows.

A hermeneutic discipline studies a cultural and historical whole that is defined by the existence of a corpus of texts which is transmitted over time, while being studied and enriched. This body of texts shapes a cultural and personal identity and creates a sense of belonging. Think, for example, of the role of the Old and New Testaments in Christianity, the Talmud in Judaism, and the Koran for Muslims. Each member of that group is recognized as such through tradition. His identity is delimited by that tradition and through its identification with the corpus of its texts. But it is by immersing oneself in it that one constantly recreates one’s identity and renews it, while at the same time keeping alive the tradition to which one belongs. Hermeneutic activity is based on reading, rereading and commenting on texts. In it, to read is to begin to write, and to write is to read again.

This going to the old textual corpus and then returning to the present is what Gadamer called the “hermeneutic circle;” and it is this circle, based on continuous and endless reading, that is the basis of the work of the historian, the philologist and the philosopher, three figures that overlap in the field of Altertumwissenchaft. Without texts, without books and without reading, all these studies become meaningless.

David Hume once said that “reason is and must be the slave of the passions,” to the scandal of moralists and Stoic philosophers. In reality Hume led a rather discreet and stoic life, and so what he meant by that phrase is that the motor of our psychic life is not thought, but feeling – passion. For that reason, it is incomprehensible that the gigantic effort, in all the disciplines necessary to be able to study classical antiquity, could have been developed, if there had not been some deep interest in it.

And, of course, there was deep interest in Germany. Greek and Latin formed the basis of the baccalaureate studied at the Gymnasium, the secondary school for those who would go on to university studies, and which, by the way, was attended by not even 10% of young German adolescents, since the majority who studied did so at the Realschule, where they studied modern languages, and sciences and techniques necessary for the development of commerce and economic or industrial activity.

The prolonged study of Classical languages made it possible to create a whole corps of professors and scholars, who made possible the massive work of study and cataloguing that made it possible in Germany to create the great corpora of inscriptions and texts, and to elaborate the great instruments of consultation, such as, the Real-Enzyklopaedie, a gigantic collective work, indispensable for study, even today; and which was developed over many years, like so many other working methods.

What did the Germans see in Greece and Rome? We might even say, why did they become obsessed with Greece, which exercised a kind of tyranny over German culture and thought? They no longer saw in it a nostalgic past, in which men had been free and happy, as had been the Greece of Schiller and Hölderlin, but a model to be followed in all areas of culture, for Greece had created philosophy, science, art and the best literature, and also provided the models on which European political systems were based.

The Altertumwsissenschaft conceived Antiquity sub specie aeternitatis, as had been the model of Roma aeterna. Ever since Constantine moved his capital to Constantinople, the double idea of translatio and renovatio developed. Rome could remain Rome elsewhere and constantly renew itself. The emperors of Byzantium remained emperors of Rome, and then also the czars of Russia, who called themselves Caesars. And the same thing happened in the West, ever since the coronation of Charlemagne, which meant the creation of the Holy Roman Empire, which survived until the Napoleonic wars, when it was neither sacred, nor an empire, nor Roman, nor Germanic, as Voltaire pointed out, but which was renewed with the Second Reich and then unfortunately with the Third Reich which was supposed to last a thousand years.

Greece and Rome were the timeless model to imitate for the entire German cultured society. If we read the 1878 book by Jakob von Falke, a jewel of German publishing for the quality of its engravings and binding, we can realize that, despite its shortcomings as a historical work, since for its time it does not cite either Droysen’s or Mommsen’s works, it reflects very well the passion of the German bourgeoisie for the Classical world. It is a luxurious book of great size that could adorn a good bourgeois salon, attesting to the admiration for that vanished world.

The paradigm of classical history sub specie aeternitatis began to be criticized in the early nineteenth century by authors such as Tocqueville, and was the subject of fierce ideological battles, as each country tried to identify with the Classical past in its own way, creating antithetical models.

The Germans tended to identify themselves, following the model created by K.O. Müller, more with Sparta than with Athens, since Sparta, a traditional state, with an agrarian base and militaristic organization, was conceived as a kind of simile of Prussia at the beginning of the 19th century: agrarian, disciplined, militaristic and conservative, as Édouard Will pointed out years ago. Similarly, English liberals, such as George Grote, identified Athens with their native England: maritime, commercial, democratic and enlightened.

