Socrates on the Radio

It’s eleven o’clock on Tendencies Radio. It’s time to hand it over to George Waddle for his program “Open Mind.” Hello George.

Hello, Armanda. Hello all. Welcome to this new edition of “Open Mind,” along with Claudine Idiotintown. Good morning, Claudine. How are you this morning?

Good morning, George. That’s a beautiful shirt you’re wearing!

Isn’t it? Today we welcome the philosopher, Socrates. Good morning, Socrates.

Socrates greets kindly.

“He’s really ugly.” Claudine whispers in the host’s ear. “Thank God we’re not on TV.”

Hello, Socrates. Hello…!

Why doesn’t the clown answer? thinks Waddle. But like the good professional he is, he continues.

So, Socrates, you are a famous philosopher. You have written a lot.

No, by Zeus, I have not written anything.

You haven’t written anything?

Not one line.

But, but, OK. Well, I really want to ask you your opinion on something that concerns us all. Yesterday, as you certainly know, the prestigious site Manip-Media published a damning report about the minister, Constant Waffler. Let’s recall what happened. The young Waffler stole three or maybe it was four marbles from Stephanie Gasbag when both were in kindergarten and, when latter complained, Waffler replied, “Girls don’t know how to play marbles!” The association Stop Girlphobia immediately denounced this slip of the tongue and demanded the head of the minister, and the leader of the opposition followed suit. In short, here we are in the middle of Wafflergate. What do you think, Socrates?

I don’t know. I am not able to answer that question.

But come on, Socrates, such a violation of equality, of justice!

What justice are you talking about?

Well, justice, you know, justice!

But isn’t justice a difficult question?

Yes… no…. And you Socrates, what is your definition of justice?

I don’t know. Justice is lived rather than defined. I talked about it with Thrasymachus and we agreed that injustice is a vice and justice a virtue.

Thrasymachus, Thrasymachus, who is this weirdo? But then Waddle said to himself that he had found a good angle of attack and continued.

A vice, a virtue. Those words sound a lot like what a reactionary would say. You wouldn’t be a reactionary, would you, Socrates?

I don’t know. What do you mean by reactionary?

You know, those narrow-minded people, those backward-looking people, those populists.

You know, the only thing I know is that I know nothing. I wouldn’t be able to answer that.

Well, then would you be on the side of the populists?

I don’t know. What do you mean by populist?

This guy’s impossible, thought Waddle. But bravely he continued

You know, Socrates, these people who criticize the elites, these narrow-minded, these reactionaries.

No, I don’t know.

Well, finally, to which side do you belong?

Which sides are you talking about?

But Socrates, did you just crawl out under a rock? I’m talking about the opposition between people of progress, the people of the Enlightenment and the conservatives, the retrogrades. And Socrates, will you stop answering my questions with questions?

Why? Is it forbidden to ask questions?

No, but the rule is that the journalist asks questions and the guest answers

Yes, but is that a good rule?

Oh, that’s not the point, Socrates.

I mean, why don’t journalists want to be asked questions?

Because that’s how an interview should be. But tell me, Socrates, aren’t you one of those people who scapegoat journalists, who constantly criticize them?

You know, I’m new in this country. I wouldn’t want to pass judgment. But why can’t we criticize journalists?

That’s a different question entirely! But the answer is easy—because journalists embody freedom of expression, because to criticize them is to undermine freedom, democracy.

What freedom are you talking about?

There you go again! Freedom of expression at all costs! This is obvious.

For example, does the freedom of expression of journalists include the freedom to say uncertain or erroneous things?

Uh, what are you talking about? No, of course not.

Does it include the freedom to say untrue things?

No, no, no. Look, I’m asking the questions!

Let me finish. I will be brief. So, you agree that the freedom of expression is based on something beyond it?

Maybe, maybe not. But, please, Socrates, let’s get back to the subject. Let’s go back to… I don’t know.

Let’s go on, if you don’t mind. What is freedom of expression for?

Now you’re getting annoying. But how should I know. They never talk about these things in journalism schools.

What freedom of expression is based on, wouldn’t that be the real thing?

Yes, maybe, if you like.

So, the freedom you claim is the freedom to tell the truth?

Yes, that’s it, that’s it.

So, if a journalist does not tell the truth, is it not reasonable to criticize him?

If you want to, yes, but that never happens.

Are you saying that journalists are infallible and that they abhor cheating?

Oh, that’s too much! Thank you, thank you, Socrates! This was Open Mind, a program by… by… Waffler George. Next week, …well…, you’ll see. A few ads up next.

As he left the studio, a gaggle of journalists were all over Socrates. He managed to escape, but one of them, the fastest, the youngest, caught up with him.

“Please, Socrates, please, a word. If I come back empty-handed, my editor will fire me. Besides, I know you. I’ve read your disciple, Plato.”

Socrates stopped.

“I work for Time,” said the young man with pride. And he quickly continued:

“Here, here is my question. I’m sure it will interest you. You say in the Phaedrus that the written word is inherently defective because one cannot know to whom one is speaking, whereas the spoken word allows one to tell each person what it is good for him to hear. So, why did you agree to speak on the radio? You will tell me that you spoke without a doubt, but radio has the defects of the written word—you could not know precisely to whom you were speaking.”

Yes, yes, I congratulate you. But can you say that I said many things on the radio?

“Yes, well, no. I mean you asked a lot of questions.”

That’s my usual way. But do you think we’ve gone too far?

“I suppose you’re going to blame the journalists again.”

I’m just asking if an ordinary radio interview lends itself to dialectic, I mean to a real dialogue.

“But it certainly does. The microphone was all yours.”

Isn’t it true that radio journalists usually stay on the surface of things?

“You are very severe!”

That they shy away from developments?

“But that’s the law of the genre!”

That they like to make a show of things and play the arbiter of elegance?

“Now, you’re exaggerating!”

And that the best thing to do is to make the journalist pass an examination that is useful to him and to those who listen?

“Ah, that’s it. You went to the radio to say bad things about the radio! Or rather, to show off. But, but I can’t write what you say. My editor would have a fit. Tell me something I can write. I don’t know, about… about… OK. What advice would you give to a young man?”

But, my young friend, I don’t know anything. I am only trying to give birth to the mind of the one I am talking to.

“Go ahead, go ahead, I am ready.”

I would be happy to, if it were possible, but time is too short. I have to be at the Champs Elysees this afternoon.


Philippe Bénéton is Professor emeritus of Rennes I and is the author of Le dérèglement moral de l’OccidentLes fers de l’opinionIntroduction à la politiqueLe conservatisme. This interview appears courtesy of La Nef.

Joseph Ratzinger: Revelation and the Cross

Called back to God on December 31, 2022, Pope Benedict XVI built a singular theological work, confronting the intellectual issues of his time with a pastoral concern that thwarts any academic reduction. The Bavarian theologian who, as his spiritual testament made public on the day of his death testifies, worked until the end of his life for the emergence of “the reasonableness of faith,” has laid the groundwork, notably with his trilogy Jesus of Nazareth and his introduction to Christianity, The Faith and the Future, of a Christocentric theology, leaning on the great theological tradition and oriented towards the mystery of the cross, where divine revelation is completed and finalized.


The concern for pedagogy combined with the demand for coherence characterizes Joseph Ratzinger’s intellectual and spiritual approach in the three volumes of Jesus of Nazareth and offers the luxury of being able to reveal from the outset, without the risk of misunderstanding, the insight that animates the theologian throughout this article. This intuition, born of meditation on the Gospels and reading the Fathers of the Church, is expressed several times by Ratzinger and can be summarized as follows: Jesus Christ, before bringing a message, a kingdom or a long-awaited pax, brought God. “He brought the God whose face was slowly and progressively revealed from Abraham through Moses and the Prophets to sapiential literature—the God who had shown his face only in Israel and who had been honored in the world of the Gentiles under obscure avatars—it is this God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the true God, whom he brought to the peoples of the earth” (I, 63-64).

This thesis, as such, is explicitly repeated in the following volume of Jesus of Nazareth, this time with a significant emphasis on the universal dimension of Christ’s mission. “Even though Jesus consciously limits his work to Israel, he is still moved by the universalist tendency to open up Israel so that all can recognize in the God of this people the one God common to all the world” (II, 31). The answer to the decisive question “What does Christ bring?” naturally raises two other questions: to whom and how does Jesus bring God? This is the pole around which Ratzinger’s Christology is articulated, even though the expression, which he regrets in The Faith is so often opposed to “soteriology” or divided within it between “Christology from above” and “Christology from below” (155-156), only half suits him concerning his own work (cf. II, 10).

