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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

II.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

III.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IV.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Western Civilization Must Be Affirmed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Founding A Real Christian University In An Age Of Unreality

The Age Of Unreality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Real Christian University (RCU)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Education Into Reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lovers Of The Real

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There will be practical, skills courses on economic independence and self-sufficiency. There will be deep teaching in psychology, especially psychopathy, narcissism, and ritual scapegoating. In sum, to claim that our students will become aware of the actual world in which they live and adept at Socratic inquiry and dialectics would be a bit of an understatement. Lastly, education of their hearts to love the One, Good, True, and Beautiful will take precedence over mere intellectual formation.

In a future essay I hope to delve into the details of what this would look like in terms of mission, curriculum, pedagogy, and culture. To give you a taste, let’s just say that Jacques Ellul’s Propaganda, Andrzej Łobaczewski’s Political Ponerology, and the complete works of René Girard will be some of the Great Books we study; courses will include the liberal art of deconstructing media and government narratives, the history of false-flag terrorism, the nature of the Deep State, Catholic prophecies if Antichrist, and the reality and power of occult societies, such as Freemasonry. There will be practical, skills courses on economic independence and self-sufficiency. There will be deep teaching in psychology, especially psychopathy, narcissism, and ritual scapegoating. In sum, to claim that our students will become aware of the actual world in which they live and adept at Socratic inquiry and dialectics would be a bit of an understatement. Lastly, education of their hearts to love the One, Good, True, and Beautiful will take precedence over mere intellectual formation. For it is only wise and prudent, loving and courageous hearts that can supplant the Age of Unreality with the Civilization of Love, and usher in the Great Era of Peace.


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


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

Antiquity Under The Guise Of Melancholy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ai= Qi/ t2

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

American Anorexia: The Thin Mind Casts No Shadow

1.

There are at least two definitions for barbarism, neither sympathetic to the innate dignity of the human person. Barbarism is extreme cruelty or brutality, evoking mindless savagery, callous disregard for life, and a cold-blooded viciousness that brooks no mercy; where barbarism rules, culture and civilization will inevitably be corrupted and crushed. History is witness to this; barbarism has existed since God first created man. Whether it has been brother against brother, tribe against tribe, nation against nation, ruler against subjects, it is only the scale that differs, the results are always the same: civility and culture are early victims of decay, oppression, persecution, and inevitably, proscription.

Barbarism is the antithesis of civilization and the destroyer of culture, though contrary to what one might assume, while lacking in objective principles, it adopts pseudo-principles expressed as saccharine euphemisms to justify its brutal disregard. The most barbaric acts of oppression have always been justified through abstractions—utopian phantasms achievable only through the coarsest application of totalitarian diktat and force. In the post-modern world few are wont to believe there are barbarians and barbarism, except perhaps in the movies; but, to use the words of Thomas Sowell, “The barbarians are not at the gates. They are inside the gates—and have academic tenure, judicial appointments, government grants, and control of the movies, television, and other media.”

The twenty-year war, disastrously lost, in Afghanistan exemplifies what Eighteenth century Scottish philosopher David Hume claimed in A Treatise of Human Nature:

“When our own nation is at war with any other, we detest them under the character of cruel, perfidious, unjust and violent: but always esteem ourselves and allies equitable, moderate and merciful. If the general of our enemies be successful, ‘tis with difficulty we allow him the figure and character of a man. He is a sorcerer: he has a communication with daemons … he is bloody-minded and takes a pleasure in death and destruction. But if the success be on our side, our commander has all the opposite good qualities, and is a pattern of virtue, as well as of courage and conduct. His treachery we call policy: His cruelty is an evil inseparable from war. In short, every one of his faults we either endeavor to extenuate, or dignify it with the name of that virtue, which approaches it. ‘Tis evident that the same method of thinking runs thro’ common life.”

According to David Livingstone Smith, Less Than Human, Hume quite elegantly described what “present-day social psychologists call outgroup bias—the tendency to favor members of one’s own community and discriminate against outsiders (otherwise known as the ‘us and them’ mentality).” When things go badly for our group, tribe, etc., it is due to some perceived injustice—racism the current cri de coeur—but when the shoe is on the other foot, it is because the other brought it upon themselves, they deserved what they got.

“Hume takes the idea of outgroup bias even further by arguing that sometimes we are so strongly biased against others that we stop seeing them as human beings.” He described “three powerful sources of bias, arguing that we naturally favor people who resemble us, who are related to us, or who are nearby. The people who are ‘different’—who are another color, or who speak a different language, or who practice a different religion—people who are not our blood relations or who live far away, are unlikely to spontaneously arouse the same degree of concern in you as members of your family or immediate community.”

Or, one could add, those who differ ideologically, politically, religiously, or any of a myriad of social and cultural diversions.

Immanuel Kant, a German academic, saw things differently. He recognized the human tendency to regard people as means to an end, thus (though he never used the term) dehumanizing others, effectively categorizing them as subhuman creatures. He wrote, “man should not address other human beings in the same way as animals but should regard them as having an equal share in the gifts of nature.” “Equal share” sounds far too much like equity which proves no small comfort. When we regard people as a means, we suspend the moral obligation to treat them as fully human. This then grants free conscience to cancel, ostracize, or exterminate such subhuman creatures as we please.

What is it within the human psyche that permits such dehumanization? How can we objectively know that all people, no matter their superficial distinctiveness, are full members of homo sapiens? Smith writes, “Although we now know that all people are members of the same species, this awareness doesn’t run very deep, and we have a strong unconscious (‘automatic’) tendency to think of foreigners as subhuman creatures. This gut-level assessment often calls the shots for our feelings and behavior. We can bring ourselves to kill foreigners because, deep down, we don’t believe that they are human.”

Closer to home, dehumanization is starkly presented through distraction by abstraction: it is no longer your neighbor, it is not your friend, nor your brother or sister, son or daughter. No, it is the unvaccinated (show me your papers,) the undocumented (no papers required,) the insurrectionists, white supremacists, and domestic terrorists (who they might be is undocumented) that have become the focus, the individual is insignificant, it is the group, the tribe, the cult, the mob that must garner our undivided attention as the greatest existential threat to democracy or its victim.

Smith cites John T. MacCurdy, The Psychology of War (1918), who noted when tensions are high, “[t]he unconscious idea that the foreigner belongs to a rival species becomes a conscious belief that he is a pestiferous type of animal.” There are more than enough examples to prove MacCurdy’s point. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, for whom he dedicated it “to all those who did not live to tell it.” Mao Zedong’s cannibalistic “Cultural Revolution,“ resulting in 60-70 million deaths. The ongoing Islamic jihad against the infidel: “Surely the vilest of animals in Allah’s sight are those who disbelieve” (Koran 8:55).

Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, offers a deeply grim portrayal of dehumanization from his experiences in four concentration camps, including Auschwitz near Oświęcim, Poland. It is said that there were days in summer when it snowed in Oświęcim, so heavy were the ashes emitting from the furnaces cremating the dead.

And yet, Frankl survived and wrote what Harold S. Kushner described as one of the most religious sentences written in the twentieth century:

“We have come to know Man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.”

Tragically, history is replete with similar dehumanizing pathologies; nothing has changed, man’s barbaric nature continues, hellbent on destroying himself.

2.

According to Richard John Neuhaus, “Culture is the root of politics, and religion is the root of culture.” This proverb commands a hierarchy whose order of importance is much more than illusory. Politics is not the root of the cultural tree but its fruit, culture is not the root of religion but the moral product of reason and objective truth.

Thus, politics to be good and just must be rooted in a culture grounded in natural law and moral and ethical tradition. For the West, for more than a millennium, such tradition has been monotheistic, predominately Judeo-Christian, which philosopher Peter Kreeft, How to Destroy Western Civilization, notes, at its core has long professed that “[e]very man is an end in himself. Man is the only creature God created for his own sake. Cultures, civilizations, nations, and even religions exist for man, not man for them. And they are judged by how well they serve man, not by how well man serves them.”

This, of course, echoes Scripture: “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27) which by all indications modern man has either willfully forgotten, or as more likely, has narcissistically chosen to ignore. Yet, ever more so, a higher probability rests in man choosing a god more profane, one less intransigent, certainly less creative, willing to bend the truth to fit the progressive narrative.

Every country has a civic religion and America’s civic religion, since its founding, has been wedded to Natural Law and Judeo-Christian tradition—”the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” as written in the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. There are people who claim they are not religious, that belief in a transcendent being is superstitious nonsense. Thus, they will argue, faith expressed in the public square is prohibited by the First Amendment to the Constitution, which is fallacious on its face—but they know that as well as anyone. Those who insist on ramming the Bible and religious dogma down everyone’s throats are cultists, evangelical bigots, Bible thumpers, primitive deplorable fools.

The enlightened secular humanists say and act as if they have no faith, and yet, their ideology, now pervasive on the progressive left, is much more a zealous faith—a zealotry which tolerates no dissent. The secularists, for the moment, have won and their zealots (the Woke Cancel Culture mob) control the language, what can and cannot be said.

Former speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan said in an interview, “I remember when the gay marriage decision was handed down by the Supreme Court, the Harrisburg Patriot in Harrisburg, PA wrote an Op Ed saying, ‘We are no longer going to carry letters to the editor that oppose gay marriage because it is now hate speech.’ So, if you dissent from the orthodoxy of this secular (zealous) religion, you are a hater, a bigot, a racist—pick the term. And you are a bad person who must be silenced. And that proves my point, that their religious zealotry is a lot—talk about someone hammering a point of view down your throat—not only do they hammer it down your throat, but they also sew your mouth shut so you can’t say anything about it.”

Though they deny it, the left believes this, it is their orthodoxy, their religious faith: they are right, you are wrong, but, not only are you wrong, what you believe is hateful. Beliefs that have been around for millennia have become anathema and those who continue to believe are haters and must be silenced.

Cruelty is not limited to the barbarian. Any man, under parlous circumstances, can be cruel to other men. For the main, men are tempered by religion and a moral code, thus, such cruelty generally appears coincident with personal danger or tyranny. “And if anywhere in history masses of common and kindly men become cruel,”

Chesterton would argue, “it almost certainly does not mean that they are serving something in itself tyrannical (for why should they?). It almost certainly does mean that something that they rightly value is in peril, such as the food of their children, the chastity of their women, or the independence of their country. And when something is set before them that is not only enormously valuable, but also quite new, the sudden vision, the chance of winning it, the chance of losing it, drive them mad. It has the same effect in the moral world that the finding of gold has in the economic world. It upsets values, and creates a kind of cruel rush.”

Elsewhere, Chesterton wrote:

“When I was about seven years old I used to think the chief modern danger was a danger of over-civilisation. I am inclined to think now that the chief modern danger is that of a slow return towards barbarism…. Civilisation in the best sense merely means the full authority of the human spirit over all externals. Barbarism means the worship of those externals in their crude and unconquered state.”

As if he were writing these words in the here and now, Chesterton writes as if of the new barbarism:

“Whenever men begin to talk much and with great solemnity about the forces outside man, the note of it is barbaric. When men talk much about heredity and environment they are almost barbarians. The modern men of science are many of them almost barbarians…. For barbarians (especially the truly squalid and unhappy barbarians) are always talking about these scientific subjects from morning till night. That is why they remain squalid and unhappy; that is why they remain barbarians.”

CS Lewis wrote in The Abolition of Man, “We reduce things to mere nature in order that we may ‘conquer’ them” which serves to prove man’s desire for a profane god that can be controlled, or at the very least, modified to suit. The crisis of the West, according to Lewis, is really a crisis of reason, a crisis of reason’s ability to know nature, that at the origins of modern science, it was necessary to think of nature in quantitative—measurable and predictable—rather than qualitative terms in order to gain power over it.

“We are always conquering Nature because ‘Nature’ is the name for what we have, to some extent, conquered. The price of conquest is to treat a thing as mere Nature.” So, we reduce nature to quantity so we can control it, but whenever we do so, we lose some of nature’s quality. “Every conquest over Nature increases her domain. The stars do not become Nature till we can weigh and measure them: the soul does not become Nature till we can psychoanalyze her. The wresting of powers from Nature is also the surrendering of things to Nature.”

Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) in Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, is even more explicit, amplifying in many ways what Lewis had only imagined:

“Less visible, but not … less disturbing, are the possibilities of self-manipulation that man has acquired. He has investigated the farthest recesses of his being, he has deciphered the components of the human being, and now he is able, so to speak, to ‘construct’ man on his own. This means that man enters the world, no longer a gift of the Creator, but as the product of our activity—and a product that can be selected according to requirements that we ourselves stipulate. In this way, the splendor of the fact that he is the image of God—the source of his dignity and of his inviolability—no longer shines upon this man; his only splendor is the power of human capabilities. Man is nothing more now than the image of man—but of what man?”

