Human Variation And Human Flourishing: A Conversation With Bo Winegard

This month, we are so very pleased to present this interview with Bo Winegard, an evolutionary psychologist and former professor. He was fired from his tenure-track post at Marietta College because of what he researches and what he writes about human biological differences and physical and psychological traits. He is now an independent scholar. He is in conversation with Grégoire Canlorbe, who is well-known to the readers of The Postil.


Grégoire Canlorbe (GC): The “coalitional value theory,” which you helped formulate, asserts that humans evolved unique mental mechanisms for assessing each other’s marginal value to a coalition. Could you tell us more about those mechanisms—and how they intervene in artistic, scientific production?

Bo Winegard (BW): The basic idea is that we evolved some kind of mental system—I’m not sure exactly how this is instantiated in the brain/mind—to assess each other’s value to coalitions. For example, suppose that we form a soccer team. Pretty quickly we would understand who is better (more valuable) at soccer, and who is worse (less valuable). Ceteris paribus, we defer to those who have more coalitional value (e.g., if Messi were on your team, then you would defer to him); and we often assert ourselves over those who have less value.

Bo Winegard

My colleagues and I hypothesized that these mechanisms might partially explain the creation and display of certain cultural artifacts, such as paintings, poems, history books, scientific articles. The idea is that cultural displays signal underlying traits (e.g., intelligence, ambition, education) that generally contribute to a coalition, that make it (the coalition) more formidable and successful. In politics, for example, being able to persuade other people is valuable; it helps a coalition to achieve its goals. Therefore, politicians might signal their value by delivering eloquent speeches. And those in the coalition might respond to such speeches with awe and admiration.

The grand idea, which is not entirely novel, I should say, is that human coalitions are cooperative status-exchange systems. Leaders and other revered coalitional members have high coalitional value; they make the coalition better. And in exchange for their service, members defer to them, giving them priority access to coveted resources, such as food, material wealth, and mates. In this way, the coalition benefits (by having the person high in coalition value) and the high-status person also benefits (by getting priority access to evolutionary relevant resources).

GC: A whole field of investigation lies in sex differences as regards cognition and the relationship to knowledge. What did your long-standing collaboration with Cory Clark allow you to learn in that area?

BW: Ha! I’m not sure I understand the question. I think you are asking what did I learn about sex differences by collaborating for so long with Cory Clark? If so, I will just say a few things. First, Cory is atypical for females, so I would not generalize from my experience with her. And second, I do think that men on average are more tolerant of direct confrontation. My brother and I often get into vehement debates while working on projects, for example. I spare Cory from that because that’s not how our relationship works.

GC: It is sometimes doubted that intellectual manhood (i.e., the ability to think for oneself and to be intellectually innovative and dissident) is substantially correlated with IQ. What is your take on that issue?

BW: I’m not aware of research on this topic. (And it would be arduous to operationalize “think for oneself.” Even creativity is incredibly difficult to operationalize, and I’m not sure I trust much of the research on it.) I do think originality and innovation require a certain minimum level of cognitive ability. However, once one is above that level, I doubt there’s much correlation. I know many brilliant people who are intellectual cowards. In fact, I would contend that American universities are filled with craven professors who are afraid even to voice their true beliefs on a wide variety of taboo topics. I suspect that intellectual cowardice and cognitive ability are completely orthogonal.

GC: It is easily noticed that the greatest military strategists in human history have been, if not bisexual (like Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar), at least misogynist (like Napoléon Bonaparte). Is there a coalitional value theory of that phenomenon?

BW: I’m not sure that I completely understand the question. But I think that some misogyny is likely a result of coalitional value mechanisms. For men’s coalitions, women, on average, simply aren’t as valuable as other men. Consider, for example, a sports’ team. Clearly men are better, on average, than women at sports. Thus men often deride other men who are bad at sports as being effeminate (e.g., “throwing like a girl,” “crying like my sister,” et cetera).

GC: You challenged the idea of a “panhuman nature.” Could you remind us of your argument? Do you also contest, more specifically, the idea of a certain psychological, physical structure invariant across those human populations that are racially European?

BW: The idea behind a panhuman nature is this: Most human-specific traits evolved before the end of the Pleistocene; and, more specifically, most probably evolved before humans expanded across the globe to face novel selection pressures. Therefore, most human psychological traits are shared across populations. There is thus a panhuman nature. I think the concept is useful in some ways but mistaken in others. Think about a different example that is clearer: Dogs. It is the case that one can generalize about a canine nature. Dogs of different breeds share many tendencies. On the other hand, it is wrong or misleading in my view to say there is a pancanine nature in a strong way because dog breeds also vary in behavior proclivities in important and fascinating ways. A Yorkshire Terrier is quite different behaviorally from a Whippet, for example. If you purchased one expecting the behavior of the other, then you might be surprised!

Human groups are not so different from each other as dogs are, obviously. But they are different. And for similar reasons: selection. Of course, dogs were artificially selected and humans were more or less naturally (sexually and socially) selected. And the intensity of selection dogs faced was probably much higher. But humans lived in different environmental conditions from each other for many thousands of years. They faced different selection pressures (probably primarily related to climate). This is phenotypically obvious. People whose immediate ancestors evolved in Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, look different from those whose immediate ancestors evolved in Northern Europe. The most obvious difference is skin color, which is related to the intensity of ultraviolet radiation in such a way that darker skin is associated with more intense radiation. In my view, psychological traits are no different from other physical and anthropometric traits.

Thus groups have slightly different psychological traits from each other. Unfortunately, in the United States at least, this is a very controversial topic—probably more taboo than any other in the social sciences. If groups are different from each other, then some groups might score higher on average on certain socially desired traits such as intelligence and compliance and self-control. And this offends the sensitivities of many progressives, who appear to believe in what I have called “cosmic egalitarianism,” or the notion that all human groups are equal on all socially desired traits.

I think this belief, this cosmic egalitarianism, is no more plausible than Greek mythology or leprechauns at the end of a rainbow. It’s almost impossible to imagine, that is, that human populations are the same on all psychological traits. Now, they aren’t terribly different. So we can make generalization about human nature that apply, I think, to all human populations. But we have to consider group differences, if we want to understand basic social phenomena, such as income and crime disparities between populations, et cetera. Again, it is hard if not impossible to talk about these things honestly in the United States because of the dominance of progressives in the media and academia. But I don’t think it helps anybody to concoct a fantastical fiction about group sameness and to use it to then promulgate the myth that systemic racism is the cause of all group disparities.

As for the second part of your question—again, that depends upon what one means by “invariant psychological structure.” Do I think that European populations differ slightly in traits and propensities? Yes. I think that is quite likely. Do I think that they have fundamentally different psychological structures? No. In a paper, my colleagues and I once compared this to guitars, and I think that’s a good comparison. So guitars are pretty similar to each other. They share a certain structure, if you will. But, there are also subtle differences among them that lead to different tones and tendencies. A Fender sounds slightly different from a Gibson. And an acoustic guitar sounds different from an electric guitar. I think the same holds for human populations, even within Europe.

GC: You covered some of the bias present in politically liberal scientists. What are those? Do you also identify some political bias in hereditarian research about intelligence?

BW: Cosmic egalitarianism. And what we have called “equalitarianism.” Equalitarianism is really a set of biases about group differences. Primarily, liberal scientists repelled by the idea that groups might differ in socially desirable traits in ways that appear to favor white people. At this point, I have no confidence in social science in the United States because of how pervasive this bias is. It’s simply impossible to write about or study topics that are related to race honestly. This is especially true of hereditarianism, because the IQ gap “favors” whites in that whites have a roughly 15-point advantage on average in IQ inside the United States. (The gap appears to be globally consistent, although the exact number depends upon the country, and our data are much more copious inside the United States.) At his point, hereditarianism, or the view that a not insubstantial proportion of the gap is caused by differences in genes, has been removed from mainstream discourse and the academy like a heresy. The orthodoxy simply will not tolerate it, will not debate it, and will not even interact with those who promote it. It has been defeated not by evidence, but by moral bullying—and it is a victim not of falsification but of suppression.

GC: You established yourself as a defender both of “scientism” and of “conservatism.” Yet a common criticism against the view that science (i.e., imaginative hypothesizing corroborated through quantitative, not-trivial empirical predictions) should be solicited to solve all the problems of society is that the limitations of the human mind render science unable to do as well as our cultural traditions, which have been molded—and successfully tested—over several generations of intergroup competition. How do you conciliate science and tradition?

BW: Great question! It’s certainly true that many conservatisms have railed against so-called scientism. But I think that is a mistake. Of course, what follows depends upon one’s definition of scientism. There is certainly a pseudoscientific pretense of knowledge that one should condemn. And there is also a “we trust science” attitude promoted often by progressives in the United States which is mendacious because, of course, they do not trust science that contradicts their sacred values. What I believe is that scientific thinking—skepticism, experimentation, reliance on evidence, et cetera—is the greatest force for generating accurate knowledge in the history of the world. And since I think conservatism is an accurate political philosophy, I think that the insights of science will generally align with the insights of conservative thought. Of course, science will contradict certain particular hypotheses. Maybe, say, the claim that homosexuality is a “chose,” which used to be popular among American conservatives, at least. That is no longer tenable. But the basic idea behind conservatism, namely, that tradition is a good guide to a well-ordered, hierarchal, and cohesive society, is something that will be supported by science. In fact, I’m writing a book on this right now!

Some critics of scientism have argued that it is wrong because science can’t determine values. This is correct, I think, in an academic sense. We could find out, for example, that social policy X would increase human flourishing significantly, and some nihilist could say, “I don’t care. I don’t like human flourishing.” Sure. And science will never show that we should care about human flourishing. But most humans share the intuition that human flourishing is important and should be promoted. Once we have that shared intuition, then we can use science to assess policies. Of course, we should always be humble and recognize that we are incredibly ignorant about many things. That is an important conservative argument.

GC: Some attempts have been made to solve moral issues on the basis of biology and evolutionary psychology. Thus abortion and contraception are deemed permissible on the grounds that birth control—a mere cultural acquisition among humans, but an instinctual predisposition among a large variety of other vertebrate species—comes to implement the “natural law” that is allegedly the demographic adaptation of any population to its environment.

As for homosexuality it is claimed that its recurrence as a genetic trait proves that homosexuals, despite being disadvantaged as concerns their reproductive success, are provided with a number of competitive advantages by reason of which homosexuality should be socially welcomed rather than sanctioned. Likewise premarital sex is justified as fulfilling an alleged hidden function of the sexual intercourse among humans, namely, the function of ensuring—especially throughout pregnancy—the emotional attachment of the male to his female partner and their future progeny. Do you subscribe to such inferences?

BW: On these issues, I do not think evolution (or biology) is informative about what our moral values should be. In general, I think we should promote human flourishing (broadly defined). I don’t think that finding an evolutionary reason for something justifies or condemns it. I’ll give you two examples. It is possible that rape is an adaptive strategy. Not all rape. But the general behavioral predisposition. I certainly don’t think that makes rape morally acceptable. On the other hand, love is an adaptation, and I think love is often (though not always) morally laudable. What is important is the trait or behavior’s relation to social cohesion and human flourishing, not its evolutionary or genetic logic.

GC: You proposed an evolutionary approach to “tribalism in human nature.” How would you sum up your insights? How do you account for the ability of human individuals (to a varying degree) to identify to groups extending beyond the level of ethnical, biological bonds—from multiracial nations and multiethnic religions to humanity taken as a whole?

BW: To be clear, there was nothing particularly unique in that approach! But the basic idea is this: Humans evolved in the context of competing coalitions and therefore evolved traits and proclivities that facilitate tribalism. They create tribes, favor members of their own tribe, and see other tribes as potential competitors. The first and most primitive tribe is the family, for straightforward reasons of kin selection. But humans collaborate with non-kin as well.

My best guess is that ethnic affinity is a byproduct of a kin-recognition system. Humans recognize kin via certain cues. One such cue might be maternal perinatal association. Another is probably phenotypic similarity to the self or to other close kin. Experiments have found, for example, that people trust putative others in photographs that have been manipulated to look like the self more than others in non-manipulated photographs. Individuals in the same ethnic group on average look more similar to each other than individuals from different ethnic groups. Others have argued that ethnic affinity is a byproduct of tribal recognition system. I suppose it doesn’t really matter for the purposes of this question. What does matter is that humans do evince ethnic affinity. But they can of course transcend such affinities, creating large tribes called “nations” that are multi-ethnic.

They do this mostly by inculcating norms of inclusion and tolerance and creating shared symbols (flag, national anthem). But it is worth noting that even within nations, ethnic groups often compete with each other. Ethnic diversity, in other words, often creates tension; and it appears to decrease social trust. This does not mean it is necessarily bad (or good). It’s simply a statement of empirical fact. So, it is true that humans can create large tribes that include many strangers and members of diverse ethnic groups; but those tribes are often inflicted by at least low-level tribal competition and tension.

GC: Thank you for your time. Would you like to add a thing or two?

BW: The thing that I think is most important is to promote free, judicious debate about all scientifically interesting topics, at least in academia. And we are losing that audacious spirit of the pursuit of truth, replacing it with a timid spirit of obsequiousness. But the truth should not be feared. And our pursuit of it should be non-negotiable in the sciences. I’m not suggesting that we should say every thought or idea that pops in our head because we think it is true. But I am saying that we should explore every reasonable theory about the empirical world. And today that is simple not happening.


The featured image shows “Battle of San Romano,” by Paolo Uccello, painted ca. 1436-1440.

The Decline Of Universities: A Recent History

They are little children rioting and barring out the teacher at school. But their childish delight will end; it will cost them dearly” (Fyodor Dostoevsky, “The Grand Inquisitor” in The Brothers Karamazov).

1. The Destruction of Evergreen College

In September of 2017, biology professor Brett Weinstein, a “progressive” Bernie Sanders and “Occupy Wall Street” supporter, at the very progressive Evergreen College, in very progressive Washington state, along with his similarly progressive wife, professor Heather Heying, were forced to resign from their positions at Evergreen. Professor’s Weinstein’s crime was to write a letter to the faculty at Evergreen objecting to a change in the college’s annual “day of absence” which, in past years, had been a day in which “students of color” absented themselves from the campus “in order to highlight their vital and unappreciated role” on the campus. In 2017, however, “white” students were “invited to leave the campus” for the entire day after “students of color ‘voiced concern over feeling as if they are not welcome on campus, following the 2016 election’.” Since the Evergreen campus had nothing whatsoever to do with the election of Donald Trump it is not clear what the 2016 election has to do with minority students “feeling unwelcome” on the Evergreen campus but that doesn’t matter because actual reasons are no longer required for a “felt” grievance.

Professor Weinstein’s letter objected to barring members of a particular racial group, Caucasians, from the campus because that is not “a call to consciousness” but rather is “a show of force, and an act of oppression in and of itself.” His wife’s sin was that she wrote a public letter to the staff and faculty at Evergreen in which she criticized the college’s handling of the situation. She made no racial remarks whatsoever, but was, of course, immediately accused of being a racist.

Professors Weinstein and Heying were foolishly operating under the old rules that one should treat people on the basis of the content of their character, not the color of their skin, as opposed to the new rules that one should treat people on the basis of the color of their skin as opposed to the content of their character. As the New York Times, not exactly a bastion of white supremacy, put it, Professor Weinstein “had the gall to challenge a day of racial segregation.” Professor’s Weinstein and Heying, like many of us, had not, apparently, digested the new view that racial segregation is not racism any more, even though it had been the very definition of racism not so long ago (before it was miraculously redefined as the opposite of racism).

Indeed, the current “President” of the United States, Joe Biden, announced that he would pick his Vice-Presidential running mate on the basis of her gender and skin color, not the content of character; and he was, of course, celebrated for this racism by the “news” media. This is a turning point in American history. One now picks someone for a major position, not because he or she is qualified but because they check the boxes of “identity politics.” This is how nations end.

For his unforgiveable sin of objecting to racist segregation at Evergreen, Professor Weinstein was confronted by about 50 students outside his classroom who called him a racist and accused him of supporting white supremacy. Professor Weinstein had, of course, made no assertion of white supremacy whatsoever. However, the criterion of being a white supremacist is no longer that one is a white supremacist. The new criterion is that one disagrees with the leftist cause du jour. The college president, George Bridges, exhibiting the level of courage and commitment to principle that one has come to expect from college “presidents” and administrators these days, ordered the campus police to stand down, whereupon they informed Professor Weinstein that they could no longer guarantee his safety on campus.

As a consequence, Professor Weinstein had to hold his class in a public park (which would, no doubt, raise some thorny insurance issues, but no one was thinking of what would happen if a student were injured off campus because no one was thinking at all). President Bridges, apparently working on a comedy routine, perhaps for Saturday Night Live, called the “protestors” courageous, expressed his “gratitude” to them, and reminded everyone that freedom of speech is of great importance and must be protected – even as he allowed one of his professors and his wife to be run off the campus for exercising their right to freedom of speech. As everyone now knows, at least on our university campuses, “War is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength.”

The truth, of course, is that the students who drove Prof. Weinstein and Professor Heying off the campus were not “protestors.” A protestor is someone who holds a sign that says that racism is wrong, or perhaps, with a flower in their hair, says, “Make love not war.” These Evergreen “protestors” were thugs employing force and intimidation to get their way. In these kinds of contexts, the word “protestor” is now an Orwellian euphemism employed by college presidents and other overpaid unfunny comedians on late night television to avoid their responsibility to describe campus thugs for what they are.

As all this was going on, photographs and names of Professor Weinstein’s students were circulated online and graffiti, “Fire Brett!” appeared on campus buildings. It is, apparently, not sufficient to destroy the professor’s career because he was not sufficiently obedient. It is now also necessary to endanger his students as well. The New York Times, commendably, quoted a line of Allen Bloom’s book, The Closing of the American Mind: “A few students discovered that pompous teachers who catechized them about academic freedom could, with a little shove, be made into dancing bears.” The students did not turn Professor Weinstein or his wife into dancing bears, but they did bag the college president quite quickly, although, admittedly, that is not the coup it once was because this is now the preordained outcome.

As a result of the student activist attacks on a distinguished faculty member who resisted racial segregation, resulting in both him and his wife being forced off the campus permanently, thereby damaging the quality of education offered to the students at Evergreen, and the President’s incomprehensible praise for the student mob, Evergreen College later had to pay Prof. Weinstein and his wife a $500,000 settlement for failing to protect them from race-based hostility and “threats of physical violence” on campus.

Further, Evergreen is being rewarded by cuts of more than 10 percent from its operating budget for 2018-2019 and raises in student fees because of declining enrollment. It would appear that parents do not wish to send their children to a “college” in which distinguished professors are threatened and forced to resign, and in which even the completely innocent students caught in the middle have their personal details posted online by perpetually aggrieved leftist thugs. Who could have seen that one coming? Not, apparently, the brilliant “president,” faculty, and student “protestors” at Evergreen.

The New York Times article also acknowledges that leftist attacks on conservative speech on university campuses have become quite common. What makes the Evergreen case noteworthy is that it is not just conservatives who are now attacked by leftist mobs but anyone, even a seriously “progressive” professor and his wife, who have had their careers as professors ended for opposing the Left’s narcissistic effort to gain an entirely symbolic token of appreciation of their vital role on campus.

Although the Left has created these ignorant snarling adolescents, believing they will be of use in achieving their political agendas, they are now relearning the hard universal truth that since these thugs will by nature never be satisfied, because their demands are based on whim, not reality, they will inevitably always want more, which, since “more” cannot be given indefinitely into the future, eventually turn on their own. Thus, progressives are now beginning to experience what conservatives have suffered for decades.

For example, immigration activists have recently protested naming a school in Chicago after Obama because he has now been designated an “oppressor.” As one of these activists put it: “If you’re removing the name of Thomas Jefferson, one oppressor, the name of Obama is another oppressor, and our families do not want to see that name.”

2. The Unmitigated Horror Of Permitting A Ben Shapiro On Campus

Another illuminating example of campus intolerance for conservatives is provided by Ben Shapiro’s attempt, sponsored by Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), to give a speech titled, “When Diversity Becomes a Problem,” at California State University at Los Angeles. Faced by the prospect of the unmitigated horror of an articulate conservative on campus (although, admittedly, Shapiro is probably smarter than most of the professors at that university, and is, therefore, not actually harmless where left wing dogma is concerned), the President of the University, William Covino, tried to have Shapiro’s event cancelled entirely and replaced by a different kind of event.

After YAF and Shapiro pushed back hard, the school backed down and said that the event could go forward without interference. However, student “protestors” (another mob) formed a human chain to prevent people from entering the event through the front door, thereby interfering with the civil rights of the people who wanted to hear Shapiro. This is not, however, seen as a problem on college campuses because the expression “civil rights” no longer means civil rights. For the uninformed, “civil rights” now means, roughly, “latest leftist preferences.”

Eventually, small groups of two or three people were able to enter the Shapiro event with escorts through the back door. When the “activists” became aware of the back-door entrance, they began to block it as well. Some of those who tried to enter the Shapiro event claimed that they were punched and (not surprisingly) called white supremacists. Recall that the expression “white supremacist” does not mean white supremacist anymore, but, rather, now means person of any race who attends a conservative lecture.

The fire alarm was pulled, a regular strategy employed by “protestors” opposed to conservative speakers on a university campus, perhaps because doing so requires no intelligence whatsoever, making it the perfect tactic for today’s leftist thugs. Students were also harassed when they tried to leave the event. Professor Melina Abdullah, one of the professors fearful of inviting such a terrifying conservative to speak on campus, called Ben Shapiro, a “Neo-Nazi” but latter admitted that since Shapiro is Jewish this is a tad ironic, and, in a minimal fake concession to reason, changed “Neo-Nazi” to “KKK.”

In order to understand Professor Abdullah, one must recall that “Neo Nazi” no longer means Neo-Nazi. It now means: someone who disagrees with the Left’s latest demands. It is also noteworthy that after the event was over, the university held a “Healing Space” to enable the university community to “heal” after Shapiro illuminated them. At this “Healing Space,” President Colvino (perhaps working with President Bridges of Evergreen University for the same comedy routine on Saturday Night Live) states that he would never invite someone like Shapiro to the campus and floated several ideas how the administration might work with student groups to find a way to prevent any similar illumination in the future.

3. Dave Rubin’s Trials At The University Of New Hampshire

Another highly illuminating example of intolerance for conservative speech on university campuses is provided by the exchange between David Rubin, a self-identified gay Jewish former leftist and a self-identified oppressed female student at the University of New Hampshire (UNH). The video (which, at the time of the writing of this article is present both on youtube.com and on Rubin’s own Facebook page under the title “Dave Rubin handles protestors at UNH”) is well worth watching because it illustrates the critical reasoning abilities, or, more precisely, the lack thereof, of the students on our contemporary university campuses. The reader is strongly encouraged to watch this video for themselves in its entirety at some point.

When Rubin opens the floor to questions, a young woman takes the microphone, but immediately complains that someone is holding the microphone for her. She says, “Free speech but he’s going to hold the microphone.” How can she survive the indignity of a male holding the microphone for her? Rubin remarks that her complaint seems silly because she is coming in “ready to fight” – to which she replies that she’s not ready to fight but that “it’s interesting that he’s holding the microphone.” In fact, it is not the least bit “interesting” that someone is holding the microphone for her and she gives no reason why it is “interesting.”

This is a typical tactic of the Left. They complain about trivialities and insinuate, without providing any evidence whatsoever, that that there is some deep and dark conspiracy behind insignificant events, in this case, the horror of someone being nice to her. If you don’t see it, you must be stupid or you are not “woke” (“woke” being the approximate synonym for the “consciousness raising” of the self-indulgent 1960s drug culture). She then proceeds to accuse Rubin of painting people at UNH of having “a victimhood complex” and adds: “As if I wake up every morning and I think, wow, how can I be a victim?”

In fact, the first thing this young lady did upon reaching the microphone was to demonstrate her “victim complex” in her comments about the microphone. The reason it is “interesting” to her that a man holds the microphone for her is that this can be used to suggest, which, of course, it objectively does not, that the man is assuming that a woman cannot hold their own microphone. It is an indignity as great as a man holding the door open for a woman.

In fact, if one watches the entire tape, one can see that the attendants hold the microphone for males as well (but that is, apparently, not as “interesting” to privileged perpetually aggrieved adolescents). In fact, the attendant is merely being “polite,” and what is actually interesting is that this kind of politeness is no longer recognized or welcome on college campuses. If one doubts that these students at UNH are privileged, the current UNH financial aid page lists the total estimated cost, including tuition, room, books, fees, etc., for state residents for the year 2020-2021 as $34,830, for regional students as $47,220 and for out of state students as $52,920.

Since this privileged young woman implies that she is an oppressed person, and since Dave Rubin is nothing if not polite, he gives her the opportunity to describe her oppression. She replies that she “has no reason to sit and talk about my own oppression because that is, like, only mental energy unless I am going to be paid to talk about my oppression” (at which point, as an alternative to pulling the fire alarm, a group of black females stand up and begin chanting “Hate speech incites violence” over and over again in order to disrupt the exchange and deny some students their civil rights to hear the talk.

After trying, unsuccessfully, to silence the chanters, Rubin offers to pay the woman at the microphone $20 dollars to describe her oppression, at which point, someone in the crowd yells, “It’s worth more than that, asshole,” to which the woman herself replies, “Yeah.”

In fact, Rubin makes a mistake here. He should not have offered to pay this woman to describe her alleged oppression. It sets a bad precedent to start offering to pay people, especially privileged college students, to complain about their lives. Further, if this woman were actually oppressed, she would not need to be paid to take such a golden opportunity to explain to a cruel world how she is oppressed. The fact that she had herself implied that she should be paid to do so, and then, after being offered money to explain how, refuses to do so, shows that she is putting on a show, in particular, a virtue-signaling show, not making a serious point about oppression. The fact that she refuses to give the reasons why she is oppressed suggests that she does not have any (at least, none that would not be greeted with derisive laughter upon being articulated). Indeed, despite the posturing about concern about oppression, the young woman makes clear that she really wants to be given money without have to work for it.

In fact, her entire bearing and attitude and contemptuous remarks to Dave Rubin, who been entirely respectful to her, suggests that the truth is the exact opposite of what she alleges. She actually sees herself as a member of a privileged group whose members are entitled to oppress perfectly decent people for no good reason except that they have different political views from her own, such as they are. The self-identified oppressed woman is actually the oppressor.

It is necessary to say “her views, such as they are,” because the young woman actually failed to articulate a serious “view” during her entire sojourn at the microphone. It used to be that one of the first things one learned upon arriving at a genuine university was that articulating a serious view is not as easy as one thinks it is, but, apparently, no more. For example, at one point, she asks Rubin if he thinks “there is a correlation between hating Jews and wanting to kill them” and informs him that “It’s a yes or no question.” She expresses astonishment when Rubin declines to answer that sort of “question” when, in fact, Rubin was entirely correct not to do so.