This Christology is thus elaborated in three stages. In the dialectic of the “new and definitive” on which Ratzinger, a reader of the Fathers, rightly insists in each mystery of Jesus that he contemplates, lies the key to the delicate articulation between Israel and the pagans. Both “light to enlighten the nations” and “the glory of [his] people Israel” (Lk 2:32), Christ is endowed with a mission whose very essence belongs to universality (III, 120). So much so that in the series of events in which God seems to disappear more and more—”land – Israel – Nazareth – Cross – Church” (176)—Jesus Christ presents himself as both the new Adam in whom “humanity begins anew” (III, 21) and the new Moses, the one who “brings to conclusion what began with Moses at the burning bush” (II, 113). The cross, for Ratzinger, is as much revelation as redemption. Now, what does this meeting of the vertical and the horizontal reveal, if not the identity of God and of man, in the person of the Son, a veiled response to the mysterious name given by God to Moses (Ex 3:14)? The cross, the only place where the divine “I am” can be known and understood (I, 377), consequently becomes the place where Christ reigns, His “throne,” “from which He draws the world to Himself” (II, 242). Christ’s being-open, with arms outstretched on the cross, goes hand-in-hand with Israel’s openness to the Gentiles: Ratzinger’s pro-existential Christology justifies Christian universalism.

“The Jew first, and the Gentile”

The great mission that Ratzinger sets himself at the beginning of Jesus of Nazareth, to represent the “Jesus of the Gospels” as a “historically sensible and coherent figure” (I, 17), amounts to rendering a reason for a “crucified Messiah” whom the Jews call “scandal” and the pagans “foolishness” (1Co 1, 23). Certainly, the passage from “do not go to the Gentiles” (Mt 10:5) to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19) in Christ’s teaching has found, from the earliest times of Christianity, a coherent interpretation in the Epistle to the Hebrews, in St. Paul and in the Church Fathers, based on “Israel according to the spirit,” “the time of the Gentiles,” etc. For all that, the fact that Henri de Lubac, in the previous century, saw fit to remind theologians, on the basis of scriptural and theological arguments, of the unity of the Ecclesia ex circumcision—the Church born of Israel—and of the Ecclesia ex gentibus—the Church of the Gentiles, (II, 255)—indicates how much the articulation between the Jewish and the “Greek element” (254) in the Christian mystery, although it is the foundation of all ecclesiology, still gives rise to a certain embarrassment. No doubt the “concern for universality”[3] of the Bible, brought up to date by the author of Catholicism, left its mark on the young Ratzinger. In an era still shaken by the discoveries of historical-critical exegesis, Henri de Lubac reaffirmed a fundamental exegetical principle proper to the Fathers: to learn to read historical realities spiritually and spiritual realities historically.

Strengthened by this spiritual hermeneutic and aware of the importance of the factum historicum as well as its limits, Ratzinger could respond to and overcome the apparent aporias of a historical-critical interpretation which, according to him, “has now given all that is essential to give” (II, 8). For someone familiar with St. Thomas Aquinas, this effort at theological synthesis is reminiscent of the method of the Summa Theologiae, whose Tertia pars, by his own admission, influenced Ratzinger’s work (II, 10). In Jesus of Nazareth, the questions are numerous and the theses, even those that the theologian refutes, are deployed to the end. For each mystery of the life of Christ, Ratzinger proceeds, as it were, by questions broken down into various articles within which, to the objections formulated—most often—by historical-critical exegesis, the theologian opposes a sed contra from an authority—Scripture or a Father—before proposing his own answer and solutions, arguing from theological, historical or scientific sources.

This issue of method tells us more about Ratzinger’s primary intention. Behind the demonstrative rigor, we can guess a will to make intelligible a mystery which, for many, appears scandalous or senseless. Intelligence of Scripture for the Jews, intelligence of faith for the pagans. Now the two, far from being opposed, communicate according to a precise hierarchy. The fact, in St. Augustine in particular, that the latter understands the former and exceeds it is justified, originally, in the person of Jesus Christ, who is both Jonah—”Καθὼς Ἰωνᾶς” (Lk 11:30)—and “much more than Jonah”—”πλεῖον Ἰωνᾶ” (Lk 11:32). Set in motion again by the Son of God, salvation history is also overtaken by Him. Here lies what Ratzinger considers “the central point of [his] reflection.” On the one hand, Christ is indeed a “new Adam” (I, 161), a “new Jacob” (I, 65), a new Samuel (III, 180), a new David (II, 17-18); “new Moses” above all, since the prophet spoke with God himself and received from him his mysterious name (I, 292-293). On the other hand, and at the same time, He is the “true Jacob” (I, 195), “true Solomon” (I, 106) and “true Moses” (I, 101): the Manna, the Divine Name and the Law, the three gifts given by God to Moses, have become one person: Jesus Christ. What God promises in the Old Covenant is fulfilled in the New Covenant: “by means of the new events… the Words acquire their full meaning; and, conversely, the events possess a permanent meaning, because they are born of the Word; they are Word fulfilled” (III, 39). From His ministry in Galilee to the ascent of Golgotha, Christ not only fulfills the Scriptures and keeps promises—by perfectly fulfilling the mission of the suffering Servant of God announced by the prophet Isaiah (Is 53), He goes beyond it and, by giving Himself up not only for the “lost sheep of Israel” (Mt 15:24) but also for the multitude, He gives it a “universalization that indicates a new breadth and depth” (II, 161).

This return to the first universality, the “new Adam” recapitulating the humanity wounded since the first Adam, was already announced in the existence of the particular people, chosen by God: Israel. According to the Augustinian tripartition, the regime of grace (sub gratia) which begins with Christ, although fulfilling the promises made by God under the regime of the Law (sub legem), gives humanity a new beginning and a universality unheard of since the time before the Law (ante legem). Now, with regard to the promises made to the Jewish people, Ratzinger recalls that in the Old Testament “Israel does not exist only for its own sake” but “to become the light of the nations” (I, 138): “its election being the way chosen by God to come to all” (I, 42). There is no lack of scriptural references to prove this, the most famous of which is found in the Song of the Servant in the book of Isaiah, where the figure of a man, familiar with the Lord and abused by his people, appears. “And he said: It is a small thing that thou shouldst be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to convert the dregs of Israel. Behold, I have given thee to be the light of the Gentiles, that thou mayst be my salvation even to the farthest part of the earth.” (Is 49:6). By carefully analyzing these passages (I, 360, II, 235-237, III, 120), following many exegetes, Ratzinger affirms that by fulfilling this prophecy of Isaiah, Christ fulfills the promise of universality made to Israel. As the new Moses, He is the master of “a renewed Israel, which neither excludes nor abolishes the old, but goes beyond it by opening it to the universal” (I, 87). In Jesus Christ, the particular has become universal (I, 103). ” For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and breaking down the middle wall of partition, the enmities in his flesh:” (Eph 2:14), writes Saint Paul. So much so that the first affirmation of Ratzinger’s Christology, that Christ brought God, finds its meaning and its definitive scope in the theme of the universality of Jesus, “the very center of his mission” (I, 42). Jesus Christ “brought the God of Israel to all peoples, so that now all peoples pray to him and recognize his word in the Scriptures of Israel, the word of the living God. He has given the gift of universality, which is a great promise, an outstanding promise for Israel and for the world” (I, 139).

The “Burning Bush of the Cross”

Halfway through Ratzinger’s reflection, a question emerges. While it is easy to understand how the hermeneutical rule that Ratzinger borrows from the Church Fathers—the dialectic of “true and definitive” applied to the Old Testament figures that announce Christ—makes Scripture a harmonious whole, one is entitled to wonder what fate Christianity, in Ratzinger, has in store for the Gentile. “The Jew (Ἰουδαίῳ) first, and the Greek (Ἕλληνι)” (Rom 1:16): the formula, recurrent in St. Paul, recalls the order of priorities. However, the Greek is already concerned by the universal history of Israel, and in particular by God’s revelation to Moses in the Burning Bush (Ex 3). At Mount Horeb, the pagans who until then had been worshipping a God without knowing him, the “unknown God” (Ἀγνώστῳ θεῷ) whose inscription St. Paul discovers at the Areopagus in Athens (Acts 17:23), are summoned. They are also summoned to Sinai, where another theophany takes place that leads to the gift of the Laws, and, a fortiori, to the “new Sinai”, “definitive Sinai” (I, 87), which Ratzinger identifies with the mountain where the discourse of the Beatitudes takes place (Mt 4, 12-25) and, with even more reason, with Mount Golgotha (I, 167).

Historically, the sum of Ex 3:14 occurs in a context where the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob chooses a people and orchestrates their liberation from a pagan nation that held them in bondage. The particularity of the mode of revelation of the Divine Name does not, however, contradict the universal scope of its content. Anxious to interpret historical realities spiritually—and vice versa—Ratzinger proves this in various ways. First of all, through Scripture, he interprets the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt and the return to the Promised Land as a restart of the history of Israel, from its Mosaic origin (III, 159) to the Maccabean revolts. In His incarnation, the Word who was with God in the beginning comes into the world in Galilee, that is, “in a corner of the earth already considered half pagan” (I, 85) and receives Roman citizenship under the reign of Augustus, an emperor considered to be the son of God, if not God himself, and who has, without knowing it, contributed to the fulfillment of the promise by establishing political universality and peace in his Empire (III, 93-95).