“As long as this process stops short of the final stage,” Lewis wrote, “we may well hold that the gain outweighs the loss,” because it is true that the reduction has given us significant scientific benefits in medicine and technology.

“But as soon as we take the final step of reducing our own species to the level of mere Nature, the whole process is stultified, for this time the being who stood to gain and the being who has been sacrificed are one and the same. This is one of the many instances where to carry a principle to what seems its logical conclusion produces absurdity.… it is the magician’s bargain: give up our soul, get power in return. But once our souls, that is, ourselves, have been given up, the power thus conferred will not belong to us. We shall in fact be slaves and puppets of that to which we have given our souls.”

The obvious questions one should ask are what prevents us from reducing ourselves to mere nature like the rest of things? What prevents us from reducing ourselves to mere quantity and not quality? The truth, readily available to eyes that wish to see, “if man chooses to treat himself as raw material, raw material he will be: not raw material to be manipulated, as he fondly imagined, by himself, but by mere appetite, that is, mere Nature, in the person of his de-humanized Conditioners.”

We have reduced modern man to mere quantity; no longer do we see man a rational being with an immortal soul. No more is man made in the image and likeness of his Creator, man has been quantitatively redefined, reconstituted into whatever image he desires—transgenderism and sexual orientation perhaps the most obvious— the inestimable quality of man thus reduced to subjective material value. And, sadly, that is not worth much. The elements in the human body are worth about $585. According to one source, 99% of the mass of the human body consists of six elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus, worth approximately $576; all the other elements taken together are worth only about $9 more.

“A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.” Ratzinger, in raising the alarm, noted how we are living in a period of great dangers, “During the past century, the possibilities available to man for dominion over matter have grown in a manner we may truly call unimaginable. But the fact that he has power over the world has also meant that man’s destructive power has reached dimensions that can sometimes make us shudder. Here, one thinks spontaneously of the threat of terrorism, this new war without national borders and without lines of battle.… this has induced even states under the rule of law to have recourse to internal systems of security similar to those that once existed only in dictatorships; and yet the feeling remains that all these precautions will never really be enough, since a completely global control is neither possible nor desirable.” He goes on to say that the truest and gravest danger at the present moment is the imbalance between technological possibilities and moral energy. “The security we all need as a presupposition of our freedom and dignity cannot ultimately be derived from technical systems of control. It can come only from the moral strength of man, and where this is lacking or insufficient, the power man has will be transformed more and more into a power of destruction.”

3.

The brutal dehumanization experienced under hard totalitarian regimes, however, is not the only form of barbarism, there is a softer, more insidious form, which—like cooking a frog by slowly turning up the heat—relies on the inattention of the masses to the soft tyranny inexorably imposed by those who would wield power over them. Zbigniew Janowski knows well from personal experience the brutality and death that comes from that particularly pernicious form of barbarism which he describes in Homo Americanus. But perhaps because of his own lived experience he also recognizes more than many in the West, especially in America, that liberal democracy can itself be as barbaric and cruel, especially without a strong moral compass to temper the powerful urges of those (Lewis’ Controllers) who would wield power.

“The absence of brutality and death in soft-totalitarianism makes it more difficult to perceive the evil of equality.” He notes that though the barbarism experienced under communism provided fertile ground for opposition and dissidents, “the other reason why dissent grew under communism was a strong sense of moral right and wrong taught by religion.” In Poland, “where the Church was strong, ideological opposition was unprecedented.”

Janowski believes the rapid decline in religiosity among Americans may be one reason why this country is well on its way to becoming a totalitarian state.

“Young Americans’ sense of right and wrong seems weak, and if it is strong, it is often limited to students who graduated from religious, predominantly Catholic, schools. One can add that the weak perception of evil may stem from the fact that Americans have not experienced the atrocities that other nations have; they don’t even know about them.”

Janowski’s point is important. Most young Americans have no clear recollection of barbarism on American soil, even worse, they have little or no understanding of it, thus, no comprehension of the barbaric underpinnings of either communism or liberal democracy. The twenty year “war” in Afghanistan has long lost any significance to those born in the twenty-first century. What precipitated it has long been forgotten, memory holed by those self-same tenured academics, judicial activists, leftist politicians, and the complicit media.

Many of those young Americans, if asked, have little awareness of or concern for the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001. Too many have been indoctrinated into believing that any mention of the radicalized Islamic terrorists who committed the heinous attacks is evidence of Islamophobia and overt racial bigotry—quite ignorant of the fact that Islam is neither race nor ethnicity, but rather, both a religion and a political system (Sharia). Islam is the name of a religion, just as Christianity, Judaism, or Buddhism; none favor or are peculiar to a particular race or ethnicity.

Josef Pieper, German Catholic philosopher, once reflecting upon the power of language, wrote, “Words convey reality” which is eminently true as far as such a brief aphorism can connote. However, precision and truth matter; words tossed carelessly together without thought convey nothing of substance.

Orwell, in his classic essay “Politics and the English Language” (1946) said as much when critiquing the dismal state of the English language. He wrote that quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities were common: staleness of imagery and a lack of precision. “The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not.”

I cannot help but add another, the writer intentionally writes in such a way as to obfuscate, confuse, deceive, or distort the message. Orwell decried the unthinking emptiness behind the rhetoric of the communist hacks of his day.

“This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.”

The West has gone soft and squishy. In a very real sense, the language has decayed so much it now quite completely contradicts Pieper’s otherwise sage proverb. Ideological gibberish has replaced precision in our language. Our language, as Ryszard Legutko recently wrote, has become extremely boring: a monotonous repetition of the same phrases and slogans. But, in fact, it is far worse than that, for our language has become foul, vulgar, mendacious nonsense borne out of vincible ignorance and sloth. Interestingly, as much as the tenured academics, power elites, corporate oligarchs, and propagandizing media would insist otherwise, such sins of omission and commission are not relegated solely to the unwashed, uneducated deplorables. A degree does not preclude vincible ignorance; any reasonable person could, based on encounters with teachers, students, and graduates, come to the somewhat droll conclusion that it positively guarantees it.

In recalling his years under communism, Legutko notes, “The purpose of the political language was mostly ritualistic. The language was a major tool in performing collective rituals whose aim was to build cohesion in the society and close it, both politically and mentally, within one ideological framework.”

And yet, perhaps it was Orwell who said it best, “modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug. The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy. It is easier—even quicker, once you have the habit—to say ‘In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that’ than to say ‘I think.’”

It has been said before but bears repeating, “Thinking is hard work.” As Andrew Younan, Thoughtful Theism: Redeeming Reason in an Irrational Age, explains:

“That’s why, if I can make a mean generalization, so few people do it. Believing is, in itself, pretty easy, though oftentimes the consequences of belief can be deeply challenging. Having an opinion is the easiest thing of all. Thinking is the process whereby our minds attempt to arrive at a true understanding of reality, which, if successful, leads to knowledge.” Arriving at the truth is a matter of thinking, not of feeling as so many are convinced. Younan adds, “thinking isn’t just hard work; it takes a lot of time and patience as well…. The truth of reality is not bound by your personal ability to argue or understand. Reality is what it is, independent of anyone’s competence, and the real goal, if you are an honest person, is not to win an argument but to understand the world.”

Of course, truth is, so few living today know how or bother much to think, it is far easier to sit back and leave the thinking to others. We have come to depend on experts, to trust the “science” without question. We forget or have forgotten to trust in our innate ability to reason, to think for ourselves.

“There’s a lot more to a human being than meets the eye, and someone can be brilliant in one area and make enormous mistakes in reasoning or leaps of logic in another area. This includes your parents, your pastor, and all of your teachers.”

Education (government/public) no longer educates, no longer trains minds to think and to reason, it indoctrinates, its purpose to produce compliant drones incapable of independent thought. Younan concludes with this advice to young students, “This has everything to do with you, and you have to trust that your own mind is capable of working through every side and of finding an answer if there is an answer that can be found” which, somewhat paradoxically, leads to a final thought: no one reads anymore. No one reads for the same reason they no longer think: reading requires thinking and both demand strenuous mental exercise. We have grown complacent and comfortable in our ignorance. They call it the boob tube for a reason. As long as we have three hots and a cot and a smartphone to play Candy Crush we are smugly satisfied.

There is a prevailing mythos with respect to higher education which presents degreed individuals as in the majority. This is, at best an enormous overstatement. According to 2019 census data, the percentage of individuals 25-44 years old having earned an undergraduate or post-graduate degree was 37.1 percent for the United States. Broken down by state or district, the indicators represent where college degree holders live, not where they were educated. As might be expected, the District of Columbia holds top spot with 70.4%, Mississippi takes the bottom spot at 22.7%. Thirty-one states are below the national average, East Coast states are among the highest, ranging between 40-52%.

There are three important takeaways from this: first, the preponderance, almost two-thirds, of those within the reported age group are not college educated and live for the most part somewhere between the two dense urban coasts; second, if the output of the academy is predominantly socialist cant, then what does that say for the ideological mindset of the denizens of the District of Columbia; and third, given the underwhelming product of the overwhelming majority of academic institutions in this country, one would be well within their rights to ask who is the more ignorant? Ask a farmer in flyover country who was the first president of the United States and odds are good his answer will be George Washington. Ask a student or a recent graduate the same question and the odds of a correct answer are no more than one in ten, if that. The truth is education has become a tool for inculcating the progressive ideology into the minds and hearts of our youth.

Orwell called it thoughtcrime: politically unorthodox thoughts, such as unspoken beliefs and doubts that contradict the tenets of the dominant ideology; thus, the government controlled the speech, the actions, and the thoughts of its citizens.

In Homo Americanus, Janowski provides further insight. “The danger of the new dialectical thinking is that we no longer operate in the realm of facts, physical reality, established social norms, shared moral and intellectual assumptions, or even a common understanding of the normal and abnormal, sane and insane, but we must operate in the realm of someone else’s mental universe, which we are forced to ‘respect.’ … My perception of the world and, therefore, my existence is a psychological onslaught of someone’s perception of the same world, and my crime lies in that I do not recognize that someone else feels differently.”

The Venerable Fulton J. Sheen wrote in Communism and the Conscience of the West (1948) of the decline of historical liberalism and the rise of the antireligious spirit:

“It is characteristic of any decaying civilization that the great masses of the people are unconscious of the tragedy. Humanity in a crisis is generally insensitive to the gravity of the times in which it lives. Men do not want to believe their own times are wicked, partly because it involves too much self-accusation and principally because they have no standards outside of themselves in which to measure their times. … The tragedy is not that the hairs of our civilization are gray; it is rather that we fail to see that they are.”

He went on, citing Reinhold Niebuhr, “Nothing is more calculated to deceive men in regard to the nature of life than a civilization whose cement of social cohesion consists of the means of production and consumption.”

Such calculated deception is now evident in most of the West. Nearly two decades earlier and ninety years in the past, Sheen observed in Old Errors and New Labels (1931), “[t]here has sprung up a disturbing indifference to truth, and a tendency to regard the useful as the true, and the impractical as the false. The man who can make up his mind when proofs are presented to him is looked upon as a bigot, and the man who ignores proofs and the search for truth is looked upon as broadminded and tolerant.”

4.

At its core, barbarism sees the world as through a carnival fun-house mirror—without the fun part, dark, distorted and ugly—much as O’Brien tells Winston in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four:

“The old civilizations claimed that they were founded on love and justice. Ours is founded upon hatred. In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph, and self-abasement. Everything we shall destroy—everything. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.”

The core of every totalitarian ideology, be it Marxism, socialism, communism, fascism, or any variant ism rests on the idea that there is no afterlife. As John Lennon so fatuously put it, “no hell, no heaven, no religion, too.” Without the promise of life everlasting, there can be no incentive to be obedient, to behave rationally or morally. Janowski, referring to Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler’s fictionalized account of the Stalinist trials and confessions, reinforces O’Brien’s declaration:

“Fear, and fear only, can make people obey in this life. If you rebel, you will be killed, but before we kill you, we will give you an option. You can make a sacrifice for the sake of others—let your death be a warning to others not to rebel. … Your confession and death may even be considered acts of sacrifice for the sake of humanity. Otherwise, you will die uselessly.”