In order to answer a “question,” it must be formulated with sufficient precision that it is possible to answer it, and the “question” she asked, such as it is, is not formulated with anything close to the necessary precision to render it answerable, let alone, answered by either a “yes” or a “no.” The point is not difficult. If one does a serious search for scientific studies on the “correlation between hate speech and wanting to kill people,” one will not find any.

There are many quite obvious reasons why one will not find such studies. The first is that in order to set about establishing such a correlation, one would have to define “hate” speech, and the definitions of “hate” speech vary enormously in countries that have such laws. Rubin informs her that in the United States the Supreme Court (Brandenburg vs. Ohio, 1969) ruled that one cannot outlaw inflammatory speech unless it is a direct call to lawless action, a fact which she, apparently never having heard of the first amendment to the constitution, did not seem to know and which she simply dismisses because it is incompatible with her narrative.

One would think this is especially relevant to the issue since the discussion is being held in the United States. Some countries do ban “hate speech,” but she did not specify which definition she is might prefer. To take just a few examples, the definitions of “hate speech” in Iceland, Malta, Sweden and the United Kingdom vary greatly. In Scotland there are specific “hate speech” laws targeting football matches. In Norway, section 135a of the penal code includes speech that “ridicules” someone’s “philosophy of life” as “hate speech.” The horror!

One would think that students who have been inundated with lessons on respect for the differences between different cultures would not need special instruction on how difficult it will be to provide universal definitions of such problematic concepts. However, the problem with the young lady’s question is even more basic than this. She refers to a “correlation” between “hate speech” (undefined) and “wanting to kill Jews.” How would one establish such a correlation?

Perhaps one has some idea how one might go about trying to establish a correlation between people who use certain kinds of very explicit hate speech, like NAZI’s who actually call for killing Jews and the actual killing of Jews, but one has no idea how one would go about establishing a correlation between someone’s “saying hateful things about Jews” and their “wanting” to kill Jews. For, many people say hateful things about various groups all the time but do not actually want to kill them or even hurt them. As difficult as this may be for privileged adolescents to grasp, Red Sox fans who express hate against the evil Yankees do not actually “want” to kill them.

It takes only a moment’s reflection to realize how enormously difficult, except in very special narrowly circumscribed cases, it would be to attempt to establish a correlation between “hate” speech (even if one had an agreed definition of it) and what the people who use such speech actually “want” to do. To put it briefly, “wanting” is a subjective phenomenon, and, therefore, refers to something that is inherently very hard to measure. The young lady’s purported “yes or no” question is not a “yes or no” question after all. It is far too indeterminate, as formulated, to answer at all.

Indeed, that is precisely why such fake questions are so useful on today’s college campuses. Since these are not genuine questions it is impossible to answer them, which means that the sacrificial conservative will not answer it and can, therefore, be accused of not answering (unanswerable) “questions.” Rubin was attempting to have a serious discussion. The young woman who challenged him so haughtily is engaging in a childish virtue signaling exercise that clarifies nothing and helps no one.

In the distant past, in another less privileged and more serious age, one used to go to university to acquire the skills and knowledge to engage in fruitful discussions of such issues. At the present era, apparently, many people go to college to engage in narcissistic self-glorification.

Before leaving the subject of Rubin’s talk, it is useful, briefly, to consider another exchange between Rubin and a different student towards the end of his question session because it too shows much about the sorry state of our college campuses. Another young woman takes the microphone and, after making the same point about wanting to hold the microphone herself, thereby striking another completely meaningless symbolic blow for female empowerment, points out that since “women, people of color and other marginalized identities were not written into history and, therefore, into the foundation of our country… my question is, how do you think that everyone is equal and represented, if this country was founded on the principle of exclusion?”—to which the crowd erupts in a great cheer.

The woman appears to regard herself as having made the definitive point and many in the crowd apparently agree. Since this particular kind of “question” (actually, it is an assertion, specifically an accusation) is routinely raised by privileged adolescents on college campuses, it is worth addressing it directly. Rubin replies with an historical discussion about the founding fathers and their faults.

In fact, there is a much simpler three-word answer to her alleged “question;” namely, that “we have evolved.” However, in order to understand this simple answer, one must be able to understand the distinction, apparently quite elusive on many contemporary college campuses, between “then” and “now.” Once again, the young woman might have raised legitimate issues about exclusion, for there are legitimate issues that might be expressed by people serious enough to articulate them, but her aim was not to raise legitimate issues or clarify anything. It was to show that she is a member in good standing of the in-crowd—that she “cares” (in some impotent symbolic sense).

4. From The “Berkeley Free Speech Movement” To The “Berkeley Censorship Movement”

Consider next the riots that occurred at the University of California at Berkeley when, on February 1 of 2017 at 8 P.M, Milo Yiannopoulos, a British conservative, who identified as “gay” at the time was scheduled to speak (although for the record, Milo has recently announced that he is no longer “gay” and that he is now planning to open a Christian conversion therapy facility in Florida). Despite the proud tradition of supporting free speech at Berkeley, more than 100 Berkeley faculty, prior to his appearance, signed a petition urging the university to cancel the event. A group of about 1,500 people gathered on the steps of Sproul Hall to protest Milo’s talk. The protest was non-violent until another group of about 150 “black bloc” “protestors,” including members of “Antifa” and members of the left-wing group “By Any Means Necessary,” entered the crowd and began setting fires, damaging property, throwing fireworks, attacking members of the crowd, and throwing rocks at the police. The University cancelled the event soon thereafter. After the event was cancelled, the “protestors” (mob) moved downtown where they continued to break windows at businesses and banks. A Syrian Muslim was attacked by a “protestor” with a rod and pepper sprayed by a “protestor” who said “he looked like a NAZI.”

The violent reaction to Milo’s event is especially noteworthy because Berkeley was the home of the “free speech movement” in the 1960’s when many students, mostly on the Left, argued for the right to engage in political speech on campus, in particular, speech in favor of civil rights and against the Vietnam War. The “free speech movement” eventually won the argument and the political speech, much of it to the left, has spread throughout US universities.

The situation has now changed into its opposite. Whereas Berkeley, and American universities generally, defended freedom of speech as a fundamental right, these same institutions now go to great lengths to shut down conservative political speech. Jeffrey Selingo of the Washington Post contrasts the light security required when conservative Phyllis Schlafly, who opposed the “Equal Rights Amendment,” was invited to speak at his school in his undergraduate days with the fact that the appearance of conservative speakers on college campuses nowadays result “in protests with armed police officers reminiscent of a war zone and with students doing their best to interrupt speakers.”

The home of the free speech movement has now, under the influence of the Left’s conceptions of tolerance and equality, transformed into its precise opposite. Whereas the Berkeley “Free Speech Movement” of old proudly defended the right of all to free speech, the home of the free speech movement now shuts down speech by “conservatives.”

In fact, a variety of philosophers, including Hegel and Marx, have pointed out the curious way in which certain kinds of views and social systems seem inevitably, over time, to transform, dialectically, into their precise opposites – and, in fact, as if to prove them right, the leftist “peace and love” movement of the 1960’s has transformed into the leftist violence and hate movements of the present day.

One need not, however, plumb such deep and difficult philosophical notions as “dialectical logic” to see how this has happened. For the method of this precise reversal is much more mundane. Specifically, the Left has, by employing a variety of techniques, achieved sufficient numerical dominance in the faculties and administration of our colleges and universities that they are able to shut down opposing views. Now that they are in power, they do not extend the same courtesies to the “establishment” that the “establishment” formerly extended to them.

The domination of American colleges by the Left is discussed by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), a non-profit non-partisan organization dedicated to upholding academic standards and defending the free exchange of ideas. Members include Democrat Senator Joe Lieberman, Democrat Colorado Governor Richard Lamm, and Republican Lynn Cheney among its founders.

ACTA states that “freedom of speech is threatened on today’s college campuses” largely because of the pervasive influence of Marcusean ideas. Herbert Marcuse, one recalls, is the “father” of the “New Left,” which was founded in order to counter the fact that well-known leftist regimes like those in the Soviet Union and Communist China had an unfortunate tendency to murder many tens of millions of people in order to advance their particular visions of “equality” and “brotherhood.”

The “New Left” was marketed to American audiences as the more humane alternative that retained what is good in leftist ideas but dispensed with the distressing penchant of the “old” Left for killing people who get in their way. However, the “New Left” Marcuseans do “claim the right to silence ideas [that they] consider to be false or reactionary” because the Marcuseans see themselves “in the possession of truth and therefore entitled to impose this truth upon the rest of the academic community and eventually upon society as a whole.”

Since Marcuse sees ordinary people as incapable of making the right choices, he holds that they must be “forced to be free” by an “elite” “educational dictatorship,” an idea which Marcuse says is “easy to ridicule but hard to refute” (One Dimensional Man, Chap. 2). That is, he holds that it is acceptable to use “undemocratic means” to attain leftist goals, which, it must be admitted, is progress of a sort because censoring dissidents is preferable to killing them.

However, Marcuse does not completely eschew the use of violence to achieve the Left’s goals. In the same book, he states that “no third person, least of all the educator and intellectual, has the right to preach” non-violence to the oppressed. Marcuse here conveniently tries to have it both ways. Although he does not himself call for violence to achieve leftist goals, he states that intellectuals have no standing to criticize those who do. ACTA singles out the speech codes at the University of New Hampshire, the scene of the discussion between David Rubin and the oppressed female discussed earlier, and those at Bates College, to illustrate these points about leftist suppression of freedom of speech on college campuses.

5. The “Port Huron Statement

It should be no surprise that the contemporary university has become a vehicle of undemocratic leftist activism. The Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) explicitly set this out as their aim in their 1962 “Port Huron Statement.” Its author, Tom Hayden, had figured out when he reached the wise old age of 23 how the world should work if he is to judge it to meet his personal standards. The 6 key points of the Port Huron Statement for re-making the university along Hayden’s “New Leftist” lines are listed here:

  1. Any new left in America must be, in large measure, a left with real intellectual skills, committed to deliberativeness, honesty, reflection as working tools. The university permits the political life to be an adjunct to the academic one, and action to be informed by reason.
  2. A new left must be distributed in significant social roles throughout the country. The universities are distributed in such a manner.
  3. A new left must consist of younger people who matured in the postwar world, and partially be directed to the recruitment of younger people. The university is an obvious beginning point.
  4. A new left must include liberals and socialists, the former for their relevance, the latter for their sense of thoroughgoing reforms in the system. The university is a more sensible place than a political party for these two traditions to begin to discuss their differences and look for political synthesis.
  5. A new left must start controversy across the land, if national policies and national apathy are to be reversed. The ideal university is a community of controversy, within itself and in its effects on communities beyond.
  6. A new left must transform modern complexity into issues that can be understood and felt close up by every human being. It must give form to the feelings of helplessness and indifference, so that people may see the political, social, and economic sources of their private troubles, and organize to change society. In a time of supposed prosperity, moral complacency, and political manipulation, a new left cannot rely on only aching stomachs to be the engine force of social reform. The case for change, for alternatives that will involve uncomfortable personal efforts, must be argued as never before. The university is a relevant place for all of these activities.

In each of these 6 points the Port Huron Statement identifies the university as the central place to initiate and disseminate these “New Left” programs. The language is explicitly anti-democratic. The call for political life as an “adjunct” to academic life in the university is not the call for a fair debate between the Left and the Right on university campuses. The aim is solely to advance “New Left” ideas and programs. Further, there is no suggestion that the “New Left” must attempt rationally to persuade people to accept its vision of the proper “distribution” of the “New Left” across universities and the country. On the contrary, the “Declaration” states that this distribution “must” be done.

The “Declaration” then goes on to state, categorically, that “The universities are distributed in such a manner,” not that this distribution might happen if the relevant parties agree. This is the language of religion, not democracy: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done,” except that in this case it is the will of the “human all too human” “New Left,” not that of an omniscient Deity, that “must” be done.

One might object that the reference to “action informed by reason” and “intellectual skills” in the first point does call for rational persuasion. But the Port Huron Statement only recommended intellect and reason as tools” for “action.” That is, it does not propose that the relevant communities must be rationally persuaded to accept the goals of the “New Left” but only that reason and intellectual skills must be employed by the activists to advance “New Left” causes. One requires smart activists. It does not matter if the people are smart because they are to be led by the all-knowing activists.

One might make numerous comments about the other points in this “Declaration,” but points numbers 5 and 6 are especially worthy of comment. If one ever wondered why American society is constantly being uprooted and torn asunder, why, for example, one cannot go to a baseball or football or basketball game without being lectured about alleged police brutality, why young children must be subjected at school to the “transgender bathroom” issue and other delicate topics about human sexuality that seem more appropriate for a much older age; why religious institutions, especially Christianity (for example, the “Little Sisters of the Poor”) seem to be constantly under attack, why one cannot even talk about the “Boy Scouts” anymore but only about the “Scouts,” why one is constantly being told that historical statues, even statues of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses Grant, must be torn down; why the names of sports teams, like the Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins, and the names of High Schools, must be changed to reflect “woke” agendas, and so on, Point 5 gives the explanation.

The explanation is that “A new left must start controversy across the land” and “The ideal university is a community of controversy, within itself and in its effects on communities beyond”. There is, once again, no suggestion that the university community itself should be consulted on the question whether it wants to abandon its traditional mission of pursuing a neutral search for the truth and become a tool for starting “controversy” both within itself and “across the land.” There is no mention of any democratic process here. These are certainly not ideas to be put to “the people” for a vote. Although the Left constantly claims to want to “liberate” the people, it actually has only contempt for them (“the basket of deplorable”, “flyover country,” “Donald Trump’s credulous rube 10-toothed base,” etc.).

On the contrary, this is stated as fait accompli: “The ideal university is a community of controversy.” The university community is going to be turned into a community of controversy whether one likes it or not, and whether this interferes with learning organic chemistry, the differential calculus and Shakespeare or not. Further, this controversy will be spread to the “communities beyond” whether they like it or not. These changes will not rise up organically from “the people.” They will be imposed by all-knowing activists pursuing an a priori agenda. As Herbert Marcuse puts it in One Dimensional Man (Chap. 2), since the “slaves [the American people]” have been indoctrinated by the allegedly evil “capitalists,” they must be “forced to be free” (whether they want to or not and as the “New Left,” not themselves, understand freedom).

There is one more statement in Point # 6 that deserves special mention. If one ever wondered where the “victimhood” culture came from, part of the answer is in the statement in point # 6 that “the university must give form to people’s feelings of helplessness and indifference.” The claim here is that the Left can shape these feelings so that they can exploit them to advance their radical agenda. That is, it is no longer merely the aim of the universities to understand whatever actual objective “helplessness and indifference” may exist in society. It is to “give form” to “feelings” of helplessness and indifference,” that is, to convince people that their “private troubles” are really not private! It is to convince people that all of their private troubles are really caused by their political institutions and move people to change them. This comes straight out of Karl Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point is to change it.”

The Students for a Democratic Society has been highly successful in enacting these reforms in our universities and in the “community beyond.” One might reply that this is a good thing. For, universities have always produced people who have gone on to change the world for the better, to take just a few examples, Jonas Salk, Barbara Jordan, and John Kennedy. The problem with the Port Huron Statement is that it states, so to speak, a priori, that the universities must be organized to produce people who change the world in one direction, towards the ideals of the “New Left.”

This leftist orientation was not reached by democratic means or by consensus. Although the Left standardly claims to stand for “the people,” they would certainly never think of actually asking them what they believe or want. It will be done SDS’s way. Period. As befitting our Orwellian age that they helped to create, the Students for a Democratic Society would be more accurately named the Students for an Undemocratic Society.

This should not be controversial. In fact, many points could be made here, but only one can be discussed here, namely, SDS’s treatment of women from the beginning. Although Sandra ‘Casey’ Cason (who later married Tom Hayden and became Casey Hayden) first led Tom Hayden to SDS, there was no woman’s plank in the original SDS charter. Indeed, Casey describes how at the beginning she was regarded as “one of the boys.” She also recalls how early SDS meetings were characterized by endless debates driven by young male “intellectuals” posturing and any women who made the mistake of speaking up was treated like a child who had interrupted adults. In 1962 she left Tom Hayden and SDS and returned to her home in Atlanta.

Jonathan Leaf’s A Politically Incorrect Guide to the Sixties quotes a male delegate’s report how at the 1965 SDS convention women were made to “wait on tables, clean up, get laid. That was their role.” A woman who criticized this chauvinistic attitude from the floor was shouted down with the remark “She just needs a good screw.”

In later years, when a Woman’s Liberation Workshop at SDS managed to get a resolution accepted, the New Left Notes printed the resolution with a caricature of a woman in a “baby doll dress” holding a sign that said, “We want our rights and we want them now.” See, Miriam Schneir’s 1994 article “An SDS Statement on the Liberation of Women” for additional information. In the 1969 convention, women were given just 3 hours to caucus and their call on women to struggle against their own oppression was rejected by the main body. The “Students for a Democratic Society” was never about democracy. It was about power for a certain group of “posturing” radical males who, having just arrived at the vestibule to adulthood and discovered how the universe works, decided that they deserved to dictate to the women and the rest of “the deplorables.”

Since the Left has been willing to achieve its goals by undemocratic means (that is, according to the leftist slogan of the 60’s, “by any means necessary”), they have been massively successful. The degree of their success is illustrated, for example, by the fact that “Obamacare architect” Jonathan Gruber could, while laughing, say, in front of multiple university audiences, without fear of pushback or punishment, and encouraged by the supportive laughter of these audiences, that it was “the stupidity of the American voter” that enabled the Obama-administration to hide the true cost of “Obamacare” from them.

If one is to appreciate the intolerance on contemporary American university campuses, the attacks on conservatives, the assaults on freedom of speech, the glorification of mass murderers and woman abusers like Che Guevera, the contempt for the American people (Hillary’s “basket of deplorable”), and so on, one must understand that the American university has become dominated by the Marcusean ideas enshrined in the Port Huron Statement.

With the conservative opposition banished, our universities have abandoned their traditional mission of producing tolerant good constructive citizens trained to solve problems, and have instead become left wing indoctrination tools that aim is to produce “social justice warriors (SJW’s)” determined to impose their views “by any means necessary,” first on the universities and later on the unsuspecting good-natured country at large.

The claim is not that most students and faculty are conscious card-carrying Marxists or Marcuseans or even card-carrying leftists. There was a Youtube video online for some time of a group of students at Evergreen College during the Weinstein incident who were sitting in the library trying to study but were assaulted by a screaming mob. They had just to sit there and take it until the mob was finished. It is assumed here that many, if not most, of the students and faculty on US universities, even those who are genuine tolerant liberals, wish that all the silliness and intimidation would just to away so that they can get back to learning, science, math, history, and the arts. Unfortunately, Marcusean ideas, enforced by the Left’s anti-democratic intimidation tactics, have become the “default” position, at least in public, of most university students and faculty who feel they have no choice but to kneel to the Leftist script du jour.

6. The Socialism Fantasy

The critique in the previous section does not mean that there are not problems with our heritage and history of the sort that motivate the Left. Of course, there are! But the most basic reason there are problems with our American heritage, even our “founding fathers,” is, as Plato remarked in the Theaetetus (176a), that “Evils … can never be done away with … [and] they must always haunt this region of our mortal nature.” That is, these flaws derive from human nature which is spread evenly thoroughly all the races, genders, political and economic systems and epochs.

The common leftist idea that the advent of socialism or communism will precipitate the development of a new “socialist man” and woman that will magically be free of the flaws present in human beings raised under capitalism is a childish dream more suitable for a 9th grade science fiction club than it is for serious adults. There is no evidence whatsoever that greed, violence and unhealthy competition are a product of capitalism or that these will be eliminated under socialism. The record of poverty, oppression, and mass murder in socialist and communist regimes is in fact far worse than anything one finds under capitalism.

Estimates vary, but that great socialist man of the people, Vladimir Lenin, initiated the “Red Terror” in Russia after the 1917 revolution in which, according to the Cheka Weekly, between 10,000 and 15,000 people were “summarily executed” in a few weeks alone, and that is not all of Lenin’s killings. That great socialist man of the people, Josef Stalin, is estimated to have murdered 20-27 million people for the glorious cause. That great “socialist man of the people,” Nikita Khrushchev, sometimes viewed as a “moderate” Soviet leader, is associated with purges in Ukraine that killed over 400,000 people.

It is difficult to know the number of murders that take place in North Korea because the ruling Kim family will not let anyone in to see the glorious socialist paradise. However, Hwang Jang Yop, the former chairman of the Standing Committee of the Supreme People’s Assembly in North Korea, a position he held for 11 years, defected to the South Korea in 1997 and described the millions of deaths in North Korea due to starvation. In April 2010, the South Korean National Intelligence Service arrested two North Korean agents who had allegedly been sent to assassinate Yop. Asked about the assassination attempt, Yop remarked, “Death is just death. There is no difference from dying of old age or being killed by Kim Jong-il.” After his defection, Yop wife, still in North Korea, died by suicide, and one of Yop’s daughters died under mysteriously by falling off a truck. Yop’s other children, a daughter and a son, as well his grandchildren, are thought to have been sent to labour camps; perhaps to refresh their revolutionary zeal.

That great socialist man of the people, Mao, is estimated to have murdered 80 million people. In December 2005, a Wall Street Journal article estimates that the regime of the great socialist man of the people, Fidel Castro, may have murdered up to 14,000 people. It may explain a lot about our so-called “news media” that Ted Turner, the former owner of CNN whose net worth is estimated at 2.2 billion capitalist dollars, told Bill O’Reilly that there were some things he admired about this mass murdering communist.

In October of 2017 a Washington Post article states that the regime of this great socialist man of the people in Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, murdered many thousands of people. A 2019 article in Reuters reports that human rights groups estimate that the great socialist and Marxist “man of the people” Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe killed “as many as 20,000 people… in western Zimbabwe, most of them ethnic Ndebele.” People forget that Jim Jones, who murdered 918 commune members with poisoned Kool-Aid, 304 of them children, described himself as a Marxist and an admirer of Cuba and the Soviet Union and promised a “socialist Eden” on earth to his followers.

Of course, that great “socialist man of the people,” Che Guevara, did not have time to murder as many people as the true greats, Stalin or Mao, but a March 2020 History.com article estimates that 144 people were murdered on Che’s extra-judicial orders in Cuba. Guevara further increased his body count after Castro got fed up with him and kicked him out of Cuba.

Eric Luther, in his 2001 book on Guevara explains that Guevara’s first murder by his own hand was of his “friend,” Eutímio Guerra, a peasant army guide who admitted that he gave information on the rebel’s position to the Cuban government. There was, of course, no trial. There was no time for real justice, so “social justice” had to do. Che put a pistol to Eutímio’s head and blew his friend’s brains out. Jon Lee Anderson in his 1997 book on Guevara describes how this great “socialist man of the people” eventually developed a “remarkable detachment to violence.” One could go on, but at a certain point one must realize that the mass murder in socialist and communist regimes in not an accident but is standard practice.

Despite the excellent socialist marketing campaign in our universities and now in the US congress, socialist leaders are not magically immune to greed, just as they are, astonishingly, not immune to the rest of human nature either. Quite the contrary! It is almost impossible to measure the total wealth of that great “socialist” man of the people, the ruler of the Soviet Union from the mid-1920’s until 1953, Joseph Stalin, because, as a complete dictator, having mingled his wealth with that of the state, he is estimated to have acquired about 5.8 Trillion pounds (about 9 Trillion dollars).

Nikita Khrushchev, who ruled the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics from 1953 to 1964, is estimated to have amassed 50 million dollars while his beloved “workers of the world” were standing for hours in queues to get a head of cabbage. Nicolae Ceausescu who rose through the socialist ranks until he became the communist ruler of Romania from 1974 to 1989 is estimated by Idol Net Worth to have amassed about 5 million dollars while at least a hundred thousand children suffered and died from malnutrition in his orphanages.

Celebrity Net Worth estimates the net worth of that great “socialist man of the people” Fidel Castro at 900,000 dollars while his people were going blind from malnutrition and vitamin deficiency. Celebrity Net Worth estimates the net worth of his brother, that great “socialist man of the people,” Raoul Castro, who had not been in power long enough to grab as much as Fidel, at a paltry 100 million dollars. Celebrity Net Worth estimates the net worth of that great “socialist man of the people” Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua as a mere 50 million dollars. In 2018 the New York Times reported that the adult Ortega children have somehow managed to run everything from gasoline distribution to the television stations in Nicaragua. Celebrity Net Worth estimates the net worth of that great “socialist man of the people” Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe as a mere 20 million dollars, but, of course, there was not as much in Zimbabwe to steal so his relatively small portfolio is forgivable. Celebrity Net Worth estimates the net worth of that great “socialist man of the people,” Hugo Chavez, at about 1 billion dollars for his short tenure as president of the country.

For the record, Salon is a strongly “progressive” website that, based on its self-proclaimed superior “capacity for intelligence and rational thinking,” in 2013 praised Hugo Chavez’ socialist “economic miracle” in Venezuela – which was, of course, prior to the more recent Venezuelan socialist economic miracle of people eating their pets and trees in order to survive

Celebrity net worth estimates the net worth of that great socialist-communism “man of the people” Kim Jon Un at 5 billion dollars, with up to 20 palaces scattered around North Korea for his personal use, perhaps to rest as he refines his vision of the socialist utopia, while children in his country, genetically identical with south Korean children, are up to two inches shorter due to malnutrition.

Closer to home in the United States, the revered “socialist” pioneer “man of the people,” Bernie Sanders, who stated with practiced moral fervor in the 1970s that no one needs more than 1 million dollars, is now estimated to own 3 homes and be worth 2.5 million dollars. This does not count the take of Bernie Sander’s wife, Jane O’Meara Sanders, who managed to amass about 1.5 million dollars as a social worker and college administrator. There is good news and bad news about Jane’s tenure as President of Burlington College in Vermont. The good news is that when she resigned in 2011 from her 139,000 dollars a year salary, with substantial additional benefits, after her “ambitious plans” for the college, in which she overstated donations to it, failed to work out, costing a local Catholic Church dearly, Jane received a $200,000 dollars severance package to soften to blow to her portfolio. As a reward for her brilliant “leadership”, she was soon, perhaps in a poor attempt at humor, appointed to the Vermont Economic Development Authority. The bad news is that, due to “longstanding financial woes,” including the “crushing weight of the debt” undertaken by the college when Jane led them to buy the property from the Catholic Diocese, Burlington College shut down completely several years later, throwing many socialists and non-socialists alike equally out of work and ending the education dreams of many students. In any case, this makes Bernie and Jane a socialist American “power couple” with a joint net worth of 4 million capitalist dollars and multiple homes in which to plan the utopia.