And in the United States, where the presence of Classical studies was always very limited since the subject was not taught in secondary education, Classical models served on the one hand to justify their peculiar institution, slavery, but on the other hand, they were also a model for the drafting of their republican Constitution, conceived on a more Roman than Greek model. One of its drafters, however, proposed in an amendment that the new official language of the USA should be the Attic dialect, as they could no longer maintain the language of their metropolis.

In France, from the very moment of the Revolution, the Greek and Roman republican models were present, and for this reason numerous histories of Greece and Rome were published. This approach has always been present among French historians of the Classical world, even among those who had political commitments that were later very debatable, as in the case of Jérome Carcopino, in whose work this was always a fundamental component, since he believed that the study of the past could not be dissociated from the present.

After the mark left by the numerous works of Arnaldo Momigliano on the development of the historiography of antiquity and Classical studies in general, the study of the historiography of ancient history is now an academically consolidated field. Luciano Canfora has published numerous books and articles on the subject. In all these works it can be seen how all political ideologies – liberal or conservative, Marxist, Fascist, Nazi, or of any other type have needed to be confirmed through the study of their precedents in antiquity. This need to find a justification in such origins is what has so far kept alive in many cases the interest in the ancient world, and to some extent continues to do so.

However, what is happening nowadays is that these justifications are no longer undertaken by means of documented research work, carried out in accordance with the rules of the historical method, but by means of informative books of a more or less propagandistic nature. This is what is happening in the USA with authors who seek in the Greek past a legacy according to which only a strong military power can be the guarantee of freedom, economic development and democracy, tending to change the Athenian model for the Spartan one, in cases such as that of the ideologist Robert D. Kaplan. Although this new orientation is also present in the case of professional historians of Greek antiquity, such as, Victor Davis Hanson.

The Russian Revolution, the birth of Fascism, Nazism and later the Second World War, and the process of decolonization of the world brought about profound transformations in Western societies that caused the Classical models, conceived under the paradigm of eternity, to enter into crisis. Nevertheless, Classical studies managed, until recently, to maintain their vigor, because the richness of Classical sources, covering all fields (medicine, science, philosophy), and all possible aspects of social and family life, and the expression of the most varied ideas and feelings, provided an excellent testing ground for all kinds of studies. Feminism, of course, drank profusely from ancient sources and also the so-called gender studies or the history of sexuality, a subject vetoed by the authors of the nineteenth century.

The Greek sin par excellence became the object of privileged study in the departments of gender studies. Dozens of books and hundreds of articles have been published, creating a field of work that has been synthesized by James Davidson, a Classical philologist, in a comprehensive and exhaustively documented book that stretches into 634 pages. It is said that you can only study what you love, what you hate, or what you have already dreamed about. In that sense, and if we leave aside the enormous effort involved in the study of Classical languages and philology, less than that of mathematics or physics, however, Classical studies should not be in crisis and be subjected to a certain shared melancholic sensation of seeming to live out its end.

Numerous voices of alarm have been raised. Victor Davis Hanson himself, along with John Heath, has asked the question: “Who killed Homer?” According to them, only the recovery of Classical wisdom as a whole that integrates what in the USA is called “humanities” can allow Classical studies to be saved, lost in a world that values publications only by their number, obsessed by publication for publication’s sake, and in which the monographs of those who know more and more about less and less, and focused on insignificant topics supposedly very technical, have made the reading rate of the Classics decline sharply, in a parallel process to the loss of general knowledge among a good part of the professors.

In Italy, Salvatore Settis has asked himself the same question, as has a historian of Greek philosophy, Giuseppe Cambiano. The idea is repeated. Reading the Classics is fundamental because of the richness of their contents and because we cannot understand our cultural legacy without them. But what would happen if we no longer recognized, or even wanted to recognize our cultural legacy? What if what we reject is the book itself and reading, two essential components without which neither history, philology nor philosophy would make sense? Could it be that the rejection of the world of books is global and therefore that the hermeneutic disciplines have become impossible? Some believe so.

Each society creates its own system of global communication (very different in oral cultures), and among cultures with different degrees of literacy and in the electronic, visual and digital world. Marshall McLuhan had already warned of this in his now classic book, The Gutenberg Galaxy. These communication systems do not absolutely determine linguistic expression, much less thought. But they can do so, if they are used inappropriately.