From His native Galilee, the Messiah goes to Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it (Lk 13:34), the place where salvation is to come at the end of an ascent to which Saint Luke, in his Gospel, has given a geographical as well as a spiritual connotation. He who found more faith in the pagans, who opened his door to Him, than in most of the children of Israel (Mt 8:10) who did not receive Him, made Jerusalem the center of a revelation that began with the adoration of the pagan magi in Bethlehem and is fully accomplished in the proclamation of Christ’s death and resurrection to all nations. Thus, at the other end of the New Testament, Ratzinger is right to interpret St. Paul’s vision of a Macedonian calling the apostle of the Gentiles to his aid (Acts 16:6-10) as a justification for what has been called, more often than not to criticize, the Hellenization of Christianity. “It is not by chance that the Christian message, in its development, first penetrated the Greek world and became involved in the problem of intelligibility and truth” (35).

Where some, fearing the dissolution of Christian specificity in Greek culture and philosophy, advocate a “retreat into the purely religious” (82), Ratzinger firmly supports the “inalienable right of the Greek element in Christianity” (35). The ontological interpretation that the Fathers of the Church, and the medieval theologians after them, gave to the “I am” by which God calls himself in Ex 3:14, is the basis, a few centuries after the Greek kick-off, for what Ratzinger dares to call the “identification” of the “philosophical concept of God” with the biblical God (66), with several not inconsiderable transformations (84-85). Pascal is at liberty, in a formula which has made history – often for the wrong reasons – to oppose the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to that of the philosophers and scholars, without the choice of “primitive Christianity… for the God of the philosophers against the God of the philosophers”. ) for the God of the philosophers against the gods of the religions” (80), the “primacy of the logos” (91) inherent in the Christian faith would have been flouted and there would probably not be, to this day, philosophers and scholars to oppose to the Law and the prophets. In Ratzinger, we find what justifies the “metaphysics of the Exodus” that Stephen Gilson vigorously defended: the Christian God is the new and true Supreme Being of which Plato and Aristotle speak, once the “gap” that separates him from the biblical God has been reduced (66), once the “first immobile motor” has been transformed by contact with the God of faith (87-89). “In this sense, there is in faith the experience that the God of the philosophers is quite different from what they had imagined, without ceasing to be what they had found” (85).

If, at Mount Horeb, God reveals that He is the Being who subsists in Himself and gives all things their being, the revelation of the Divine Name does not entirely lift the veil on His essence. The sum qui sum, Ratzinger asks, is it not rather “a refusal than a declaration of identity?” (72) Opposing the gods that pass away with the God who is may resolve Moses’ immediate concern: the Divine Name allows the people to invoke God in their struggle and to guard against worshipping pagan idols. However, the immediate presence of God, “which constitutes the very heart of Moses’ mission as well as its intimate reason” (I, 292), is quickly “overshadowed.” The Lord’s answer to Moses’ prayer, “Let me behold your glory” (Ex 33:18), sets the limits of prophetic knowledge of God. The Old Covenant, in the end, “presents only the outline of the happiness to come, not the exact image of the realities” (Heb 10:1). The Old Testament prefigures and prepares (Rom 5:14) the one who will fully accomplish what began with Moses, but of which Moses is only a shadow (Col 2:17). In Israel, God accustoms people to His presence until the moment when, taking up the answer given to Moses on Sinai—”no one can see my face” (Ex 33:23)—he offers people, on His own initiative, to see and know Him in the person of Jesus Christ (Jn 1:18).

To say that “the last prophet, the new Moses, was given what the first Moses could not obtain” (1:25) is not only to emphasize the absolutely unique intimacy and covenant that is born with Christ, the Word of God, but also to consider His coming as the completion of the revelation made to Moses. If Ratzinger is concerned with noting, throughout the Gospels, and especially in Saint Matthew who insists particularly on the fulfillment of the Scriptures in Jesus, the way in which Christ is inscribed in the line of the great mediators of revelation, he does not fail to orient each correspondence towards the Christological summit which is the Cross. Ratzinger’s theology is clearly Christocentric, and his Christology is itself centered on the Cross. Theologia a Cruce, one could say, theology based on or leaning against the Cross, avoiding, with Father de Lubac, the equivocal expression, especially since Luther, of Theologia crucis. For Ratzinger, faithful to the patristic reading of Henri de Lubac, “it is the Cross that dissipates the cloud with which Truth was covered until then”[4]. This is true from the first announcements of the Passion to the “priestly prayer” of Christ reported by Saint John (Jn 17), which Ratzinger comments on in several places and in which he sees a “New Testament replica of the account of the Burning Bush” (76). “I have made known to them your name” (Jn 17:26), says the Son addressing the Father: “The name, which has remained incomplete since Sinai, so to speak, is pronounced to the end” (III, 51). Moreover, “the name is no longer just a word, but designates a person: Jesus himself” (77). Christ appears as the Burning Bush itself, from which the name of God is communicated to men.

In this respect, there is indeed a “metaphysics of the cross” in Ratzinger, which extends and completes the “metaphysics of the Exodus.” In other words, the mystery of the Cross cannot be reduced to the mystery of redemption. In the history of salvation, redemption always follows revelation: God saves by showing Himself, by revealing what He is. This is evidenced by Ratzinger’s distinction between the two types of confession of faith in the Gospel: ontologically oriented confession, based on nouns on the one hand—you are the Christ, the Son of the living God, etc.—and verbally oriented confession based on the other—you are the Son of the living God.

On the other hand, there is a verbal confession oriented towards salvation history—the proclamation of the paschal mystery of the Cross and resurrection, etc.—and a verbal confession of faith in the Gospel. In the light of this fundamental difference, he states that “the statement in strict terms of the history of salvation remains devoid of its ontological depth if it is not clearly stated that he who suffered, the Son of the living God, is like God” (I, 326). In this way, the universality of the mission of Christ is respected, who, on the cross, is not the “king of the Jews,” a typically “non-Hebrew” expression used by Pilate (III, 145), but the “king of Israel,” according to a new kingship, the “kingship of truth” (II, 223), and at the head of an Israel that has become universal. “Universality… is put into the light of the Cross: from the Cross, the one God becomes recognizable by the nations; in the Son they will know the Father and, in this way, the one God who revealed himself in the burning bush” (II, 33). God manifests himself to the Greeks on the Cross: “between the pagan world and the blessed Trinity, there is only one passage, which is the Cross of Christ” (204), Ratzinger writes, quoting Daniélou.

Christology and Ontology

It is clear that for Ratzinger “the Cross is revelation” (206). But what does it reveal? Not “some hitherto unknown propositions” (207). It reveals who God is and how man is. The Cross combines the Ecce homo (Jn 19:5) of Pilate and the “Behold the Lord God” (Is 40:10) of the prophet. Golgotha, the “true summit,” is the condition sine qua non for knowing God, for understanding the “I Am” (I, 377). ” When you shall have lifted up the Son of man, then shall you know, that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself, but as the Father hath taught me, these things I speak” (Jn 8:28), writes the evangelist. Does this mean that the ontological statement of the Burning Bush would finally receive, with Christ, the object left dangling after the verbal form, ἐγώ εἰμι in St. John? Faithful to St. Augustine, Ratzinger rather sees Christ as the one in whom the Divine Name is pronounced perfectly. Better: the one in whom the Divine Name is realized, becomes actual. Just as in the Psalms, according to St. Augustine, “it is always Christ who speaks, alternately as Head or as Body” (II, 172), so on the Cross Christ becomes the subject of the divine “I am.” The mystery of the Passion of Christ is thus “an event in which someone is what He does, and does what He is” (197).

Here lies the singularity of Ratzerian Christology, marked by Johannine ontology and fertilized by the Aristotelianism of the medieval theologians. The being of Christ, Ratzinger reminds us in The Faith, is identical to his act. Borrowing from the notion of actualitas divina and the idea, of Thomistic origin but which he traces back to Saint Augustine, of “the Existence which is pure Act” (110), the theologian insists on the identity, in Jesus Christ, “of the work and the being, of the action and the person, the total absorption of the person in his work, the coincidence of the doing with the person himself” (151). The fusion, in the phrase “Jesus Christ,” of the name with the title testifies well to this identification of the function and the person (133). Therefore, one cannot separate the “Jesus of history” from the “Christ of faith,” as historical-critical exegesis has done on a massive scale, any more than it is possible to oppose a theology of the incarnation to a theology of the Cross. Ratzinger reconciles the two, since Christ’s being is actuality and, reciprocally, His action, is His being, reached to the depths of His being (155).

The same is true of “phenomenology and existential analyses,” to which Ratzinger grants a certain usefulness, while judging them insufficient: “They do not go deep enough, because they do not touch the domain of true being” (154). In the formula dear to Christian phenomenology—God is such as He reveals Himself—the verb “to be” takes precedence: identity is not valid as a simple equivalence—God would be such as He reveals Himself, a simple act of donation, the mode becoming substance—but as a properly metaphysical statement pronounced from the divine esse. The first affirmation of theology, that of Ex 3:14, would rather be: God is “as he is” (1 Jn 3:2). But, having renounced “discovering being in itself” in order to limit itself to the “positive,” to what appears, phenomenology, in the same way as physics or historicism, remains on the threshold of mystery. Ratzinger regrets that in our day “ontology is becoming more and more impossible” and that “philosophy is largely reduced to phenomenology, to the simple question of what appears” (127). But being and appearing, in Christ, are one and the same.