This then is the true face, or the three faces of barbarism, of true evil. In Greek mythology, Cerberus, described most often as a three-headed dog with a serpent’s tail, guards the gates of hell. “Like the meanest junkyard dog imaginable, he lunges to devour anyone who tries to escape.” What do his three heads represent? Power, pride, and prejudice.

Power seems to be an integral part of our humanity. Dwight Longenecker, Immortal Combat: Confronting the Heart of Darkness, describes power as an innate characteristic of man’s free will.

“It is not just that I have power. It feels like I am power, and I assume that the exercise of my power is justified. This is a basic instinct. It is a key to survival. It is unquestioned. I, therefore, see nothing wrong with exercising my power to its greatest extent. To do as I please is as elementary as the need to breathe, eat, and drink, to procreate and live. It never once occurs to me that my will should be curtailed and my power limited in any way. Furthermore, because I have the power to choose, my choice must be the right choice. I must be right. There can be no other option.”

Rational minds can immediately see how such an instinctual human attribute can lead and has led to tragic, too often barbaric abuses of power.

“The total conviction that I am right is the heart of pride, and pride is the second head of the hell hound Cerberus.” Pride is not vanity or arrogance, these are only masks. “Real pride is the overwhelming, underlying, unshakeable, unchallenged, unquestioned, total, and complete conviction that I am right.… Pride is the total, complete, foundational assumption, before all else and above all else, that I am right, that my choices are right, that my beliefs are right, that my decisions are right, that everything I do is right. This complete conviction that I am right is deeply rooted in my character. … Furthermore, power and pride are so basic and deeply embedded in the foundations of who we are that we cannot see them. Power and pride seem like part of the genetic code.… They are deep down. They are invisible.”

“This invisibility of power and pride reveals the third head of Cerberus: prejudice. Prejudice is intertwined with pride and power. To have a prejudice is to prejudge. It means our perceptions are biased: we view the world through tinted glasses. We do not judge objectively, but rather, we approach life’s challenges with our ideas and opinions preloaded. Power allows us to choose, and pride assumes that our choice was the right choice. Therefore, everything in life, from the lunch menu to the news headlines, comes to us through our preexisting assumptions that we have chosen well, that we are right.”

Overweening power, pride, and prejudice are the hallmarks of tyrants, oligarchs, autocrats, and totalitarian regimes. Cerberus may have been a Greek myth, but his heads are with us still. We are living in barbaric times, where the leviathan state threatens to consume the West, including, most noticeably, America. Author Ayn Rand once warned, “We are fast approaching the stage of the ultimate inversion: the stage where the government is free to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission, which is the stage of the darkest periods of human history, the stage of rule by brute force.” That stage has arrived.

Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, famously quipped that “The most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’” The American people have forgotten his admonition. They have forgotten because they have become complacent in their abundance and the comfort such abundance affords them. They have been so comfortable for such a very long time that far too many no longer value liberty and freedom in the way Americans once did, rather, far too many of the American people give greater weight to safety and security, or at least the illusion of it, more than they value freedom and liberty. And the government has taken notice. Ask yourself, with every government overreach, every authoritarian diktat, every tyranny imposed, every right disposed, what is the government’s justification for it? The answer is ironically, for the greater good, for your health and safety, etc., etc.

One example will serve to illustrate the growing tyranny of the state. There is an alarming motion, put forth by the state media and public health experts, to identify and separate the unvaccinated from the vaccinated, to deny services and to isolate those who have chosen not be receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Some pundits have gone so far as to say the unvaccinated deserve to die. At the very least, the unvaccinated should be identified (Star of David?) and, I suppose, cry out “Unclean, unclean” whenever in public. Now, where have I seen that before…

“The leper who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean; he shall dwell alone in a habitation outside the camp” (Leviticus 13:45-46).

The founders of the American idea thought they had designed a limited government subservient to the will of the people. John Adams, the first vice-president and second president, famously wrote, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” The barbarians are inside the gates, and they are neither moral nor religious, they are greedy for power and will do what it takes to obtain and maintain their tyranny and control.

What is less clear to the American people is who is in control. One thing is becoming increasingly obvious: it is not the three branches enshrined in the Constitution. The true power resides in the administrative state, the uncontrollable, unaccountable, unelected bureaucratic ministries that have come to regulate every aspect of American life. And what largesse the bureaucrats provide, the bureaucrats will take away, or as Gerald R. Ford, the 40th vice-president and 38th president, admonished:

“A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.” But, it is the words of Benjamin Franklin, when asked what form of government the founders had created, which should be well remembered, “A republic… if you can keep it.”

Seventy-three years ago, Fulton Sheen saw America for what it was and what it was yet to be. “America, it is said, is suffering from intolerance. It is not. It is suffering from tolerance: tolerance of right and wrong, truth and error, virtue and evil, Christ and chaos. Our country is not nearly so much overrun with the bigoted as it is overrun with the broad-minded. The man who can make up his mind in an orderly way, as a man might make up his bed, is called a bigot; but a man who cannot make up his mind, any more than he can make up for lost time, is called tolerant and broad-minded.

“A bigoted man is one who refuses to accept a reason for anything; a broad-minded man is one who will accept anything for a reason — providing it is not a good reason. It is true that there is a demand for precision, exactness, and definiteness, but it is only for precision in scientific measurement, not in logic.”

Americans are suffering from the severest form of intellectual anorexia. We are told we are intellectually too fat; we are not, we are too thin. We have enslaved our minds, our hearts, and our spirits on a diet of free and easy. It was once said of America that its people cast a big shadow. No more. We have become too thin to cast any shadow at all. The worst of it is no one cares. And that is the surest sign of death and the onset of a new age of barbarism.


Deacon Chuck Lanham is a Catholic author, theologian and philosopher, a jack-of-all-trades like his father (though far from a master of anything) and a servant of God. He is the author of The Voices of God: Hearing God in the Silence, Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories, and four volumes of Collected Essays on religion, faith, morality, theology, and philosophy.


The featured image shows, “TV Sport,” by Pawel Kuczynski; painted in 2017.

The Banality Of The Humanities In Spain

Lucian of Samosata says in his treatise, How to Write History, that one can only be a good historian if one can tell the truth; that is, if one wanted to tell it; and if one did not wish to flatter the powerful. That is why many times the great historians have swum against the current; and when the data are systematized and the usual interpretations are dismantled, a history book can seem impertinent. Such was the case of the book by Darío Fernández-Morera, The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews Under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain. It is a work based on overwhelming evidence, which puts facts before prejudice and goes against the political and academic clichés in force in Spain, which make the image of the past, which is often offered, an inversion of what the past actually was. An example of this is the book by Jorge Elices Ocón, Respeto o barbarie: el islam ante la Antigüedad. De al-Andalus a DAESH (Respect or barbarism: Islam in the face of Antiquity. From al-Andalus to DAESH), which is a faithful portrait, not of the past, but of the political and academic world of Spain today.

In present-day politics of Spain, ideas, controversies and political debate have almost disappeared. Ideas have been replaced by easy-to-use labels, which lack content and are nothing more than a series of words, which fabricate a world parallel to the real world; and the course of this fabricated world is then followed. This is the world of so-called political correctness. And the natural niche in which its slogans are generated in Spain is the academic world.

It is a world of armchair tolerant people, who pretend to redeem the world with their studies, almost always opportunistic and of low academic level, in which they make anachronistic arguments about tolerance in the past.

Such is the case of J. Elices Ocón, who is a perfect example of politically correct opportunism. His book is a doctoral thesis, which is not a guarantee of academic rigor, which was done under the auspices of a project financed with public money, and which shows that getting public money is not a guarantee of anything either. Elices Ocón establishes a continuity between al-Andalus, that is, the Muslim kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula (and his focus is solely on the 10th century), and Daesh, born in Syria ten centuries later, and not in Cordoba, where an important caliphate existed. If he wanted to talk about intolerance in Hispanic Islam, then he would have to examine how the Umayyads had already implanted religious rigorism and oppressed the Christians, and then deal with the Almoravid and Almohad invasions, which took religious rigorism to extreme limits at that time. But that is of no interest to him. In Islam, as in other religions, the demon of hatred, fanaticism and violence always nests in a corner of the soul, which the author seems to want to incarnate exclusively into Christianity.

To demonstrate respect for classical antiquity in Islam, the author limits himself to collecting scattered data on the reuse of capitals, ashlars, and even sarcophagi used as containers for liquids, without realizing that such reuse was common since antiquity, because it takes a lot of work to carve a pillar, let alone make a capital. To be surprised, as Elices Ocón is, that Muslims appreciated the value of the Hispanic Roman aqueducts and bridges, or that Ibn Khaldun, a Muslim historian who believed that history begins with Mohammed, said that the pyramids of Egypt were built by the men of the past and not by mythological beings, can only be explained by his intention to defend, in a wrong way, that there can also be tolerance in Islam, and to confuse tolerance with common sense. Curiously, he hides the fact that, as can be seen in the book by Darío Fernández-Morera, the Muslims destroyed buildings and churches in order to reuse their materials, for example, in the construction of the mosque of Córdoba.

To the quotations of isolated materials, he adds the knowledge of classical texts. The author hides the fact that in the Hispanic Muslim world no one knew Greek, and that Aristotle was translated from Greek into Syriac and from Syriac into Arabic – and by Christian scholars under Muslim rule.

Since Elices Ocón focuses only on the 10th century in Andalusia, he forgets that the Byzantine Empire ended in the 15th century and that it was there that monks preserved classical texts unknown in the West, such as Plato. To maintain that St. Isidore of Seville had less knowledge of the classical world than the supposed Hellenistic scholars of the Caliphate of Cordoba, because Isidore was a Christian, makes no sense. Dioscorides’ book De materia medica, which Elices Ocón cites as an example of interest in the past, was translated into Arabic by a monk sent to Abderraman III by the emperor of Byzantium in order to teach Greek to the slaves in charge of the translation. It was translated for use in medicine, just as Dr. Andrés Laguna would do in the 16th century, when he translated it into Spanish for use as a vademecum. If to this we add that Elices Ocón does not mention that in the Toledo School of translators, promoted by a Christian king, Alfonso X, the translators of Arabic were basically Jews, then we will see how political correctness censors the past and stifles everything.

It is because of political correctness, sold as history and financed by public funds, that it is said that the actions of Daesh can make sense in the context of the struggle against imperialism, citing the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamyan (Afghanistan). It is true that the remains of the past have been destroyed at all times, but it is also true that Islamic fundamentalism in Afghanistan punishes, for example, apostasy from Islam with 20 years in prison, the burning of the Koran with public execution, by stoning in the case of women, and any public criticism of the religion with 8 years in prison, if there is a trial, or with execution by the free will of whoever is considered the just executioner.

Spanish humanists today live in a glass bubble. They write their books to win merit, which has nothing to do with knowledge, but everything to do with the standards that their colleagues create to evaluate and finance themselves with public money. They ignore much of the established knowledge, such as that collected by Darío Fernández-Morera in his systematic study, because they only work to accumulate a capital of minor publications, often in journals that they control or create. That is why they believe that to quote an author is to do him a favor. That is why, as J. Elices Ocón does, when there is a Greek author, such as the geographer Strabo, who has been studied from different perspectives in Spain and in Europe by numerous authors in different books, instead of referring to this whole tradition of studies, he limits himself to citing a minor article in a medium level journal, authored by a researcher – probably a friend – who will thus increase his capital of citations, within the networks of reciprocity and distribution of quantifiable honors that the humanities have become in Spain.

Are these new humanities, which ignore the value of systematic work, of the study of texts in their original languages, and which ignore the moral responsibility of the historian, described by Lucian, of any use? Well, no. The humanities thus understood serve no purpose, and nothing would be lost if they were no longer financed with public funds, because they contribute practically no new knowledge, nor do they have any capacity to take root in the concerns of citizens.

So increasingly, what readers demand from the humanities is offered to them by novels and all sorts of works of fiction, not by humanists. The new purple-prose humanists know that they are incapable of arousing interest beyond their academic bubble. They ask to be financed by the state – but as they know that their works can only be accepted, not read, in the field of propaganda and political correctness, they proclaim themselves prophets of a new banal world, which they call the “digital humanities” and emphasize the value of history as a resource to promote tourism. But then Medina Azahara, on whose door, by the way, the severed heads of the enemies of the caliph were hung as a lesson and warning to one and all – was also destroyed by the Muslims themselves.


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


The featured image shows, “Moors in conversation,” a mural on the ceiling of the Sala de Los Reyes, at the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain, ca. 1375.