The great “socialist man of the people,” Tom Hayden, who authored the Port Huron Statement, ended up, according to Celebrity Net Worth, with about 33 million capitalist dollars in his bank account, most of which he got in a divorce settlement from Jane Fonda. Jane herself, much beloved in North Vietnam and Hollywood for her picture with the anti-aircraft guns being used to shoot down American pilots in the Vietnam War, has amassed a quite respectable 200 million dollars. Quite surprisingly, Jane, unjustly stuck at a paltry 200 million dollars, is not giving her “Workout Collection” video tapes to the oppressed “workers of the world” for free but, rather, the tapes can now be purchased on Amazon.com for a mere 49 capitalist dollars.

Milton Friedman and F.A. Hayek argue that there are reasons why, far from producing a new “socialist man” free of the greed and violence that characterizes the evil “capitalists,” socialism actually tends to produce far more ruthless and greedy leaders than anything seen in capitalist countries. One might make many points in support of Friedman’s and Hayek’s contention but I give only two here.

First, in contrast with capitalism, in which the “ownership of the means of production” is spread out over a plethora of competing capitalists, “the means of production” in a socialist regime is concentrated in one central authority,” usually the state. But it is inherently dangerous to concentrate so much power in one central authority. For, if the state controls the means of producing houses, cars, houses, factories, medicine and health care, then it is very easy for state actors to use that exclusive power to help political supporters and punish political enemies.

In a capitalist state, by contrast, with a genuine free market, if person X does not like the health care they get from supplier A, X may simply decide to patronize a different supplier B. Further, since it is in A’s interest to keep X’s purchasing loyalty, A is motivated to deliver the best possible health care to X. Thus, in a “free market,” it is inherently difficult to employ ownership of “the means of production” to punish people, but if any one supplier does become unfair or dictatorial, as they sometimes do (“woke” corporations Microsoft, Amazon, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook come to mind), that fact alone provides an incentive for a competitor to arise to capture this new group of disaffected buyers.  This liberating competition does not happen in a “single payer” system.

By contrast, a socialist system is perfectly designed to make it easy for the government to punish political enemies and provide a perfect excuse for doing so: “Please get into the queue, comrade, for the liver cancer operations and wait your turn! The Central Committee of the Party is compiling the list as we speak.” The common belief in the United States that a “single payer health care” system, that is, a system in which the single payer for all health care costs is the government, will eliminate injustice in the field of health care is foolish in the extreme. For control of the “single payer” system by a single central government authority is tailor made for political payback and government abuse of power.

The second reason a socialist system is inherently dangerous derives from the very thing that makes it so attractive to people, especially young people lacking in self-knowledge and inexperienced in the ways of the world. For the socialist leader does not merely claim that they are going to produce a better kind of car, perhaps a car that gets 5 % better gas mileage than the nearest competitor. The socialist leader claims they are going to produce the utopia of a universal “brotherhood” characterized by absolute equality and “social justice,” and, following upon that, the emergence of a new kind of “socialist man” and woman free of the oppressive greed of the “capitalist man” and woman.

But this means that the stakes of leadership in a socialist system are enormously high. For example, the former “comrades” and friends, Trotsky and Stalin, with their competing visions of the socialist state, vied for control of the emerging Soviet Union. Whereas the differences between two different visions of the 1971 Mustang is not likely to be seen to be sufficient to justify the murder of the proponent of the one design by the proponent of the other, Trotsky and Stalin promoted quite different visions of the glorious Soviet socialist utopia. The differences between these two visions are literally cosmic. A whole new world (and a whole new “socialist man” appropriate to that world) never before seen on the face of the earth is being created. Stalin is not just trying to produce a better Mustang than Trotsky. He is trying, like God, to create a whole new and better world than Trotsky. Since the stakes are so high, Trotsky cannot be allowed to succeed.

In 1929 Trotsky was exiled to Turkey by Stalin, but eventually ended up in Mexico. After surviving one failed assassination attempt in May of 1940 in Mexico, Trotsky wrote an article titled “Stalin seeks my Death.” In August of that same year, Trotsky was attacked in his study by Spanish communist Ramon Mercader with an ice axe. The blow penetrated 2.4 inches into Trotsky’s brain but failed to kill him immediately. He died a day later from loss of blood. And Trotsky and Stalin and once been close friends and comrades. So much for the heroic socialist brotherhood. The Messianic quality of socialism, the adolescent dream of a whole new world free of injustice, is among its most dangerous features.

7. “Social Injustice Warriors” and Sophistry

Since indoctrination and obedience can only be maintained when they are “justified” by a plethora of sophistries, the most popular arguments in our universities, and the arguments routinely regarded by the Left as definitive, are the arguments that a view is wrong if it is racist, sexist, homophobic and the like. In fact, these kinds of arguments can be found in the section titled “ad hominem fallacies” in any standard logic and critical reasoning text book. The claim that a view is wrong because it is racist, sexist, homophobic and the like is an attempt to avoid the onerous necessity of arguing against that view by employing legitimate rational methods. If, for example, someone says that it is racist to say that illegal immigration should be stopped, the proper response should be, “But is that true? Let’s look at the facts and the relevant moral principles and discuss the matter.”

It is a fundamental logical point that one cannot determine whether a view is racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., without first independently determining the relevant facts and moral principles. Thus, these arguments also commit the fallacy of “begging the question,” that is, assuming what they purport to prove.

For example, if there is in fact a crisis at the border, that is, if there is an abusive people-smuggling ring exploiting laxity at the southern border, if there is a large amount of dangerous drugs smuggled across the southern border, if there are not sufficient resources available in place to care for people who enter illegally through the southern border, thereby putting them in danger, if a large influx of people illegally entering depresses the job market for poorer American citizens and so on, then it cannot be racist to say that illegal immigration should be prevented.

The immediate jump by the Left to the charge that it is racist to make these sorts of points is a transparent attempt to avoid the discussion of these relevant issues (and the main reason the Left usually wants to avoid a fair discussion of these issues is that it cannot win in a fair debate). The easy accusations of racism, sexism, homophobia and the like by the Left are an attempt to exempt themselves from the onerous trouble of thinking – that is, to excuse themselves from what used to be the whole point of an education. Thus, the various left-wing indoctrination tools employed in the university must at the same time be supported by a pervasive set of left-wing sophistry tools.

It is worth mentioning, at least briefly, the role of “Post-Modernism” in honing the systematic use of sophistry to achieve political ends in our universities. Although “Post-Modernism” deserves a more sustained treatment, the basic point for present purposes is that it is a relativist view that dispenses with the notion of “objective truth” in favor of the view that there are just different narratives about the world.

Whereas Marx believed in objective truth, later leftists, perhaps because of the perceived failures of Marxism, formed an alliance with “post-Modernism” that has cleared the way for the wholesale embrace of sophistry in order to achieve their political ends. For, the elimination of the notion of “objective truth” leaves a lacuna in human thought that will be filled by something. Since the notion of “objective truth” places limits on the tendencies toward excesses in human thought, the elimination of this notion gives free reign to the idea that it is legitimate to use one’s cognitive faculties simply for the pursuit of power.

Since SJW’s are prepared to use undemocratic means, including, not only systematic sophistry, but also intimidation and violence, to achieve their ends, the expression “social justice warrior” is, in fact, a euphemism for “social injustice warrior.” The fact that our universities are largely run by “social injustice warriors” is amply illustrated by the treatment of progressive Professor Weinstein and his wife, but also by the infantile and thuggish reactions to harmless conservative speakers like Ben Shapiro on college campuses. The students who pull fire alarms or chant slogans like “Hate speech promotes violence”) are more than happy to violate other people’s civil rights and dole out social injustice to those who disagree with them.

Once a certain tipping point is reached, and there is no longer any check on leftist ideas in the universities, there is no limit on how extreme the Left can become. A professor at Drexel University in October of 2017 can tweet, “All I want for Christmas is white genocide” and then claim victim status after he was forced to resign his position, but not, of course, by the university, which, apparently, does not consider the call for mass murder as a firing offence. In an additional pathetic chapter to this story, this former Drexel professor later put the following comment on Facebook: “I’m glad to announce that, starting today, I will be a Visiting Scholar at NYU’s Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics. Happy New Year!” It is, apparently, not inconsistent with NYU’s enlightened system of values to call for the genocide of a whole race of people – as long as one is murdering the right people. One does not have to be a conservative to recognize that calling for mass murder may not be the best way to solve the problem – should, that is, actually solving problems, as opposed to virtue-signaling (and other forms of self-promotion), even be the aim anymore.

8. “The Worse Things Are, The Better They Are”

Since many of the proposals put forward by the Left are transparently not designed to solve any problems, but are more like to exacerbate them, one should make the obvious inference. These members of the Left do not actually want to solve the problems. They want to make them worse. Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the 1917 Russian communist revolution, is reported to have said that “the worse things are, the better they are.” What this means is that that one is not going to bring about the glorious socialist or communist revolution if people are content with their lives. Recall SDS’s view that one must convince people that their private troubles are really caused by societal factors and require political change.

On the contrary, if the glorious socialist or communist revolution is to take place “the people” must be maintained in a state of misery. If they are content with their lives, they must be changed to become discontented with their lives. The left often does not, therefore, actually want to solve problems. If conservatives, or even what remains of the genuine liberals, are permitted actually to solve the problems and lift the poor out of poverty, thereby enabling them to achieve dignity and self-respect, the socialist or communist revolution is off (and with it the well-paid careers of a bevy of leftist politicians and functionaries).

For example, one would think that the Democrat Party and the Black Caucus in Congress would have been pleased when Donald Trump was able to announce at his first State of the Union address that black unemployment was at an all-time low (a claim that Politifact, not a right-wing outlet, rated as “mostly true”). Instead, the Democrat side of the aisle and large majority of the “Black caucus” scowled and sat on their hands at the good news for the black community. Sometimes the most obvious inference is the best one. The left is not interested in solving the problems of the poor. They have a different agenda. For the elite Left depends on a dependent miserable aggrieved underclass to justify their own existence and keep themselves in wealth and power.

9. The Decline In Our Primary And Secondary Educational Institutions

Since the university is the source of much of our current political discourse, and since many of our political and cultural leaders come through the university system, the corruption of the universities has led to the corruption of most of our cultural institutions, including not only the “media” and the “arts,” such as they are, but also our primary and secondary education.

Consider the state of our primary and secondary schools in the United States! Since the teachers and administration at these institutions are almost invariably a product of the university system, the effect of leftist intimidation of the universities is reflected there as well. The Brookings Institute, which is not a conservative organization, and whose employees tend to support democrats, describes the poor state of US primary and secondary education:

For private education, from pre-K through secondary, prices are 8.5 times higher now than in 1980. For public schools, the rise is lower—4.7 from 1980 to 2013 —but still far above general inflation… but learning has stagnated. For the nation’s 17-year-olds, there have been no gains in literacy since the National Assessment of Educational Progress began in 1971. The long-term stagnation cannot be attributed to racial or ethnic differences in the U.S. population. Literacy scores for white students peaked in 1975; in math, scores peaked in the early 1990s.

It is, therefore, not surprising that the United States is outperformed by many countries at the international level, not only by Singapore and Hong Kong, but even countries like Vietnam that had not so long ago been bombed to oblivion during the Vietnam war and now spend much less per student on education. Singapore tops the list in primary school math, secondary school math, primary school science and secondary school science. In 2016 it was reported that the United States only scores 10th for secondary school math, outperformed even by the relatively poor country of Kazakhstan. The United States is not even in the top 10 for primary school math. The United States is not in the top 10 for secondary school science, outperformed by Slovenia and Kazakhstan. The United States scores tenth for primary school science education, outperformed by Poland and Kazakhstan.

There are, no doubt, many factors for this poor showing. However, since the primary and secondary schools are staffed predominately by people who go through our universities, leftist bias in education, and the ensuing cultural decline, starts long before college. Since the Left emphasizes “social justice” over basic education (reading, writing, mathematics, and science), students from US primary and secondary schools will have learned to feel aggrieved, or, perhaps, learned to feel guilty for other people’s grievances in which they personally had no hand whatsoever. What they will not have learned, unfortunately, is mathematics, science, or reading and writing skills that will enable them to compete with students in Singapore, Hong Kong, Poland, Slovenia, Kazakhstan or Vietnam. The problem is now severe enough that it is a matter of national security.

The fact that America’s educational system, from primary school through university, is in such a state of decline should not be a surprise. When, under the pressure of leftist activists, one prioritizes “social justice” (sometimes social injustice of the sort witnessed at Evergreen University, the University of New Hampshire, Berkeley and so on) over a neutral pursuit of the truth, one gets waves of students highly sensitized to their series of grievances but not very good in math, science, or writing (or, as at the University of New Hampshire, for formulating a coherent position at a public talk).

Since the decline in education standards is evenly spread across the board, the average American may not feel the effects of the decline in at the present time. But when America’s chief competitors, like China and Russia, surpass it, Americans will soon learn the difference between the “woke” grievances conjured by privileged political activists in Sociology 101 and the real grievances that will be imposed on them by their rather less gentle external enemies.

10. What About Real Grievances?

It may be objected that the present article makes light of the real grievances experienced by many groups, for example, black people, Native Americans, women, handicapped people or LGBT people throughout in American history. In fact, the present argument makes no effort whatsoever to deny that such grievances exist, that many of them have considerable merit, and that the university is one of the places in which it is appropriate to address them. The present argument is only opposed to the a priori political activism imposed on our universities at the expense of the traditional mission of a neutral pursuit of the truth as laid out by the Port Huron Statement.

It is only when the discussions of social problems and human grievances is framed a priori in favor of the Left (“A new left must be distributed in significant social roles throughout the country. The universities are distributed in such a manner”), that the university is turned from its proper mission to understand the world to an improper Marxist mission to change it. For, the latter alternative makes the decline in standards that is evident throughout our educational institutions today inevitable.

Putting on a pair of “blinders,” especially ideological blinders, is never a wise way to set about actually solving social problems. If one structures the university around leftist agendas then the results of studies and investigations within the university will be that capitalism, “the Patriarchy,” Systemic Racism” and the like are the cause of all our ills – because that is the a priori assumption one begins with. Tautologies may be comforting, as our political class and the “news” media know very well, but they never yield any real insight into the problems.

Since history shows that the problems are best resolved when the universities maintain a free and fair environment undistorted by any a priori political ideology from either the Left or the Right, the leftist domination of the American university beginning in the 1960s, accompanied by the usual threats and censorship, can, therefore, only guarantee that the real problems will not be satisfactorily solved and that a more just and fair society will not be produced. Quite the contrary! Ideological blindness can only lead to injustice and misery. The present paper does not, therefore, argue that the various social problems and grievances should not be addressed within the university. It only argues that these can only be properly addressed in the free and fair environment that preceded leftist intimidation that began in the 1960’s.

The usual reply to this argument is that things were not very good to the various minorities prior to leftist intimidation of the universities. After all, “the Patriarchy,” “capitalism” and other abstractions, we have been told, ruled with an iron fist. In fact, this is easily refuted. The fact that the Left is so well represented in the contemporary university and is permitted, even encouraged, to make their criticisms and demands, testifies to the fact that these exaggerated claims are not true.

For, once a group claiming victim status stand up in America and makes its case, the culture generally responds quite quickly at multiple levels. It is, of course, true that aggrieved groups must step up and make their case. They cannot expect “the System” or “the Patriarchy” to make their case for them – or do they? There is, therefore, a sense in which the exaggerated left-wing criticisms of “the system,” “the Patriarchy,” and “capitalism” are self-refuting. For, if those criticisms were true, if, that is, the “System,” “capitalism” or “the Patriarchy” were really were so oppressive as the Left claims they are, the plethora of aggrieved anti-democratic university activists making them would not occupy their present privileged positions.

11. Choosing Ignorance

In the “old days,” when children went to the university to learn, rather than to teach, the traditional mission of the university was understood to be to provide a neutral free and fair environment for the discussion of all views as the best means for arriving at the best ideas and solutions to problems. When problems were pointed out, e.g., the dearth of women and minority students, rational arguments were put forward to rectify this situation and female and minority representation in the universities increased dramatically.

For example, whereas male enrolment in US universities 1967 was almost double that of female enrollment, Wendy Wang and Kim Parker for the Pew Research pointed out females caught up with males in university enrolment around 1990 and that the United States now experiences “a ‘reverse’ gender gap where women are more likely than men to go to college. By 2009, a record 44% of young women were enrolled in college, compared with 38% of young men.” The same study points out that the female graduation rate has now surpassed that for males.

Similarly, a 2015 article in The Atlantic by Andrew McGill describes the changes in black enrollment in tertiary institutions:

Since 1994, black enrollment has doubled at institutions that primarily grant associate degrees, including community colleges. In 2013, black students accounted for 16 percent of the student body there, versus 11 percent in 1994. Universities focusing on Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral degrees also broadly saw gains, with blacks making up 14 percent of the population, compared to 11 percent in 1994.

Not everyone, however, was happy with these successes. Since solving social problems does not produce enough unhappy leftist revolutionaries, a group of radical “New Leftists” in the Students for a Democratic Society plotted to change American universities as a first step towards changing America as a whole. They did not, however, as their name might suggest, propose to do this by democratic means. They did not set out to convince the American people by open and transparent rational arguments that the traditional neutral mission of free and fair discussion needed to be changed. Since the traditional university system had been so successful, this would be almost impossible to do. Rather, they developed a plan to “distribute” leftists across the universities and set about carrying this out. In response to grievances, whole new departments, programs, and hiring practices were quickly established in response to these leftist demands.

Since the primary aim of the leftists is the advancement of their ideas and programs, once they achieved a “critical mass” in the universities, they used their newfound power, conferred on them surprisingly easily by the implacable evil oppressive “Patriarchy,” to make adherence to these leftist ideas, as opposed to the neutral pursuit of the truth, the primary criteria for hiring and policy decisions. As a consequence, the Left’s power in the US universities grew, leading to further control over the hiring and policy decisions, in an ever-repeating cycle.

The notion of a meritocracy, intrinsically suspicious because it had been so successful at producing a level of national wealth and power unmatched in human history, was decreed to be verboten by the intolerant Left and had to be abandoned. As a result, the Left now enjoys a dominant position of power in most university faculties and administrations. Conservatives, and sometimes even moderates and progressives that do not follow the script du jour closely or quickly enough, as at Evergreen University, are literally afraid to express themselves in the “Ivory Tower” citadel of ideas. The Port Huron “New Left” plan has been successful beyond its wildest dreams. In this way, the traditional formula for success in US universities was replaced by a formula for failure.

The fact that the Left was able to take over the universities so quickly and so easily might lead a neutral observer to think that these abstractions conjured in Sociology 101, such as “the Patriarchy” and “the Capitalist System,” to explain all of our sins, real and imagined, do not really exist, but, since the neutral observers no longer exist, or, to be more precise, since the ones who do exist in the university are afraid to speak up, no one is left to point this out.

As a consequence, over a period of time, the peaceful environment for the free and fair discussion of issues was replaced by the leftist mobs that threw progressive Professors Weinstein and Heying out of Evergreen University for questioning their adolescent racist plans, that insulted Dave Rubin for talking politely, even when they gratuitously insulted him, to students in a public talk, and that rioted, set fires and beat people at the home of the Berkeley “free speech movement” when gay British conservative Milo Yiannopoulos attempted to state his point of view. Ironically, it was often “conservatives,” who still retain the old-fashioned notions of freedom of speech and other fundamental democratic principles, that spoke up in defense of the progressive professors Weinstein and Heying and “gay” speakers Rubin and Yiannopoulos.

In the Gorgias, Plato has Socrates argue that it is better to lose an argument than to win it (because one learns something new when one loses the argument but not when one wins one). The current state of our universities can be explained by the fact that, dominated by the censorship and intimidation employed by the Left, they have chosen not to learn anything new. They will not lose any arguments because they will not engage in any arguments they cannot “win.” Anyone foolish enough to argue against the Left will be driven off campus; or, if they are lucky, will merely have to endure students, sometimes, unfortunately, supported by members of the faculty and administration, ringing cow bells, pulling fire alarms or chanting juvenile slogans to prevent them from being heard. As a consequence, discussions in the universities are reduced to a continuous virtue-signaling rehearsal of leftist ideas, which, inevitably leads to even sillier ideas.

Since the a priori goal of the universities is now the promotion of leftist ideas on and off campus, objections to these ideas will either be censored altogether or “refuted” by invoking transparent sophistries. When, therefore, reality intrudes and these leftist ideas fail, perhaps leading, in “progressive” cities, to soaring poverty and crime rates, sprawling unhealthy tent cities, “poop” maps to protect tourists from the odoriferous truth, and discarded needles everywhere, it will be impossible to solve these problems because it will be impossible even to “see” them (describe them) for what they are. For it has been decreed, a priori, that social problems cannot be caused by the leftist ideas or policies because everyone knows the Left only seeks equality and “social justice” and that these problems must be “caused” (in some notion of “causation” not found anywhere in the history of science or in any leftist’s head) by “the class struggle,” “the Patriarchy” or “systemic racism.” If anyone disagrees with this, let them formulate a properly formulated testable causal law, hopefully in grammatical English, linking “the Patriarchy” or “systemic racism,” with the presence of used needles and poop all over San Francisco streets.

12. Reversing The Decline

The question arises whether this decline of the United States into an intolerant “war of all against all” can be reversed? There are many reasons to think that it is already too late. For a psychosis of intolerance involving an obsessive unrealistic way of thinking has entered our national mentality and one feature of the psychosis is that those who have it do not see it as a psychosis, but, rather, as wisdom incarnate. Another feature of the intolerance-psychosis is that those who have it see those who do not have it as evil. Normally, one would look to the more rational elements in our institutions, in particular, our universities, to resist this kind of destructive movement.

The problem is that since the root of the psychosis is the universities, and since they provide the people to fill the rest of the influential positions in society, none of these leading influential institutions are interested. In some cases, the remedy lies as close as the nearest critical reasoning textbook but since that was written by “the Patriarchy,” it cannot be trusted and is only invoked in special cases when it can be useful.

Something similar can be said of other parts of the “education industry,” the “news” media, and the “government,” most of whose members have been produced by the same “cookie cutter” assembly line in the universities. Filled with the massive pride and self-certainty of people who live inside the leftist bubble and suffer only to talk with the faithful, they are certainly not going to do it themselves. “It is the pride of a child and a schoolboy.” (Dostoevsky, “The Grand Inquisitor”).

This leaves only “the people” to repair the situation, and it may be that students and parents, finally appalled by the kind of intolerance, censorship, hate and rank infantilism exhibited at so many other universities may begin looking for alternatives to traditional university education in sufficient numbers to force the universities to reform. Unfortunately, since “the people” have been declared by the all-knowing elites to be “a basket of deplorables,” the all-knowing elites in the ‘Biden administration’ are currently preparing “domestic terrorism” guidelines to monitor these dangerous individualistic freedom-mongers more closely for thought-crimes.

In the United States, “the people” used to be respected as the ultimate authority in the American democratic system. Unfortunately, since they, with their dangerous tendencies towards individuality, self-respect and freedom of thought, stand in the way of the elite’s plans to control everybody’s lives, prospects for individual freedom and human dignity in the United States do not look very good at the moment. However, reality can be surprising. The massive levels of transparent “in your face” greed, incompetence and corruption in Washington D.C. may help the Constitution and the rule of law make a comeback. It is, therefore, necessary to keep working toward the recovery of our freedom and dignity should the chance arise to claim it.

But one thing is for sure. No matter what changes one makes in other parts of the society, no matter how many laws one passes, no matter how much money one raises and spends, no matter how many conservatives one puts into office, no matter how many constitutionalist judges one puts in the courts, no matter how many carefully reasoned books and articles one publishes,, the intolerance psychosis that infects our society will not be healed until our universities, and, consequent upon that, the rest of our “educational” system and other societal institutions are “liberated” from their leftist “liberators” and returned to normalcy.

It is important, however, not to deceive oneself. Since a corrupt leftist dominated university system will continue, following SDS’s plan, to “distribute” leftist anti-American activists throughout the entire society, poisoning every institution against the country and its traditions, if we cannot return our universities to their traditional proper mission of providing a genuinely neutral free and fair forum for the discussion of all issues, nothing else we do can make any real difference to the emerging tyranny. Conservatives require only a free and fair discussion. Nothing more. The censorship and “cancel culture” that have poisoned American society began in the universities; and they must be ended there before the country can heal itself. Conservatives are happy to let Marxists, communists and socialists have their say. It is the Left, supported by their capitalist child billionaires in Silicon Valley and the partisan Lilliputians in the “news” media that, knowing the outcome of free and fair discussions, fears freedom.


Richard McDonough is the author of two books, numerous articles, encyclopedia and dictionary entries, and book reviews. He has taught previously at Bates College, the National University of Singapore, the University of Tulsa, the University Putra Malaysia, the Overseas Family College, the PSB Academy, the University of Maryland, the Arium Academy, and James Cook University. In addition to philosophy, he has taught psychology, physics, humanities and writing courses.


The featured image shows and anonymous work from the 18th century.

Education As Provocation: A Conversation With Konrad Paul Liessmann

This month, we are so very pleased to have a conversation with Professor Konrad Paul Liessmann, the renowned Austrian philosopher, essayist, and cultural critic at the University of Vienna.

The Postil (TP): Welcome, Professor Liessmann, to the Postil. It is a great pleasure to have you with us. Recently, your book, Bildung als Provokation (Education as Provocation) was translated into French as La haine de la culture. Pourquoi les démocraties ont besoin de citoyens cultivés (Hatred of Culture: Why Democracies Need Educated Citizens). The difference between the two titles is interesting. Could you speak to this difference? Is there a connection between education today and a “hatred of culture?”

Konrad Paul Liessmann. Photo Credit: Heribert Corn.

Konrad Paul Liessmann (KPL): There is this connection. Culture, in the sense of the great works of world literature, music and the visual arts, was banned from education. The only thing that now counts in education, therefore, is competencies; dealing with the great documents of culture is hardly relevant anymore. This is also the result of a “hatred of culture,” an attitude that wants to make it easy for everyone and denounces as elitist any argument that requires concentration, knowledge and effort. That doesn’t mean that this culture should be adopted uncritically; but without this culture all education is empty.

TP: How do you understand culture?” Do you think we have lost culture?

KPL: Of course, there are the most varied of provisions of culture. One can start from a concept of culture that turns everything into culture that people somehow do regularly, ritualized and in a formed way—in this sense one can speak of a culture of beer drinking as well as a culture of war. But one could also start from a narrow concept of culture that only accepts those forms of culture in which that tendency towards reflexivity and aestheticization has become independent. That could best be called “art.” Indeed, no one wants to reduce culture to art anymore. One would rather “expand” the concept of art and allow it to coincide with the expanded concept of culture. However, it was only the elitist concept of culture that was limited to artistic activity and associated with an exquisite quality standard that made it attractive for its expansion. The fact that even the stupidest TV show wants to be culture only makes sense if you want to peck at the aura of a term that you simultaneously negate with this claim.