This “pure actuality” of Christ is first verified in the ad intra works of the Trinity. Ratzinger recalls that Father and Son are concepts of relationship. Thus “the first person does not engender the Son in the sense that the act of generation would be added to the constituted person; on the contrary, it is the act of generation, the act of giving itself, of spreading itself” (117). The “solitary reign of the category substance” is broken: “one discovers the “relation” as an original form of the being, of the same rank as the substance.” Consequently, the Johannine formula already quoted according to which the Son can do nothing of Himself, informing us about the Christic doing, also informs us about His properly relational being. “The Son, as Son and insofar as He is Son, does not exist at all on His own and is therefore totally one with the Father” (118). So that the being of Jesus appears to us, in the light of St. John, as a “totally open being,” “coming from” and “ordained to.” In Jesus of Nazareth, Ratzinger takes up this theme of “being-for” (Sein-für), borrowed in particular from Heinz Schürmann (II, 203). The pro-existence of Jesus means that “His being is in a being for” (II, 158). “In the passion and in death, the life of the Son of Man becomes fully ‘being for,’ He becomes the liberator and savior for “the multitude,” not only for the scattered children of Israel, but more generally for the scattered children of God… for humanity” (I, 360). The universality of the salvation brought by Christ thus finds its origin in this being-for and the implications ad extra of this intra-trinitarian identity of the Son. As a “true fundamental law of Christian existence” (172), the “principle of the for” thus justifies Israel’s reconciliation with the Gentiles (Eph 2:13-16): having given His life for all, Christ becomes the principle of eternal salvation “for all those who obey him” (Heb 5:9).

Jesus Christ brought God to mankind: here we return, after a detour through the history of salvation, to the Christological source of this obvious but fundamental affirmation that Ratzinger has seen fit to recall. As “God who saves,” Jesus is God for men, God among men, “Emmanuel.” The immanence of God, given to Israel “in the dimension of the word and of liturgical fulfillment,” has become ontological: “In Jesus, God has become man. God has entered into our very being” (II, 114). According to Ratzinger, more than vicarious satisfaction, humanity receives its salvation from the identity, maintained in Jesus Christ, of the two natures; and with it, the identity between its being and its doing. On the Cross, the identity of God is perfectly realized in Christ, and thus visible to all: He is truly the one who gives Himself. Redemption is played out first in this perfect fulfillment of the “I am.” The identity of God, which is the subject of so many questions in the Old Testament as in Greek philosophy, is revealed on the Cross and is revealed precisely as an identity. God, in Christ, is truly what He is. On Calvary, “love and truth meet” (Ps 84:11), a theme that Benedict XVI will regularly expound during his pontificate.

Therefore, the divine being is open to the world and offers a previously unknown way to ensure the return of creation to God. Jesus Christ is this way, this “path” (Jn 14:6). The union achieved in Jesus of Nazareth “must extend to the whole of Adam and transform him into the Body of Christ” (182). The path taken by the Lord, in which Jews and Gentiles walk together, presents itself to humanity as an ascent to the Cross combined with a progressive renunciation of self.

Romano Guardini, whose influence on Ratzinger’s theology is well known, writes in this sense in The Lord that Christ’s life consists, after having lowered divinity towards humanity, in “[lifting] his humanity above itself into the divine ocean”[6]. In Guardini’s work, we can already see the literary and theological coincidence between the ascent to Jerusalem, where the King of Glory gradually understands that He will have to pass through the figure of the Suffering Servant, and the constitution of an economy of salvation, faithful to the promise that God’s salvation will reach all nations. The wider opening of salvation and hope has a condition: the deeper humiliation of Christ. What Christ gains in annihilation, humanity gains in elevation; and vice versa, since “the ascent to God happens when we accompany Him in this abasement” (I, 117). “Only with Christ, the man who is “one with the Father,” the man through whom man’s being has entered into the eternity of God, does man’s future appear definitively open” (254). This is the true lordship and authentic kingship that God exercises through Christ: The Master of the universe, fulfilling the ancient proskynesis, lowers himself to the extreme limit of self-emptying, becomes a servant. The “sons in the Son” will be recognized by the fact that they remain eternally in the house where their master (Jn 8:35), because they have asked for it (Jn 1:38), has brought them: the dwelling place of being which is that of love (Jn 15:9). Great mystery of a faith where one reigns in service (I, 360), since the dominus or κύριος, in order to be never again separated from His creation, united Himself to it, engulfed Himself in the “heart of the world” to such a depth that any fall in the future would be a fall in Him.


Augustin Talbourdel: cogito a Deo ergo sum. This article appears courtesy of PHILITT.

Anatomy of the Progressive Revolution

We are so very delighted to provide this excerpt from After Justice: Catholic Challenges to Progressive Culture, Politics, Economics and Education, the latest book by philosopher Thomas A. Michaud.

Over the years, Progressivism has emerged as the dominate ideology of the West. In this book, Professor Michaud traces how this domination came about, wherein anti-Modernism and authoritarian strains coalesced into the Woke mentality that employs social and mainstream media to transform the “people” into a conformist, hive-minded ruling mob, driven by moral righteousness. This is an insightful book. Please support Professor’s important work and purchase a copy and consult the fully annotated version of this excerpt.

A cultural infrastructure of shared morality is necessary for the success of market economics. Traditional views maintain that religion is the nurturing source of the morality, which grows in the culture. The Progressive revolution aims to overturn Traditional morality and impose its social justice morality on culture. This article dissects and critiques the multifaceted Progressive revolution in the USA, while contrasting it with the Traditional view. It argues that the ultimate aim of the revolution is to redefine the human person through identity politics as a collective entity, which essentially liquidates the individual, conforms the person to social justice morality, and establishes socialistic economics.

The degree to which market economies are grounded on moral norms that are affirmed as metaphysically objective and universal, is the degree to which the market economies can flourish. Without such normative grounds, moral turpitude can corrupt a market economy, ultimately resulting in the economy’s collapse. The actors in the economy lose trust in each other; there is no mutual respect and honesty among them. Without moral norms, market commerce degenerates into gang war types of vicious “combat zones” wherein success means eliminating the competition, both economically and literally.

Throughout history market morality has been due typically to the influence of religion on culture. The moral norms of religion establish a cultural infrastructure for trust, honesty, fair dealing and moral accountability among persons acting in the market.

There is also an historical non-religious source of market “morality.” This is not a morality that is based on principles of honesty and mutual respect for the value and dignity of others. It is the “morality” of the dictates of a government authority exercising a “command and control” economy, which, in current times in the United States, is manifest in Progressive collectivist economics of socialism. The authoritarian collectivist government aims to establish, regulate and enforce what is “right” for commerce. Morality, in such collectivism, does not grow organically through the influence of religion, but is imposed on culture according to the ideological aims of the governing authority. As history has shown, however, command and control collectivist economies are not as long-lived or beneficial to persons as market economies that grow organically within the religiously nurtured morality of their culture.

The first two sections of this article will describe and contrast the Traditional view of religion as the source of cultural morality that influences politics and economics with the Progressive revolutionary aims to transform culture by imposing their ideological “social justice” morality of a collectivist political economy. The vicissitudes of the Progressive revolutionary agenda will be analyzed and critiqued in detail. The third section will expose a worrisome, fundamental philosophical problem with the Progressive agenda, namely the Progressive De-Personalization. This article will then finish with some remarks regarding what is at stake for the future of market-based USA political economy.

The Traditional View

Along with many other Traditionals, the late politico Andrew Breitbart believed that politics is downstream from culture, and culture is downstream from religion. To expand on Breitbart’s proposition, culture, especially morality, flows from religion, and politics and economics flow from culture.

Breitbart’s Traditional view of the relationship between religion, culture, politics and economics has a profound heritage including some of the United States’ founders. In his Farewell Address, George Washington, for example, stated,

“Of all the dispositions which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports these [are the] great pillars of human happiness. [Where] is the security for prosperity, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation deserts the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice?… [Let] us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of a peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule indeed extends with more or less force to every species of free government.”

Washington could not be more explicit with his belief that morality flows from religion, and since morality is necessary for a free “popular,” democratic republic government, so too is religion necessary. His mentions of prosperity, property and happiness reveal his firm understanding that a free-market economy that allows for the pursuit of happiness does require a religiously based morality. His reference to religiously based oaths, such as swearing to “tell the truth, so help you God,” further reinforces the need for religious morality to maintain honesty and justice in, and the security of, a free nation.

Following Washington, John Adams recognized that the republic, freedom and prosperity depend on preserving a moral citizenry. Adams affirmed that, “It is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand.”