A Philosophical Manifesto On How To Escape The Totalitarian Madness

On 16 July 2000, in the inaugural issue of Classical Homeschooling magazine, as part of the founding of the Angelicum Academy Homeschool Program, of which I was Founding Chairman of the Board, in response to the 1962 Port Huron Statement (a manifesto penned by Tom Hayden and presented by the SDS [Students for a Democratic Society]), I wrote two articles.

I did so because I was convinced that the Port Huron Statement was essentially a rationally incoherent first principle and essential cause of the national and global cultural and educational madness that had ensued since that time. To save the West and the world from its disastrous effects, I thought I had to pen a counter manifesto, the content of which is contained in these two presentations. I entitled the first paper, “A Philosophical Call to Renew American Culture: The Homeschool Renaissance.” I called the second, “The Homeschool Renaissance and The Battle of the Arts.”

On 08 April 2008, in Warsaw, Poland, to mark the establishment of the International Étienne Gilson Society—of which I was co-founder and became president—I wrote a third entitled “Why Gilson? Why Now?” to move this Philosophical Call to an international level.

I mention these three articles at the start of issuing a 2021 Philosophical Manifesto to establish my credibility to commonsense cultural, political, and educational readers as an authority on commonsense ways to escape from international global madness.

For over thirty years, I have been predicting and describing with accuracy the coming of this madness. In fact, I first predicted it in 1990, shortly after the crumbling of the Berlin Wall (9 November 1989), as concordist euphoria was sweeping Western Europe’s New World Order leaders, who were giddy with Joachitic enthusiasm over the prospect of finally being able to fulfill Francis Fukuyama’s idea of what was supposed to be “the end of history”—worldwide spread of secular liberal democracies, victory of free market capitalism over Communism, the end of human sociocultural evolution, and the generation of the last and perfect human government.

With the dismantling of Soviet Communism toward the tail end of the 20th-century, this was a time celebrated by Western Liberal Elites in which enlightened, secular liberal democracy would finally transcend the transitional period of Communist dictatorship and eradicate from the world the influence of backward religious consciousness.

I made my prediction in a paper I delivered at a prestigious, historic international colloquium in Treviso, Italy, related to the meeting topic, “Transition in Eastern Europe.” This was the first international congress of global leaders assembled after the Berlin wall fell. Attendees at this meeting included heads of different European parliaments, university dons, and international corporate leaders, including the president of the Bank of Rome. Security for the meeting was exceptionally tight. It included police carrying machine guns, accompanied by German Shepherd dogs. It was co-sponsored by the most prestigious Catholic philosophical organization in Europe and a highly respected German Foundation.

I was the only American invited to be on the program, representing, as its vice-president, the American Maritain Association. The topic about which I was asked to speak was the future of the West. Being young and naïve, and mistakenly thinking at the time that all the conference organizers would be interested in what I had to say about the matter, in my paper (which I had entitled, “The New World Disorder”), I told them what I thought Jacques Maritain would have told them at the time.

Following Gilson’s thinking, which I knew Maritain would have shared, I maintained that, for centuries, a Cartesian conception of human nature had been infecting and weakening Western cultural institutions. I indicated that these institutions had come into existence centuries before Descartes, and had been rooted in an entirely different understanding of human nature and the human person than the one Descartes proposed. I claimed that, by this time in Western history (1990), this weakening of our cultural institutions had become so severe that these misunderstandings were “causing a death rattle within these institutions” that could not be stopped by charms, amulets, contemporary economic theory, or politics of Left or Right. I argued that, instead of being signs of growing world concord, the transitions then occurring in Europe were “readily recognizable as convulsions within the Western conception of man.”

Instead of attempting to restore the West through such misguided means as economic theory and politics, I said that only a complete purging of Western cultural institutions of the Cartesian understanding of human nature would be able to restore Western culture to health. If this view of the human self continued to dominate Western culture, I predicted that: (1) the West would “self-destruct in a cultural collapse,” and (2) “this collapse will, in all probability, be ushered in by new and more exotic forms of fundamentalist-political perversions of the totalitarian state, attempting to unify human society around monolithic myths of race, mechanistic reason, blind evolution, materialistic progress, and so on.”

At this point, the man who headed the German colloquium organization could restrain himself no longer. He set upon me like a wild beast, as if to tear me to bits, immediately standing up, screaming at me several times to “shut up,” and cutting off my speaking time. Not until after the conference was coming to an end and I had started to mingle with audience members did I realize why he had behaved so despotically, and confirmed to many members of the audience the truth of what I was saying. To my pleasant surprise, they surrounded me and congratulated me on my presentation, even though I had totally ruined the first supposedly post-Communist international colloquium co-sponsored by New World Order elites!

Realizing this fact, I decided I had better continue. Hence,

  • my co-founding the International Étienne Gilson Society, in Warsaw, in 2008;
  • my retirement in 2010 from a full-professor faculty position at St. John’s University, in New York;
  • the establishing of the Aquinas School of Leadership (ASL);
  • between 2014 and 2018, co-sponsoring through the ASL, 5 international world congresses on Renewing the West by Renewing Common Sense
  • authoring and co-authoring 6 books related to these topics;
  • and, in 2021, establishing a Commonsense Wisdom Liberal Arts Academy (CWLAA) and Commonsense Wisdom Executive Coaching Academy (CWECA) to replace the failing secular and religious, Enlightenment colleges and universities that are presently collapsing all around us.

In regards to this latest venture, the concept for these academies came to me most precisely recently, as I was doing research to prepare to deliver the 2021 Jacek Woroniecki Memorial Lectures for students at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, in Lublin Poland. These lectures, which were subsequently published under the title, How to Listen and How to Speak: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants to Renew Commonsense and Uncommonsense Wisdom in the Contemporary World, grew out of an idea related to the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas, which he inherited from Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle—that the intellectual virtue of docilitas (docility/teachability) is a necessary condition for being educated. St. Thomas maintained that the moral virtue of prudence—which, he held, is a species of common sense—causes docilitas.

Before being taught outside the home, children generally learn some docility from parents and from their individual conscience, which, according to Aquinas, is the habit of prudence acting as judge, jury, witness, and prosecution of personal choices. In learning docility, we all acquire some common sense.

Common sense is simply some understanding of first principles that are causing some organizational whole to have the unity it has that causes it to tend to behave the way it does. It is an understanding common to anyone who intellectually grasps the nature of something, the way the parts (causal principles) of a whole incline to organize, to generate organizational existence and action. Strictly speaking, common sense is the habit of rightly applying first principles of understanding as measures of truth in immediate and mediated judgment, choice, and reasoning. Considered as such, it is the first measure of right reasoning.

Contemporary Enlightenment colleges and universities are essentially designed to drive out common sense from the psyche of students, and convince them that the only species of understanding (common sense) is mathematical physics. In doing this, it causes students to become anarchists, unteachable, people, out of touch with reality, who cannot tolerate to listen or speak to or with anyone who disagrees with them; and they become people who cannot lead any healthy organization in any healthy way.

Presently, increasing numbers of people who have never researched the nature of common sense, including politicians, are, all of a sudden, starting to realize the crucial import of this notion, for cultural, national and international, peace and sanity. And they are asking for money from others to help them. I have a better idea. They should start to listen to and read the decades of work colleagues of mine and I have spoken and written about related to this subject. It is time for them to donate money to us!

The only method that can possibly work to correct this problem is the one these academies essentially use. This is not because these academies are proposing them, but because they are evidently true to anyone with common sense about human education – such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas.

For those seriously interested in saving the West and the world from contemporary madness, this Manifesto welcomes you to join us at the educational academies most capable of generating tomorrow’s world-class colleges and universities:

Please spread the word to others.


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


The featured image shows, “By Candlelight,” by Konrad Krzyżanowski; painted in 1914.

The Legutko Affair

Ryszard Legutko is one of the leading philosophers of Poland, and has long been on the faculty of Jagiellonian University in Kraków, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious center of higher learning. He was elected to the Polish Senate, and served as the Education Minister and then as Secretary of State. He is currently a member of the European Parliament, and sits as a Fellow at the Collegium Invisible, in Warsaw.

His scholarly focus includes ancient philosophy. He has published a massive study of Socrates, as well as works on the Pre-Socratics, toleration and the problems of capitalism (all in Polish). His books in English include, Society as a Department Store: Critical Reflections on the Liberal State, The Demon in Democracy and more recently, The Cunning of Freedom.


Ryszard Legutko, Polish philosopher and a member of the European Parliament, has two exceedingly rare qualities: He has a mind of his own and courage to speak it. He demonstrated this most recently in his Open Letter to the Rector of the Jagiellonian University, in Krakow, in which Legutko, an emeritus faculty-member, urged His Magnificence to close the newly established Office of Equal Treatment. Considering how much value we attach to the idea of equality today, this is a shocking proposal. However, to those who have read Legutko’s bestselling, The Demon in Democracy. Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies, his stance should not be surprising.

Legutko’s letter to the Rector of the oldest Polish university, founded in 1364, and whose most famous alumnus was Nicholas Copernicus, is not a piece of extravaganza. It points to something that the Poles 30 years ago, when communism collapsed, would never have thought could happen – that universities would become meccas of ideological formation again.

Legutko, 72, scholar of Plato and the translator of his dialogues, was editor of the underground (illegal) journal ARKA, under martial law in the 1980s. He began teaching in the 1970s, when Socialist-egalitarianism was the norm and “equal treatment of students” meant, among other things, that the “sons and daughters of the laboring class and peasants” would get “preferential points” (known as quotas in the US), so that they would get accepted into the university, in case there were doubts about their scholastic aptitude – offering tenure to mediocre but ideologically committed faculty members was not so uncommon.

This was a time when every department had in their ranks a guardian of the official Marxist orthodoxy; and when the idea of socialist equality was an official article of faith. All that was detrimental to a healthy intellectual life of the country. The fight against communism was not merely a war on the nonsense of socialist economic planning, which ruined the country and deprived ordinary people of basic goods – but first and foremost it was a war against equality.

One thought and hoped, as the Polish anti-communist opposition did, that shaking off the burden of socialism would put an end to ideological mind-pollution, and that objective criteria in science and freedom of thought in the humanities would be respected for the good of intellectual and cultural life. However, as the Letter of Legutko’s former colleagues in the Institute of Philosophy shows, the danger is not gone. A new mind-enslaving ideology of equality is operating in full force, and the new philosophers are even more ideologically driven than their cynical counterparts in the past.

From among thirty-some faculty in the Institute of Philosophy, only one refused to vote against Legutko, and one abstained from voting. This is perfect unanimity, which reminds one of how the communist Polit-Bureau voted. The explanation of why Legutko’s former colleagues voted the way they did should not be sought in their fear of being sent to a labor camp, a prison, being interrogated by secret police, or even losing a job. The explanation is that 1989 was not a moment of the burial of ideology but of the replacement of one collectivist ideology (communism) by another collectivist ideology (democratic liberalism), which demands total mind obedience.

Cases of similar behavior among academics are well known from the life of American campuses. In fact, universities in America lead the way, and American academics belong to the most ideologized intellectuals in the world. However, their actions are to some extent understandable: in contrast to the Poles, they never experienced communism; they do not know how destructive ideology can be for the life of the mind; and they are ignorant of what ideology can do to the cultural life of the nation. This may explain their behavior to some extent.

This explanation, however, should not apply to the Poles today, including the Rector of the Jagiellonian University, who surely remembers the “old bad times,” but who, like the faculty in the Institute of Philosophy, chose not to draw the analogy between the past and the present. When someone like Ryszard Legutko dares to refresh their memory of how intellectuals behaved under communism, they use the old method of condemnation of one of their most distinguished colleagues.

There is a difference between today’s academics and those under communism, however. The fight of today’s professors has little to do with “the sons and daughters of the oppressed working class and peasants” whom the communists wanted to push up the social ladder to replace the old class and offer them access to real humane and scientific education that one must acquire to have a better future.

The new “oppressed class” is not the destitute underdogs of old, but the people whose sole preoccupation is their sexual identity and sexual preferences that they force others to accept as a new cultural norm. Since the great majority of the population is resistant, they seek recourse to institutional actions. Equality offices are created for this very reason. However, such offices are not places of learning, but places where the new ideological commissars impose their own egalitarian rules on others. And if you keep resisting, let alone stand up, they offer a collective condemnation.

How does the Office of Equal Treatment inscribe itself in the university’s intellectual and cultural life and that of a country? It does not. Matthew Arnold once wrote: “Culture is the eternal opponent of the two things which are the signal marks of Jacobinism—its fierceness, and its addiction to an abstract system.” The response of the Faculty of Philosophy to Legutko’s letter confirm Arnold’s diagnosis. Equality, like other notions which belong to the same family – brotherhood and social justice – is an abstraction; and let us not forget, all previous attempts to implement it – beginning with the French and Russian Revolutions – brought about terror and cultural destruction. If one wants a proof, one should visit American universities. It is a world in intellectual ruins.