However, the concept of culture also suggests other interpretations and differentiations. In its original meaning, culture has, strangely enough, three opposing terms that say more about it than laborious definitions of the term culture itself: nature, barbarism, and civilization. Culture can only be determined on the basis of these and in contrast to them. Culture is originally, in its derivation, from “agriculture,” that is, worked nature. Furthermore, culture is the work on human nature. What is still raw in people, i.e., na-ture, is cultivated and refined with regard to the actual purpose of the human: autonomy and freedom. Culture always has a strong aesthetic component. Culture is always freedom from necessity, a game of fantasy and imagination, and not the practice in the practical constraints of the digitalized competitive society. In this sense, it could be that we actually lose culture because we only see everything from the point of view of usefulness.

TP: Education, of course, is the primary focus of your book. But education now means so many different things. How do you understand education?

KPL: The beautiful German word Bildung has a wide variety of meanings. Of course, this includes essential aspects of upbringing (“Education”), but the imparting of scientific, cultural, aesthetic and historical knowledge is also part of education for me. And finally, education also has a lot to do with self-education, with the formation and cultivation of mind, body and soul, with the development of dispositions and talents.

TP: There is much talk about “skills” and getting students ready for jobs (which are non-existent). Do you think universities are betraying young people because they are training them to be obsolete?

KPL: Our dynamic world no longer allows precise predictions about the world of work of tomorrow. So it is hardly possible to train young people for a certain profession. Universities shouldn’t do that either. Universities should offer a scientific education that represents a solid basis for future prospects.

TP: You offer a very pertinent quotation from the German philosopher Peter Bieri, who also writes novels under the pseudonym, Pascal Mercier – “…the educated person reads books in such a way that they change him?” Could you speak about this “change?”

KPL: Well, Peter Bieri talks mainly about reading literature, novels, short stories, poetry. According to his thesis, the reader of literature learns how to talk about the way people think, want and feel. The reader learns the language of the soul. He learns that one can feel differently about the same thing than he is used to. He learns new words and new metaphors for mental events. Because his vocabulary, his conceptual repertoire, has grown, he can now talk about his experience in a more nuanced way, and this in turn enables him to feel more differentiated. Whoever feels more differentiated, who now has words for complex feelings, has changed through reading. Reading helps to better understand other people, other situations in life, strange worlds. Precisely because this is so important in a diverse world, I don’t understand why literature is disappearing from schools.

TP: Do you think education is secular redemption?

KPL: No, I do not think so. But very often it is pretended that all the problems of our world are solved if enough is invested into education. In no area of life is there so much hope set as in that of education; there is no authority that is trusted as much as education. Education is a sought-after resource for countries with few natural resources in global competition; education is seen as a medium with which girls, migrants, outsiders, lower classes, the disabled and oppressed minorities are to be emancipated, promoted, integrated and included; and education should protect young people from being seduced by drugs, the Islamic State, and protect them from the populists. Education is supposedly the means by which prejudice, discrimination, unemployment, hunger, obesity, anorexia, AIDS, inhumanity and genocide is prevented—the challenges of the future are met and children are happy, and young sdults should be made employable: But none of that is possible. There are far too many expectations placed on education— and that is why one is always disappointed in education.

TP: Technology has given modern man much leisure time – but modern man is also forever in a rush, never having enough time for anything. Could you explain this paradox?

KPL: I think modern technology is ambivalent: it gives us freedom and makes us dependent. This also characterizes digitization. Any relief will be undone by the variety of possibilities that this technology offers and that we want to exhaust. That’s why we’re constantly rushed because we don’t want to miss anything. And we don’t want to miss anything because we no longer have any idea what is really important in our life. I hardly exlcude myself from all this. Technology has a great seductive power—we forget how much it makes us slaves to our machines. The machines should serve us and not we who should serve the machines.

TP: Will technology make institutional education unnecessary?

KPL: I do not believe that it will. The current corona crisis in particular shows how important schools and universities are. Learning is primarily a social process; meeting people is constitutive for educational processes, not working through programs.

TP: You mention the term “pseudo-scientificization of pedagogy” used by the philosopher Julian Nida-Rümelin. Could you explain what this means?

KPL: We have a fundamental problem with the scientification of professions that could be viewed more as craft, such as education. A good teacher doesn’t have to be a good scientist, and a good scientist is by no means a good teacher. Nevertheless, I believe that in a modern knowledge-society, teachers in schools need scientific training, because the sciences are the basis of teaching. The fact that so much fake news and conspiracy theories are circulating today also has to do with the fact that we don’t know enough about how knowledge is produced and communicated.

TP: You make a very powerful statement in your book—“No, education alone cannot change a society.” What led you to this conclusion?

KPL: If you will permit: the historical experience. The current balance of power is reflected in every idea of education; the hope that the youth will do better one day has still been disappointed. Social changes result from social and economic tensions, from technological innovations, and, yes, also from wars. Education alone can do little here. And yet I do not give up the hope that educated people treat themselves, treat others, treat the environment a little more carefully than is currently happening.

TP: There is a very intriguing chapter in your book, entitled, “Europe Considered as Fine Art. Towards an Aesthetics of a Continent.” How should we understand this?

KPL: The idea was, based on the famous book “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts” by Thomas de Quincey, not to look at Europe from an economic, political or bureaucratic point of view, but rather from an aesthetical one. How does a colorful map of Europe from the Middle Ages, the 19th century and the present affect us? What role do the great authors from Homer to Shakespeare to Flaubert and Dostoevsky play in our conception of Europe? What significance does “absolute music” have as a genuine European invention for European consciousness? Is it a coincidence that the “European Anthem” goes back to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony? And what do metaphors from architecture, such as, the talk of the “common-house Europe” mean for our self-image? I wanted to pursue these and similar questions.

TP: You also make an essential difference between art and science. Do both exist for the “betterment” of “society?”

KPL: No. They do not exist “for” the betterment of society. Because art and science have to be free and autonomous, only then do they work well. If they are subjected to other purposes, no matter how desirable to us, art and science will be corrupted. Ideology and morality therefore have no place in art and science. But as an expression of freedom, art and science can also be a model for what a sovereign and self-confident human life could look like. But: art is not science and science is not art. Art is committed to imagination and aesthetic form, science to empiricism and rationality.

TP: In your invigorating discussion of revolution, you talk about Henning Ritter’s Die Schreie der Verwundeten (Screams of the Wounded). Why are revolutions cruel?

KPL: I don’t know. But they are. All. Every revolution has betrayed its goals and ideals. Perhaps this is due to a fatal logic: because revolutionaries believe they are on the right side of history, they consider anything to be permitted in order to achieve their goals. Whoever considers everything to be allowed because the end justifies the means becomes cruel, evil, inhuman. We must distrust revolutionaries of all shades.

TP: You call modern democracy “an administrator of poverty.” That is both a marvelous and a disturbing phrase, given the ease with which censorship is now applied and the strict control of speech (especially in English-speaking countries). Is this the result of the “mercantilization of society and life,” to use your apt term?

KPL: This question touches on several aspects. The modern, democratic state becomes an “administrator of poverty” insofar as we see it primarily as a welfare state that is supposed to alleviate the worst negative consequences of economic and ecological developments. The state is no longer a center of power, but a compensation institution. This can be seen clearly, for example, in education policy, which has actually become social policy under the keywords “equity of opportunity” and “equal opportunities.” And the state is increasingly understood as a moral institution that has to ensure that people speak correctly, think correctly, love correctly, eat rightly and act correctly. Sometimes nudging is enough, sometimes it leads to regulations and prohibitions. This undoubtedly restricts human freedom. In addition, we model our lives in principle according to the model of the market, according to the model of companies. Professors become knowledge-managers, lovers become people who invest emotions with the hope of high returns.

TP: The structure of the “political party,” you state, has fallen into a crisis as a political model. Do you think such political parties have a future?

KPL: Well, I am not advocating the abolition of parties, I just see how the traditional big parties—bourgeois parties, social democratic parties—get into a crisis and new parties emerge faster and faster, which can also quickly disappear. This has to do with the fact that people are no longer clearly defined socially and culturally. Changing interests lead to changing political representations. As the name suggests, parties correspond to a part of the whole; a democracy should be able to identify itself in the interaction of the parties. But you can imagine a democracy—as in antiquity—without parties, even without elections: you can also draw lots for important functions among the citizens.

TP: The idea of “limits” or “borders” is an important one in your thought. How should we understand these two terms, and is there a connection between borders and education?

KPL: Border in a double sense (“limit” and “border”) plays an important role not only in my thinking, but also in thinking in general. Without drawing boundaries, we cannot think; every “definition” is such a boundary. Boundaries teach us to differentiate, and boundaries mark differences. But limits are also an instruction to act: up to here and no further. And I could go on. Limits can therefore always be postponed, changed, exceeded. Borders therefore arouse curiosity; they refer us to the neighbor on the other side. This is also important for education: boundaries never divide absolutely, but they show what is here and what is there. And in a political and legal sense, borders have been invented to protect the weak. The strong do not need limits. “No borders” used to be the battle cry of aggressors. I don’t know if it’s really any different today. Of course, one shouldn’t draw rigid, inhumane boundaries. But without borders, our thinking and the world sink into chaos.

TP: “Anyone who thinks is fundamentally intolerant.” Could you explain this interesting phrase, and is the work of the intellectual still relevant?

KPL: The sentence sounds provocative, but it isn’t. The thinker is concerned with, arguable, justifiable insights, with the claim to truth. Tolerance is a wrong principle in science. As Karl Popper already taught, one has to do everything possible to falsify hypotheses and theories, i.e., to show that they are false. Theories only acquire a certain plausibility if this does not succeed. Thinking can and must be intolerant because it is not about the tolerance of other opinions, but about the search for truth. Tolerance would mean that we would no longer be able to recognize errors. That would be fatal. Intellectuals have the task of making that clear. Tolerance is only required in questions of religious belief, not in questions of scientific truth.

TP: In the final chapter of your book, you call for a “new Enlightenment.” What will this “new” Enlightenment look like?

KPL: My point is that the new Enlightenment should build on forgotten dimensions of the old Enlightenment. In this context I recall a contemporary of Immanuel Kant, the German-Jewish philosopher, Moses Mendelssohn. For Mendelssohn, enlightenment, i.e., science and rationality, was one aspect of general human education. The other side was culture, i.e., art and emotion. We have to learn again to think together the many dimensions of man. That also means that education has to educate itself about itself.

TP: Are you hopeful about the future of the West?

KPL: The philosopher Günther Anders, who spoke about the “antiquity of man,” once remarked: Hope is just another word for cowardice. If the ideas of European humanism are important to us, we should do everything we can to assert these ideas; that does not exclude criticism and self-criticism. But if we want to say goodbye to them because we are falling back into tribal structures, or want to submit to the dictates of the digital industries, we can do that too. In both cases there is nothing to hope for.

TP: Professor Liessmann, thank you so very much for your time. It has truly been a great pleasure and honor to speak to you.


The featured image shows, “Portrait of a Young Scholar,” attributed to either Jan van Scorel or Maarten van Heemskerck, painted in 1531.


Translated from the German by N. Dass.

After The Anti-Racist Struggle At Trinity College – The Wokeness Crown

There is nothing novel about the gravamens of “anti-Black racism” that Mayo Moran, the Provost of Trinity College at the University of Toronto, has been laying down over the last half year. Indeed, it is rather disappointing how pedestrian her pronouncements have been. When Canadian university faculty and administrators were swept up in the Great George Floyd Moral Panic of 2020 in May and June, Moran like others declared that she had suddenly discovered wide-ranging racism plaguing Trinity and announced plans for complete therapy.

As elsewhere, Moran is now taking this movement in its logical direction of abandoning deliberation and procedure in favor of revolutionary action. In November 2020, she promised that the “recommendations” due to be made by an “anti-racism task force” by the end of the year would be treated not so much as recommendations as commandments: “Our goal is to begin implementation as soon as possible.”

The idea that there is a crisis of “anti-Black racism” at Trinity, or elsewhere on Canadian college campuses, is absurd, and everyone knows it. Alongside First Nations students, black students are the most coddled and privileged members of the campus community. When three black Trinity students of the college’s Multicultural Society wrote in the university newspaper this summer about the intolerable suffering of “anti-Black racism rampant in the dining hall, the quad, and on the front steps” of the college, the most they could come up in specifics was that they had “heard of” some black students being treated rudely during orientation.

When I went to Trinity, being treated rudely during orientation was one of the purposes of the exercise, creating solidarity with one’s fellow classmen and good-natured connections to upper classmen. The three black students would have Trinity redesign its orientation with special rules for the treatment of black freshmen, surely an ironical aim for a group devoted to “inclusion.”

The other charge of pervasive anti-black racism the students made was that Trinity student groups – which include the Trivia Association, the James Bond Society, and the Garlic Bread Society – had not issued pro-Black Lives Matter statements during the summer. These non-compliant student groups, they charged, were “rooted in hate and further the exclusion of Black students at Trinity.” From what I can tell, their Multicultural Society did not issue a letter of condolence on the death of Sean Connery in deference to the feelings of the James Bond Society either. Shocking.

The totalitarian face of any political movement is never so clear as when it demands complete deference to its agenda from others in a pluralistic world. Like Provost Moran, these three students believe that the purpose of a university or college is to take a position on controversial social issues of the day and then rigorously enforce conformity among all students – sort of like the Marxist doctrines that animated the BLM movement in the first place.

In good Leninist form, the students also warned darkly that “people are choosing to protect their own images rather than acknowledging their faults” without naming anyone in particular. Perhaps sensing the threat, the college’s three main student leaders stepped down and apologized for their skin color: “As white and privileged leaders, we are the very people who have benefited from these institutions. We wholeheartedly believe that these structures need to be taken down.” This was the only blatantly racist episode that Trinity experienced over the summer, but of course it was the sort of performative virtue-signalling that progressive administrators like Moran look upon with loving kindness.

To charges of rampant racism, student radicals at the college later added rampant misogyny and “classism” (to be distinguished from classicism which these students may not have heard about in their years of thought reform at Trinity). This new Holy Trinity – race, class, and gender – has now replaced the older one that sought God’s truth.

Following the cue of the “white and privileged” students to “take down” the 170-year old college, Provost Moran and her “task force” are running headlong into a transformation of Trinity from a place of education into something truly sinister. There is already a student-led “Trinity Anti-Racism Collective” formed this year, and if its writ is as large as the Provost’s actions suggest, the college might simply rename itself accordingly as part of its Woke rebranding.

Such a renaming would at least help the shrinking number of intellectually curious high school students – as opposed to those adept at the virtue-signaling, performative moralizing, and careerist box-checking – to begin seeking out alternative places for a serious education. The list of elite colleges in the U.S. that have suffered this fate is a long one and Trinity may soon join them. Along with the disappearance of top students will go a disappearance of the “excruciating whiteness” that the organizers of the Trinity Multicultural Society insisted forced them to mobilize in 2018. During the current academic year, just 2 of Trinity’s 10 student leaders are white. Surely there will be no more excruciating whiteness once the whites have been sent packing. This is of course a problem from Trinity because there is wide evidence that top-performing high school students will avoid ethnic ghettos where the majority group has been ethnically cleansed since those places will not help them to thrive in mainstream society or to form valuable social connections.

So why care about this predictable response from Provost Moran and her anti-racist task force, any more than we care about similar developments elsewhere on Canadian college campuses? Isn’t this just the way the campus has gone, and the evidence that Canadians interested in freedom of thought and speech and a vigorous contest of ideas in the search for truth should no longer expect to find it in taxpayer funded universities and colleges?

Two reasons suggest otherwise.

One is that Trinity, like some other legacy institutions of education in Canada, holds a special place because of its deep lineage in the Canadian tradition. What happens there is more emblematic of a core shift than, say, similar developments at a newer or more experimental institution, or for that matter at Provost Moran’s alma mater, the UBC English Department whose June Statement of Solidarity Against Anti-Black violence promised with illiberal ferocity to eliminate “scholarship that still valourizes whiteness and settler-colonial ideas of European civilization.” We don’t expect much of the UBC English Department, which regularly suspends classes so that its students can rush to the barricades to support the latest social justice cause. But if excellence and academic freedom and merit cannot survive at Trinity, they will not survive anywhere in Canada.

More practically, there are substantial intellectual lineages of which Trinity is the steward that risk annihilation by Provost Moran’s new fanaticism. Over the summer, the college’s library was “re-evaluated and reshaped” according to an official notice, to downplay its main holdings in Canadian history and literature and emphasize the new party doctrine which the Provost helpfully enumerated as “anti-racism, anti-oppression and equity.” Surely it does not take a history degree to feel alarmed when political movements show up at the library spoiling for a fight with the stacks. Book burnings in the Quad anyone?

In particular, the Trinity library is steward of the Upjohn-Waldie Collection, which is no mere trifle in Canadian heritage. The collection includes rare books from late medieval Europe such as a 1473 book on the education of princes and a psalter of the same year. Priceless manuscripts from the early Renaissance include two first edition publications by Martin Luther and printed in 1520 and 1531, and a 1623 printing of Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens. The collection harbors one of the best holdings of early exploration accounts of Canada, such as a 1728 printing of John Gatonbe’s A Voyage into the North-West Passage Undertaken Anno 1612, and Alexander Mackenzie’s 1801 Voyages from Montreal on the River St. Laurence Through the Continent of North America to the Frozen and Pacific Oceans. There is a 1787 Book of Common Prayer in Mohawk, a critical early resource documenting that language, and a first edition of Joseph Conrad’s 1942 collection of nautical stories, The Tremolino.

I dwell on these precious holdings because libraries and collections are not inert, but rise or fall depending on how they are stewarded and celebrated. The Trinity library staff spent their entire summer “reevaluating” to promote the latest Woke Studies novels, as well as reading and promoting hate-filled screeds by black American racialists. Trinity’s precious holdings, especially that Mohawk prayer book, may soon be charged with “valourizing whiteness and settler-colonial ideas of European civilization.” The iconoclastic destruction of Trinity’s Upjohn-Waldie Collection, by indifference and erasure even if the books survive in some forgotten vault, seems only a Provostial missive away from “immediate implementation.”

Of course, the world will not fall because Trinity (or McGill, or Queen’s, or Dalhousie) falls. But the wave of illiberalism that Provost Moran is leading is an important signpost in this larger trend. As goes Trinity, we might say, so goes Canada. “After the Struggle, the Crown”, reads the college moto from 1851. Queen Moran is now hastening to the throne after her struggles against phantom racism at Trinity. I prefer an older college motto, that of the Trinity Literary Society that came into being in the 1840s, and has recently become a focal point for the Trinity revolutionaries that Moran has unleashed: Feros Cultus Voce Formare. “To tame wild manners by power of the voice.” Canadians as a whole need to tame the wild manners of campus barbarians with the voices of their strong opposition.

A native of Calgary and a graduate of Trinity College, Bruce Gilley is professor of political science at Portland State University.

The image shows an etching of Trinity College by Owen Staples, c. 1930.

What Is “Liberal Education?”

I. What Is Education

Plato conceived education as an art of perfecting man. According to this view, education is possible because man is a perfectible being. Nobody ever talks about perfecting God, because God is not perfectible, but perfect; nor do we ever discuss the education of angels, because, although an angel is not absolutely perfect, he is perfect within his own essence, which means that an angel receives all the perfection that is due and proper to his nature in one instantaneous act.

To be sure, there are in the visible world other perfectible things besides man; but even so, the notion of education does not seem to fit the modes of perfectibility of things that are not human. A machine, for example, can be constructed and improved, while a tree attains its proper perfections by growth. Yet we would all hesitate to talk about the “education” of a plant or of a machine; and it would be just as incorrect to speak of the education of an animal. A dog, for example, may be trained; but a dog could never be educated. A dog is trained by being made subject to human purposes and notions, not even remotely entertained by the dog itself. Besides, it is trained, not to become a more perfect dog, more suitable for beastly society, but rather, in order to become more useful or more amusing to man, even if in the process it loses its intrinsic properties and gets to be, not more, but less of a dog.

Education remains, therefore, a distinctively human affair, and as such, derives its distinctiveness from man’s peculiar way of growing into his perfections. Like all living things, man possesses within himself a vital principle of growth; but in man, this principle is further determined by rationality. It is by virtue of his rationality that man can consciously entertain his purposes, choose his means, and criticize his own actions. This coincidence of growth and rationality in the same being is a privilege which renders man unique in the whole universe.

Plato must have been fascinated by this marvelous blend of qualities in man, this blend of intelligence and growth, for he makes it the central theme of practically all his Dialogues. In these Dialogues we have a most vivid picture of education. In every case we find that education is a growth, a movement from confusion to clarity, from ignorance to knowledge; and also we find that in every case, the student is his own first teacher.

The role of the teacher is simply to help the student in his seeking and to guide his steps. The teacher of the Dialogues, usually Socrates, is supposed to be the wise man, the man who has already attained those perfections desired for and by the student. The teacher stands as a proximate exemplar; and, by virtue of the fact that he is supposed to see the end of the road, he can also guide and direct, by ruling out false starts and by suggesting better ones. To put it in a more characteristically Platonic simile, the teacher is a midwife, who assists at the birth of the idea in the mind of the student.

We can learn a great deal more about human nature and also about education, by observing with Plato, the way man grows into the attainment of his perfections. In contrast with other intelligent beings (God and the angels), man must accomplish his rationality through effort and discipline. Because human rationality is an accomplishment, it enjoys only a precarious existence.

All our human concerns which manifest man’s rationality under any aspect, whether of order, purpose, truth, or beauty (the sciences and the arts, institutions, laws cultural values, etc.), depend for their continued existence upon the disciplined activities of men. Cathedrals do not grow like weeds, and no painting was ever made haphazardly. Every new-born baby is an absolutely new beginning, and every new generation of babies is a terrific challenge and threat to the existing civilization and to the established order of things.

Indeed, our life here is an explosive situation! Man is a joining together of the nothingness and am infinity, and it is education which must span the chasm between the two extremes. No wonder that Plato, having understood the nature if education, should view it as the highest social function, commensurate with the whole of life, and absolutely necessary for the perfection of the individual and of society. Plato had such a profound appreciation of the importance of education, that starting to describe the building of a state, he ended up, in his famous Republic, with a kind of super-school on his hands.

But there comes a point where we must remind ourselves that, after all, we are with a pagan philosopher, and should be on guard lest we let him mislead us in matters about which we ought to know better. And we do, as a matter of fact, know more than Plato about the origin and purpose of our human existence. Let us, therefore, be on the alert for any possible defects in Plato’s educational theories and practices which might flow from his pagan errors about man.

Plato certainly understood that education must be of the whole man, which means of the complete composite of soul and body. He also rightly defended and emphasized the primacy of the soul in matters of education. He knew that the human soul is immortal, and at least vaguely suspected that man’s life-long educational activity finds its consummation in another life.

But Plato also held some erroneous doctrines about the soul. It is a well known fact, for example, that he taught that the human soul exists prior to this life. We Christians, on the other hand, know that every individual human soul is created singularly and immediately, at the moment of conception, by a separate act of God. Here we have in this issue what might seem at first glance like a slight difference of belief: but on more careful examination, this disagreement between the Christian and pagan outlooks, reveals such a chasm as can only be explained by the tremendous intervening fact of the Incarnation.

Plato can hardly be blamed for missing the point with regard to the fact, the manner, or the purpose of creation. This kind of knowledge requires a far greater intimacy with God than was given to the pagan world. It remains to the immortal credit of Plato that he attained, by mere reason, a clear concept of the kind of reality the human soul is. He knew the soul in its spirituality and in its simplicity; he recognized its power and its dignity; he understood its activity of life in the body, and its activity of knowledge beyond the body; and he proved philosophically, that this kind of being cannot be dissolved or destroyed by natural means.

But the same kind of argument led Plato also to believe that the soul could be neither made nor developed by any natural process. He, therefore, concluded that the soul is not only immortal, but also eternal, having no beginning as well as no end in time. The Christian alternative, namely, that the soul is created out of nothing by the omnipotence of God, did not present itself to Plato; for to him, God is neither infinite nor omnipotent, and the very idea of creation out of nothing would have sounded to him as no less that a philosophic absurdity.

Plato, therefore, according to his own lights, had to educate a soul which was never created, which had no beginning in time, and no definite destiny for the future. The human soul to Plato is a little sad deity which cannot die, but can lose everything else it ever attained; even to the very memory of its personal identity in previous lives. This unconscious deity is accidentally united to, or rather, imprisoned in a material body, which it must leave after a certain length of time, to be united, perhaps to another body, and to go through the same cycle all over again.

This soul has already had more intimate contacts with eternal realities that it has in this life, and therefore must have been in a higher state of perfection than in its present state. Unfortunately, however, it has lost all memory of these perfections and must now make a new start at re-ascending the scales of perfection to lose them again once more. How futile the whole thing must appear when viewed from the total perspective of eternity! And yet, this is as optimistic a view of human existence as the pagan world ever attained.

These errors of Plato are at least partly responsible for some of the most obvious defects in his theory of education: depreciation of the body and of sense experience; a false theory of knowledge according to which we learn by remembering what we already knew in a previous life; and, most seriously, a relative disregard of personal values by treating the individual primarily as a function of the state. Yet, in spite of these defects, Plato remains, even today, a great master of the art of teaching, and the leading champion of the very concept of liberal education. It is in this last capacity that we are now primarily interested in Plato, and therefore, let us proceed to examine more specifically what Plato means by liberal education.

II. What Is Liberal Education?

We are used to distinguishing between two kinds of education: liberal and vocational. But Plato, while recognizing the need of developing the practical arts and professions, reserved the term “education”, at least in its absolute unrestricted sense, to what we would call liberal education. “This is the only training which, upon our view, would be characterized as education: that other sort of training which aims at the acquisition of wealth or bodily strength, or mere cleverness apart from intelligence and justice, is mean and illiberal, and it is not worthy to be called education at all.”

From following the thoughts of Plato we get a hint as to the essence of liberal, or in his language, true education, which distinguishes it from all kinds of training for useful skill or for useless cleverness. Liberal or true education is education whose end is man himself. It is the education of man as man.

When a man is trained for the perfection of what he makes, he receives vocational training, or, if we call it education, we are using the term in a forced sense; but when a man is trained and instructed for the perfection of what he is and what he does (immanently) within himself, then we may say that he is being educated in the most absolute sense of the term. We may teach a man to become a carpenter, a farmer, a physician, or an engineer. We may also teach a man to become a good man, good not only in the moral sense but primarily in the ontological sense, in the sense of perfected, developed, accomplished, in the sense that he can exercise and apply his faculties coordinately and for their natural purposes.

When men are trained vocationally we have every right to expect better products (potatoes, chairs, medical services, or efficient machines), but we have no right to expect better men unless somewhere in our educational plans and activities we aim at the proper perfections of a man. You are as likely to produce a well-constructed bridge by accident and without aiming at it, as you are to produce a well-educated man by a scheme of training thoroughly directed to other ends.

It should go without saying and as part of nature’s justice, that in a society where leaders receive specialized vocational training without liberal education, no sound norms can rightly be expected and no human values are secure. When the present trend towards vocational training finally succeeds in overwhelming and washing away the last vestiges of liberal education, we can expect to live in a world of good things and bad men. We shall have, to give one good example, unintelligent and confused leaders, on the one hand, and excellent atomic bombs, on the other!