Like Breitbart, Washington and Adams, the late Richard John Neuhaus, a 21st century culture commentator, observed that, “Politics is chiefly a function of culture, at the heart of culture is morality and at the heart of morality is religion.” To encapsulate these views, the traditional position can be represented as:

RELIGION spawns MORALITY which influences CULTURE which influences POLITICS and ECONOMICS

In the Traditional view, morality, norms/standards for what constitutes a good or bad action, flows from religion and grows organically in culture. It is ultimately from religion and morality that persons develop their beliefs as to virtue vs. vice, what is the good/happy life, the importance of the family, the sense of individual accountability, and the personal responsibility for earning and stewarding wealth. The interrelationship between politics and economics is influenced by the culture, which, for Traditionals, results in a political economy that values free enterprise, market commerce, individual achievement, a limited government and individual autonomy. Traditionals highly value citizens as free individual persons whose liberty to pursue happiness and personal flourishing should respect morally all other persons and should be protected, and unabridged by their democratic republic. This Traditional appreciation of the individual person is precisely a main Progressive target for fundamental change as will be explained in the following anatomy of the Progressive revolution

The Progressive View

The late U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan analyzed the difference between Traditionalism (conservatism) and Progressivism (liberalism) as such, “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.” Moynihan recognized that in the conservative, Traditional, view culture is the driver of social success. He also recognized that for liberals, politics rule so that a culture that is not driven by their Progressive politics is damned and must be reformed to save it from its own backwardness. His insight illumines a basic conviction of the Progressive revolutionary strategy that politics can change culture and make it conform to the ideological ideals for an enlightened, “woke” society. The full Progressive agenda can be represented with the following summation.

POLITICS spawns ECONOMICS. Both spawn CULTURE (MORALITY) which in turn influences EDUCATION, the JUSTICE SYSTEM, and the MEDIA

This summation can be best explicated by offering a series of points that describe briefly its facets and the relationships among them.

  • For Progressives, collectivist politics is the prime mover for gaining power and control over society with their revolutionary agenda. Progressives’ devotion to their ideology is a type of religious zeal. They are indeed zealots, uncompromising ideologues who are convinced that their position has all of the answers even before questions arise. And if their political answers, solutions, do fail or do not yield immediate results, they tend to blame it on the backward Traditionals, the unsophisticated and obstinate religious right, or some constructed “force” beyond their control like climate change or a pandemic.
  • Progressive politics and their agenda itself are devoid of religion. In the name of their supreme value of social justice, religion must be excluded. No influential moral force greater than their ideology can be admitted. The unenlightened morality of Traditional religions must be deconstructed and substituted with their politically constructed “woke” morality: a social justice morality that serves their vision of collective unity.
  • Progressive politics wages its revolution with the weapon of economics. Through socialist dirigisme, economic policies create antagonisms between classes, races, ethnicities and genders. Progressives’ favored groups are those who are oppressed victims by past economic inequalities and inequities. They are given or promised privileged status through various government policies and programs. These groups’ allegiance to the Progressive agenda is fortified by such privileges.
  • Progressive economics secures their politics and engenders the change in culture they seek. They contend that without the social justice morality they promise, the nation will be overwhelmed by the many crises it faces. Only their political economic ideology will ensure true social justice. Janet Yellen, White House Cabinet Secretary for the Dept. of Treasury has bluntly stated this alarming warning, “The country is also facing a climate crisis, a crisis of systemic racism, and an economic crisis that has been building for fifty years… I believe economic policy can be a potent tool to improve society. We can—and should—use it to address inequality, racism, and climate change.”
  • As indicated, it is social justice morality that Progressives strive to establish as a substitute for Traditional morality in economics and in culture at large. Their social justice morality emphasizes compensatory and distributive justice. Compensatory justice aims to correct the past and present injustices to oppressed groups. They promote government “compensations” such as, reparations—financial and otherwise, affirmative action programs, and selective applications of criminal justice in regard, for instance, to rioting, property destruction, and looting. Distributive justice aims to correct inequalities and inequities suffered by oppressed groups in regard to earning and accumulating wealth. Again, government managed and, if need be, enforced examples include free college tuition, guaranteed basic income, universal medical care, housing, food/meal programs, childcare, and “tax the rich” progressive income taxation.
  • Progressive politics implemented by their socialistic economics according to their social justice morality, and the interaction of these factors generates revolutionary changes in culture. These changes are spurred on and spread by facets of culture led by Progressive activists. Public education, and much of private education, adhere to and inject Progressive ideology into their curricula and organizational leadership. The revolutionaries want education at all levels, but especially higher education, to be “government education” which promotes the Progressive agenda. For them, education, happily, is indoctrination, since educators and educational contents that oppose “The Agenda” are summarily cancelled.
  • Progressives believe that the justice system has been systemically unjust and must be reformed and saved by their social justice morality. The system must be repopulated with Progressive ideologues in such positions as police leadership, government prosecutors, and judges, especially in the higher courts including the US Supreme Court. With the moral standards of social justice, the legal system must be used, when possible, to reform economic issues, as well as criminal law, while advocating for and ruling in favor of the oppressed.
  • Education, the Justice System and the Media interact to form a collective unity that strengthens and advances the Progressive agenda. Their unified collective efforts are indefatigable; they seize every opportunity Progressive politicians create for them in order to sustain a “permanent revolution” that simply does not retreat. The media are an integral factor in the unceasing propagation of the revolution. They spread the message of the Agenda, so that the facets of culture maintain a collective focus. “Media” in this context has a broad meaning. It includes print media, social media, mainstream TV news, and entertainment media, such as streaming TV services (e.g., Netflix, Hulu, Prime, Amazon, and HBO), sports shows (ESPN, CBSSN and FS1), and movie studios. TV series (comedies and dramas) and movies are filled with Progressive propaganda. In fact, if a series offers an alternative, more Traditional perspective, it risks cancellation. The Progressive scions of social media are uninhibited lords of their fiefdoms. “Un-woke” posts and individuals are cancelled if they communicate unenlightened views. The media’s collective prosecution of the “cancel culture” movement has indeed become a potent force in executing the permanent revolution.
  • The concept of “permanent revolution” is fundamental to the Progressive agenda. This Marxist notion was adopted and adapted by Leon Trotsky in the early 20c. Trotsky’s words, the underlined passages, can be paraphrased to express the Progressive aims: The Progressive permanent revolution accepts no compromise. The revolution can end only with the complete liquidation of Traditional culture. The permanent revolution is not a leap by the Progressives but the reconstruction of the nation under the dictatorship of the Progressives. Chairman Mao had similar ideas with his notion of Continuous Revolution, which was the guiding thrust of his Cultural Revolution. The Progressives’ revolution is not new to history. Collectivist/socialistic morality, economics and culture have happened before, but never have they entirely succeeded. They have not succeeded in the Soviet Union, not in Cuba, and not even in China, which is refashioning its communism in certain ways to expand its sphere of influence by engaging the global market economy.

The Progressive Depersonalization

The political is the personal and the personal is the political. This maxim was a slogan of the late 1960s feminist and student movements. It also expresses axiomatically the Progressives’ “identity politics” which is defined lexically by Merriam-Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary as, “Politics in which groups of people having a particular racial, ethnic, social, gender or cultural identity tend to promote their own specific interests or concerns…” Identity politics according to Jeffrey Escofier “is a kind of cultural politics. It relies on the development of a culture that is able to create new and affirmative conceptions of the self, to articulate collective identities, and to forge a sense of group loyalty. Identity politics requires the development of rigid definitions of the boundaries between those who have particular collective identities and those who do not.” To offer some additional traits, identity politics is a politic of cultural change. The identity groups develop tribal boundaries, which may intersect with other identity groups that have suffered injustice and oppression, but boundaries absolutely exclude any group of non-victims, the oppressors. The identities define the self within the cultural collective. To self-identify with a collective requires group loyalty, typically a loyalty that replaces any Traditional aspect of culture, such as religious loyalty or patriotic commitment to one’s nation.

The wicked irony of “the personal is the political” axiom is, however, that it is precisely the personal, the sense of oneself as an individual, which the Progressive revolution aims to cancel. A society’s culture without a strong sense of the individual as essential to the person is bereft of crucial values like individual/personal autonomy and moral responsibility, self-reliance, individual/personal achievement and reward, and individual/personal property and wealth. These values are of baseline importance to Traditional culture but erasing and substituting them with ideologically charged collective identities enables the cultural transformation that Progressives desire.

The individual is a locus of rights and responsibilities. Our personal identity is who and what we become as individual persons. We become persons insofar as we respect those rights for others and ourselves and fulfill those responsibilities. Individuals grow and mature to become persons. Persons retain their individuality while realizing their responsibilities to themselves, families, communities and nation. Our freedom, self-determination, liberty, ambitions and aspirations are most perfectly fulfilled in the process of becoming persons.

The Progressive personal identity effectively liquidates the individual. The individual is not something real, the core of our self, but merely an epiphenomenon of our collective group identity. The collective group is the locus of rights and responsibilities. Our right to self-determination is nothing more than acting with and for the social justice’s sake of the collective. Our prime responsibility is to oppose the social injustice that our group and all of the other groups with which we intersect have suffered and are suffering. With the cancellation of the individual person, the Progressive revolution is able to employ strategically its social justice morality to provide opportunity, cover for establishing its socialist economics, and fundamentally transform the culture of the USA to create a new nation that has disposed of its Traditional history. The Progressives’ permanent revolution can abide no other outcome.