It is unlikely that the study of equality can be helpful in graduating another Copernicus. Considering that the English scientist and Nobel Prize winner Sir Tim Hunt was expelled from his post at the University of London and was forced to step down from the Royal Society for casting doubt on equality, and Albert Einstein has been accused of racism, one can only guess that something like that could happen to Copernicus today as well. Thank God, back then Jagiellonian University did not have the Office of Equal Treatment to ensure that everybody is on the same (ideological) page.

Zbigniew Janowski is the author of several books on 17th century philosophy, and most recently Homo Americanus: The Rise of Totalitarian Democracy in America and editor of John Stuart Mill’s writings.

[Editor’s Note: Below, we provide the translated versions of Professor Legutko’s letter, as well as the letters from faculty members and the student body. We also asked various scholars to respond to what occurred in Krakow. Their responses follow the letters].


The Letter By Ryszard Legutko To The Rector Of Jagiellonian University

His Magnificence, the Rector:

I was astonished to learn that the Jagiellonian University has created and for some time now has been operating an Office dedicated to “equal treatment of the entire UJ student and doctoral community.” This is a very disturbing signal, because it indicates that the Jagiellonian University wants to join the bad practices we see today at universities all over the Western world.

During my long life, I remember a time when members of the academic community were treated really unequally, and this happened during the communist era. At that time, academics all over Poland meekly tolerated political pressure; they submitted to it without protest, and in some cases, they “tasked” themselves – I apologize for the jargon of the communist regime. It would seem that with the collapse of the old regime, the problem of unequal treatment disappeared, and it should certainly disappear as a systemic problem. After all, as I hear, we no longer have one ideology reigning over everything; and there is an academic ethos; there are independent collegiate bodies; and there is the academic community itself representing the highest intellectual elite of the country. Isn’t it enough to maintain good rules of coexistence at the oldest university in Poland? What kind of inequality does the university Office intend to fight against?

I’m not familiar with the activities of this Office, but I know how similar structures function at other universities in the Western world. It’s no secret that in the last few decades, universities have become a breeding ground for aggressive ideology – censorship, control of language and thought, intimidation of rebellious academics, various compulsory training sessions to raise awareness, disciplinary measures and dismissal from work. Groups of student “Hunwejbins” insult dissenting lecturers, break up lectures, and sometimes even carry out physical attacks, all in the face of passivity on the part of partly intimidated, partly conformist faculty.

In all such situations, anti-discriminatory structures become deeply involved, but not on the side of the persecuted but on the side of the persecutors. Sometimes such actions inspire and they justify. I cannot understand why the Jagiellonian University, one of our most serious national institutions, has started to flirt with something that is fatal to the university and to human minds. What inequalities and discriminations do you see at the Jagiellonian University or in Polish academic life today that would justify setting up separate bodies to fight against them?

If we create a structure that is paid for and specially programmed to look for inequalities and discrimination, it is obvious that it will find them quite quickly to prove the reason for its existence, and sooner or later it will take steps that are taken at hundreds of other universities. Besides, the theory that justifies such tracking, which is something like the modern equivalent of Lysenkoism, is constructed in such a way that it will always find inequalities. I know of no case where its application has produced a negative result. The conclusions invariably proclaim the need for increased ideological vigilance and more vigorous counteraction, which predictably generates consequences along with the pathologies indicated above. I have just read that, based on this theory, a “fully scientific” study has been launched at the Jagiellonian University to determine the level of gender inequality. You don’t have to be exceptionally intelligent to know that gender theory lives solely on inventing inequalities, and the more genders it takes in, the more inequalities it finds – and the more drastic measures it demands to combat them. And so, fatal theory justifies fatal practice.

I appeal to you, Rector, to stop similar undertakings and to disband this grotesque university Office. I’m writing this appeal not as a politician, but as a person well acquainted with academic customs and as someone who, being connected with the Jagiellonian University all his adult life, has observed the ups and downs of the university environment. We are dangerously approaching a time of the next Great Trial.

Please accept my respects.

Ryszard Legutko


Response Of The Faculty Of The Department Of Philosophy, Jagiellonian University

The position of the Scientific Council of the Institute of Philosophy of the Jagiellonian University, regarding the open letter of Professor Ryszard Legutko to His Magnificence the Rector of the Jagiellonian University.

Recently, our former colleague, Professor Ryszard Legutko, decided to write an open letter to his Magnificence the Rector ofthe Jagiellonian University. This letter is in connection with the recent attacks on the Jagiellonian University by the Malopolska School Superintendent and the response given by his Magnificence the Rector.

The theses contained in Professor Legutko’s letter are so grotesque that we would gladly drop a veil of compassionate silence. However, we decided to speak out because of the fact that the author of the letter presents himself not as a politician, but as a concerned scholar and long-time employee of the Jagiellonian University. Were we to remain silent, one may get the impression that Professor Legutko’s letter expresses the views of a significant part of the scientific community, or at least of the employees of the Institute of Philosophy at the Jagiellonian University. This is not the case. The views presented by Professor Legutko are extremely contrary to the consensus accepted by the majority of the academic world, including the majority of the employees of the Institute of Philosophy of the Jagiellonian University.

It is about the most fundamental framework of respect for another human being which, in the context of the University’s work, affects to the greatest extent the relationship between the University and the student. Professor Legutko’s letter highlights the sad fact that these things are still not obvious to everyone. Let us therefore repeat them briefly. We would like to firmly emphasize that the staff of the Institute of Philosophy stands absolutely by the side of female and male students, regardless of their life choices, sexual preferences, and gender identities. Defending freedom of choice, tolerance and pluralism are values that are indispensable to us, both in our daily teaching practice and in our understanding of philosophy. For this reason, we do not agree with attempts to limit the freedom of scientific research, even if the researchers use terms and theories that have been cursed by circles that currently aspire to the rule of souls in Poland. The task of science is not to promote a single worldview option, but to enrich knowledge about the world through free discussion and the search for new ways of understanding the world.

For the same reasons, we protest against political interference in the actions that the University undertakes in the interest of the freedom, equality, and security of every person in our community. The University is, by its very nature, a community of learners, of which administrative staff are an important part – a community in which everyone has the right to feel welcome and comfortable. In our view, the actions taken by the University’s Office of Safety and Equal Treatment aim to do just that – to be fully in line with the ethos of a European university. Since these actions are an attempt to recognize the actual state of affairs, and not a top-down imposition of some ideological interpretation, and to name the real, and not imaginary or imagined, problems of the participants of the academic community, we find the analogies in Professor Legutko’s letter to the situation of science and the university during the communist era and to the practices of totalitarian systems in this regard (“Lysenkoism”) completely inadequate. Their tendency and perverse nature is particularly evident when the author of the letter, claiming to be a defender of academic freedom, demands that the Rector of the Jagiellonian University take restrictive measures: to abolish the university’s Office of Safety and Equal Treatment, and to officially renounce “gender theory.”

Therefore, we treat Professor Legutko’s open letter not as a polemical statement within the framework of an academic discussion, or as a civic “free voice, insuring freedom” in defense of the common endangered values and academic freedoms – but as an element of political propaganda and a top-down campaign against the academic community, referring to the social resentment against this community and all elites as something alien and, by definition, undesirable. We express our surprise and regret that our university colleague, whose scientific competence and genuine achievements we respect, has joined this campaign, even if most of us definitely do not share his radical political commitment and do not accept the strictly partisan way of functioning in so-called real politics.


A Letter Addressed To Professor Ryszard Legutko By The Students Of The Jagiellonian University

June 26, 2021.
Open letter from the students of Jagiellonian University
To Professor Ryszard Legutko

Dear Professor,

It is with great sadness and shame that we have read the open letter you sent on 22 June to his Magnificence, the Rector of the Jagiellonian University, Professor Jacek Popiel. Due to its exceptionally offensive nature, we perceived the letter as an action aimed not only at the authorities of our university, but above all at the entire academic community. Seeking to do the right thing, we want to respond to words that violate the dignity of another human being. By the same token, we want to oppose all forms of discriminatory actions carried out by persons performing public functions, especially those whose professional life is connected to the Jagiellonian University.

As students, we have been raised in a spirit of tolerance and respect for others. Our concern for the fate of others is expressed in the acceptance of human difference, including different identities and sexual orientations. Reducing the idea of human dignity expressed by us to any political viewpoint or ideology is not truthful. Your call for the elimination of the Office of Safety and Equal Treatment – Safe Harbor is not a good idea.

Your demand to close down the Office of Safety and Equal Treatment – Safe UJ, which is a consequence of you reducing your concern for human safety to an ideological action. This postulate, due to its great harmfulness, requires our criticism and rejection. According to the regulations in force at the university, in particular § 4 section 2 of the UJ Statute, it is the university’s duty to prevent discrimination and ensure equal treatment of all members of the university community. One form of such activity is that carried out by the Office of Safety and Equal Treatment – Safe UJ. The quality of the work of this Office of the university has always been highly rated by us. Expressing our approval and gratitude for the daily work of the employees of this Office, in last year’s edition of the Student Laudations, on the strength of the votes of the student members of the Senate, an Honorary Laudation was awarded to Ms. Katarzyna Jurzak, the head of the Safe UJ Office.

We note that since 1964 Jagiellonian University has used the motto Plus ratio quam vis (Latin, meaning, “More reason than strength”). See, W. Wołodkiewicz “Plus ratio quam vis – a universal maxim,” in Palestra, 1-2 (2019), p. 11.. Prof. Estreicher, who proposed this motto, supposed it to mean “the advantage of reason over opportunistic reforms imposed on universities,” and to express opposition to the Soviet policy of limiting the freedom of thought! Unlike you, we firmly believe that the opportunistic reforms that may threaten the university today are not those associated with unspecified Western and “aggressive ideologies.” The real threat to Polish universities today is the actions of some politicians, including the Minister of Education and Science, Przemyslaw Chernek, whose aim is to gradually reduce university autonomy.

We have no doubts that your statements concerning unknown ideologies that have taken over the university and Polish public life are only made for specific political needs, in order to arouse voters’ fear of non-existing, external threats. Using the authority of an academic teacher and philosopher for such purposes is deeply inappropriate and should never happen. Furthermore, your repeated invocation of the Christian worldview in formulating this damaging content, given that some of us share similar values, is incomprehensible. Similarly, as it was expressed by his Magnificence, the Rector of Jagiellonian University, Prof. Jacek Popiel, we do not expect apologies. Instead, we ask you to think about the people who, belonging to a minority, have attended or will attend your academic classes in the future. It is in the interest of these people that we have decided to write this letter.

Students of the Jagiellonian University.


Reactions By International Scholars

The official university reactions to the letter by Professor Legutko confirms that the Brave New World of ideological control is no longer a strictly North American phenomenon, but is succeeding in fulfilling its international ambitions. The Office of Equal Treatment, certainly a worthy example of Newspeak, the cause of the affair, seems intended to perform the same roles once fulfilled by the Politruks in the bygone Soviet Era. This is especially worrying at an academic institution, since such witch hunters never employ rational criteria, the basis of science, but rather subjective moral and emotional arguments. Their “scientific” findings are never independently verifiable, those who oppose inculpate themselves, true to Christian Morgenstern’s aphorism “For … that which must not, cannot be.”

We are witness to the rise of a new totalism, in which through denial of objective reason sophisms are construed and implemented. “-Isms” by definition presume that individuals can be classified by subjective criteria which then can be defined “morally” (in its modern definition quite different from “mos” or ἠθικός) into “good” or “bad,” “oppressed” vs “oppressor,” driven by a self-proclaimed elite’s power-hunger, tempered only by self-deception.

That such relativism, in which actions are held to be good or bad, not by their own merits, but according to who does them, is of course by its very nature “morally” self-defeating, which naturally escape’s this ideology’s acolytes.

These Offices, that of the Jagiellonian University is no exception, while proclaiming equality, promotes its antithesis, according to said artificial, ideologically motivated criteria, which transcend and negate knowledge, in inventing victims on the one hand and naturally their oppressors on the other. This presupposes human history has no object of experience with no intrinsic eidos, from which there is no possible escape, hence no notion of freedom, individual or otherwise. This sadly escapes Professor Legutko’s detractors, whose response to his eloquently motivated exhortation was but oblivious ideological slander. While the Soviet Union may have lost the Cold War, Sovietism prepares to take its victory lap. When humanity loses its desire to free Prometheus, it inevitably enslaves itself.