What are, then, those human perfections which constitute the end of liberal education? Plato’s answer to this question is in a way the major theme of all his writings. If one dares put it briefly and succinctly in one sentence, this is what it would be: man’s proper perfection consists in the knowledge of the absolute good, and in response to beauty. The absolute good is the good-in-itself and the source of the goodness all other things.

It is good, not mediately as being the cause of something else, but immediately, ultimately, as being the end to which all other things are means. Man seeks this end, not only by his senses but by his intellect, and can attain it only with his intellect. But man must begin with his sense experience, and gradually advance, through higher and higher aspects of the good, reflected in the world of contingent things, until he is finally ready to see the primal source of all goodness

On the way to this absolute good, beauty is the sign-post. Man, therefore, must begin by learning to respond to beauty as given to the senses and as found in the visible universe, but he must not dwell in it nor let it conceal that invisible beauty it is meant to proclaim.

Not all knowledge, therefore, is conducive to the perfection of man, and consequently, not all knowledge has value in liberal education. All the sciences of space and time, of experience and experiment, of statistics and measurements, such sciences as mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, history, economics, etc., must find their justification primarily in the practical order, in the order of what man makes outside of himself.

Man’s perfection consists in a growth from the fragmentary knowledge of sense experience to a unified vision of the mind; and hence all the above mentioned experimental sciences, can figure in the course of liberal education, only in so far as they lead the way to philosophic science; they must be treated as preludes to philosophy. Their end must be the understanding of the eternal truth, first as reflected in the visible world, but finally and consummately, as it is in itself. The climax of liberal education consists in philosophy and theology, and all its earlier stages must be ordered to this end, both in the selection of their subject matter and in the mode of their presentation.

It is especially remarkable that Plato, who is the greatest pioneer in the field of philosophy, should recognize the necessity of revealed truth, and admit the superiority of such truth over the highest truths of human reason working on its own. Although he was handicapped by an inadequate pagan religion, he still had the genius to see that those intimate truths of the inner life of God could only be known if God Himself were to reveal them, and that once known, such truths would unquestionably be the crown of all human knowledge, and the summit of wisdom in this life.

Thus in the Republic, after making Socrates describe the building of a state by the guidance of reason, Plato makes one interrogator raise the question as to whether any thing is left out. “Nothing to us,” replies Socrates, “But to Apollo, the god of Delphi, there remains the ordering of the greatest and noblest and chiefest things of all.”

“Which are they?” asks again the interrogator.

“The institution of temples and sacrifices, and the entire service of the gods, demigods, and heroes. . . These are matters of which we are ignorant ourselves, and as founders of a city we should be unwise in trusting them to any interpreter but our ancestral deity. He is the god who sits in the center on the naval of the earth, and he is the interpreter of religion to all mankind.”

III. The Epochs In Plato’s Educational System

The key for Plato’s system of education is the Greek word μουσικε (sounds like “musikay”) which has survived in our modern languages in such words as “music” and “museum”. To the Greeks the term had a wider signification, including within its comprehension all the liberal arts. Greek mythology personified the liberal arts, making each one of them a goddess, a Muse, who guides, inspires, and stands as a type and an ideal. Thus we have the Muses of history, poetry, astronomy, eloquence, music, dance, tragedy, comedy, and lyric poetry.

The Greeks saw beauty everywhere; whenever reality is known, it reveals rhythm and harmony, and hence education must progressively direct the mind to higher and higher aspects of beauty. The mind rises from beauty in the plane of sheer sense experience, the rhythm and harmony of sounds, shapes, and movements, to the beauty of law and order manifested in the visible world, the music of the spheres; and finally to the source of all beauty, Beauty in itself, the eternal Logos, attained by the art of dialectics.

Every one of the arts and sciences is called μουσικε in this sense; and it is in this sense that we must understand the passage in the Republic where Plato makes Socrates say: “When the modes of music change, the fundamental laws of the state change with them.” Corresponding to the different planes of knowledge, we can distinguish four epochs in Plato’s educational plan. Here is a brief description of each of these epochs in their sequence.

1. The first twenty years are concerned mainly with the body and with the organic faculties. The children, as early as the age of three are introduced to mythology; this is meant to train their imagination, and to cultivate love of valor and heroic deeds. The mythology must be purged of any references to the gods which might degrade the concept of divinity in the child.

The fact that mythology does not give the factual or historic truth does not matter, but it must be censored and purified from anything that might give a permanently false impression of reality. Factual truth is not so important at this stage, because it is an intellectual concern, and this stage of education is mainly concerned with the senses.

After mythology, follow in sequence: gymnastics, reading and writing, poetry and music, and mathematics, until finally this epoch is rounded off in two years of military training, from the eighteenth to the twentieth year. Plato recognized the imitative tendencies of the soul, and thus he prescribes that the child must be surrounded from early childhood with beautiful objects which embody the truth he will come to understand later on in life. Hence the surroundings and environment are tremendously important in this formative period.

2. The second period, extending from the year twenty to the year thirty, is concerned with the sciences of measurement and understanding. Plato mentions plane geometry, solid geometry, astronomy, and harmonies. He conceives their role as a prelude to dialects.

Evidently, he envisaged a patient treatment of these topics, with sufficient time for creative reasoning on the part of the students, and meditations on fundamental truths and notions which prepare the way for philosophy. This is clear from the amount of time he allows for this kind of work, although the amount of facts, principles, experiments, in such a variety of sciences, and in such a short time, that we leave him no leisure for reflection, meditation, wonder, nor for any creative work on his own initiative.

Furthermore, the language of these experimental physical sciences today, is so little related to the language and truths of philosophy, that instead of being a prelude to philosophy as Plato intended, these positive sciences stand in our day as a tremendous handicap to philosophic thought.

3. The third epoch, which occupies the years thirty to thirty-five, is concerned with the art of dialectics, “the art which elevates the mind to the contemplation of what is best in existence”. This is the crowning mark of liberal education; the mind’s eye, which so far had been trained only to recognize the reflections of Good, must now be exercised to see the Good itself, the ultimate source of truth and beauty in the universe.

To Plato, philosophy was not an organized science, or a system of sciences. The task of organizing truths of philosophy was to be carried out by his disciple Aristotle. This is why Plato was mainly concerned with the art of attaining philosophical knowledge, and this art he called “dialectics”. In our days, we possess not only the fruits of Plato’s and Aristotle’s efforts towards discovery and organization of philosophical truths.

We have, in addition, the results of centuries of collective effort on the part of scholastic philosophers, ending in a body of logically related sciences, full of precise notions, clear definitions, and well established truths. This philosophic tradition was accomplished through gradual steps, beginning with sense experience and common-sense knowledge.

We must remember that the individual also must grow to philosophic understanding through the same way. Philosophy is a science, but philosophizing is an art. If we realize this truth sufficiently, we would not depend so exclusively in our teaching on the presentation of philosophic truths as finally and definitely formulated.

The dialect method of Plato can still teach us a great deal as to how to teach philosophy effectively, and how to train the student to raise philosophic problems, to attain a realization of a philosophic truth, and to formulate and defend this truth. We can make philosophy much more of a living tradition by reviving the Platonic method, if not the Platonic science of philosophy.

4. The fourth and last epoch, requiring fifteen years of life and terminating at the age of fifty, is a period dedicated to real experience in the world. It is significant that Plato did not try to carry the world into the school; the only way to know what life is, is to go through it. No man is truly wise enough to be entrusted with the destiny of a state until he has seen the real world in the light of universal truth.

Philosophic ideas alone may be sufficient for the purpose of philosophic contemplation, but the philosopher-king, must make practical decisions for the common good, who must have more than ideas, namely, experience. Nor would experience without the philosophic discipline and knowledge of the Good suffice, because experience can move on a plane of insignificant facts unless illuminated by the idea of the Good.

It is twenty-three centuries since Plato opened his academy and invited the youths of Athens to seek the knowledge of the Good. Since that time, something has happened on our planet; the Eternal Truth, the very Person of Good, has broken the bounds of eternity, plunged into our world, and lived as one of us. If Plato were to come to life today, how would he respond to our tidings of great joy? What would he think of our response?

Brother Francis Maluf was born in Lebanon in 1913 and held a PhD in philosophy. Along with Father Leonard Feeney, he was a founding, in 1949, of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a religious Order. Brother Francis went to his heavenly reward in 2009. This article appears courtesy of Catholicism.org.

The image shows, “To Kryfo Scholio” (“The Hidden School”), by Nikolaos Gyzis, painted ca. 1885-1886.

The Failure Of Woke Morality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Decline Of Postivism: A New Culture War

The current ideological spasm seen widely in the West has a quasi-religious aspect. The idea of racism as a demonic force operating everywhere fits that. So does the iconoclasm, the attempt symbolically to reorder urban spaces in order to drive home a set of political imperatives.

What is most striking is the suspension of any sense of critique of the new order. Debate is so beneath you when you possess all truth. Much better just to steamroll people into subjugation. Debate is seen as oppressive. Instead, edicts are issued from on high, as befits a cult. Those who hold contrasting views are readily dismissed and shunned: if you do not think you are a white supremacist that means that you are guilty. If you feel uncomfortable about being accused of being a white supremacist – that means you are guilty. This is like a blatantly constructed trap; as is the reference to having “a conversation” when that is the very last thing that is intended.

In practical terms, we are seeing a bringing to fruition of the attack on positivism that has been so insistent since the 1960s, an attack that is bridging from academic circles to a wider public. In particular, there was, and continues to be, a critique of subordinating scholarship and the scholar to the evidence; and a preference, instead, for an assertion of convenient evidence that was derived essentially from theory. Empiricism was discarded, or at least downplayed, as both method and value, and there was a cult of faddish intellectualism heavily based on postmodernist concepts.

Divorcing the Arts and Social Sciences from empirical methods invited a chaos that some welcomed but that others sought to reshape in terms of a set of values and methods equating to argument by assertion and proof by sentiment: ‘I feel therefore I am correct,’ and it is apparently oppression to be told otherwise. The conventional academic spaces, the geopolitics of academic hierarchy and method, from the lecture hall to the curriculum, have all been repurposed to this end.

In this view, the statues that are unwelcome are not isolated residues of outdated and nefarious glories, but a quasi-living reproach to the new order. Indeed, the statue of Cecil Rhodes that decorates Oriel College, Oxford is referred to by its critics as making them feel uncomfortable. So also with crests of arms or stained glass, or the names of buildings and streets. All are to be removed because they are seen not as mute products of the past, but, instead, as toxic reproaches in a culture wars of the present in which there is no space for neutrality or non-committal, or, indeed, tolerance and understanding.

Iconoclasm, therefore, from whatever political direction, is a matter of a set of values that is inherently anti-democratic, in that the legitimacy of opposing views is dismissed, indeed discredited as allegedly racist, and anti-intellectual because there is an unwillingness to ask awkward questions and to ignore evidence which does not fit in the answer wanted. Examples of the latter might include the extent of slavery and the slave trade prior to the European arrival in Africa or the role of European powers in eventually ending both. It is possible to debate these and other points, but debate is not accepted if it involves questioning assumptions.

However, such questioning is crucial to understanding the past, which is the key aspect of history as an intellectual pursuit rather than as the sphere for political engagement. Historians need to understand why practices we now believe to be wrong and have made illegal, such as slavery or (differently) making children work or marrying them, were legitimate in the past. It is not enough, in doing so, to present only one side of and on the past because that is allegedly useful for present reasons. Nor to refuse to recognise debate in earlier, plural societies.

People in the past believed that they were right for reasons that were perfectly legitimate in terms of their own times, experience, and general view of the world. Imposing anachronistic value-judgments is antithetical to the historical mindset of the scholar, and is inherently transient as the fullness of time will bring in fresh critiques of present-day values, which will also be wrenched out of their historical context, not least by ignoring inconvenient evidence. Thus, iconoclasm will be perpetuated, providing a form of blood of (stone) martyrs to revive revolution, and to the detriment of any sense of continuity, unless, that is, the sole sense that is sought is that of an anarchic presentism.

Again, there are elements that can be traced to the assault on positivism. In particular, the notion of accumulated wisdom, and/or of source criticism based on an understanding of past practices, have in large part been discarded as a consequence of an academic culture being brought into line with those within it who use virtue-signalling to push their views. Iconoclasm is to the fore here.

The theme of a difficult ‘conversation’ about Britain’s past and its legacy in the present was pushed hard by critics, but their view of conversation was only one-way. It encompassed growing calls for iconoclasm, with Rhodes a target in Oxford from 2015 and Afua Hirsch, in an article in The Guardian, calling for Nelson’s Column in London to be pulled down. She described Nelson ‘without hesitation’ as a ‘white supremacist’ because he spoke in favour of slavery. Hirsch, who pressed for Britain to face its role in the slave trade and attitudes linked to its empire building, backed the Rhodes Must Fall movement vigorously and, in ‘The Battle for Britain’s Heroes’, a BBC programme on 29 May 2018, returned to the attack on Nelson and presented Churchill as a racist. Meanwhile, in February 2018, the controversy was over the exhibition ‘The Past is Now’ at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in which information boards claimed that “the relationship between European colonialism, industrial production and capitalism is unique in its brutality.’”

The key Birmingham politician of the Victorian period, Joseph Chamberlain, an exponent of a stronger British empire who became Secretary of State for the Colonies (1895-1903), was described as “still revered despite his aggressive and racist imperial policy.” One board attacked Britain’s ‘hasty’ departure from India in 1947 for ‘trauma and misogyny,’ and a second board offers another partisan context: ‘capitalism is a system that prioritises the interests of the individuals and their companies at the expense of the majority.’

Janine Eason, the Director of Engagement, said that it was “not possible’ for a museum to present a neutral voice, particularly for something as multifaceted as stories relating to the British Empire,” and, instead, that the exhibition was both a way to serve the multicultural population of Birmingham and was intended ‘to provoke.” Of course, real “provocation” would have been to offer a different account, one that was more grounded in historical awareness; or, even more, two or more accounts, but such an approach is indeed regarded as provocative.

The toppling of statues is far from new in Britain which has had its share of revolutions. Indeed, in addition to those of political and constitutional transformation, which included the execution of a king and declaration of a republic in 1649, and an overthrow of another king in 1688 leading to constitutional change, came those of three religious revolutions: the Henrician under Henry VIII, the Edwardian under Edward VI, and the Puritan one of the mid-seventeenth century. These saw state-imposed iconoclasm in every community in the country, which was far more extreme than political revolution. Church decorations and paraphernalia, from mass-books and roodscreens to wall-paintings and statues, were destroyed, with particular emphasis on the destruction of shrines to saints, for example, that of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. Every monastery, nunnery and chantry was despoiled and terminated. This iconoclasm left the ruined monastery as an abiding image in British culture.

Yet, the brutal iconoclasm of the British past was also left in the past because of the nature of British politics and political culture after the Glorious Revolution of 1688-9. The emphasis switched to one of organic change and a government of consent expressed through, and in, parliamentary accountability. The British came to convince themselves that their politics was one that was far more orderly than those of most others, and notably so France, where there were revolutions in 1789, 1830, 1848 and 1871, followed by the instabilities of the Third and Fourth Republics.

So also with the British view of their own political culture, society and emotions. Iconoclasm, therefore, was not part of the British design. There were radical movements in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but they were those of minorities, and there was an essential ‘lawfulness’ about Methodism in the eighteenth and Chartism in the nineteenth.

Attacks on symbols of power and continuity were pronounced in the case of Irish nationalism, but that was a separate tradition and one that did not influence the British one. The continuity of British political culture proved able to absorb the impact of trade unionism and the rise of the Labour Party, while the end of empire did not have the disruptive impact in the metropole that was to be seen in some former colonies.

That was very different to the situation today. In one respect, the disruption of decolonisation is being brought back now into the metropole, and that element is certainly apparent in the case of some members of minority groups from the former empire. Alongside the attempt to use slavery to discredit imperialism, different immigrant sensitivities play particular roles, with those of people of Caribbean descent especially concerned about slavery and those of Indian descent more so about the legacy of imperial rule. Conversely, there is less comparable critique from those originating in Hong Kong about British imperial rule.

In this overall context of contrast, statues in practice have different resonances. That of Edward Colston (1636-1721), the Bristol merchant who played a role in the slave-trading Royal African Company was one of particular note for the controversy over slavery, and the 1895 statue of him was pushed into Bristol Harbour in June 2020. The statues of Robert, 1st Lord Clive (1725-74) in London and Shrewsbury had more resonance for empire and India, and petitions in 2020 calling for the removal of the Shrewsbury one had 23,000 signatures between them. A counter-petition argued that removing the statue would erase part of the town’s history. Shrewsbury Council decided on a 28-17 vote not to remove the statue, and this decision was criticised on the grounds of supposed racism.

Similarly, there was a petition to remove the London statue, while the highly-overrated historian William Dalrymple, writing in The Guardian on 11 June 2020, declared that Clive “was a vicious asset-stripper. His statue has no place on Whitehall … a testament to British ignorance of our imperial past…. Its presence outside the Foreign Office encourages dangerous neo-imperial fantasies among the descendants of the colonisers… Removing the statue of Clive from the back of Downing Street would give us an opportunity finally to begin the process of education and atonement.” And so on with the usual attacks on Brexit being apparently a consequence of an imperial mentality that has never been confronted. Leave aside the extent to which Dalrymple is strong on assertion but no evidence, and that “Little Englanders” were of far more consequence in the 2016 referendum, what you get is a running together of past and present with the modern British supposedly trapped by the past. Therefore, in this approach, the statues have to fall, and the libraries and reading lists must be reordered.

The alleged validity of these views is allegedly further demonstrated by the false consciousness adduced to those who do not share them. Other statues then come up for immediate criticism. The most prominent in Exeter, that of General Redvers Buller on his horse, Biffen, is allegedly rendered unacceptable because he was a general of empire. That Buller was not associated with anything particularly bad is ignored by referring to him as having invented concentration camps during the Boer War of 1899-1902. In fact, one, he was no longer in command then; two, these were not the same as the later German camps, being more akin to detention centres; and, three, such camps had a long provenance, most recently being used by Spain in fighting an insurgency in Cuba in the 1890s.

Why, however, let facts stand in the way? In each and every case, there is misrepresentation in the iconoclastic demands; but that is not the point. We are in the midst of a postmodernist world in which facts are allegedly subjective, an irrational one in which emotion trumps reason, and one of gesture in which the statue is all-too-prominent as a target and the senses of continuity and identity that go with it deliberately attacked. If this is not a culture war, a war on culture, it is difficult to know what is.

The image shows “Fraternité Avant Tout (Brotherhood Above All),” by Asger Jorn, strategically vandalized in 1962.

Ideology And Global Politics: A Conversation With Ciro Paoletti

We are so very pleased and honored to present this interview with Dr. Ciro Paoletti, the renowned military historian. Dr. Paoletti is the author 26 books and several hundred essays and reviews. He serves as General Secretary of the Italian Commission of Military History, and as Director of the Association for Military and Historical Studies. He is a Life-member of the Institute for the History of the Italian Risorgimento, a member of the (US) Society for Military History, a corresponding-member of the Instituto de Geografia e História Militar do Brasil, a member of the Società Dalmata di Storia Patria, and a member of the International Commission of History of Technology. In 2007, he was awarded the SMH Moncado Prize, which he holds along with two other Italian prizes. Dr, Paoletti curretnly works for the Education, University and Research Ministry. He is interviewed by Dr. Zbigniew Janowski, on behalf of the Postil.

Zbigniew Janowski (ZJ): You are a military historian, which, if I am not mistaken, is a rare breed. I can only think of three others: Jeremy Black (English), Donald Kagen and Victor Hansen (American), and you. The four of you also happen to be conservatives. Is there any relationship between your discipline and conservatism?

Ciro Paoletti (CP): I know many military historians who belong to the Left. Many of them may have chosen the Left to be successful in terms of their career. Others are believers. I have in mind a historian, who, when asked why he was a Leftist, candidly answered: “Because this allows me to say whatever I want, feel protected, and suffer no persecution.” However, whenever a historian melts politics into his work, the result is bad quality of work. If you want history to support your political ideas, you have to be a liar. If we don’t rely on facts, if we don’t reconstruct facts properly, and if we don’t present facts as they occurred, we do bad work, and the result is therefore quite bad.

ZJ: From what you said, I gather you consider history, not just military history, to be conservative by definition. Am I right?

CP: Military history and conservatism are not necessarily linked. It depends on the time one lives in, and on the political background. As things are, in this historical period, if one in the so-called West relies on facts, he is a conservative; it is a matter of logic. When you know how things happened in the past, and apply their schemes to the current affairs, you may easily realize how close Political Correctness (PC) is to the worst 20th-century dictatorships.

In Italy we had Fascism, as you know. Fascism altered a lot of things, provided its own historical versions and interpretations, but it did not alter – never – the content of books written in the past because they were not in conformity with Fascism. Communism under Stalin modified paintings, exterminated people when they became “enemy of the people.” The Soviets banned and eliminated books from libraries, the Nazi did the same and burnt books, but did they alter their content? No.

ZJ: Is there a connection between the former totalitarian approach to history and the new PC (politically correct) ideology?

CP: PC makes changes to the original version; It does it in some books, it does it in theater. Thus, how can an honest historian join the politically correct, if it’s based on the falsification of sources?

ZJ: Italians are the most historical nation in European history. As my older friend told me, everybody must study art history, except the Italians. They live in a “museum.” Does this “historical” experience translate into greater attachment to history? Here I want to make a distinction between being culturally conservative and politically conservative.

In the US, where I live, when I say that I am conservative, people almost instinctively think I always vote Republican. To me, to be conservative means to be conservative in the cultural realm, which, in my mind, is the only realm that truly matters. Political allegiances come and go, culture lasts. When you start changing the past, you wage war on the whole cultural heritage, going all the way back to our historical beginnings. The former totalitarians may have done it as a matter of expediency; today’s totalitarians condemn history as such, and find little in it to learn from. What is your take on this?

CP: Italians are instinctively traditionalist, and highly nationalistic. They don’t like sudden changes – but there has been a generational dramatic change since 2000. Historical heritage provides an instinctive common background, comprised of Rome, the Renaissance and Garibaldi. But there it stops.

Translated into politics, this means that the majority – with the exception of the young people – is surely conservative, for almost every-time a general election has been called, the higher the number of voters, the better the result for conservatism. But, as things have gone in the last twenty-five years, almost every time the Right won, the ballot result was turned upside down by political crises and rule went to so called “technical governments” which more or less pended to the Left. And these crises, which were called by the Right “palace plots,” allowed the Left to take power again.

Paradoxically, as things are today, the Progressive Left – composed of former Communists – Is tasked to keep things as they are, to keep the power as much as possible, no matter what the compromise and the related cost for Italians, whilst Conservatives are the real progressive forces. Unfortunately, as things went in early 1995, in 2011, and 2019, the majority of Italians think voting is useless, because, no matter how you vote and what the result, later “they do what they want.”

Young people today are the product of diffused technologies and related apps. The vast majority do not read; hence they do not think, and they vote according to how familiar this or that sounds. Thus, political propaganda is basically advertising: the easier the slogan, the easier to get the vote, even if there is an instinctive resistance to “inclusion” and what it implies. People can also rely on national heritage to justify the reaction to “inclusiveness;” but this reaction is not a consequence of the national heritage, which exists by itself.

ZJ: In the 1970s, we used to say – after Hayek – that there is a distinction between European and American Liberalism, because one could not apply the term Conservatism in the European sense to American reality: no monarchy. Accordingly, the European liberal was conservative in the American sense, and the European socialist corresponded to the American liberal, or, supporter of state intervention, state social programs. If you remember, Hayek even wrote a chapter, in his important Constitution of Liberty, “Why I am not Conservative” – and this, despite the fact that many conservatives claimed Hayek to be in their camp. Do you think that this lack of parallel between the terms – conservative, liberal, socialist – in America is still valid? If I may suggest, my impression is that because Liberalism – or what used to be called classical Liberalism – simply disappeared and became PC. As far as the economy is concerned, both conservatives and “liberals” or democrats are for big state, something inconceivable to liberals and conservatives of old.

CP: You are right, but it depends on a tricky misunderstanding that occurred many decades ago in America. The Leftists never attempted to call themselves Socialists, and sneaked in as “progressive Liberals.” But a look at American affairs allows you to realize that the Democratic Party has never supported state interventionism till F.D. Roosevelt – who copied it from Mussolini, who was and remained a socialist all his life – and, also after Roosevelt, the Democrats were never as progressive as they claim to have been. The conservative South traditionally voted for Democrats “because Lincoln was a Republican.” Thus, due to such a core of voters, how could the Democratic Party not be conservative?

Additional example: in Italy we had the Liberal Party. In 1848 it was at the extreme Left and Republican. In 1876 it got into power and was loyal to the king. In 1948, it sat at the right and was considered a conservative party for the next 50 years. The problem is that the name on the box often does not, or does no longer, correspond to what’s inside the box. In 18th-century Britain, being a Liberal simply meant to be a supporter of free commerce, thus to be a capitalist, no matter the cost for low-income and non-mercantile classes.

As things are now, so-called Liberalism claims to be different, but actually it is still what it always was, and again no matter the cost for low-income and non-entrepreneurial classes. All those other narratives about care, inclusion, the environment, peace and love, and so on, are only a nice package to let the worst and most greedy capitalism be accepted by the people.

The same goes for conservatives: conservatives are the real revolutionaries today, because conservatives want people to use their own brain, feeding it with education and culture, in order to think, and then to act according to their own decisions. Unfortunately, thinking means realizing how dangerous debt can be, and how useful saving is. Thus, thinking is not welcome by the current Liberals, because it may affect the market in an unpredictable way. What the market likes are standard-minded people, a society whose consumers are predictable – and thus planned – in order to minimize losses due to stocking costs and unsold items, and to maximize profits.

ZJ: In our private conversations, you often refer to America as Calvinist, meaning in broad historical terms, Protestant, as opposed to Catholic, meaning different attitudes towards private and social realms. Those attitudes today do not express themselves as theological differences, nor a religious vision on how to organize earthy existence, or work-ethics, as Max Weber would have it, but as social attitudes broadly speaking. One of the characteristic features of life in early Protestantism was insistence on certain socially acceptable behavior.

There were no libertines in Protestant countries, who would mock religion. Sin is evil and thus we must eradicate it. Today religion does not have much of a grip on our lives, but PC in America does. Since punishment cannot be postponed till after death, we use the power of the state – rules, regulations, ostracism to thwart social sins. The last three decades in the US saw unprecedented growth of regulations affecting human behavior, and confessions for saying something considered socially “unacceptable.” Our reality looks like Calvin’s Geneva, with sinners prostrating themselves before the public, expiating their sins. Do you see a connection between PC, which has assumed totalitarian posture, and what you see as American Calvinism?