Final Remarks

The advancement of the Progressive revolution hinges on redefining the human person. Just as successful market economies need Traditional morality rooted in their culture, Progressives plant their ideological social justice morality in culture and nurture it with identity politics. Identity politics excises the individual and reduces the person to a collective entity, which then can be more easily manipulated by social justice morality and directed by the Progressive state. Socialist economics is a means for Progressive politics to command and control the culture and generate total cultural change. Full transformation of the culture requires widespread acceptance of the Progressive collective view of human nature.

The Progressive revolution aims to change the way in which people understand themselves, understand their very humanity as collective beings. If their revolution ultimately succeeds, it will have ongoing permanence since it will have to correct continuously lingering cultural issues. For instance, criminal guilt must become understood as the fault of some sort of injustice suffered by the perpetrator’s collective. Any beliefs in and efforts to earn private wealth and property would have to be rectified by the state. Moreover, even eschatological beliefs in personal immortality, an individual afterlife, would have to be challenged, probably suppressed, by the state.

The Progressive revolution against Traditional society is fomenting a civil war in the USA, albeit a cold war, but a war, nonetheless. Effective resistance begins with understanding the revolution’s anatomy, recognizing and rejecting Progressive “woke” political strategies and leaders as abetted by educational institutions, the justice system and the media. Progressives will not abandon their permanent revolution, though resistance can weaken it, perhaps even to the extent that it becomes nothing more than an annoying facet of the cultural fringe.


Featured: “The Awakening,” a poster by Henry “Hy” Mayer, published in Puck Magazine, February 20, 1915.

On the Beautiful and Beauty

To speak of the beautiful and of beauty, we must first briefly provide a little history. The first to deal with the subject in depth was Plato, especially in two of his dialogues, Symposium and Hippias Major, where he states that “beautiful things are difficult” [khalepà tà kalá] (Hippias Major, 304e).

Since, then down to now, many attempts, experimental and practical, have been made to solve this problem, Plato instead places beauty in the hyperuranios topos, in the place of heaven of absolute realities and links it with the idea of good. Beauty is related to being and is founded in it. In the Hippias beauty springs from the splendor of form, and in the Symposium it springs from love, which is also the means to reach it. The beautiful is grasped through successive intuitions that begin with the sensible and rise to the true reality of the world of Ideas or Forms.

Aristotle gave birth to the philosophy of art, an activity that man carries out through intuitive reason, whose function is poetic and penetrating. Thus, for him, art imitates nature, which is where beauty has its seat. He establishes the canon of the philosophy of art with the ideas of clarity, harmony and proportion. Four centuries later came Plotinus (203-270 AD), who in the Enneads continues Plato’s thesis and affirms: “beauty is diffused by entering into matter.”

Then Christian philosophy, with St. Augustine (354-430 AD) in the Early Middle Ages, affirmed that “the infinite beauty and light and life [is] God Himself,” thus following Plato. This continued with Dionysius Areopagite who lived between the 5th and 6th centuries, and who in his much-commented-upon treatise On the Divine Names, in chapter 4 analyzes the beautiful in itself and in its relations with the good, affirming that in itself it has its origin in subsistent Beauty (God). And in its relations, it is a quality that lies in the form and manifests itself as the splendor of the same. Thus, Dionysius follows Plato’s version of beauty as splendor veri = splendor of truth.

It was not until the late Middle Ages that theologians and philosophers recovered the metaphysical treatment of the beautiful with their original theory of the transcendentals. But not all of them. For example, Thomas Aquinas does not take it into account when he enunciates it. Others do, such as, Alexander of Halles, St. Bonaventure, Robert Grosseteste, Vincent of Beauvais, Hugo of St. Victor.

With modern philosophy, the transcendent sense of the entity disappears and becomes subjective. With the appearance of romanticism, and the Sturm und Drang movement with the exaltation of the subjective, the direction in search of the beautiful was oriented neither in the form nor in the idea nor in the entity but in feeling.

Thus, the beautiful in Kant’s Critique of Judgment of 1790 is reduced to the judgment of taste—that which pleases without concept. And the sublime as the beautiful great.

A few years earlier, Baumgarten (1714-1762) had inaugurated aesthetics, a discipline later founded by Kant, and validated at the same time by Benedetto Croce (1866-1952) in his Breviary of Aesthetics (1912), thus reducing the beautiful to the fine arts.

Finally, contemporary philosophy reacted, and in its attempt to reconquer the real, especially from Hartmann and Heidegger, it sought the insertion of the beautiful in being. Thus, the Magician of Freiburg, in “The Origin of the Work of Art” (1952) affirmed: “Beauty is the “shining forth” for the “self-concealing being” in the work [as an increase of being]. Beauty is one way in which truth occurs.”

This analysis of the work of art leads us to ask ourselves how do we discern the beautiful. In the first place, we know that reality is reached on the basis of existence which is enveloped in the light of evidence; and as we know that evidence is that which is admitted without appeal, the beautiful in its singular existence is oriented to the one who is able to apprehend it and take pleasure in it. The sensible apprehension of the beautiful consists in a certain intuition of the internal senses that reflects pleasure as an indicator of beauty. Pleasure, Brentano affirms, is always of something and not in something. This affirmation carries in its essence the transcendence of the purely subjective. This intimate link, between pleasure and apprehension, becomes the detector of the beautiful. Thus, in the perception of the beautiful there is something of knowledge and something of pleasure. Thereby, things please because they are beautiful and not, as in subjectivism, that they are beautiful because they please. “Unlike technical objects,” the Latvian Nicolai Hartmann argues, “the aesthetic object has depth.”

We see how throughout this brief historical sketch the possession of beauty is disputed by three disciplines—aesthetics, philosophy of art and metaphysics. Let us continue with the latter approach.

The beautiful, τὸ καλόν = pulchrum, is the entity itself insofar as it is delectable and this is shown in simple contemplation without more. Thus, a rose is beautiful by itself and that is enough. [The ostensible and manifest concealment of the transcendentals from the consciousness of the great masters of current philosophy can be seen in Hans Georg Gadamer, knowledgeable as the best of classical metaphysics, who in a beautiful book The Relevance of the Beautiful (1987) makes no mention of the subject.] To look for a cause for it is to hide its pristine sense—the entity considered in itself, which pleases the sight and the senses. It pleases the apprehension, while the good delights our affection. There is the beautiful by nature which is independent of subjectivity and the art of the beautiful where the attempt is made to embody beauty. The ratio of the beautiful is clarity: splendor, as Plato said—splendor veri. The dialectical relationship in the work between opus (object) and labor (artist or observer) is the core of aesthetics.

The consequences are that these transcendental properties of the entity, so called because they go beyond any category, form a unity with it, are convertible with the entity. And when I say entity, I say essence, existence, one, true, good and beautiful. But how, if there are things that are ugly, others bad, false, broken or split, non-existent and imaginary? All this is explained by the lack of entity-ness of the entity to which they apply. A fundamental role is played here by the theory of sterēsis, the deprivation of being, according to which the ugly, the bad, the false and the broken are so because they lack being, they do not possess being in fullness.

But the being itself, the το ον η ον, it is a (unum) thing (res) that exists (aliquid), being true, good and beautiful. And this is the proposition that the metaphysics of today has to deal with. Here is our proposal.

The entity in itself is not a genus and therefore cannot receive determinations, but it has manifestations or aspects that become with it (ens et unum, verum, etc., convertuntur) and that allow us to study it, making it more evident.

This can be achieved not by making more scholastic distinctions, which have already been made and well made, but by shedding new light on these old wineskins. For example, how is the one different from the “one world?” Trust from the post-truth? The beautiful from the validation of the ugly? The other from the aliquid? The good from philanthropy? These are questions that the genuine metaphysician must answer. And if he does not, he is not a metaphysician.

Another example is that of existential philosophy (Existentiell in the sense of Heidegger) which aims to arrive at a metaphysics (and not Existentiell in the way of Jasper or Sartre), which wants to start from the singular, existing and concrete reality, through the awareness of each of one’s reality, one’s life, one’s actions and one’s world. And in this reality, one must distinguish between value of being and ways of being. Value = good is one such reality, while the modes are multiple. Entities, being such, are a subsistent whole and not parts of being; but they all participate in the value of being. And so each realizes the value of being according to its particular way. The ontological order is an order of participation.

To explore and exploit these dimensions of being is the task that future metaphysics owes itself and that great philosophers, such as those named above, have sketched but not fully explored. Metaphysics remains a discipline open to investigation, “a science yet sought”—επιστήμη ζητούμενη (episteme zetoumene), as good-old Aristotle asserted 2500 years ago.


Alberto Buela is an Argentinian philosopher and professor at National Technological University and the University of Barcelona. He is the author of many books and articles.


Featured: “Zeuxis Choosing the Models for his Painting of Helen from among the Maidens of Croton,” by François-André Vincent; painted ca. 1791.