Prof. Dr. Robert M. P. W. Graham Kerr
Research Director
Inârah, Institute for Research on Early Islamic History and the Koran
Saarbrücken, Germany.


I am writing in support of Professor Legutko’s letter, and to express my utter dismay at the response of the Faculty at Jagiellonian University. If experience and history are any guide, Professor Legutko’s warning about the trajectory of “equality” committees (“censorship, control of language and thought, intimidation of rebellious academics, various compulsory training sessions to raise awareness, disciplinary measures and dismissal from work.”) is worthy of serious consideration. The same history, unfortunately, also shows that in times of crisis the position of the faculty is always supine. One would think that by now we would have learned that moral virtue does not depend upon intellectual virtue.

The faculty seems to have lost touch with the traditional role of the university and to have been captured by its recent fashionable post-modern alternatives. As a reminder, the purpose of the university is to provide a setting in which leaners can seek and express the truth. One of the most important ways in which it does this is to engage in the critique of any alleged expression of the truth. Recall Popper’s view that subjecting one’s views to falsification is a necessary test of its truth. We are not free if we are not free to disagree and to criticize.

“Gender theory,” for example, is not a theory; we are not allowed to inquire into the conditions of its potential falsification; we are not allowed even to search for or to present scientific empirical evidence to disprove it. “Gender theory” is an ideology that demands obedience. To disagree with the ‘theory’ is to be told that one is showing disrespect.

I am reminded that those who objected to Marx, to communism, and to socialism in a previous era were denounced as running dogs of Capitalism. I also recall being told that objecting to Freud’s theory was an expression of one’s own sexual inadequacy. I was even informed once by a Dean that silencing those who disrupted a meeting or speaker is to violate the protester’s right of free speech. Do we now live in an Orwellian community of discourse?

On the contrary, I show my respect for your intellect when I engage in polite rebuttal of your views. If I am dealing with a child or an intellectually challenged person, then I use a different rhetoric. It is to be hoped that the faculty and student body of Jagiellonian University are not composed of such groups.

In place of the search for truth, the faculty (whose letter is a text-book case of informal logical fallacies and innuendo) now sees “The task of science is not to promote a single worldview option, but to enrich knowledge about the world through free discussion and the search for new ways of understanding the world.” What is the meaning of ‘knowledge’ if there is no truth? This is but the rhetoric of those who have given up on truth. By castigating Professor Legutko, they are suppressing that very free discussion.

Moreover, are the faculty suggesting that there be, for example, a Office of “Astrology?” After all, professional astrologers (which at one time included Copernicus and Kepler) must be very adept at mathematics, and there is a wide audience for its literature. Are we to award everyone a Ph.D. for fear of offending their feelings or promoting intellectual insecurity? On what basis does the university decide where to employ its finite resources?

I suggest, as well, that students learn the difference between ‘tolerate’ and ‘respect.’ I do not tolerate your ownership of private property, rather, I respect it because I deem your ownership to be legitimate. To ‘tolerate’ is to accept the existence of something that one considers false. The demand to make someone or a view feel “welcomed” and “inclusive” is to demand legitimacy. We are not here to ‘respect’ what is false but to demand the opportunity to criticize it. It is disingenuous to claim to ‘respect’ what is false when all that is needed is toleration.

Nicholas Capaldi
Legendre-Soule eminent Chair of Business Ethics, emeritus
Loyola University, New Orleans


I read, not without some sadness but basically without surprise, the answer of the faculty of the Jagiellonian University to the letter of Professor Legutko. One finds there all the usual method and arguments used and abused by the sheep of the Panurge, anxious not to irritate the jealous guardians of the Empire of the good.

It is the endless recourse to the so-called consensus or even to the pseudo-scientific argument to refuse the debate and to attack the freedom of expression. It is the inevitable mantra, repeated ad nauseam, which manipulates, instumentalizes and prevaricates the concepts of democracy, human rights and European values.

The faculty members do not appreciate being compared to the communist censors and inquisitors of yesterday, but unfortunately they have all the tics and all the defects – they think they know, but they do not know that they believe.

As for the young students who support all this, who are they? How representative are they? In a democracy, what counts is the legitimacy given by the people, not the legitimacy that a minority of activists claim to have.

Professor Arnaud Imatz
French Historian


It has long been my hope that Eastern Europeans could avoid the mental disorder that is now raging in this country and with even more force throughout the Anglosphere and among the Germans. LGBT indoctrination, hatred of the white races and its cultural achievements, and the emphatic denial of intrinsic gender distinctions all belong to this spreading pathology, which has attained epidemic proportions in what is still euphemistically called “higher education.”

Until recently I imagined that the Poles had been spared this virulent pandemic; and I might have entertained that hope at least partly because the advocates of our intersectional Left in what regards itself as the “free world” condemn the Poles as bigoted reactionaries. The Vice-President of the EU, Katarina Barley, who was formerly the German Minister of Justice, rails against the Polish and Hungarian governments as almost equally backward and prejudiced.

While Barley and other German Social Democrats have not yet called for cutting off of economic relations with Poland, as they have done in the case of Hungary, the condemnations of such shrewish hate-mongers made me think that Poland is still in good shape morally and culturally.

Then I learned about the fate of Professor Ryszard Legutko at the Jagiellonian University, a venerable institution founded in 1394, whose faculty Legutko has graced for decades as an outstanding political thinker. His work, The Demon in Democracy, is a book I wish I had written. It is one of the most incisive critiques of the democratic mentality and democratic creed that I’ve encountered. Ironically his present troubles with the Rector and his colleagues at the Jagiellonian University might be explained by reference to this study, which points out the relentlessly egalitarian thrust of democratic ideology. Professor Legutko’s unpardonable sin seems to be his stated disapproval of the Office of Safe and Equal Treatment at his university, which was set up to uncover gender and lifestyle prejudice.

According to his critical response, which was sent to the university rector, offices that are set up to detect discrimination against designated victim group always succeed in coming up with supposedly outrageous cases of what they are established to uncover. Otherwise, they would not be justifying their existence and the moral importance ascribed to their participants. The entire history of our civil rights revolution and the agencies they birthed to combat prejudice would substantiate Legutko’s self-evident observation. But Poland is now being flooded with “American values” in their present form; and in the end, it might like asking sea tides to change to try to stop his institution from looking more and more like our “woke” universities.

But he is right to try to control the zealots among his colleagues by pointing out where their obsession with removing fixed identities has led on these shores. The witch hunt goes on and on without giving evidence of diminishing. And its enthusiasts never recognize the unnaturalness of what they are engaging in, or the scapegoating to which it gives rise.

What Legutko regards as the “grotesque” practice of setting up an anti-sexism department at his institution will likely get worse if it corresponds to the American model. Soon the Jagiellonian University will be hiring transgendered faculty to teach the virtues of transgenderism and creating an entire department to teach Critical Race Theory. I can’t conceive of this nonsense ending with anything as bland or innocuous as ferreting out sexists. Any attempt to arrest this revolution of nihilism, as I argue in a forthcoming book, Antifascism: Course of a Crusade, is associated with “fascism” and by extension, Hitler’s Final Solution. Poland may already have made the fateful turn and is already on the road to antifascist madness.

Dr. Paul Gottfried
American Philosopher and Historian


Yesterday I learnt of the letters by the Philosophy Faculty and some students at the Jagiellonian University denouncing Ryszard Legutko. The occasion of these letters was a letter by Legutko to the university Rector requesting disbandment of the university’s “Office of Safety and Equal Treatment.”

While real philosophers are not pack animals and rarely agree about anything, the Faculty (bar two, I believe) replied that Legutko’s claims were so “grotesque” that they wished that compassionate silence would have sufficed to deal with him (i.e. academic smarmy code for “he is a lunatic”). But that compassion could not be sustained (we are dealing with very moral humans here), because people might have got the impression that Legutko “expresses the views of a significant part of the scientific community, or at least of the employees of the Institute of Philosophy at Jagiellonian University.”

Your usual run-of-the-mill philosophers might have quibbled here about which ethical approach might prevail? Utilitarianism? Deontology? Virtue ethics? This lot, though, have come up with a new one – which boils down to someone’s argument about what is morally right giving the false impression that everyone in a community believes it. Future generations may call this the Jagiellonian philosophy position – we can formulate it thus: Compassion should give way if it creates the impression that people ascent to a position advocated by a member of their community. Even if it should have its own name, I think it fits nicely into the totalitarian handbook of ideological hackery. And I am sure they would be very proud of this.

Anyway, the Jageilonians then press on that: “This is not the case. The views presented by Professor Legutko are extremely contrary to the consensus accepted by the majority of the academic world, including the majority of the employees of the Institute of Philosophy of the Jagiellonian University.” While this is the kind of reasoning and appeal that gets by in politics and dinner party conversations, one would have hoped that of the 28 out of 30 members of the Philosophy Faculty who agreed to the contents of this letter, one might be able to name at least one serious philosopher who has ever said something is true because the majority accept it.

I do feel sorry for Professor Legutko being in a Faculty whose members are so bereft of philosophical integrity they can formulate such nonsense with po-faced sanctimony that has now become the gesture of every ideological and managerial hack defending the bureaucratic machinery of virtue installation For, “It is about the most fundamental framework of respect for another human being.” Really? That is the kind of drivel one expects from bureaucrats, managerialists, but not from philosophers or members from other disciplines within the “scientific community.”

I am as critical of Analytic philosophy as anyone, but the slovenly manner of formulation (what does “It” refer to exactly?) goes hand-in-hand with the moral pomposity that speaks in general vacuities and abstractions, and the grand appeal that is supposed to make all of us sit up, shut up, and bathe in the normative rhetorical sweep of the sentiments being aired: “freedom of choice, tolerance and pluralism are values that are indispensable to us.” A real philosopher would know these words are not answers to anything very much at all, but occasions of countless philosophical conundrums and disputes.

Given that Legutko has written an entire book on freedom, just one of these bright sparks might have made some philosophical effort in acknowledging the complexity of the values they parade as self-evident goods. Indeed, the entire letter is a masterpiece of emulation of what in the West now guides politicized administrative policy and legislation.

Yet the letter disingenuously asserts that Legutko is the partisan and ideologue, while totally ignoring the substance of his major concerns:

  • That “similar structures function at other universities in the Western world…that in the last few decades, universities have become a breeding ground for aggressive ideology – censorship, control of language and thought, intimidation of rebellious academics, various compulsory training sessions to raise awareness, disciplinary measures and dismissal from work;”
  • That “If we create a structure that is paid for and specially programmed to look for inequalities and discrimination, it is obvious that it will find them quite quickly to prove the reason for its existence, and sooner or later it will take steps that are taken at hundreds of other universities.”

The Philosophy Faculty, for all their sanctimonious huff and virtue puff, did as little to demonstrate that Legutko’s concerns were unreasonable, or that he was some kind of moral monster, who should not be tolerated within a university, as it did to make the case for the necessity of the “Office of Safety and Equal Treatment.” That Office would, of course, be the last place that Professor Legutko could call upon when being calumnied by students or staff at his university. It did, however, make a pretty good case for the Philosophy Faculty being closed down and replaced by real philosophers.

Given the shocking state of affairs of the Philosophy Faculty, one might spare some pity for the pitiful nature of the offended students who are full of “sadness” and “shame” at the letter. Had they been talking about the Faculty’s letter they may have had a point. But, in keeping with the Alice-in-Wonderland-world they have been schooled in, they are talking about Legutko’s letter.

Not to be outdone in the virtue stakes, the students inform Professor Legutko that they “have been raised in a spirit of tolerance and respect for others. Our concern for the fate of others is expressed in the acceptance of human difference, including different identities and sexual orientations.” Like the philosophers, they cannot distinguish between a virtue and a bureaucratic apparatus.

Perhaps it really is ignorance of what is occurring in the West that enables them to write: “Reducing the idea of human dignity expressed by us to any political viewpoint or ideology is not truthful.” For the idea of human dignity seems grand and innocuous enough; but when that term is attached to a normative perspective that is passed off as being the “true” black/gay/ women/trans perspective, as it is done in endless courses, administrative programs, and policies in Western universities, then it is nothing if not ideological and political.

The university of which I am still an adjunct, by default I think and perhaps not for much longer, is in Darwin, Australia. A few weeks ago, the new vice chancellor wanted (I kid you not) the entire university to celebrate and partake in LGBTQ activities (the mind boggles) that had been planned for the week. This week the university sent around the new guidelines on pronouns. To think this is not what a university should be doing strikes me as perfectly reasonable, and has nothing to do with violating human dignity.