CP: First of all when I say “Calvinist,” I mean exactly Calvinist, not Protestant in general, because Calvinists consider salvation as a gift; and, in order to feel safe, they think they can realize whether salvation has been conceded to them by looking at the success of their actions during their lifetime. The best measure of success is money: thus, the richer one becomes, the surest one is to go to Paradise.

Due to its Puritan heritage, the USA still relies on a Calvinistic background, and this is part of the explanation. Then I’d say that the current mind depends in part on the Deism of the 17th- and 18th-centurries. That is to say: be loyal, pay your debts, don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t be a liar, and be friendly to other human beings – and this depends on whom one perceives as human beings, because many deists, including Voltaire, got good returns on the money they happily invested in the slave trade – and this in part depends on a Calvinistic vision of sin and money. I have already mentioned money.

About sin, the problem was that no official absolution could exist, for it was Popish. In early America a person was judged by the community, and, when found guilty, punished. That’s why it is so important on one hand to strip some behaviors of their quality as sins – those related to sex – and on the other hand to still identify some “sinners” to go after. If a behavior is no longer a sin, that behavior is by definition correct and you are no longer a sinner.

Thus, a person who is rejected (but who is otherwise a good member of the community) is one who criticizes your behavior; for this criticism makes that person “ipso facto” wrong; thus, he is a sinner. On the other hand, if you have sinner to go after, it means your society still has a “moral code.” Thus, if it has a moral code, it is still a “good” society; and, when supporting such a code, you are “on the right side” (that is, of the community); and you act well when going after the “sinners” opposing such a code, because they are out of the community, and thus a threat.

Legal means may seem soft, but are becoming far less soft. As far as I know, if German parents prevent their child from learning what is taught about gender at school, they are fined and can be also jailed. But this is only in theory a punishment of the sinner. In fact, it’s just the same system the KGB used in case one missed the Komsomol meeting and, by the way, is just the same system used also by the Church in the Middle Age when one refused the globally accepted behavior.

The problem is that these fake liberties are in fact the surface of a dictatorship which, thanks to Facebook, Watsapp and similar things, is more and more controlling and conditioning every aspect of our life, to plan it as capitalism wants, and not as we want. And capitalism has no interest in punishing our soul after our death, because, first as things are, you can’t trade souls, for now. Second, your death would simply mean one consumer less, thus depriving the market of a client – excluding funeral houses, of course. No, capitalism wants us to behave all in the same predictable and planned way, and that’s it.

ZJ: To move on to a different but related topic: The Protestant Reformation. It is a great modern event, whose consequences we are feeling even now. The second greatest event was the French Revolution of 1789. It proclaimed equality of all. It was the end of the world as we knew it. Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France is a great document of the old frame of mind, which saw the end of a long epoch. It abolished not just the monarchy as a political system but delegitimized the idea of social hierarchy.

For about 150–200 years the world went on without noticing how destructive this is. it is one thing to say, everybody should share political power to a small extent, have the right to vote and influence politics, it is quite another to assert equality in the way it manifests itself today as “discrimination.”

CP: America and Americans are a consequence of their revolution, not of the French one. The latter abolished slavery; the former kept it. Both stated a deistic application of the Christian principle of equality. But in both cases the principle of hierarchy was preserved. I do not see the root of the idea of “discrimination” in the French Revolution. America kept discrimination alive. It did not change significantly till Martin Luther King, who was killed in 1968.

ZJ: Since you referred to slavery, would you agree that there is a difference of attitude in Catholic and Protestant colonialism for this every reason. The Spaniards and Portuguese were Catholics; the Dutch and British were Protestant. The Catholic Spaniards and Portuguese went to the new world without women; the Protestants fled the British Isles taking populations of villages – men and women. They were self-sufficient; they wanted to recreate their life in a New World on old principles minus the British hierarchy. The local population was a nuisance.

CP: The Spaniards started their colonization, wherever it was, as a military operation, thus no woman could go with them. The Portuguese started their colonization establishing trading posts to support their commercial expeditions, thus in this case too there was no room for women, at least at the beginning. The Dutch and the British were looking for free spaces to migrate. They emigrated with families. On the other hand, the French started their North-American colonization smoothly, as a commercial penetration, thus they allied with the Hurons, and converted them to Catholicism. As a result, there was no destruction of the local population in Canada, whilst it occurred in the 13 British colonies (as happened in a similar way in South America ruled by Spaniards and by the Portuguese).

America

ZJ: Let me move to 20th-century. Here is something that an American military historian, an expert on the Greek historian Thucydides, Donald Kagan, said in an interview for American Heritage: “In my view America represents something relatively new in history of international relations. We are the greatest military power in the world today and we remain the greatest economic power. There haven’t been very many times in the past when there has been a single power with so much relative strength. And we are still almost universally perceived to be what Bismarck called a satisfied power, happy with what we have, self-sufficient, not aiming to seize anything essential to others. We don’t represent the kind of menace that powers approaching our relative strength have in the past. I think there is a new set of rules for us: If America tries to exert leadership in the world, it can do so in many ways that are historically new.”

Kagan said this in 1997. It is hard to believe how much changed: September 11th and all that it entailed, financial crisis in 2008, and, above all, the rise of China, which in 1997 one could not mention as a threat to American hegemony. What, if anything, from what Kagan said still holds true about the position of the US.

CP: Kagan at that time probably presented the shared great American pride after the fall of the Soviet System, when everybody thought America to be unchallengeable. It lasted till September 11th, only a few years later. That America was “not aiming to seize anything essential to others” is something many countries could easily argue about, but my answer to your question is – not that much still holds true.

Rules to hold power are always the same, no matter the historical period and the geographical location. In case you may dispute it, it is about how much velvet to use for the glove dressing your steel hand, but that’s it. Americans still rely on Theodore Roosevelt’s statement: “Speak kindly, and bring a big stick.” The typical American likes very much the self-perception of America as the land of liberty – which in Academia no longer exists and is severely scrutinized by the progressive press and television – and of Americans as welcome everywhere because they bring democracy.

Well, in 1944 and 1945 they were perceived this way, but now? What do they bring? Political correctness? The Americans are not aiming to seize anything essential to others because they are at the top. “If America tries to exert leadership in the world, it can do so in many ways that are historically new?” Oh, please, which new ways? There are no “new ways;” there is, perhaps, only a new way for dressing and describing the old ways. But the core is the same used since the days of the Egyptians to now, passing through thirty or forty or centuries of human civilization everywhere in the world.

ZJ: To bring support to your claim I can invoke two examples. When Hilary Clinton went to India, she uttered her famous slogan, “Women’s rights are human rights.” When Barak Obama visited Ethiopia and Kenya, he was talking about gay rights. My Ethiopian friend was outraged and said: “Ethiopians have serious problems to worry about: poverty, brutality of the government, non-existence of a free press, a corrupt ruling class, rule of law, and Obama is talking about gay rights!” One can, of course, score some points at home by saying such things, but it shows Kenyans and Ethiopians that America offers no support for the people in Ethiopia and Kenya in their fight against corruption to bring necessary reforms in their countries.

When President Carter came to Poland, in 1977, he talked about violation of human rights, his wife met with the Primate of Poland, Cardinal Wyszynski. It gave us hope and created the impression that the US stands for universal values and supports opposition. In contrast to Carter, Clinton and Obama were the supporters of new ideologies.

Would you agree that the more the American mind is preoccupied with ideological thinking, the less effective it can be in shaping politics outside America, and this preoccupation weakens its own influence? What America exports now is ideology which, incidentally, is inimical to freedom. This attitude antagonizes many people in other countries. People in former communist countries in the 1970s and 1980s were looking up to America. Today, no one is looking up to America any more.

CP: I subscribe to everything you said. Americans have often a very poor perception of what happens outside America. if you look at the American press, you know all about the city, enough about the county, not that much about the state, or about the USA, and practically nothing about the world. Americans like to think that what works for them works for everybody and that everybody must be happy with it.

Unfortunately, it is not so. A politician, of course, thinks above all of re-election, and thus speaks in order to keep or enhance the number of voters. This is normal, but what Obama did, and what Hilary did, seems something, in a certain sense, different: they seem to have perceived themselves as the apostles of progressive evangelism, telling the people living in the darkness how to think, behave and act. They had no doubt about being enlightened, thus better. But this is what we are dealing with since the French came to Italy in 1796 – which, believe me, was not a good period; and they were hardly welcomed, given the popular armed resistance they had to face for a very longtime – and it is something we know well. Beware of it.

When you make a comparison between Politically Correct and Communism, you are not right; the real comparison is to Jacobinism, and, of course, since people are all but stupid, the result is just what you say: no one is looking up to America any more, except, in my country, the provincial-minded and not the cultured leftists, who think America to be the land of the best by definition. By the way, until 1994, these cultured leftists were all formally Communist.

ZJ: As you said, Obama and Hilary Clinton perceived themselves as the apostles of the progressive evangelism. This struck me, because I heard the same argument some 25 years ago from conservatively minded Poles: the liberal elites feel disdain for the uneducated, simple people. And, 25 years later, the same argument came to the fore in France, Britain and the US. Trump and Johnson came to power on the wave of popular dissatisfaction with the liberal elites who are suspicious of ordinary people. It is the same thing everywhere in the Western world. The liberal elites, like the Democratic Party in the US, claim to be on the side of “the people,” but any real contact with them terrifies them: dirty, primitive, uneducated and, therefore, stupid. Or, as Hillary Clinton called them – deplorables!

CP: Yes, deplorability. This is the term which tells you who we are dealing with. But this is also why I perceive Political Correctness as Jacobinism, and not as Communism. A Communist will hate you, but will rarely look at you from on high because you don’t share his opinions; and a Communist will never consider you as “nothing:” you are equal, but opposing, thus an enemy to be destroyed – which is easier, faster and safer than re-educating. But the Jacobins felt superior; they had all the arrogance of the authors of the Encyclopedia, the same arrogance Voltaire displayed. They claimed they were right because they were enlightened. Being enlightened – of course, according to their standards, agreeing with those standards – meant ipso facto to be superior. If you think of it, you realize also that Communism was a result of the Jacobinism, not much different from it.

I would add that the worst form of arrogance is the intellectual one. This is an infringement of the first rule of democracy: parity. No matter what the Politically Correct people claim to be, they perceive as unequal everyone who is not like them. Thus they in fact deny fundamental parity to those who are not like-minded. This is undemocratic.

America, China, Russia

ZJ: I would like to ask you about China, but before that I want to ask you about ancient historians, whom, I know you studied, as most military historians do. Whom among the Greeks and Romans did you read? And, how important are they for military history?

CP: They are very important for history in general, and they are the first Europeans who wrote what they knew, and thus our cultural identity is widely indebted to them. What did I read? Thucydides, Herodotus, Polybius and Epaminondas, Caesar, Livy, Tacitus, Sallust, and Suetonius, the last ones both in Latin and in translation. How important are they for history is well-known. In military history, well, just think that the military academies normally include the Greek and the Roman wars in their teaching, because neither strategy nor tactics has changed.

ZJ: The reason I invoked the ancient historians is that the Chinese Communists are interested in them. Xi Jing Ping read Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War. Books by European classicists, for example by the Jacqueline de Romilly who wrote about Thucydides, were translated into Chinese. Recently two books on Thucydides were published here in the US – Thucydides’s Trap?: Historical Interpretation, Logic of Inquiry, and the Future of Sino-American Relationship by Steve Chan, or Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap? by Graham Allison. One can observe a renaissance of ancient authors, Thucydides and Polybius, in particular, in small circles of specialists and political decision makers.

Wouldn’t you say that there is no better recommendation than the fact that non-Western communists read Western classics?

CP: I agree with you, but I’d add something. They, too, wrote incredibly valuable books. So, if they are reading ours, it’s because the first rule of a commander is – know what, and how your potential – or not – enemy thinks. This is what the Chinese are doing; and this is what we are not doing, because I don’t think our decision-makers have read, for instance, Sun Tzu. And it is dangerous.

Then you ask why the Greeks, the Romans? Well, it would be best to ask the Chinese. I can only wonder why. Maybe because our mentality is still that of ancient times, and because Greece and Rome are the roots of our culture. But honestly, I’m not a Chinese political leader; thus, I don’t know. Also, I do not know how much Classical education in the West is dead, because I do not have an idea of how it is in other countries but mine. I know that in my country we still have to study Latin and ancient Greek during the five years of high school – in the classical lyceum – or only Latin, and also five years in the scientific lyceum. Of course, a lot of families don’t like Latin and Greek, and thus look for not so “useless” subjects for their children. Nonetheless, many others still study them; and this is something. As for the last question, it is highly possible that by not reading – not reading in general I mean – the new generation of Westerners is bound to lose to the Asians who are learning from our heritage. Unless we forbid the use Facebook, WhatsApp, and related chats, I don’t know what we could do.

ZJ: Should we – and by WE I have in mind many different “WEs” or us – be afraid of the rise of China for the same reason? In the case of the West, the rise of China as a world power is threatening because we fear that the Chinese mentality, world-view is incompatible with ours, particularly the idea of the relationship between the individual and the collective. We fear that if China becomes a world-power, collectivism will have to override Western individualism. Asian countries, on the other hand, whose cultures are closer to that of China, see the threat more in economic and military terms. African countries, where China’s presence is ubiquitous, see China as a force exploiting their countries’ natural resources. China allies itself with corrupt local authorities. Is there a common denominator in everyone’s fear; or, is the situation in each of the three cases different?

CP: The answer is yes to the first two questions. The problem is that I hardly see a way to react or to avoid it.

Let’s take the case of Poland, at least the case of Poland of ten years ago. I went to Wroclaw that year, because I was going to be appointed to the scientific board of a journal published by the University of Lower Silesia, and I complimented my friend who invited me on how Poland had improved in less than ten years. I remember quite well that during the meeting of the board, when discussing the distribution of the journal, my friend said that 10 euros (yearly subscription) was too much for students. I was surprised, but made no comment. The next day, I asked him: “If a student can’t pay 10 euros per year, how can families purchase what I see in stores?” The answer – you know it but I did not know it at that time – was: “Whatever you see on sale is very inexpensive in Western terms, and it all comes from China. It’s all made in China: pencils, pens, paper, cloths, shoes, all. Otherwise we could not otherwise purchase it.” So, the terms for Poland were: better to buy Chinese goods and get what you need, even if it is not of the best quality, than not have at all.

That’ s the core of the problem: China grew because it was – and it still is – competitive in terms of prices, because of her lower standard of li ving, and because now China is competitive also in terms of quality. As things stand, you can’t stop it, unless we introduce strong protectionism. But what will happen if, for example, China causes a collapse of US bonds? What then? America would crash in a month, or less than a month, or would go to war.

So, you can’t stop it, unless you have no state debt, a lot of raw materials making you potentially self-sufficient; or, you don’t care about your citizens’ standard of living; or, if you don’t care how your citizens react in case their standard of livinggoes plummets. And there is only one country in the world, today, in such a situation: Russia, and it stands together with China – thanks to the US.

ZJ: Is there a way to avoid it?

CP: There is no way. Rather, the question is how to survive. Only in a Japanese way: keep the standard of living relatively low, keep manpower cost relatively low, increase technological innovation in order to render national production more competitive, and reduce national debt.

In all four cases, this is very hard, if not impossible, to do in the West; and in Japan it works only due to their longstanding tradition of low standard of living, hard and prolonged daily work, and, above all, a national debt which, by law, can be held only by Japanese nationals. But we can’t do it, unless a major social U-turn happens, which nobody is ready for. Think of the French under Macron in the last 28 months.

The problem is that the Chinese have a centralized decision-making process, and we have not. In military terms, they have already won, because a centralized command is always far more effective than a non-coordinated one; and in the West, we are not-coordinated.

Hopes? None, or a very small one: the increasing social gap between inner China and coastal China. To be even clearer – coastal China enjoys far better standards of living than inner China. Coastal China is in relatively good condition as far as I know, as good as Poland could be in 1980. Inner China is far below, as far below as the Soviet deep countryside could be in the 1960s, or more. Now, the Chinese government knows this and must somehow fill the gap. A way to fill the gap is to open the inner market, increasing wages in some areas. This will heavily push production – thus incomes should increase.

So there is a slight, very slight possibility that, on one hand, this may push prices as high as needed to render Chinese goods less competitive on world markets; on the other hand, there is a slight possibility that once richer, the Chinese may be a bit less disciplined than they are now, and thus they could somehow start not to obey as blindly as they do now. But I don’t believe either the former or the latter scenarios. Moreover, in Germany and Italy, we have seen how effective the dictatorial control can be, even when improving standards of living; and back then, there was no internet, and no mobile networks. Think of mobile networks and the internet controlled by Hitler and the Gestapo!

We can only hope to be left alone, because, as things are, there is no way to stop them. Besides, with this stupid Political Correctness, I don’t think there is the smallest room to challenge China. America is fighting rearguard action: it’s trying to keep the advantage it still has in terms of technology. But for how long?

ZJ: Given what you’ve said, I have two related questions. Let me begin with the following. Liberal states with their hostility toward power are ill-equipped to fight or oppose the dominance of non-liberal regimes, like China. Any attempt to endow the State with more power is seen as “fascist.” The moment Covid-19 broke out, liberal journalists claimed that the extraordinary measures which some governments took, in Poland, for example, is a smokescreen to amass more power. In the US we heard the same rhetoric. Now, weeks later, when people want to leave homes, go back to work, restart economy, and, like in the US, start rebelling against stay-at-home orders, the same liberal media outlets which complained about the government amassing power want the State to go after those who want to relax the regulations.

This leads me to believe that the liberal idea of a weak state is untenable precisely because when a danger looms, the state must have considerable power to provide order, and it is never because of extraordinary circumstances. Such circumstances, whether they manifest themselves on a daily basis or not, they exist by the very nature of political existence. For example, we don’t fight wars on daily basis, but we maintain the military in case we go to war, and it would be impossible to organize the military overnight if a country were to be invaded. It makes me think that the liberal state can work only when there is no danger (be it Covid-19, or threat to national security), which is a rare or impossible scenario.

CP: The so-called liberals wants a weak state because a weak state cannot fight an organized massive opposition. A state can oppose better than a single person; thus, a state must be weakened; and liberals, as you say, accuse the states, which try to keep some of their natural powers, as being freedom-threatening and fascist. But this in their minds has nothing to do with state-power as such. According to them, the state should be a sort of waiter, providing all the needed commodities, while allowing them to do what they want, when they want, and the way they want. The State, according to them, should be a gadget to be used as they like. So, there is no paradox: they are quite coherent. It’s the idea of the state which is different. Their idea is not ours.

ZJ: What you said in your previous answer sounds like the West’s doomsday or even its death certificate. The 20th-century is often referred to as the “American century.” That century started with a very optimistic statement by President Wilson, known as a “doctrine:” “To make the world free for democracy.” Fascism and Nazism failed. Soviet totalitarianism disintegrated. But now America and the West are being slowly replaced by a very non-democratic China. Do you see in Wilson’s doctrine something naïve; an expression of typical American optimism; or, the unfolding of the Enlightenment idea that Reason, democratic egalitarianism, will win over tribal passions and national interests?

Second, do you think that Americans will learn a permanent lesson after what one can call a defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan; or, for as long as America cherishes its Enlightenment principles, it will commit the same mistake again? Last but not least, would you say that under Trump, America already changed in this respect, not because Trump has any doctrine, but simply because he is a pragmatic businessman who sees the world in terms of dollars, not ideas and ideals, and looks at politics as a tool, not as a science of moral principles.

CP: Wilson was an academic who had no actual experience in foreign affairs, and in politics other than in the USA. His principles were fine on paper, but think of how easy would it be to apply them in Danzig and neighboring area. And in Silesia? And what about Czechoslovakia, where Czechs were only half of the population? Had his been applied, as he stated them, in Poland, you would have the cities kept by Germany and in the neighboring country; in Dalmatia the cities, and only the cities, had to belong to Italy; the countryside would belong to Yugoslavia – it was a mosaic of people changing into a nightmare. It was impossible, because the countryside wanted also the city they relied on; and the city wanted to rule the countryside it relied on.

As for Afghanistan and Iraq, let’s start with the latter. A couple of American friends of mine, deeply liberal, voting Democrats, fully objected to the Iraq war. As she always said: “It’s only for the oil.” Then, from a military point of view, it started badly, because the US Expeditionary force was less than two thirds than what should have been. Thus, it was clear to everybody with a bit of military experience (including me) that from the very beginning they were going to face a lot of troubles once the offensive was achieved. Afghanistan was an additional disaster. Why? After September 11th the US needed to show that they were reacting, the faster the better. They needed a target. They knew where Osama bin Laden was and they attacked. Now, as military history teaches, nobody can seize and keep Afghanistan, nobody. That’s why the Czars never tried. The British left it unoccupied after having suffered many severe total military disasters every time they entered Afghanistan. Ok? And Moscow entered in 1979. You know how that ended.

Will they make the same mistake again? My answer is, Yes. But it does not depend on their military; it will depend on their politicians; and it has nothing or very little to do with the Enlightenment mentality, because in both cases the fight for democracy was only the badge and did not correspond that much to what was in the box.

ZJ: Ever since the collapse of Communism, Russia feels uneasy about what to do and where to go. Whatever Sovietism was, it gave them a sense of being a great power; and, of course, the victory over Nazi Germany strengthened the feeling of being a liberating force. (It did not matter that it was one totalitarian power fighting another totalitarian power). All that went hand in hand with the old idea of Imperial Russia. Then, 1991 came as a psychological blow; the colossus collapsed, but the huge territory remained. As you know, in Putin’s mind, the collapse of the Soviet Union was the 20th-century’s greatest disaster. Today, Russia’s economy is the size of that of Italy.

It leads me to think of a paradox. I gather Italy does not have imperial ambitions; it is not flying military planes, armed with nuclear weapons over Europe, and so on. But Russia does. Does Russia, Russians, or Putin live in an illusory reality? Is their perception of the world, first, based on the divorce between their real power and the illusion of power they have? Or, is historical reality so strong that it makes it almost impossible for the present generation of Russians to reconcile themselves that the world has changed. After all, Britain ruled one third of the world. It lost its Empire, but accommodated well to the new reality.

CP: Russia is a nuclear power; we Italians lost World War II. Thus, we were prevented by a treaty, and we had to renounce military ambitions. But we belong to NATO; and this dictates our behavior. Britain did not exactly accommodate to the new status. Britain was heavily forced by the USA to progressively renounce her world power status – the Suez intervention in 1956 and the Bermuda Treaty about nuclear weapons were the two major steps in Britain’s decline, both enforced by the USA. But Russia is too big to be forced, and has too many assets to be used, in order to survive.

Russia won last World War II, and thus got and still holds a permanent seat with the right of veto in the UN security council, which we Italians have not got. Russia has plenty of raw materials – which we have not, as Britain too practically never had – from uranium to natural gas, including crude oil, gold, iron and so on. Russia is overextended in two continents, bordering with China. And, not the smallest issue, Russian is still a communication language in many countries, as I saw in Prague when, in 1997, I realized a Czech captain was speaking to a Chinese colonel in Russian, and as I still realize when in the Baltic States, in Eastern Europe, or in Israel.

Whilst Britain, once she lost her colonies, remained a peripheral, relatively small island off the European Atlantic coast, Russia must exist as a world power, simply because it shares the border with China. Russia has no alternative. It must remain a world power or disappear; and this is, I think, what Putin has in mind; because I do not think anybody will prefer to let his own country disappear.

ZJ: I would agree with your last point. But on the additional supposition, that Russia’s interests are or could be co-extensive with our interests, I am not sure. However, as things stand today, Russia appears to prefer, or pretends to, a close alliance with China over America, probably to oppose America’s influence for the 1991 humiliation. But given the size of Russia’s economy, her alliance with China makes her look more like “a gas station” for China, whose primary purpose is to secure resources for itself.

You can say, and the argument seems valid, that part of the blame is the attitude of the Democrats in the US. It is mindboggling to see the Democrats running around and screaming at Trump because he wants to have a relationship with Russia. Even Steven Cohen, an American scholar of Russian history, is stunned by the Democrats’ attitude. The Democrats sound as if it was in America’s interest to continue the Cold War. None of this seems to get Russia onside the West’s cultural and political influence to oppose China.

CP: When the USSR collapsed, Russia found itself weak, and isolated. On the other hand, USA did their own best to help all the former Soviet nationalities to get their independence. Hence the USA was perceived still as an enemy destroying Russia; for in Moscow’s mind, Russia and the USSR were basically one and the same. When that process ended, Russia found itself weaker than in the past, hugely indebted, and still alone, sharing an incredibly long and impossible to defend border with an increasingly powerful China. What to do?

After what just happened, Russia could not rely on the USA, and had to find a solution. China in that moment was not a threat and, according to the old rule, “if you can’t fight them, join them,” Moscow signed the Shanghai Pact. The consequence – both partners felt their back was safe. An important Chinese general in 2007 in South Africa clearly and officially said, in an international conference I attended, that China appreciates nothing better than harmony, and harmony leads to happiness; and the Shanghai Pact was aimed to keep harmony, thus rendering everybody happy. As I later wrote in the Italian Navy Journal, this basically meant: “We want to run our own business according to our own mind. So, please, don’t intrude, or you will be against harmony, and the Pact will be turned against you.”

I do not know when, and if, Russia will be compelled in the future to choose whether to break harmony and survive, or submit to Chinese hegemony and become a satellite. But it is certain that, as things are, if the USA does not take a different approach, the relationship between Washington and Moscow will hardly change. I remember well the terror that existed in Eastern Europe in many countries, before the last US presidential election – because everybody considered the election of Hilary Clinton as the trigger for a war on Russia, with their countries in the middle. Nobody forgot that the USA entered both the World Wars led by a Democratic president, who had been re-elected promising to keep peace. It is something some Democrat should keep in mind.

ZJ: Are you saying that European alliance with the US is not necessarily in the interest of Europe and that Russia’s flying her planes over Europe is a benign exercise.

CP: Please don’t rely on the American vision: America, seen from here, did her own best to destroy Russia, and went further than strategically needed. Yugoslavia had to be dissolved, for it could no longer hold as it was. But there was no need to attack it, as was done in the 1990s, thus creating that ghost named Kossovo, and the other ghost called Bosnia, after a bloody civil war, and compelling NATO to keep its forces there for 30 years. But if it was done, it was only to deprive the Russian fleet of a possible port on the Mediterranean. That was the only reason for that war: democracy and self-determination were empty words. Now, try to see who the Serbs perceive as being closer to them – Washington or Moscow. And the answer is, Moscow, and right in the center of the Balkans! Wonderful result!