Christ Against the Skeptics: The Example of St. Maria Goretti

There are those who take Christ’s commandment “thou shalt not judge” (Mt 7:1-6) as a philosophical sentence that aims at suspending all judgment, at all times and in all places. It would be necessary, therefore, to give in to a kind of suspension, of restraint marked by relativism; everything would have to be without a scale of values or appreciation. To give one’s opinion would be seen as an overstatement, the worst of vanities—the horror—almost nihilism. We would have to think of a life without truth that would lead us to a dead end. We thus read Christ as we read Sextus Empiricus, who urges us, in the face of the complexity of the things of life, to practice epoché, the virtue of the suspension of judgment, as a purgation against blabber, an extinction of bad, diffuse and confused thoughts, golden silence in the face of bronze logorrhea and endless palaver in search of the truth. You will not judge because my life is my life, your life is yours; we do what we want; you do your job and I’ll do mine. In essence, the provisional morality of the moderns is always in this direction.

It is because Jesus Christ died and rose again that His words have a scope that goes beyond the practical remarks of a Stoic philosopher. What Tertullian found absurd while giving him faith, credo quia absurdum; what is a folly born of the cross; what is a grandiose struggle against death, life—ends in eternal glory and gives Jesus’ words a strength that connects us to heaven. None of the great Latin moralists rivals the teaching of Jesus. Seneca teaches us to be happy for a long time, Jesus to be happy forever in His Kingdom.

The commandment of Christ is not of this kind. Modern people are assailed by these nonsense phrases inspired by the Gospel and rephrased in a limp manner: “There’s no accounting for taste;” “to each his own;” “who are you to judge?” When Jesus commands us not to judge, he does not forbid us to give our opinion on a painter, a film, a book; he does not forbid us to say what we feel and think. The judgment that Jesus speaks of is the condemnation of a person in view of eternal life. This judgment is not the same as the one commonly accepted.

Yes, Jesus forbids us to judge others in order not to be judged. To judge the other when one is vitiated oneself, deranged and stained by sin is of the Pharisees, the bourgeois Catholics that Bloy railed against, who in public adorn themselves with beautiful and good virtues while in private they sink. They have a damned mass inside them. Not to judge a person is not to lock him up in his sin but to leave him the possibilities of his grace. God is the only judge capable of judging for eternity a soul fixed at the moment of its death. To judge for eternity one’s neighbor is a matter that is beyond us; we are unworthy, incompetent. In doing so, we fall into the pride of doing without God and replacing Him. Our impotence brings us back to our condition and we shine before the greatness of God by our impotence.

So, an alcoholic husband who beats his wife should not scandalize me? And I should keep quiet for fear of judging, of ending up as a Pharisee. This is where we have to distinguish between judging the person and the actions. To judge the actions of a violent husband seems obvious. In the West, beating one’s wife does not require any explanation. However, this man, let’s admit that he is my father, that I love him, and wish him well, know his distress and pain, I would have every right and duty to condemn his behavior but I would also have the duty and right to put him back on the right path, to offer him the possibility of being redeemed and to make him find grace.

It is easy among us, among those who are called “traditionalists,” to take the greatest efforts, the most beautiful piety, the most beautiful set plate, and to make sure of one’s state of grace before the host at communion. It is easy then to condemn the one who out of despair, out of lack of hope, threw himself from the bridge into the Garonne. But the holy Curé d’Ars reminds us: between the bridge and the water, in his fall, the suicide may have had time to convert. What science do we have to know this and to judge in eternity a man converted in extremities? In the same way, before the woman who has had an abortion, anger and fury, like an alchemy, must change into mercy. Misericordes sicut pater.

And worse still, what about when you have a murderer before you? Such serious crimes, even if they are served in prison, cannot help but be branded on a man’s skin. In the perspective of eternity, however, this is the power of Christianity, a power that shakes the guts, disarms and upsets and can change a man and convert him. A society that lives by God understands that there are two kinds of justice, that of the body and that of the soul. One can condemn harshly and still forgive, one can acquit broadly and still fall into perpetual damnation. If the body of the condemned man has been punished, imprisoned, even executed, his soul belongs to no tribunal, no law, no judgment of men; it is left to God, supreme judge of a supreme court. A society that lives without God does not understand the need to save and judge souls. Modern society indulges in a real confusion between condemning, condoning and forgiving. The whole thing forms an indistinguishable fruit salad. Forgiveness has lost its metaphysical power and condemnation is often clothed in every excuse. It takes a powerful, almost supernatural fortitude to condemn a man’s heinous crimes and, at the same time, to hope for his conversion, the redemption of his crimes through confession and contrition in view of salvation. Christianity is gifted with this kind of story. Maria Goretti’s story is the proof.

The Example of St. Maria Goretti

Two families lived in a hamlet, lost in the scrub of Lazio. Assunta Goretti was a peasant farmer, widow, mother of two daughters. Mary, the elder, was a young girl of eleven, pretty, devout and pious. In the house next door lived the Serenellis, whose son, fat, vulgar, deranged, a masturbator, a fan of pinup girls, had his heart set on the young girl.

Only known photograph of St. Maria Goretti (1902).

One day when Assunta was in the fields, the young man found Maria in the courtyard that separated the two houses. “Come with me!” The pretty girl, understanding well what was being played out, refused. Alessandro insisted again and the girl refused again. Then, he took her arm, pulled her into the kitchen; thinking of raping, took off her clothes to satisfy his fatal desire. “Stop, stop, Alessandro, if you do that you will go to hell.” Furious because of this refusal, the big beast, taken by the demon, seized his knife and struck the young girl. He did not spare her. Five blows fell her to the ground. He then attacked again with nine more: perforated lungs, pierced heart, intestines, spleen. She is found in her blood. Agonizing, after the confession, in front of all, she exclaims, “Let him be forgiven, for I forgive him, in the name of God’s love.” Alessandro spent thirty years in prison.

One evening, in prison, he received a dream visit from Mary. He was overwhelmed. Behind bars, in irons, in the damp darkness of a cell, he was converted, spent years loving Christ. He was converted. When he got out of prison, he returned to Nettuno, fell on his knees in front of Assunta and asked for her forgiveness, who, in the name of Christ, forgave him. The next day both went to Mass and took communion together. Serenelli ended his life in the Capuchin Order, worshipping the blessed woman he had killed, in poverty and love of Christ.

Nothing seems to be right in this story. How can a young girl forgive her attacker so quickly and allow the help of grace? How can a mother agree to forgive her daughter’s murderer when the simplest thing would have been to curse him for life? How could this man, so heavy, feel the urgency of such a conversion to the point of being, in the end, the worshipper of his own victim and believing in the eternal life offered to God in remission of sins? Something is beyond us and beyond good sense and common sense.

Everything should have been simpler: once a killer, always a killer. Irrecoverable, irredeemable, irremissible. Through deep, unsuspected and inexplicable ways, the Lord offered him the possibility, whatever the opinion, whatever the doxa thinks, the possibility of conversion despite the horror, despite the crime. While this does not excuse anything and does not remove the weight of condemnation in the eyes of men, even the worst of us has the possibilities of his grace offered to us, and our judgment will not be able to do anything about it; our opinion, our preconceived notions, our suspicions, our suspicions can do nothing. The truth comes from God. Alessandro Serenelli is in the line of executioners who became mad in Christ, St. Paul being the first.

We do not know everything. Only God knows the nature of our heart, what is inside, with which black or red blood it is filled. Are these not the edifying and surprising examples that can change our view of judgment? There are suspicious men who, in good faith, can only converted by seeing it with their own eyes.


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


Ethics: Philosophers and their Reasons

1.

Three ethicists go into a strip club, with gyrating scantily clad pole-dancers doing all those moves that come straight out of Bada Bing. Sorry, I am joking. It was only two ethicists…

The Kantian, on principle, cannot bring himself to make it through the door—he does not want to view women as merely means and not rational ends. In addition, when he runs through the categorical imperative, he is not convinced that he, a middle-aged portly chap, would like to be out there in his underpants struggling to go up and down the pole. As he pauses to universalize that thought-image of all those other portly comrades falling off poles, he thinks there is no way Kant himself would ever consent to going into the strip club, let alone strip down and climb the pole, even though Kant was skinny.

Once inside, the utilitarian is bent over an iPad, at the bar, trying to collate the relevant variables for the cost-benefits calculation he hopes to make, which include the general pleasure of the exclusively male audience as well as the situation of the pole dancers as wage earners, whether they like or dislike their job, and so on. He wants to interview the girls in their break about the cost/benefits involved, but the club has a strict rule of girls not talking about their work to customers—although, his university ethics committee has approved the survey tucked in his pocket.

The utilitarian also wants to factor in the negative effects on women generally, in this kind of behaviour—though here his calculative compass is a little disorientated, as he is unsure to what extent his female philosophical colleagues are a representative sample of women as such—there are four of them—they are all white (two are atheists, one is a non-religious Jew who is a supporter of BDS, and the other a lesbian Anglican). The female philosophers he knows disagree about pornography, though most are against it, and see the business as unethical. He is not sure whether pole dancing is pornography—and exactly how much it would matter if it were, or if it were more like prostitution and how it would matter if it weren’t.