Given the condemnatory and denunciative tones of the letters by the Philosophy Faculty and “students” (how many I wondered really thought like this?) at the Jagiellonian University, one would be forgiven for thinking Professor Legutko might be trying to stir up a pogrom against gay or other “different” people. But no – he is raising serious questions about what such a transformation of the university’s “operations” (to speak managerialese for a moment) does, not only to the university, but to society at large. If one wants to know – look Westward and see everywhere nations torn apart, and depleted of any common spirit or sense of future direction about what is worth living and dying for.

The latest Legutko case (like the earlier one undertaken by a couple of students acting on behalf of the Helsinki Foundation of Human Rights’ attempt to eliminate Christian symbols in schools) is an attempt to silence one of Catholic Poland’s more outspoken philosophical critics of a sensibility and social orientation that has created such havoc in the West.

He is all too aware that the West today is divided into two halves – those that can be a member of the elite and benefit, and those that can’t and don’t. It is true that as far as elites go it is a very sizable one stretching from trillionaires, politicians, public servants, to professionals, journalists, and primary school teachers.

But this grand alliance looks for all the world like a run-away train – as the alliance is primarily held together by what and who it is against. And in order to exist it has to create an imagined enemy – in the United States it is the bogey of “the white supremacist” – they were supposedly behind the storming of the capitol, an “insurrection” in which none of the insurrectionists were armed, and the only death from it was that of an unarmed “white supremacist” woman (whose bona fides in the white supremacist stakes were only too obvious – she was a Trump supporter).

The grand alliance consists of people of colour (though Asians not so much) who hate whites, women who hate men, gays who hate straights, trans who hate cisgender, anti-Israelis, socialists who hate capitalists, tech capitalists who hate people saying what they think when it contradicts them. Much of the time they are throwing each under the bus – much as the Bolsheviks did against the Socialist Revolutionaries, or the Mountain against the Girondins.

Brexit and the election of Trump had given those who hate this elite a sense that they might be able to defeat this program of wokeness. As much as I sympathised with people who thought this, I could never see how this was anything more than a momentary setback. Whether I was right or not, COVID ensured there were would be no more setbacks.

Now the Central Europeans, by not getting in step with the EU in its (elite driven) globalist (anti-Christian and anti-traditional) values program and migration policy, have generally been another set-back to the Western elite with its globalist vision.

The Legutko affair perfectly reproduces the tactics of the elite in their Nietzschean task of the “transvaluation of all values.” At the risk of repeating this yet again, the elite combines their Nietzschean self-belief in their right to create values with Marx’s tactic of claiming to represent the oppressed of the earth. It is a very clever tactic and the extent of its success is that it may well be the Trojan Horse to once again deprive the Poles of their traditions and nationhood.

The Philosophy Faculty at Jagiellonian University and the students behind this attack upon Professor Legutko seem to me to be the EU equivalent of the Western intelligentsia during the Cold War.

Also to repeat – there can only be one winner, in the geopolitical fallout of all this. And it will not be the EU, nor the US, nor anywhere else in the West where the triumph of abstract human dignity is but the pretext for the destruction of social solidarity between people who, different as they may be, do not break up the world into the pursuit of endless identity needs so that they can become empty, compliant entities content with a life of sexual frivolity and universal welfare so that the few may dictate who and how the many live, and die in their diabolical enjoyment of the fruits of the earth.

Professor Wayne Cristaudo
Charles Darwin University, Australia


Dear Editor

I was made aware of the exchange of letters between professor Legutko and Jagiellonian University.

If one looks only at the surface of the answers he got, one may think that he is worrying too much. But the longer one reads, the stranger things become.

I mean, in a normal situation, the answer by the Rector should be enough. Thus, why here Legutko got no answer by the Rector, but got one from his former colleagues and another one from “the students,” instead of just one from the Rector he addressed?

Does the Rector suppose that a national feature like Legutko does not deserve an answer by him? That would be quite amazing. Thus it is possible that an answer by the Rector will come, but… But what we have here is a different attitude. The “villain” is attacked by his own “home;” by the members of the college of Philosophy who charge him of being a political tool against academic freedom, and by “the students.” It is a clear attempt to deprive Legutko of his reliability: “if your own people do not agree with you, the best you can do is not to speak.” this is the message.

Moreover, this kind of “collegial answer” is not new. The double letter – from the faculties and from the students – including the administrative staff (which in Europe is normally neglected and almost never mentioned by faculties, students, by the university in general and by the media) sounds like the typical conclusion of the Pravda articles from the Moscow trials in 1937: “The whole Soviet People stands up and claims the criminals to be punished!” Hence, could this be a sort of Eastern European heritage from the Cold War Era? Who knows?

Moreover, I wonder, who are “the students?” All the students of the Jagiellonian University, who, one by one, were notified about his letter and agreed on the answer and signed it, again one by one? If so, I’d like to see the signatures. And, if they are not the whole student body, who did sign in the name of all? And had he/she the right to sign that way?

In my opinion, if I wrote the letter professor Legutko wrote, and got the answer he got, I’d ask to know the names, one by one, along with the signatures, to see if and how many students were aware of such a letter. There might well be a big surprise. The first being a very nasty reaction. But, if so, I’d care to turn it into a national affair, sending it to the press, and then I’d like to see what came next.

What they wrote sounds openly – let us say – amazing to whoever knows how things are going in the USA and in UK universities. And if they really believe what they wrote, they are as blind as newly born kittens.

Legutko did what he thought to be right; and, according to the Politically Correct style, such an intimidating and threatening answer was the minimum he could expect.

The “attention to the minorities” is the typical version of how a wide majority is forced to accept the interests of some members belonging to a small minority. This is truly antidemocratic. Moreover, I wonder if this happens just now by chance or not. At the moment, the EU Commission is trying to enforce Poland and Hungary to accept a pro-gay vision of society; and just now the Jagellonian University stands on the EU Commission’s side against the Polish Government, thus providing the EU Commission with a major asset: the nation’s highest intellectual organization sides with the EU against the conservative Polish Government. I’d like to think it to have happened by chance. Also, as an expert historian, I know that such coincidences are quite rare. Perhaps it was a matter of Kairòs and both the sides in Krakow and Bruxelles too advantage of the opportunity. Who knows?

Ciro Paoletti
Italian Historian


Apelles, we are told, was the most renowned painter of the ancient world, whose art was eagerly collected and sought after by men like Alexander the Great and later Julius Caesar. Most of it, sadly, was lost when Caesar’s house caught fire and burned down.

The story is told that a rival painter falsely accused Apelles of plotting to assassinate Ptolemy IV Philopater, with nearly dire results, for a public execution was narrowly avoided. This led Apelles to create his most famous painting of all, which he called Calumny, in which an innocent man is baselessly accused by the allegorical figures of Deceit, Envy, Treachery and Ignorance. The original work is now lost, but the theme remained popular, and Botticelli’s version is now well-known.

When I first read Professor Legutko’s letter and the ensuing responses (from his peers in the Department of Philosophy and the “students” of his university), I was immediately reminded of Apelles’ painting. We indeed live in calumnious times (aka, the “outrage or shaming culture”), where decency, which once was the golden thread that bound one human being to another, is now a lost virtue. And so, examples of Deceit, Envy, Treachery and Ignorance are readily found in the letters penned by the mob that is the faculty members and the “students.” In the absence of virtue, there can only be the barren wind of political slogans.

Professor Legutko is the Apelles of our day. His books, like those paintings of old, speak truths far greater than can be contained in shibboleths. And when men no longer hunger for truth, but are content with the mush of political cant, there is only endless destruction. That is what Professor Legutko elegantly summarized in his letter and in more detail in his books.

If the decriers think that they can silence men like Professor Legutko, they have already lost the battle and the war. To Apelles is attributed the famous phrase, “Ne sutor ultra carpidam,” (Cobbler, go no further than your shoes). In other words, “Academics – stop being social-engineers!” Truth will out, and truth will win.

Nirmal Dass
Publisher, The Postil Magazine


The featured image shows, “Calumny of Apelles,” by Sandro Botticelli, ca. 1496-1497.

Breaking The Monopoly Of The Mainstream: An Interview With Ryszard Legutko

It is a high honor indeed to publish the first English version of this interview with Professor Ryszard Legutko, which he gave to the Polish newspaper, Dziennik Polski, on Friday, July 30, 2021. Professor Legutko, of course, needs no introduction, being the author of the well-known works, the Demon in Democracy and The Cunning of Freedom. The journalists interviewing Professor Legutko are Wojciech Mucha and Marcin Mamon.


Dziennik Polski (DP): In your appeal to the Rector of the Jagiellonian University, you write about the “academic ethos.” How do you define it? Does setting up an office that has as its banner the equal treatment of all students undermine this ethos?

Ryszard Legutko (RL): We’ve had a problem with the academic community for as long as I can remember, that is, since the beginning of my work at the Jagiellonian University. We used to explain to ourselves that it was the fault of communism, people’s fear of the Party, because you can’t play games with the regime. Academics were not the bravest of professional groups. When the regime became a thing of the past and Poland became free, we thought that the ethos would be rebuilt. But it didn’t happen. This ethos is based on trust, application of the rules of impartiality, objectivity, fair-play. If the ethos is strong enough, then no additional regulations are needed. I imagined that since the communist system collapsed, a “live and let live” approach would prevail.

Ryszard Legutko. Photo Credit: Alicja Dybowska.

DP: Are you saying, they don’t let you live?

RL: I was defending the Jagiellonian University when I had an unpleasant experience at one of the American institutions when a student group and professors there, fighting – of course – for openness and pluralism, had my lecture cancelled. Later, in an article published in America, I wrote that such a thing would not have happened at my Almae Matris. But even then, it wasn’t entirely true, because several speakers, whose views were questionable, had already been denied entry.

DP: In your letter to the rector of the Jagiellonian University, Professor Jacek Popiel, you criticized the Office that is supposed to deal with equal treatment of the whole community of undergraduate and doctoral students at the University. What is it that you don’t like?

RL: Yes, I was very concerned. One of the things that has changed in universities is certainly the corruption of language. There are supposedly warm, friendly words, but they actually turn out to be sinister. When we hear about the “Equality Office,” it is clear that it is about tracking down dissidents. Pluralism? It’s nothing more than maintaining a monopoly of power. In all the places I know, all such structures work the same way. For example, at the American university I visited, it was demanded that any candidate for a guest lecture be approved by two “equality” bodies: one student and one faculty.

DP: These are global trends. We assume, they won’t change.

RL: Polish academics love authority figures, so I refer you to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of July 22nd and the article, entitled, “The University as a Risk Zone.” According to it, universities are becoming a place where all kinds of unorthodox ideas are tracked down. The danger does not come from politicians. It’s the professors and students themselves who do it — even though no one is forcing them. No one forced the Jagiellonian University to ape bad practices and introduce structures that work the same everywhere and are a disaster. Mimicry is a terrible affliction of our universities.

DP: Professor Popiel, the Rector of the Jagiellonian University, claims that you and Barbara Nowak, the school superintendent of Małopolska region, do not realize the importance of the problems in Polish education. According to him, we are facing increasing discrimination based on gender, religious or political identity. As he said in the pages of our newspaper: “However, we can’t compare the reality of 20 years ago to today; the consciousness of three or two decades ago to the sensitivity and needs of the younger generation.” Or maybe you just don’t see these changes, you don’t know that we have to move with the spirit of the times?

RL: Indeed, something has changed, but for the worse. The mania to track discrimination with tools to invent discrimination in every sphere – this is one of the problems. Genderism was created several decades ago. Before that, it did not exist. For the past decade or so, it has become the ideological orthodoxy of the entire Western world: the media, corporations, international institutions, governments, and, of course, universities. It is utterly improbable that a single theory, and one of dubious quality, has gained such reach and power. It generates social engineering, changes culture, and revolutionizes social structures. And yet it is only a novelty. Universities should keep distant from such things, treating them with the skepticism typical of a scientific attitude.

DP: Are you implying that the Jagiellonian University is no longer skeptical?

RL: Universities were the first to start incorporating new trends, instead of discussing their pros and cons. I would say that they do it with fanaticism. With this attitude, it is clear that “discriminations” will always be tracked down, identified, and then condemned. There are even countries, like Canada, where the wrong use of a pronoun is punishable by imprisonment. And the threat of ostracism or losing one’s job is virtually everywhere. The Jagiellonian University, in its passion for imitation, has already created a complete set of instruments to follow the same practices. Now we have to wait for the sad results.