What do you think that many Poles thought? Do you think that they were supportive of the American initiative in Kiev? Not at all. Poles know quite well that in case of war, they will be alone in facing Russia, because, as the press reports, the Germans have exactly 16 effective aircrafts – 16, no kidding – and far less tanks then the Polish Army has; and in Warsaw nobody seriously thinks the USA is ready “to die for Danzig.” And what did the Americans do? The Orange surge in Kiev; and why? To establish in Kiev a government whose first declared task was not to renew the lease of Sebastopol to the Russian fleet! Could whatever person with a working brain think Putin would just happily accept the loss of such an asset? Could Putin agree to such a change? What do you think the USA would do in case a party in Italy would run saying, Let’s kick out the 6th US fleet from Naples and the Mediterranean?

I have heard with my ears Poles terrified by the perspective of an Orange success in Kiev, for that meant war on Russia, and many others in Romania, Bulgaria, Poland and the three Baltic States were frightened by the possible victory of Hilary Clinton – for that, in their mind, meant WAR, with Poland alone in the first line. Putin is no choir-boy. But the Americans, my goodness, they did their own best to push him in the corner where he is now, to push him to find an agreement with China, and now they complain!

We are losing tens or hundreds of billions of euros to be loyal to the NATO-imposed – thus American imposed – commercial embargo on Russia: does the USA care? Not at all. We, not USA, gets damaged. Obama left Iraq to be devastated because it was a former Russian ally; and then he did the same with Assad; and when Syria – which is flooding us, not America, with her refugees – after years of not ending war – asked for help, and Putin said, Yes, for he could not decently refuse to support a longstanding ally, what did Washington do? It said “Oh-oh, this is unfair.” But when Syrian people were massacred by the war, was that fair? And why did it happen? In the past 30 years, it seems that there was not a single day when Washington did not try to destabilize Russia once and for all – and this is the result.

Russia would like to come to an agreement, but America prevents it. I know that one can’t trust the Russians, but, for Heavens’ sake, when did we, the West, offer them one – I say just one – opportunity to show how reliable or unreliable they can be? Never! That’s a very bad and shortsighted policy. Only the Americans can think that it is only a matter of Russian goodwill. It is a matter of nonexistence of American goodwill. That’s it!

You say, Russian planes fly over Europe, and close the US coasts? And what does the USAF do? It patrols along the Russian border, just above the line of the Russian border? Who started first, guess… the Americans. Putin is reacting, due to many reasons, to show his Chinese allies that “he can,” that he is not the weak member of their dual alliance, to let the USA realize that he will not surrender, and that “he can stand up,” and provide evidence to his people that they are still under threat. Thus, the current situation – bad or good – has to be kept due to the external threat. And the problem is that, as things have been and still seems to be, he is right, because the external threat does exist – from America.

America wants – Russia destroyed, the European Union weak and disbanded, and China falling. As American policy is going, they may have the EU going down, but no success with the others. Thus, if they do not offer Putin a good compromise, a good loyal offer, they won’t achieve whatever result they want. And whilst Trump could, the Dems won’t; and you will see the result.

ZJ: Henry Kissinger’s view was that America in the late 1960s and 1970s was a declining power, and the best thing America could do was to contain the Soviet Union by agreeing to the division of the sphere of influence between the US and Soviet Union. Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Adviser under Carter, devised a different policy: using human rights as a weapon to build opposition in the Soviet empire and hold the communist governments accountable for their violations, and indirectly and slowly weaken communist grip on society.

After the collapse of communism, the sphere of America’s influence spread; but it spread exactly at the time when America entered the phase of its moral decline: its economic model – living on credit which was in perfect agreement with the hedonistic values of the society – led to unprecedented debt, which, as you remarked, makes it even less possible we can build a sensible opposition to China.

So, we moved from the world being split between America and the West and the Soviet Union, to the West and America being ripped apart by unprecedented debt and lack of ideological cohesion which makes it impossible to build an opposition to China. Does America have an attractive message to its allies and other countries, who are afraid of China as well, that could unite them today?

CP: No. It once had one; but now no longer does. Political correctness is not a message; and its rules seem to push people far away from America instead of becoming close to America.

ZJ: Hence my last question. Does China have an attractive message? Before you answer my question, let me read to you something that Xi Jing Ping said in 2014: “The Soviet Union collapsed because nobody was man enough to stand up and resist [its downfall]… Constitutional monarchy, imperial restoration, parliamentarism, a multiparty system and the presidential system – we considered them, tried them, but none worked.” You can contrast it with Churchill’s “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all others.” Was Churchill too optimistic, as was Pericles in his funeral oration during the Peloponnesian war? Are Xi Jing Ping’s words the next superpower’s message to the world?

CP: A mistake usually made in the West and above all in America, is that of thinking of the others as compact. Europe is not compact – think of the differences among the different European peoples – and China too is not, and it is big, enormous, and, till now, the most populated country of the world. Can you imagine what if all the ethnic groups would start acting with the same freedom we have in the West? Divisions, quarrels, differences, and who would settle them? They would soon be back to the War Lords time, or something like it; and that was a very sad time. We cannot, and we must not think that what works for us, here and now, may suit the others in the same time, and in another part of the world, because this is just the mistake Political Correctness does: it’s right, it works here, hence it must be exported everywhere. That’s wrong.

Some years ago I met an American based in London, who had a deep knowledge of the Far East and he had to agree with me when I told him that we can’t export democracy; we can’t enforce other people to accept democracy, because if they want not to have it, there is nothing to do, and we can’t go to war to impose democracy. This is America’s biggest fault – to believe that the American way of life can work everywhere, and thus must be exported and, in some cases, enforced. As long as it was a sort of shared idea, it could be neglected. But for the last 25 years, it is no longer so. It was officially stated by Warren Christopher in an article published in 1995 in Foreign Policy. Christopher wrote that the post-USSR-collapse situation presented the USA with an exceptional opportunity to shape the world according to their standards. His idea was based on four points; and the fourth was the support for democracy and human rights, according to American interests and ideals. Soon thereafter, senator Robert Dole also published an article – “Shaping America’s Global Future.” He said basically the same things Christopher said. Thus one could conclude that, no matter the party ruling the country, that policy had to be the future American policy.

So, back to China, why should the Chinese accept to share American standards, if those standards can’t be safely applied to their country? Primum edere, deinde philosophari – Food first, then philosophy. After that, many other things can follow.

ZJ: Dr. Paoletti, thank you for your time.

The image shows “Fury of Achilles,” by Charles-Antoine Coypel, painted in 1737.

Against Equality of Opportunities

The disintegration of class has induced the expansion of envy, which provides ample fuel for the flame of ‘equal opportunity’… Education in the modern sense implies a disintegrated society, in which it has come to be assumed that there must be one measure of education according to which everyone is educated simply more or less. (T. S. Eliot, Notes Toward the Definition of Culture).

1.

Even the greatest defenders of equality are not advocating the idea of equality of outcome. They know that at the end of the day, the result of our work cannot be equally rewarded. And it is not because of anyone’s malice or arbitrariness. Our moral intuition tells us that rewarding a gifted and hard-working person and a lazy and untalented one the same way is wrong. Reward is linked to performance and excellence. Equality of outcome would kill both and thus violate our sense of justice.

In the face of this, instead of promoting social policies that would aim at equality of outcome, it became fashionable to advocate the idea of equality of opportunity. We do it not because the latter idea is sounder, but because it covers more sufficiently the sad truth about inequality between us and the structure of the world around us.

Does a farmer in Arizona or Nevada have equal opportunity to raise an equally rich crop as a farmer in New Jersey (a garden state)? Does a fisherman in Arctic waters have an equal chance of catching fish as the one in warmer waters? How can one create equal opportunities for children whose passions in life are farming or fishing, and yet who do not live in the same place – a place blessed with good soil and climate, or one near waters with a superabundance of fish? One could bring more fertile soil from New Jersey to Arizona or Nevada at a great expense, though it would be wasted there because of the differences in climate.

However, someone who promotes equality of opportunity makes a less radical claim. He claims that Mr. Brown, who lives in the same environment or place, is worse off than Mr. Smith because he did not have the same opportunities. However, the supposition is unverifiable. Only by watching Mr. Brown’s life in a parallel universe, where he and Mr. Smith had equal opportunity and became equally successful, could we claim the truth of the assertion that if everyone is given the same chance, everyone will succeed. All we can say in our universe is that we will never know where Mr. Brown would be in life should he have been given equal opportunity to everything. Because we accept the premise that “we will never know,” we succumb to the rhetoric of those who advocate the policy of equality of opportunities, and hope for the best (“let’s hope, that for some reason, they fail to implement it”).

In ordinary language, such proposals are formulated in a language that has emotional appeal: How can you be so heartless and deny Mrs. Brown’s child – our Mr. Brown – the same opportunities! Besides, how do you know that Brown, Jr. will not become another Michelangelo, or another Marie Skłodowska-Curie? Not to create equal opportunities is to kill the genius before he was ever born. This form of reasoning is fuzzy, and it rests on the false premise that there is a correlation between genius and equality of chances. A survey of historical figures whom we call geniuses does not provide any evidence for such claim.

Human beings, like soil and climate, are different – not equally gifted, not equally ambitious, not equally motived – and it is unlikely that equal opportunities for all would benefit everyone; or, sadly, that most of us would like to be anything other than what we are. Most resources would be simply wasted.

If the proponents of equality admit that the implementation of perfect equality of opportunities is impossible, we should at least insist that they make it clear what the end of such policies truly is?

Alas, this remains unspecified. However, the language the partisans of equality use provides us with clues. It is the language of “minimum wage” which should suffice for “dignified” existence. However, it would be in vain to look for the definition of “dignified life” in the politicians’ pronouncements; but the language of “minimum wage” suggests that everybody should be able to afford very many things that only a hard-working middle-class can afford today. Accordingly, a “dignified life” means that the purse of a minimum-wage earner should have similar purchasing power to that of a hard-working and educated professional.

To make things even more equal, in the last few years we hear more and about Universal Basic Income (UBI). What it means is that you will not have to work, unless you want; and the government will give you money for free. This is what Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, in fact, said. All such proposals suggest that the effort to become educated so that you can have a better life is optional; and since everyone should have a right to live a “dignified life,” someone else is duty-bound to subsidize your dignity.

2.

The Greeks were the first to provide us with a very important theoretical insight into the nature of work. As Aristotle noticed, “We work in order not to work;” that is, work is the condition of free time. Material prosperity, the Greeks thought, is the foundation of leisure – time freed from labor. Given primitive conditions of labor and production in ancient and pre-Modern (pre-Industrial Revolution) societies, slavery and serfdom – the labor of some – was essential for leisure of others.

There is more to it: Leisure was the condition of being free. But the Greeks also drew a very important conclusion – freedom, which some enjoy, creates conditions conducive to the development of Culture. Only a free man can afford to engage in cultural activities, which a man who must devote his time to labor cannot. And since the efficiency of labor in pre-modern societies was low, the long hours devoted to labor left virtually no time for other activities. In the words of Oscar Wilde, slavery was the price we paid for civilization.

It would be naive to believe that all free Greeks were aware of this and considered their free time to be something that they must use for cultural activities. Aristotle’s discussion in Book I of his Nichomachean Ethics is a clear indication that he understood that most people value what he terms apoloustic life, life according to pleasure, life that most of us live. But this kind of life, he argued, cannot bring about happiness, because it is dependent on too many external factors. Theoretical life is the highest form of happiness, and we can live it only “in so far as there is something divine in us.” Notwithstanding all the difficulties of how to balance practical and theoretical sides of life, Aristotle was right to draw our attention to the theoretical aspect of human existence that is responsible for most of our non-practical, intellectual and creative endeavors.

The partisans of equal opportunity, on the other hand, believe that the source of misery of today’s underdogs is the lack of material resources, and only if we transfer enough money to the poor, they will have more time and their aspirations will change.

This is what Socialism was to bring about. Karl Marx who knew about the nature of labor probably more than anyone in 19th-century, understood this idea very well. Marx imagined Socialism to be the place where leisure, thanks to technological advancement, is no longer the luxury which only small part of the population can enjoy, but which can be expanded to the masses. Thus, in a Socialist state, everyone would be free to develop his humanistic side and become something like a “renaissance man:”

For as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.

Nothing in the political pronouncements of our democratic-socialist activists and politicians (e.g., Bernie Sanders and Alexandra Ocasio Cortez in America who pushed the Democratic Party in a semi-socialist direction) suggests that they want to implement Marx’s idea of human development. Unlike the Greeks and Marx who understood the purpose of human life to be something other than animal-like vulgar existence, they do not understand the goal of leisure and the meaning of culture either. Bernie Sanders and the Democratic Party’s “socialist revolution” is the apoloustic revolution without the Marxian-Aristotelian humanistic aspect. Not a single proposition that we hear from the Democrats points in the direction of ennobling the destitute masses.

The post-1960s America (and other Western countries) created all kinds of social programs, which, however well-intended and badly needed then, over time, created a class of people who did not have to work for generations. For all intents and purposes, it was a new leisure class: The class whose members receive free housing, food-stamps, child support, disability assistance, energy subsidies, free health-care, and free education. And because they did not have to work, they had abundance of free time. However, contrary to what Marx expected, this class did not become a powerhouse of culture. It became a place from which all traces of culture have been erased, a place where one peddles drugs, where crime-rate is higher than anywhere else, and where education is in shambles.

In contrast, the aristocracies of the 16th through to the 19th-centuries, whose existence was also “subsidized” by the labor of others, created enormous volume of cultural products – including cultural and scientific societies, literary salons and clubs – and even if we today consider some of their habits, customs, activities as silly or incomprehensible, one thing needs to be said: Most of them actively participated in, created, or, following in the footsteps of the Roman Maecenas, sponsored the creative work of the hard-laboring artists. Had they had no real interest in what was presented to them by artists, poets, writers, and philosophers, whose works were an expression of the highest aspirations of human spirit, nothing that we consider culture would have been created.

It is important to ponder on, and understand why the two cases are so different. The most likely explanation is that only a small minority among us was and ever will be interested in “dignified life.” Marx was a great believer in humanity, thinking that once wealth, which creates leisure, is available to the working class, it will change their lives in a fundamental way.

There is no question that material prosperity is today higher than ever before; but can one say the same about higher human aspirations? There is nothing in Aristotle’s discussion of how people live that made him have second thoughts that the majority of people will want to change their way of life. He never entertained political and social proposals that could elevate the masses.

What turned out to be true is that some of us (a relatively small percentage in every society), who by past centuries criteria would belong to the laboring-class, with no leisure to develop a more noble side, are interested in doing it now. Resources and considerable leisure that we enjoy now is something that belonged only to the aristocracy of old. This was already true in the early decades of the 20th-century. However, as Ortega y Gasset noticed, in his The Revolt of the Masses and The Mission of the University, the most distinguishing feature of the new mass man is his mental primitivism – lack of understanding of culture as a complex system of ideas which one must understand and renew in each generation for civilization to go on living. This lack of understanding manifests itself in being “ungrateful” and expecting that benefits will always be there. To the mass man, civilization is like a vending machine. However, this machine to operate needs maintenance. The new man does not understand it.

3.

If we are to consider the idea of equality of opportunity as a serious social program, equal opportunities should be created only for those who have demonstrated serious aptitude and effort in taking advantage of the opportunities afforded them by working members of society.

No one should demand that anyone pay the expenses of another. Only immediate family members are morally obliged to help their next of kin; similarly, friends should be able to rely on each other – without this, there is no friendship. Besides, no society can afford the exuberant costs to create equal opportunities for all its members without a sense of deep moral obligation; and no society should bear the burden of equal opportunities for all, only to realize that, at the end of the day, few persons out of the entire population will profit from these opportunities, or even bother to take advantage of them. Such policies are neither reasonable nor economically justifiable.

Given the limited resources that a society has to help others, the resources should be allocated wisely. This means, firstly, that they should be spent on those who are most likely to take advantage of them (they are the ones who need them). Secondly, we must have a very clear understanding of the exact purpose of such policies. Unless the government, which shapes such policies, provides a persuasive explanation that such policies are good for society, and that they actually work, the government engages in legalized theft, taking money from the productive class only to waste it on others in the name of ideological whims.

One could claim, however, and such claims have been made (for example, by John Stuart Mill, who advocated a number of reasonable social reforms proposals), that it is expedient for a society to have, for example, an educated citizenry instead of an uneducated one. An educated society is more likely to be affluent, is less crime-ridden, politically informed, gentler, and more appreciative of culture than a society wherein the majority are uneducated.

This is true, but it must be remembered that social expediency is not the same as possessing a right to something at the expense of another. A right is a claim to something, the possession of which is not contingent on anything else. I can claim, for example, that I have a right to life (that is, no one can deprive me of life without a legal due process), but I cannot claim to have a right to education, since it is connected with considerable costs borne by others. (Not only would it be, but it really is, futile for someone in a poor country – most African and many Asian ones – to demand decent education when there is no educational infrastructure). Such claims can be made in countries which have reached a certain level of civilizational and economic development, and so have created wealth that makes it possible for everyone to go to school. But this still does not make my claims fully justified to consider it a right.

I have an implicit right to demand that my parents do whatever is in their power to feed and educate me; but I do not have the same right to make of others (society) to do the same for me. Similarly, my daughter can demand that I do this for her; but if any of my daughter’s friends were to demand this from me, their demand should fall on deaf ears. Her friend cannot file a legal claim which accuses me of not fulfilling my duty by not giving her the lunch or small allowance that I gave my daughter. Any legal or formal claim on others has its limitations; whereas a moral one stems from the sense of parental duty.

4.

All three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – have a built-in obligation to help others. It is called “giving alms.” Christianity made it more universal than Judaism and Islam. In the words of Saint Paul, “there is no Greek or Jew” (we are one human family). But giving alms is not the same as creating state policy of equal opportunities above the level of giving others food and helping with basic needs. It would be silly to think that my obligation to give alms means giving the poor crevettes, caviar, and a steak with a nice bottle of Bordeaux for dinner. Helping others has its limits; and it does not mean that we all have equal share in the available resources created by others.

Given the decline of religious participation, the State in the 20th-century had to take over many of the obligations which in previous centuries were fulfilled by the Church. Today’s governments are heirs to the religious institutions, though without having any moral authority, and therefore they do not cause us to feel that we owe anyone anything.

Imposition of taxation and the transfer of wealth from the richer part of the population onto the poorer is the secularized version of giving alms. Its downside is that the government claims your wealth without making reciprocal demand that the poor be grateful for it. What is more, yesterday’s poor, as Nietzsche and Ortega would have it, are today’s social justice warriors who demand your wealth in the language of equality and opportunities for all. (The prime example of it is the attitude of Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez.) Unlike in the past, when the poor had to ask the priest in their parish to give them alms that others voluntarily left for them, the 21st-century State makes impersonal computer transfer of money, which covers the poor’s shame for living off others, and demands nothing in return. This lack of gratitude is a characteristic feature of the mass man.

5.

There is no question that education is a path to success in life, and everybody who wants to be successful must be educated. But equality of opportunities says nothing about the amount or kind of education that makes you successful.

In his Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (1948; chapter VI), T. S. Eliot noticed something that is worth reflecting on. Ever since the disintegration of the class system (which coincided with the advent of egalitarianism), we have been using a strange language of “undereducation.” One can point to someone and say, “He is half-educated” or “undereducated.” This is a strange language indeed. “Undereducated” in what sense? Our “undereducated” person can be an auto-mechanic, a crane operator, a nurse, a bricklayer, a bus driver, or even an insurance agent or CEO. He does what he does successfully, and yet he is purportedly “undereducated.”

As T. S. Eliot noticed, it would have never occurred to someone in 17th- or 18th-centuries to say that the baker, the brewer or the shepherd is “undereducated.” This example shows that education in this context is connected to the idea of something that goes beyond the vocational skills which one has; and the vocational skills indicated the class belonging. Once the classes, which defined cultural level of each person, and thus education, disintegrated, the same level of education was being applied to everyone; and it was not professional education.

Education meant cultural level. And since the litmus test of education was (High) Culture, the culture of the leisure class or classes, undereducation was the term applied to everyone who fell below that level.

Socialism and democracy tried to make culture available to everyone, and to disseminate it among the masses. However, the attempt was (and still is) only partly successful. Only a small number of people, who by old standards did not belong to a noble class which had access to culture (which was the culture the aristocratic class created), developed a taste for, and appreciation of, it.

What was responsible for the success of cultural transmission was the opening of prestigious places of learning (like Oxford and Cambridge in England) to students from all walks of life. But it was open only to those who met high educational requirements. (The story of A. L. Rowse, a boy from Cornwell, who went to Oxford and became a fellow in the prestigious All Souls College, is one of the greatest testimonies that culture can be transmitted to the lower classes).

This idea was not only sound – it was probably the most successful social experiments in a democracy: A way of creating natural elites. Elites, by definition, are small groups, composed of individuals with higher scholastic aptitude. The English educational experiment to open prestigious schools to children of humble background is probably the most any society can hope for. Today’s rebellion against Cambridge, Oxford, and Ivy League universities in the U.S., demands that old acceptance standards be waved or abolished, is an indication that the Ortegian revolt of the masses is very real, and will stop at nothing but total destruction of cultural heritage.

To be sure, Culture (capital C) is the term that social justice warriors never use, are not interested in, and to the extent to which they understand its meaning, they mean such activities as vulgar pop or rap music. They are the products of the “undereducated,” uncultured individuals who are unlikely to appreciate the creative work of Titian, Duerer, Tintoretto, Moliere, Racine, Marlowe, Goethe, or Byron.

If so, what equal opportunity do they demand for the “undereducated,” if it is not their goal to provide the underdogs with the education that would allow them to take their gutter lyrics to the level of Rossini or Wagner? Many of them may never get there, but the few who are exposed to Culture have a better chance of leaving the gutter when they experience something beautiful and sublime.

6.

The goal of the partisans of the idea of equal opportunity, one can still argue, is not to get anyone to the same creative level as Chopin or Mozart, but to foster their economic success, so that they can live a “dignified life.” In one of the most memorable passages, in his The Wealth of Nations (1776), Adam Smith offered an ingenious explanation as to what is necessary for lower classes to succeed:

The difference of natural talents in different men, is, in reality, much less than we are aware of; and the very different genius which appears to distinguish men of different professions, when grown up to maturity, is not upon many occasions so much the cause, as the effect of the division of labour. The difference between the most dissimilar characters, between a philosopher and a common street porter, for example, seems to arise not so much from nature, as from habit, custom, and education. When they came in to the world, and for the first six or eight years of their existence, they were, perhaps, very much alike, and neither their parents nor playfellows could perceive any remarkable difference. About that age, or soon after, they come to be employed in very different occupations. The difference of talents comes then to be taken notice of, and widens by degrees, till at last the vanity of the philosopher is willing to acknowledge scarce any resemblance. But without the disposition to truck, barter, and exchange, every man must have procured to himself every necessary and conveniency of life which he wanted. All must have had the same duties to perform, and the same work to do, and there could have been no such difference of employment as could alone give occasion to any great difference of talents.

Accordingly, the difference in social and financial status between people aged 46 or 48 is not due to the ingenuity of some and a lack thereof on the part of others who are less successful. As Smith makes clear, when the same people were children – 6 or 8 – they displayed no differences; and yet, forty years later, all of them found themselves on different social and financial levels. Why?

The first level of explanation deals with principles of economy (division of labor): Members of different professions are paid differently. A doctor or lawyer is paid more than a teacher, a clerk, or someone who works in a Starbucks, and so on. The differences between professions have roots in the years spent on acquiring the knowledge requisite to become a doctor, lawyer, engineer, and so on. One must also note also that the father of modern economics is not considering here the case of geniuses, but the average person – and every average person, thanks to education, can become a lawyer, a doctor, or an engineer. (One can leave aside, of course, natural predilections for some professions).

If so, why can’t we all become lawyers, doctors, engineers, that is, members of lucrative professions? The key to success, as Smith claims, is: Custom, habit, education. It is very likely that a child who is accustomed to waking up early, reviewing his homework, reading a lot, and is disciplined, will earn high grades, will become a doctor, a lawyer, or an engineer; whereas a child who neglects his study and lacks discipline will not be eligible for such occupations.

“But he is only a child,” someone may exclaim, and so “it is not his fault.” True, it is contingent upon the parents to train the child for the responsibility which he has yet to understand the significance of. Once we accept this simple premise, we can explain the situation of the underclass and the lack of success of its members.

The problem lies with the family and Culture – the habits and customs with which children grow up. Custom and habit are part of Culture, and not all Cultures are equally geared to inculcate habits that are conducive to intellectual development; some never developed to the point where one realizes that the abstract way of thinking is the condition of all the practical fruits that we all enjoy. This was one of the greatest European discoveries, which we can read about in Descartes’ Discourse on the Method of Directing One’s Mind in the Sciences. The social and economic success of the Jews and Asians in the modern world tells us everything we need to know about the love of reading and work ethic that are integral to success.

7.

Those who demand that all children have equal opportunities should first demand equal responsibility from all parents, each having an equal understanding of the importance of education and discipline. Parents are part of the equation. The second part is schools, and few of them have excellent or even good teachers. It is possible to have lousy parents and good teachers, and the other way around. But having lousy parents and lousy teachers is a disaster, and it is becoming a norm in America and other Western democracies.

The partisans of equal opportunities hardly ever blame the parents or single parenthood. They prefer to devolve parental responsibility for their children on the State, and then go on to blame the State for not doing enough to “create equal opportunities.” Such a situation creates a vicious circle, which we can break only if we demand that the State return the children to parents, that it stay away from them and the parents. When then the parents know that raising children is their responsibility, they will start doing their job. When parents are in full possession of children, they, too, will stop blaming schools. Education can be a path to success only if we the schools teach something worth knowing, something that is culturally relevant, and something that inculcates serious intellectual skills.

Last but not least, opportunities must assume an institutional form: Good and prestigious schools, scholarships and fellowships in institutions wherein they can develop their interests and talents, and, most importantly, where they can compete for the highest awards and places in society.
Such a society, of course, is one which understands and accepts the meaning of social and educational hierarchy and benefits which stem from relative inequality. It is not a society based on artificiality of social distinctions, but on natural talents.

Are the social justice warriors ready to swallow this bitter truth that elites do not have to have the old aristocratic titles? Nature confers them upon some of us. It is through our individual effort that we reach for them.

Zbigniew Janowski is the author of Cartesian Theodicy: Descartes’ Quest for Certitude, Index Augustino-Cartésien, Agamemnon’s Tomb: Polish Oresteia (with Catherine O’Neil), How To Read Descartes’ Meditations. He also is the editor of Leszek Kolakowski’s My Correct Views on Everything, The Two Eyes of Spinoza and Other Essays on Philosophers, John Stuart Mill: On Democracy, Freedom and Government & Other Selected Writings. His new book, Homo Americanus: Rise of Democratic Totalitarianism in America, will be published in 2021.

The image shows, “The Flute Concert of Fredrick the Great at Sanssouci,” painted by Adolph von Menzel, ca, 1850-1852

The Death of Liberalism? An Interview With Nicholas Capaldi

This month we are so very pleased and honored to present this interview with the renowned philosopher, Nicholas Capaldi, who is the Legendre-Soule Distinguished professor at Loyola University, New Orleans, USA. He is interviewed by Dr. Zbigniew Janowski, who himself is a philosopher and author of several important books and is currently working on a collection of articles, entitled, Gods Will Have Blood: Rise of Totalitarianism in America.