Information can be processed in different ways and can be measured and quantified. All information is either assimilated or lost; and the process of assimilation takes place over time, since information is a flow. The assimilation capacity in a given time is inversely proportional to the speed of the flow. If speed is the result of dividing space by time:

S= s/t,
then the speed of the information is equal to its quantity divided by time:

S= Qi/t,
being the assimilation the division between the information itself and time. That is:

Ai= Qi/ t2

For this reason, the proliferation of information in the digital media, which of course is a great enrichment and creates very useful tools for consultation and research in the field of Classical studies and ancient history, becomes a toxic tool, if it is not used as a means to an end. The training of a historian or scholar of the humanities can only be based on the study of texts, on their reading, re-reading and analysis, and on the practice of reflective writing. Digital media are just that, media, as are printed dictionaries. A dictionary contains all the words; but in order to write, one must know how to handle language in terms of structured thought. Buying a dictionary is not enough. There are also all the letters on a keyboard; and they can be combined in millions of random ways; but a chimpanzee amanuensis will hardly create a good book.

Computer experts have drawn attention to the birth of a process of transformation of language and thought because of the abusive use of the Internet. Nicholas Carr points out that the Internet system favors parataxis over syntax. The user tends to move from link to link, in parallel processing, and to reintegrate links by superposition, not in a complex and durable structure. This explains the rejection of deep and long-term reading that is already being observed. Two Spanish professors of Greek literature have told me the same anecdote. None of their students had read the Iliad, in Spanish of course. One of them managed to get a Canto read, the other ordered it, but found that it just summaries of the “argument” taken from Wikipedia. This is not an exception, as the rejection of reading among humanities students is becoming the norm in philosophy, history and philology, sometimes supported by some professors.

The rejection of reading, and the idea that everything can be found on the Internet, contributes to the creation of what one computer engineer, Jaron Lanier, has called the “digital herd.” If everyone searches for the same thing, with the same search engine, in the same set of files, they will necessarily find the same thing. Originality thus disappears, because in history and philology it consists of discovering little-known data and establishing relationships between them that had not been found before. This requires continuous, meticulous and patient reading over many years of training and apprenticeship, as well as knowing how to find new modes of written or other forms of expression. The problem is that many teachers are contributing to the destruction of the ability to express oneself through the inappropriate use of PowerPoint.

PowerPoint is a program created for making advertising presentations. It is very useful for this and for processing images of all kinds, but not texts, which are reduced to almost childish outlines. That is why Franck Frommer considers it a program that can make us stupid. The information that is hackneyed, superimposed in a conventional way and expressed in a simplistic way is the opposite of creation and historical research and exposition, so it can be said that the history of antiquity and Classical studies will end up in a serious crisis, if we do not return to the only world that can make them possible, the world of texts, reading, reflection and good writing.

An ancient history sub specie aeternitatis is no longer possible, because the regression of Classical studies in general education makes it impossible for most people to identify with that world and consider it as an eternal model to imitate, in a world that is changing rapidly in economic, political and military areas, and that seems to want to value continuous change, and on its own, in the development of communication technologies, which make them increasingly faster and which offer so much information that is impossible to process.

If there is no global and eternal model, we must return to the world of melancholy. As we have seen, it was a world in which the past, gone forever, appears in a fragmentary way. History sub specie melancholiae can only be the fragmentary reconstruction of that disappeared past, but also the evocation of its absence and the finite expression in a small text of our infinite desire to know and not to fall into oblivion. The Greeks believed that what distinguishes melancholy is the sensation of the loss of sense and perception of the future. There is no future for the melancholic who contemplates with distance the spectacle of his own life. We have seen, following Pseudo-Longinus, how the sublime emerges in the scene of the spectator before the shipwreck. There is no single spectator before the spectacle of the past and the present world; and therefore, as long as several spectators can communicate, there will no longer be room for individual melancholy; and there will be room for the hope of leaving for the future small traces and remains among the ruins of time.


José Carlos Bermejo Barrera is Professor of Ancient History at the University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain). He has published numerous books in the fields of mythology and religions of classical antiquity and the philosophy of history. Among these are The Limits of Knowledge and the Limits of Science, Historia y Melancolía, El Gran Virus. Ensayo para una pandemia, and most recently, La política como impostura y las tinieblas de la información. He has published numerous works in academic journals, such as History and Theory; Quaderni di Storia, Dialogues d’Histoire Ancienne, Madrider Mitteilungen. He is a regular contributor to the daily press.


The featured image shows, “Clio, Muse of History,” by Charles Meynier; painted in 1800.