DP: Poland is trying to catch up with this revolutionary progress. But we don’t want to believe that this is already a common thing, that the steamroller will level everything…. So where to look for normality?

RL: Certainly not in this formula of a university “with a risk zone,” to use the title of the aforementioned article. There are various centers and lecturers who have preserved the academic ethos, but it must be admitted that there are not many of them. The Left with its strategy of constant social engineering is currently on the prowl, also thanks to international institutions.

DP: This wave is overtaking the scholars themselves, and it is hard not to see them becoming part of it. Not many dissenting voices are heard. They say about you – he’s eccentric.

RL: There are very disturbing cases at our universities – suffice it to mention Professor Ewa Budzyńska from Katowice. Could anyone of us have thought 10 years ago that a Polish professor would be repressed for saying that the family is based on a union between a man and a woman? And this is exactly what is happening. I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong, but have you heard about any protest of any faculty council or university senate concerning said issue? Rectors of Polish universities have several times criticized Archbishop Marek Jędraszewski’s homilies for wrong words about genderism, but not once have they defended Professor Budzyńska, or condemned the students’ aggression against members of the Constitutional Court.

DP: In Poland, however, someone will at least write a letter. Open letter or otherwise…

RL: We have to act, because the situation is getting more and more dangerous. My former Faculty Council wrote that I do not fit into the “university consensus.” What kind of word is that anyway? Consensus at a university? Who saw that coming! That’s a straight path to conformity. It’s amazing that in this day and age, when everyone talks about pluralism and diversity, so many ideologies are embraced by consensus – not just genderism, but in other aspects as well: immigration, climate, energy, education, so-called women’s rights. And since there is a consensus, there is no reason to discuss and argue. But those who do not fit into the consensus should be condemned and maybe even punished.

DP: Douglas Murray, in his book, The Madness of Crowds, wrote that with the end of grand narratives – religion, nation, philosophy – people are looking for, and plunging into, new battles, such as, gender, race or identity. Could it be that we are about to wake up in a world with no fixed rules, because everything will be questionable with multiple narratives?

RL: In my opinion, we are not dealing with a multiplicity of narratives, but with a mono-ideology, analogous to the communist times; only that, on the other hand, there is a great arbitrariness in it. During the communist era there was also talk about the “only right ideology;” but let us remember that everything could change depending on who was in power: on Monday Gomułka was the great Secretary of the Polish Socialist Party, and a few days later, he was the greatest pest of the system. Today it is similar – the new ideology is revolutionary but it is also progressive; so it breaks its own rules in the name of progress.

DP: It’s true. Hilary Clinton in the 1990s supported her husband’s “Defense of Marriage Act” to prevent gay marriage. Today she is in the forefront of the fight for so-called LGBT rights.

RL: Yes, because ideology is advancing. Once there was talk of civil unions as an insurmountable limit of freedom; today it is already an obligation to demand same-sex marriage and adoption of children; and whoever does not do it discriminates and is a dangerous homophobe. Not only has discrimination been multiplied in this way, but also the number of sins, thoughtcrimes and enemies. Paradoxically, there are many more of them today than during the communist era. Today the Left is in power, and the Left has always specialized in tracking down enemies and thoughtcrimes – so now it has gone wild. The more it fights for tolerance, the greater the range of enemies, and the more difficult it is to say something without risking condemnation.

DP: Why is this so?

RL: Modern man is becoming dumber and dumber, because ideology has detached him from European culture, which he does not know and does not understand. When I talk to European politicians, supposedly educated people, I see that the world before 1968 does not exist for them. They live only in today’s idiom and contemporary patterns. A man, as he was described by classical philosophy, great literature, and Christianity, does not exist for them either. That is why they are so arrogant – because they try everything on this primitive creation, created by their primitive ideology. That is why they think that it is possible to interfere in everything, to deconstruct and construct everything – the family, human sensitivity, national identity, history, etc. They have no respect for human beings, for the output of human thought and experience. In this they also resemble the communists who despised culture and created new ones by political means.

DP: You are talking about elites. Let us give you an example. Dziennik Polski was successfully published on paper 20 years ago, and today probably 80 percent of our readers choose the digital version on their smartphones. It is easy to imagine, that in a flood of other content, an interview with you or an earlier one with the rector of the Jagiellonian University are less digestible than a gallery of pictures you can scroll through with your finger. The same is true of the entire conservative formula and, more broadly, of in-depth content in general. The professor himself says that we are getting dumber, so why bother with elites.

RL: We are becoming dumber because we have lost the ability to learn from others and from the past. We know everything and can only make pronouncements. It is best not to read Polish Nobel Laurate Henryk Sienkiewicz’s In Desert and Wilderness because it’s a wrong book, drenched in the sin of racism. His Trilogy? Also wrong, because it is nationalistic, xenophobic, sexist, etc. Under communism, literature, art, and history were used to justify current views. The same is true today. Besides, it is symptomatic that former communists feel perfectly comfortable in today’s world and have smoothly entered the so-called mainstream, where they feel among their own people. And let’s not forget that education is constantly changing in the West, because ideological subjects enter schools. Not yet in Poland, but this is what the biggest international institutions demand, with the approval of some of our compatriots and politicians.

DP: Today’s young people are not particularly concerned about the past or the future. All that matters to them is the present because it seems most attractive. Why should they waste their time reading? The Left says openly that school cannot be “history, religion and damned soldiers.”

RL: That’s much better than the Left’s “gender, LGBT, abortion and safe sex” educational agenda. As far as young people are concerned, of course, there are new challenges. It’s important to remember that ultimately everything, or a great deal, depends on the teacher and the parents. If there is a good teacher and he puts in the effort, if the parents do let go of their laziness and convenience to mold their children, then maybe this monster won’t turn out to be so threatening. Attitudes must be changed. We must not accept the dogma that we are governed by some historical necessity, that the world is developing inexorably toward universal stupidity, and so my children must also be stupid. Rather, we should adopt an attitude of a kind of serfdom toward the world, and reject the attitude of a slave. We may not have influence on the world, but we do have influence on our immediate environment. And we should take advantage of that, regardless of what various “wise men” tell us.

DP: What is to be done?

RL: Shto diełat (laughs). I don’t have a detailed agenda. I have never liked adjusting to reality. Maybe this is not a very good tactic from the perspective of a politician, but I have also never managed a newspaper company like you do – which affects people’s lives in a way – where adaptation is often necessary. I’ll use the analogy again. I remember a time when everyone thought that communism was self-assured and not because there were Russian tanks, but it was said that this system was characterized by historical necessity. Let us reject such thinking today, even if we are sometimes overcome by despair. Can one be a conservative while reading on a smartphone and not on paper? Obviously, a smartphone cannot dictate to me who I am and who my loved ones should be.

DP: And the conservative counterrevolution that offers hope for ordering the world is nowhere in sight….

RL: Conservative parties are still successful, though not in many places. In England, the formations are theoretically conservative, but not really in practice. That’s why so many people in the West look at Poland and Hungary with hope. It is possible that the right will be strengthened in Western Europe by the entry of conservatives into government. Maybe eastern Europe will also hold on. Politically it is extremely important to break the current monopoly of the mainstream, which has taken over the EU and most of its institutions. Can it be done? If I thought it couldn’t be done, I would withdraw from politics.

DP: But, at the same time, as you yourself said, in our reality: “the Polish-Polish war makes everything more difficult.” How to end such a war and realize community goals? Is it at all possible?

RL: For the time being there is no such possibility, which I say with great sadness. The European Union fuels this war and will not rest until it liquidates all dissident governments and movements. That is why it is so important to balance the forces in Europe and introduce guarantees of pluralism. Perhaps this would calm the dispute in Poland. But the dispute that is taking place in Poland has a long and unfortunate tradition. For several centuries, sovereignty-independence forces have clashed with forces seeking the protection of a stronger protector. Unfortunately, it often ended in victory for the latter. If they were to win this time again, we will lose our sovereignty again and we will dream of Independence, as so many times in the past. The words of Jan Kochanowski, the Polish Renaissance poet, that a Pole “is stupid before the loss and stupid after the loss” will be confirmed.


The featured image shows, “The Destruction of Pharaoh’s Army,” by Philip James de Loutherbourg, painted in 1792.

Restoring Balance: A Dominican Call To Arms

The Dominican Republic (DR) overcame a grave political-institutional crisis in 2020 – the incumbent president attempted to use undemocratic and fraudulent means to stay in power. Luckily, our polity graduated toward consolidated democracy and witnessed the peaceful transfer of power from that party to the current one. As political theory predicts, internal resistance from diverse political forces was essential to avoiding the perpetuation of the previous party’s hold on power: First in defending the constitutional limits on re-election, and then in preventing the imposition of a puppet candidate whose primary election was marred by rampant electoral fraud that drained any legitimacy he might have had. This movement constituted the expressed will of the Dominican people and the democratic forces organized for change in decayed institutions with the aim of preserving the freedoms won by our founding fathers. We must also recognize the help of former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who warned the incumbent of the dangers of the ambition to perpetuate himself in power. Senators Bob Menéndez and Marco Rubio also played starring roles in providing international scrutiny.

Having overcome such a moment, the local party-political system faces another crisis in the form of a dead end. The current system is shot through with corruption and rent-seeking, if not openly mafioso. The major parties – which have historically gained power through forming broad coalitions with other parties and social movements – recently gave themselves advantageous rules for electoral competition, entrenching their dominance. At present, both “major” parties constitute expressions of leftist Latin American political forces. Both viable options for power in the DR are members of Lula’s Foro de São Paulo. Though important factions within them are not truly ideological (their power rests in patronage), this consolidation of leftism guarantees a bad result for the political right, no matter the victor in elections – with attendant consequences for such areas as relations with China and Venezuela.

Historically, most of the Dominican people have voted for moderate parties, with a strong preference for right wing ideology. The cycle of the post-civil war (1966-1996) was dominated by the Reformist party, now a rump minority faction. In 1996, for exceptional historical reasons to do with election rigging, a historic pact between the center-left and center-right brought Dr. Leonel Fernández to power, defeating the most important mass movement led by Dr. José Francisco Peña Gómez. This new cycle initiated by Fernández allowed his party to stay in power for 5 of the 6 terms from 1996-2020. In this period, the parties of the right were substantially weakened in electoral terms, having previously dominated the political scene. To cut a long story short, there is an unbalanced status quo where no conservative political organization retains the possibility of acceding to power, despite representing the views of a plurality or more of the citizenry.

There is hope. New generations have shown elevated interest in electoral participation under conservative and patriotic colors. Conscious of this reality and of the confrontations elsewhere in the region and the world, a group of organizations and movements with a long political tradition is exploring the best way to articulate the axioms of conservative thinking at this local level. At the same time, great efforts are being made to modernize the systems of communication and integrate new leaders and new blood. Some of these organizations are already part of the International Democratic Union (IDU), the Union of Latin American Parties (UPLA) and the Christian Democrat Organizacion of America (ODCA).
We are convinced that we are at a historic crossroads which, if we work together and ensure the means and resources necessary, we may constitute a viable option in 2024 and future elections, restoring the ideological balance this naturally right-wing country needs.

Among the first steps in our plans is the cohesion of a school of political training for leaders – an institution which by nature must have regional projection towards central America and the Greater Caribbean. We already have the spaces and installations suited for these ends and understand the necessity of opening digital communication channels to attract, integrate and unify participants who can fill important roles in implementing our values, ideas and policies.

The Dominican Republic must strengthen its national project. One of the most urgent changes to meet this goal is a change in the capitalist development model, reducing substantially the presence of the State in national livelihoods, while nurturing productive forces and creative energies within an export-oriented market economy. The Christian identity of our people, along with democratic, republican and liberal values in pursuance of the preservation of rights, must be at the center of this push.

For these ends we will appreciate any and all assistance of fellow-traveling organizations, especially those to do with communications, organization, capacity-building and political strategy. In the meantime, you know where you may find us: In the first city of America – Santo Domingo.


Don Pelegrín Castillo is the Vice President of the National Progressive Front, a patriotic and socially-conservative political party in the Dominican Republic. He is a former Cabinet minister, having held the portfolio for Energy & Mining in a past administration, as well as a former member of the Dominican lower house of Congress. He publishes widely in Spanish is affiliated to a number of issue-based groups such as the Dominican friends of Taiwan, the Cuban Democratic movement in exile.


The featured image shows, “Duarte contemplating the birth of the Republic,” by Luis Desangles; painted in 1890.