Zbigniew Janowski (ZJ): My image of Nicholas Capaldi is that of an American intellectual and academic, rather than a philosophy professor. The reason is, correct me if I am wrong, that in your books you always try to tackle a big intellectual problem, just like in your book on analytic philosophy, which you inscribed in the Enlightenment Project. It is not just narrow philosophical problems that you see, but you see them in a broad historical context. The same goes for your other books and the one you have just finished, The Anglo-American Conception of the Rule of Law. Is my description of you correct?

Nicholas Capaldi (NC): Yes! Thank you. Philosophical issues do not exist in a vacuum but within a larger context. It is always important to ask “why” an issue is an issue and for whom. The academic world, wrongly modeled along scientific grounds, forces people to know or think they know more about less and less. The result is a series of fashionable discussions akin to a carousel on which the riders and tunes change but there is no progress or direction.

ZJ: Your other book is a biography of John Stuart Mill, the father of the Liberal Idea. What made you write it?

NC: As an undergraduate seeking to find my own voice, I was inspired both by Mill’s defense of individual autonomy and by the critique of censorship. A career in academe has only reinforced the need to seek for the truth and to be free to articulate it, even more so as the academic world becomes increasingly politicized and intolerant.

ZJ: As the author of two books on Mill, you are well qualified to assess Liberalism as a doctrine. Liberalism travelled a long way from where it started in 1820, as a criticism of the establishment of the aristocratic Anglican order to what it became in Mill, and to where it is now, essentially a form of Politically Correct orthodoxy. One could probably find a number of other intermediate stages in the 20th century (welfare state, extension of suffrage, etc.) How do you explain its plasticity, the ability to adapt itself to the changing circumstances? In ten years, it will be roughly 200 years since the emergence of the Liberal Idea in Oxford in the 1820s, as Cardinal John Henry Newman explained it in his Apologia.

NC: I think it is a mistake to talk about Liberalism. It would be better to focus on the importance of individual freedom and how it emerged/developed historically within the European psyche, but most especially in the English world. Once you try to understand this as an isolated concept (philosophical, political, economic, etc.) you have created a contextless abstraction – and abstractions can be interpreted to mean anything. The best discussion I know is Oakeshott’s distinction between civil and enterprise association, wherein the former is a society without a collective end, but exists to allow individual members to pursue their own individual ends with a minimum of conflict.

The existence of people (anti-individuals) who are incapable or unwilling to live in such a world enables them to take an abstract concept and make it mean the opposite of its original meaning. I might add that intellectuals who are limited to using only Greco-Roman models have bought into an intellectual frame of reference that limits their ability to understand individual freedom. Such intellectuals want to be free to impose their own model on others – freedom of speech for them means freedom to impose their private vision on others.

ZJ: What, in your opinion, were the classical characteristics of Mill’s Liberalism and which are the ones which today’s Liberals promote?

NC: Mill sought to respect individual freedom; today, many so-called Liberals seek to “promote” individual freedom by collectivist means. Assuming they know what they are talking about, they are blind to the inherent contradiction of ‘forcing people to be free’ (Rousseau). It all goes back to what Voegelin called “Gnosticism.”

ZJ: Let me give you one example, from his On Representative Government. Mill was a great proponent of universal suffrage. Yet, he understood that it was not a God given right, like the American inalienable rights, but contingent upon certain factors – education, for example. “Universal teaching must precede universal enfranchisement.” In other words, basic education, which he considered to be the knowledge of basic mathematics, reading, geography, national and world history is the foundation on which suffrage rests. We, today, on the other hand, believe that it is a right, that democracy can function anywhere, and that regardless of our personal and intellectual qualities, democracy can function. Democracy in Mill’s writings appears to be a very fragile and complex mechanism. How would he see the democratic world today?

NC: Mill wrote the essay, On Liberty, in part, to call attention to the difference between the negative role of democracy in the eighteenth century (favored by the U.S. founders) and the “tyranny of the majority,” against which Tocqueville argued so eloquently. Mill also called attention to the difference between what the majority might think and what those who claim to speak for the majority (power elite) claim on behalf of the majority.

ZJ: We seem to be obsessed with the idea of wide participation of the masses. No exclusions; in fact, every exclusion is called discrimination. Mill, sympathetic as he was to the idea of extending the right to vote, was very clear that, first, criminals’ right to vote should be suspended, that people who live off others should not have a right to vote, and those who are unemployed for an extensive period of time (he thought of 3-5 years), should not have a right to vote either. Today, Mill would be accused of discrimination.

NC: Today, democracy has become a mask for oppression. So-called “identity politics” brings together all the of the anti-individuals (mentioned earlier – see Oakeshott) to undermine the achievements and prestige of autonomous individuals. Instead of transferring resources from the rich to the poor, we transfer power from individuals to the state (de Jouvenel). Political discourse has become Orwellian.

ZJ: Let me go back to his educational requirements – literacy, national history, global history and geography. This is what he thought was necessary in 1861 when he published his work! The world of 1861 and the world of 2020 are not the same, and by that, I mean the world is so much more complicated and complex that even the best educated among us cannot claim to be experts in political matters.

Let me draw a parallel, I am not sure how useful it is, between criticism of Socialism by Hayek and democracy’s ability to sustain itself. According to Hayek, one major reason why Socialist economics is not viable is because no one can have complete knowledge that goes into pricing, and therefore, only free market can provide us with correct price of goods. Planned economy can’t work. The idea that the masses somehow have enough knowledge to run the social and political realms seems to me Utopian in nature, in the same way that Socialism was.

NC: You are absolutely correct. Keep in mind that Hayek’s argument against planning is a restatement of his mentor Mill’s position that no one can be infallible (remember the context of 19th-century debate on infallibility). The U.S. was founded as a Republic (constitutional protection of individual liberties) as opposed to a DEMOCRACY (majority-tyranny).

ZJ: In the beginning of his On Liberty, Mill states: “The struggle between Liberty and Authority is the most conspicuous feature of history with which we are earliest familiar, particularly in that of Greece, Rome, and England. But in old times this contest was between subjects, or some classes of subjects, and the government.”

This idea sounds very familiar to the readers of Marx and Engels, who at the opening of the Communist Manifesto formulated their vision of progressive history as well. In their view history is a class struggle, between oppressors and the oppressed. The oppressors are in Mill’s scheme the Party of Authority, and the oppressed are the Party of Liberty. Is it a coincidence that Mill – the Liberal – and Marx and Engels sound so alike? Or does the similarity stem from the popular understanding of History as Progressive, a popular conception in 19th-century.

NC: Great question. There were different conceptions of history in the 19th-century debate. For the mature Mill, history evolved but did not progress; as in the common law, we constantly seek to retrieve, explicate, and restate for new contexts the inherent norms of our inherited civilization. For Marx, Comte, etc. “history” was understood “scientifically” as a form of teleology or progress. The great attraction of the latter view is that it allows you to invent self-serving narratives.

ZJ: Do you think there are consequences of such an interpretation of history? In Marxism it was called “Historical Inevitability,” which in practice gave the communist apparatchiks a theoretical tool to eliminate the enemies: If History is progressive, if it unfolds itself in a certain direction, there is nothing wrong in eliminating the enemies of Progress. The idea had serious consequences in real life. Millions of people killed! The Stalinist trials, for example, are a good exemplification of it.

Let me quote a few sentences from Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, a book about trials, in which Gletkin, the interrogator, explains what kind of historical thinking drives the communists and what justifies the elimination of the enemies: “My point is, one may not regard the world as a sort of metaphysical brother for emotions. This is the first commandment for us. Sympathy, conscience, and atonement are for us repellent debauchery… to sell oneself to one’s conscience is to abandon mankind. History is a priori amoral; it has no conscience.”

Thus, one can torture, kill. History provides justification. Are today’s Liberals heading in the same direction? Not necessarily by physically extermination, but by destroying everyone who disagrees with them? I am asking this question because their intolerance is growing; they attempt to shout down any critical voice; they become increasingly more violent; and the words, such as progress, progressive agenda, progressive policies, etc. are their only vocabulary.

NC: I fear that you are correct. All of this nonsense reflects the fact that the British and U.S. Revolutions were “conservative” in the sense I attributed to Mill above. The Russian and all subsequent Revolutions have been “radical,” that is, based on abstractions. Furthermore, the intellectual origin of all of this dangerous nonsense is what I have described as “the Enlightenment Project” – the belief that we could construct a social ‘science’ and thereby a social technology. You alluded to this in mentioning my other book. Like all bad ideas it originated in 18th-century France. If there is a social technology then dissent undermines utopia. Again, this appeal to infallibility is what Mill objected to in Comte.

ZJ: These dangerous tendencies in mass behavior are not new. They were noticed by philosophers, sociologists and psychologists. Let me begin with Mill who talks about tyranny of the majority in a democracy often in his On Liberty. How do you account for his favorable, even enthusiastic support for the rule of the majority, on the one hand, and his contempt for them (the collective mediocrity), as he refers to them?

NC: Mill saw political democracy as inevitable—curiously a product of industrialization. What he advocated was a cultural and political bulwark against its excesses.

ZJ: Was his contemporary, Nietzsche, a more perceptive critic of democracy and majority rule than Mill? Sometimes they sound the same, but Nietzsche took the masses for what they are – mediocrity, and saw what Mill refused to see – lack of aristocratic virtues. In fact, Mill hated aristocracy; wrote nasty things about it. Do you think it was a well-argued position, or was it a psychological suspicion of someone who did not belong to an aristocratic order, and who gave support with the power of his considerable intellect to the rule of mediocrity?

NC: lan Kahan has written a good book, Aristocratic Liberalism, in which he makes the case that Mill, Tocqueville, and Burckhardt were exemplars. I have argued that England (individual autonomy tradition) was different from the Continent (long history of collectivism). I see Nietzsche as responding to the more threatening Continental context.

Elsewhere, I (following many previous writers) have identified the extent to which intellectuals are attracted to holistic, collectivist, and Utopian thinking (e.g. Enlightenment Project, Hoffer’s men of words in his book True Believer). So, it is no surprise that the ‘Continental Disease’ has slowly infiltrated the Anglo-American world.

I also believe that the cultural dimension is more important than the purely intellectual one. In the U.S., many ordinary people understand and respond positively to Clint Eastwood’s Western films and to Frank Sinatra’s song “My Way.” This is behind Buckley remark that some of us would rather be governed by the first 300 people in the Boston telephone directory than the faculty of Harvard.

ZJ: Ever since the beginning of the 20th-century, that is, the rise of psychology and sociology, we know not only how, but why masses behave the way they do. Freud devoted an interesting book, The Group Psychology, to the topic. In a nutshell, man loses his individuality and identity in a crowd. Following Le Bon, Freud claims, man goes back to his primitive instinct and nature, and acts like a member of a herd, again, an expression that Nietzsche uses frequently to describe what he calls slave-morality. Only individuals, not crowds, not masses, have a moral compass. How does it square, in your view, with the idea of a democratic, mass society? Is such a society bound to be immoral?

NC: This is the very issue that Oakeshott addresses in his essay, “The Masses in Representative Government.” His conclusion was that “….[the anti-individual or mass man] remains an unmistakably derivative character…helpless, parasitic and able to survive only in opposition to individuality….The desire of the ‘masses’ to enjoy the products of individuality has modified their destructive urge.”

ZJ: Let me turn to something that has been on my mind, and which made me put out a new edition of Mill’s writings, where I think one can trace the trajectory of his development; namely, the idea of authority, which is so inimical to Mill. He made it, as the quotation from his On Liberty which I used before reveals, the centerpiece of his philosophy. Authority is the enemy of Liberty. Plato, in Book. VIII of his Republic, on the other hand, saw the dissolution of authority as the beginning of anarchy, which, in turn, is the result of expanding equality in a democracy.

Now, Mill, as you know, translated several of Plato’s dialogues and knew his philosophy well. Did he miss something? Did he expect democracy to last despite Plato’s warnings? Or did he think that everyone is rational? Or was he just too steeped in the English tradition of respect for law, order, conservatism in private life, etc.? Did he think that the social order is self-sustaining, that we will not cross a certain line? How would you explain his position?

NC: The intellectual and moral responsibility of the public intellectual, whether he/she be Plato, Mill, or us, is to (1) identify the social problem, (2) defend one alternative solution/policy against others, and (3) offer a rhetorical (artistic) expression, designed to persuade others to see the world as we do. Plato clearly did this in writing dialogues. You captured some of this in your collection of Mill’s more popular writings. You also capture this in some of your own cultural writing. It has been my great failing not to have done more of this in my own.

ZJ: Is the suspicion or hostility, in your view, as it is in Mill, characteristic of Liberalism? And if so, how far can the Liberals go, you think, without destroying social order?

NC: The greatest threat to tyranny is the capacity of a few people to stand up and say, “The Emperor has no clothes.” Keep it simple, clear, and authentic. It takes enormous courage to do this. In the end, the question is never how far tyrants will go, but how far we are willing to go to oppose them.

ZJ: Let me return to the idea of order. In Aristotle, we find a claim that the function of a good law giver is to make citizens good. In his defense, one of Socrates’ accusers makes the same point. When I taught those thinkers, it struck me that if Aristotle had a chance to read the American founding documents—pursuit of happiness, that is, leaving an individual to his own devices, without any moral compass—he would give the Founding Fathers an F. The idea that human behavior can be left unregulated would be preposterous to the ancients.

Now, given the American Founding Fathers’ brilliance, did they miss something? It is unlikely, which leads me to my question. The US was founded by the sectarian Protestants, with a very strict moral code. They, particularly Jefferson, could believe that the public realm can remain neutral because the citizens’ religiosity, or the Churches, will keep pumping, so to speak, the moral code. What are your thoughts on this?

NC: I think you are correct. The U.S. is, as Samuel Huntington said, an Anglo-Protestant culture. I would also make the case that since Mill and Nietzsche, it has become necessary to find an intellectual/cultural defense of the values of such a Protestant culture not tied to a specific theology as traditionally understood. I have tried to make such a case in a way that is compatible with some but not all traditional forms of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Curiously, we live now in an increasingly secular culture where clergy who no longer believe in God are attracted both to mindless defenses of abstractions, like tolerance of intolerant religious sects and movements, and, at the same time, a therapeutic view of the welfare state as the new moral community. When I meet such people, I am not sure whether I should laugh or cry. Perhaps we need a new Reformation. This is part of what it means to retrieve our moral tradition in a new context. Retrieving a tradition can never be a simple matter of an uncritical return to the past. Instead, it is the re-identifying of something that is a permanent part of the human condition, even though it is always expressed in specific historical contexts.

ZJ: Now, 250 years later, with the decline of religiosity, low church attendance—and the same seems to be true of Judaism (as my Orthodox Rabbi friend tells me, reformed Judaism is likely to cease to exist in a few decades) – there is no moral or ethical powerhouse. It is almost as if Sartre and de Beauvoir’s dream came true. Everyone invents his own moral code, lives according to his own rules. Are we becoming a nihilistic society? Is this nihilism?

NC: I would make two points. First, there are lost souls, some of whom embrace the latest fashionable, and sometimes destructive, enterprise association. Second, nihilism is not to be confused with moral pluralism. We have always lived in a morally pluralistic world. The mistake we have always made is to try and find the one new true collectivist faith and impose it on others.

What we need, and what we have to some extent, is a plurality of substantive moral communities who need to agree on common procedural norms. I think many such communities exist. I think some of those communities presently lack the internal resources to agree to common procedural norms. In our book on The Anglo-American Conception of the Rule of Law, my wife Nadia and I have tried to show how this is possible and actual.

ZJ: Just like Mill, Jefferson was hostile to aristocracy, in his own, so to speak, American way. He saw it as an extension of monarchical order rather than a class, or much less so, because in one of his letters, he made a very strong case for aristocracy of spirit, education. He even designed a way how such a democratic aristocracy should be bred. In one letter he made a list of mad European monarchs, which, he thought, to be a very good case for abandoning monarchy as an institution.

Now, let me make this point – seceding from the British Crown, declaring independence from Britain, is one thing, establishing a new political order is another. So, after painful debates, the Americans chose the republic. Here is my question – one could believe, as Jefferson did, back then, that a monarch can become crazy and corrupt, but, one could argue, that one can replace a corrupt or mad monarch. However, when the masses become corrupt, what then? What can you do? And our present social and political situation seems to point to a number of problems which, on an individual scale, you could term unhealthy, or even insane.

NC: There are a number of issues here that need to be separated. First, I do not believe that the “masses” correctly captures the major issues. There are many people who cannot be classified as “intellectual,” but who are decent individuals and responsible citizens. You do not get to be decent and responsible by having a Liberal education. Second, the social pathologies I do see reflect the failure of major institutions (e.g. family, schools, religions). The failure of those institutions I would attribute to the false idea that we can have a social technology (i.e. the Enlightenment Project).

ZJ: You are an academic, having spent your life in academia. But you are more. You are associated with the Liberty Fund. When I think of the several conferences that I attended, I cannot resist the feeling that I have never, and I mean it, participated in more intense intellectual life than during the two days of their sessions. It is not only a well-organized setting, but it is a place where ideas matter. I am sure that you will agree with me. No university produces such an intense intellectual atmosphere as does the Liberty Fund. Do you agree?

NC: I would indeed agree. As long as the administration of Liberty Fund is true to donor intent, and is not captured by ideologues with a program, it remains the premier educational institution in America. Again, I would argue that the intellectual world in the last century has been a captive of the Enlightenment Project program of social technology. So-called higher education now disfigures the intellectual world, the worlds of the clergy, government administration, communication and journalism, law schools, teacher training, business, the arts, etc. At the risk of sounding self-promoting, higher education now controls the commanding heights of all that is wrong with our society.

ZJ: Given the absolutely dreadful state of education and universities in America, do you see a way out? The tenured academics will not give up their positions. Has academia been destroyed? Almost every week you can read an article of complaint from retiring academics stating how bad things are. Few people have the courage to stand up; and the majority of professors are afraid—afraid of students and administration. How did we come to be where we are?

NC: This is a long story. I started writing a book about it and became too depressed to finish it. It cannot be reformed internally, in part for reasons to which you have alluded. It can only be reformed from the outside. I do not see that happening in the short run. Our only hope is that it will collapse on itself, and the current financial crisis (student loan debt) may be how it happens. This is not an excuse for doing nothing – we keep up the rear-guard action. What we need to prepare is a positive alternative.

ZJ: What about the Liberty Fund method of education? Don’t you think that there is room for it to do the same kind of seminars with students? That Liberty Fund and other foundations could start real universities where education is what it used to be?

NC: I think the Liberty Fund model is a good one. I also think that education cannot be left to professionals alone. The articulation, defense, and critique of our fundamental norms should go on in every institution. The life of the mind also has intrinsic value. I end this interview as I plan to enter retirement with a program called “Community of Scholars.” Free from the constraints of teaching those who do not want to learn, freed from administrative B.S., free from the tyranny of journal editors and university presses; and with the help of the new technology and social media we can create a vast network of scholars who want to search for and articulate the truth, who want to share – for free – the wisdom of a lifetime of searching, and to do so in the spirit of Mill’s and Nietzsche’s ruthless self-examination. It requires both intellectual and moral virtue. It is our way, perhaps the only way, of keeping the Socratic faith.

ZJ: In 1977 Leszek Kolakowski published his opus magnum, Main Currents of Marxism. Its Rise, Growth and Dissolution. The first volume deals with the founders; the second with the golden age; the third with Marxism’s demise. Kolakowski’s work is, as I like to think about it, a death certificate of Marxist thought issued twelve years before the actual burial of Communism in Eastern Europe, and fourteen years before the end of the Soviet Union.

In his work, Kolakowski describes the vicissitudes of Marxism as a philosophy and practice. You wrote two books on David Hume, a massive book on the Enlightenment Project in analytical philosophy (or conversation!—as you called it), Liberty and Equality in Political Economy: From Locke versus Rousseau to the Present; and just a few months ago, you and your wife Nadia Nedzel, published The Anglo-American Conception of the Rule of Law.

The range of your interests is impressive, but you also wrote a fantastic biography of John Stuart Mill – a great read! Would you feel tempted to write a work on Liberalism à la Kolakowski’s Main Currents of Marxism? You could even title it, “Main Currents of Liberalism.” From our private conversations, I gather that you are thinking about it. Any thoughts on this and how would you structure it?

NC: I am most definitely interested in writing such a book. The general thesis is that what I have called the Enlightenment Project (18th-century French idea that there can be a social science modeled after physical science and that such a social science will give us a social technology) is the origin of Doctrinaire Liberalism, Marxism, and Socialism – these are all expressions of this bad idea (all bad ideas, by the way, come from France).

Doctrinaire Liberalism, I shall argue, is a French abstraction that (a) misunderstands Anglo-American culture, (b) and tries to introduce Anglo-American virtues into the Continent, but mistakes the abstraction for the reality. The mistake is then read-back into Anglo-American culture by British and American scholars and activists – thereby providing a fake history. All versions of the Enlightenment Project ultimately become totalitarian – hence, why what is happening in the U.S. (under the Democrats, not Trump) parallels what happened under Marxism.

ZJ: Marxism died not merely because the countries of real Socialism could not compete with the Western Liberal democracies, because the economy started to crumble, because of politics, etc., but because faith in Marxism died. Marxism, in its different stages of development, was not only a philosophy and political orientation, but a religion that required faith. One could say that its longevity depended on the existence of the believers. A host of intellectuals, writers, artists were Marxists; they gave support to the idea. When they lost faith in it – partly because of the form in which it manifested itself politically and socially – Marxism lost its magical power. Do you find any parallels between Marxism and Liberalism? Liberalism has also evolved, manifesting itself in different ways.

NC: I think you are correct that ideologies die when people lose faith in them. I do not think that this will happen soon in the U.S. In the U.S., the weakening has just begun; we need to make people aware that they are succumbing to an intellectual disease. We need to persist in weakening the faith.

ZJ: At the very end of volume one, Kolakowski characterized Marxism as man’s greatest 20th-century utopia, a flight to freedom. Today, the young generation is not familiar with such a hope and the Socialist idea, but being Politically Correct (with its call to social justice, the abolishing of “power structures,” etc.), which is a reformulation of Marxism. Do you think that the Liberal Idea is another utopia which replaced the old one, Marxism?

NC: Liberalism is just another version. What people confuse is our institutional structure with theory; we need to remind them that our structure is an historical product and not a theoretical product. I tried to initiate that in the book on The Anglo-American Conception of the Rule of Law.

ZJ: There are a number of books on Liberalism, beginning with Hobhouse’s classic, Liberalism (1911), which, in my opinion, comes very close to what we find in Mill’s writings; Harold Laski’s book The Rise of Eurpean Liberalism is another minor landmark in the development of the idea, and a number of minor works (O’Sullivan’s Liberalism, Schapiro’s Liberalism, Brinton’s The Shaping of the Modern Mind, part of which is devoted to liberalism, and so on). What is probably the most ambitious and serious book on the subject is De Ruggierro’s History of European Liberalism. It occurred to me that one could write a book on the development of Liberalism by tracing books called “Liberalism” or “History of Liberalism.” This is a phenomenon in itself, which makes one wonder why Liberals must redefine or readjust the notion of what Liberalism is every decade or so. Do you have an explanation?

NC: There is a disconnect between theory and practice, a disconnect that the discipline of philosophy has encouraged, namely, the belief that we can theorize the relation of theory to practice. Intellectuals, as Schumpeter noted, are the culprits here. Intellectuals so want to be the new clergy, they are unwilling to acknowledge the limits of discursive reason.

We cannot defeat them with more theory; we need to root out the notion that reason exists independent of all context (almost every major philosopher from Plato on has made this mistake). In the 20th-century, only Oakeshott and a few others have tried to reign in this rationalism.

ZJ: Do you think there is a need for a work on Liberalism, like Kolakowski’s Main Currents of Marxism, particularly now that Liberalism has assumed a freedom-threatening posture (I mean the PC movement, which is very destructive, socially, politically and culturally), just like Marxism before? Need the people be reminded how Socialism began and deteriorated? Liberalism is no longer an idea that promises liberation from the shackles of oppression but, like Marxism, has become an oppressive system, very much like what Tocqueville feared democracy would become.

NC: Several of us should write about it – not one book but a host of books. I do not think “democracy” is the problem. I think the problem is a collection of elites (academe, journalism, military, business, Hollywood, technicians in IT, etc.).

ZJ: Does Liberalism require and depend on faith as much as Marxism did? When this faith dies, does the Liberal Idea die with it?

NC: It is the same faith. We need to make clear what that faith is. Voegelin identified it as Gnosticism, a form of Pelagianism. It will never disappear; it will simply assume new guises. We have to be patient in dealing with its eternal return.

ZJ: Under Communism, where I spent the first 25 years of my life, we had a mild Marxist-Leninism indoctrination (it was not that mild in the 1950s or the 1960s); but no one believed this ideological rubbish. Opposing it meant serious consequences, losing a job, interrogations, prison, sometimes “an accident” (death). But people opposed it; there was an underground/ samizdat press. We would read Hayek, Milton Friedman, Roger Scruton, Kolakowski, and others in horrible underground editions. One book would be read by twenty individuals. People made the effort to clear their minds of the ideological pollution. But now they attend official university classes in feminism, gender studies, environmental justice, domination, patriarchy, colonialism, women in art, literature, and many others.

Here is my question: Why this weakness of man under Liberal Democracy, why such blindness? Is it because Liberal Democracies do not go after your body, but your soul, as Tocqueville observed? People prefer to lose their souls – integrity, conscience – than their jobs? This is not a recent phenomenon. Tocqueville saw it in 1835!

NC: We have to remember that the vast majority of Americans do not have college degrees; that the U.S. culture is not primarily an intellectual culture but a practice/pragmatic culture. The infected part of the population consists of two groups: (a) Intellectuals taking their cue from the Continental abstractions I previously identified, and (b) College students – most of whom are disinterested in ideas.

The public has been totally turned off by the media journalists (“fake news”), so they remain uninfected; and the public is largely oblivious to what goes on in higher education and still thinks it is about getting a better job. The problem is the intelligentsia (vast literature on why totalitarianism appeals to them) and the intellectual students who are indoctrinated. Most students are ignorant, disinterested, turned off, and remain quiet as a defensive maneuver.

It is OUR job to attack the intelligentsia (and remain unpopular with fellow faculty) to educate and re-educate those bright students with whom one comes into contact, and to reassure, by our opposition, the disinterested students that they do not have to take left-wing intellectuals and faculty seriously. The latter, ironically, may be the most effective thing we do.

ZJ: Thank you, Professor Capaldi, for this wonderful conservation!

The image shows, “Danish soldiers return to Copenhagen, 1849,” by Otto Bache; painted in 1894.

A Polish version of this interview appeared in Arcana.