He also wonders how much pain there might be in it for girlfriends or wives who “discover” their boyfriends/husbands were hanging out in this club, and whether attending the club crossed some moral line that the relationship had established. He starts to think he may need to get his hands on some sociological data about this point. He has decided to build his career upon utilitarianism because he doesn’t like the strict purity of Kantianism and the lack of attention to contingency; and he doesn’t like the elitism of the Aristotelian approach of his colleague, who thinks listening to death metal (which he still occasionally listens to in nostalgic moments), taking recreational drugs (which he is partial to, especially once the death metal is pumped up) and watching shows like Breaking Bad are a waste of one’s talents and communally toxic.

Like the utilitarian, the Aristotelian (who has beefed up Aristotle with some Hegel) finds the Kantian position too unworldly—and dangerous. The most famous Rousseauian, besides Kant, was Robespierre. And, as Hegel had pointed out, the desire to make humanity fit into the principles of virtue Rousseau dreamt up led to heads being treated like cabbages made for the chopping. The Aristotelian finds the whole thing rather sleazy, and the pleasures not really defensible. He, though, recalls Augustine’s and Aquinas’ view of prostitution, while a sin, it should not be outlawed because the city needs a sewer system.

2.

Let’s leave the ethicists wrestling with their problems, their own minds and each other, and ask why does it matter what they think and why would they think it mattered? The most obvious answer is that they think that their opinions about human behaviour are of social importance, and they think that a more rational solution to human decision-making, which impacts upon society at large, is a good thing. Moreover, they think these kinds of problems are reasonable, even if it is not at all obvious what is reasonable about a society in which locations are established for the purpose of scantily clad gyrating women on poles performing for (mainly) men drinking alcohol—though now thanks to some ethical consensus having legal teeth, said men won’t be able to smoke.

There may be some people who run through lines of a carefully considered argument before making a decision about what to do in a difficult situation, such as deciding whether climbing a pole in a seedy bar dressed in underwear and stilettoes is an immoral act. In such cases, the argument itself cannot be divorced from the various elements that have the potential to “trigger” or activate the invariably hidden or “unconscious” powers “making up” the “conscience” of the “inquirer.” Not all elements will trigger all in the same way—there is an inevitable variety of potential weightings that different characters/members of different groups/peoples with their different and innumerable experiences of life bring to the question.

Even, as we suggested above, the way one goes about approaching how to think about “the problem” of to what and to whom one is ultimately loyal is a mystery wrapped in a concatenation of constitutive characteristics of a person, group or people. Character also involves different “filterings”—filtering is the concomitant of consensus, and consensus of some fundamental appeals, is essential to a group’s spirit or character. Different spirits—different filterings, though there is ever a tension in sheer structure of a world-making aspect (recognizing property, providing security and having obligations), which crosses all sorts of different cultures (cultivations of a collective’s preferences, tastes, desires, habits, and potential). And filtering generally involves the interplay of the more stabilizing structural commonalities and diverse cultivations that are as much bound up with diverse contingencies of founding acts and traditions as sheer taste. All of which is to say—it’s complicated. Though the trick with all thinking is to know when to cut through complexity to identify a line or pattern of genuine simplicity, and when to focus upon complexity because the simple is misleading. I confess to thinking that the pole dancers are possibly better at knowing when the complexity is just blather than most philosophers.

We know philosophers love thought experiments, so that they can simplify a complex moral problem—the most famous one in recent decades is the trolley and the fat-man—the brief version: if pushing a fat guy off a bridge will make a trolley veer off the track so that the lives of five people stuck on the track will be spared—but fatty might lose his life: to push, or not to push that is the question? How far we have come since “to be or not be.” Having sat amongst philosophers proudly cogitating over this problem—never bothering to ask who fatso might be (Goering or Churchill?), or who the hapless (or extremely careless) five stuck on the trolley track are (a bunch of serial killers, grannies, university managers, or philosophers?), or what other information would give this silly sketch some resemblance of a genuine moral conundrum—I suspect that a room full of pole dancers would find catering to the desires of their leering sad sack voyeurs to be less an affront to their human dignity than having to listen to such a vacuous discussion.

But there is another issue—the aim of an ethical conclusion is frequently, indeed invariably, to control/transform/improve people through policy and legislation. That is to say it is almost inevitably a political issue; and in the thrust of democratic politics that also generally means a legal issue. Ethics today is invariably “law in waiting.” And there are all sorts of very serious questions to be made about laws that are as deeply ethically conflicted as the discipline of ethics itself—such as what exactly are the boundaries between private vice and public virtue?

The entire ideological conflict between classical liberalism and socialism hangs on this divide. Or, do private virtues always create public virtues? Machiavelli and de Mandeville, in very different ways, raise issues of the sort that should make us hesitate here. Or, what are the cost-benefits to the society of trying to calculate our private vices (presuming there is such a thing) and creating criminal sanctions? Do we just ride rough-shod over these utilitarian considerations because some of us think we have the rational position about the principle, and that the means and the reality, with all its moral quandaries, generated by acting according to the principle, should just be left to another day?

Might it be that the more we use our reason by asking reasonable questions, the more Russian dolls we find. And the more of them we find, the more lost we become through reason. Why should reason either be or lead to good? And if it is good, or always leads to good, is that just a lucky accident, or does that suggest a quasi-classical view of life as literally mind-full? Yet of one thing we can be sure; social problems demand solutions: in a democracy the matter of which ones has to do with their being raised. Which again is a political process.

Of the three positions I took as typifying ethical schools, there are, at least in their origins, somewhat different political connections involved. In the case of the Aristotelian, The Ethics was not conceived as a self-contained work, but as a work examining the kind of conduct required for someone to enter into political life, which was why Aristotle paired it with The Politics. The Politics, though, also took into account forms of political life which were far from healthy; and it considers how to make them more healthy, if not outright good.

Aristotle’s version of the natural supported the moderation (allowing for his historical context) that runs through his work. The idea that our judgment about the ethical should be completely free of any natural influence (i.e., Kant’s position) would, I think, have struck both Plato and Aristotle as absurd, though Aristotle might have seen it as an unfortunate residue coming from Plato’s two worlds. But then again, the Rousseauian idea that freedom consists in having a law which we give ourselves would have repelled Plato as much as Aristotle. And on top of this, both would have scratched their head about why freedom was now the axis of the ethical life. And the accompanying emphasis upon human dignity would have been just as perplexing—especially when it was simply extended to all by virtue of an act which required no action on the part of the person possessing it, viz., that person’s humanity.

The cleavage between classical and modern Enlightenment ethics, not surprisingly, is closely associated with the cleavage between the classical and modern, more specifically the Enlightenment, view of politics. And just as Aristotle is interested in identifying those qualities—the ethics—which need to be exhibited in the person entering into the political sphere of life, the enlightened modern principles of the moral life are also intended to act as the constitutional basis of a legitimate (hence rational) political formation. The reasoning, in Kant, is that the purely reasonable moral principles must be unsullied by any extra-rational condition (motive, desire, feeling etc.) which provide the pure disinterested ground for adjudicating on social harmony.

Rousseau, on the other hand, both emphasizes the natural character of empathy and the need for virtue to detach itself from the forces of selfishness that we are prone to as creatures conditioned by the laws and nature of civilization.

Kant is the more consistent metaphysician, and hence his greater reputation as a philosopher. But this is matched by Rousseau having the greater reputation as a political theorist. His theory of the general will, though, is also both the model and impetus for Kant’s categorical imperative, and the political endgame of the moral imperative. Kant was rigorously consistent in conceding that none could ever know if someone really acted out of a moral principle (the Kantian who didn’t go into the strip club may really have been worried at some deep level about how his partner or other philosophers back at the office would view him, if they found out). But such a concession does nothing to alleviate the common objection to Rousseau: that the general will requires that each of us leave aside our particular or vested interests, which is far easier said than done because most of us are oblivious to exactly what our interest involves.

The fact that academics, including moral philosophers, and students at the most prestigious universities in the Western world think that they know how to achieve the public good, and that we should obey them as they receive their salaries or prepare for lucrative careers is indicative of how much self-serving-ness is behind the idea of social justice and the public good today. Likewise, the Rousseau problem is that the kind of society he helped facilitate—a society in which ideas about the general will abound—has created a slew of people employed publicly and privately to identify, articulate, and implement “the general will”—along with the academics, the bureaucrats, journalists, teachers and politicians, and lawyers, and, perhaps most incredulously, actors and entertainers.

And, sorry to have to break it to you Jean-Jacques, such people cannot but help inject the very self-interest that the principle is designed to eliminate. They invariably design, enforce, and monitor policies, rules, narrative laws, etc., which shore up their entitlement. It’s a perfect circle of elite power formation in which the kind of legitimation that had evolved out of the need to survive and protect the group is replaced by a group whose power is built upon ideas and words. No wonder they wish to stop the spread of mis-information, which happens to be any information that does not receive their imprimatur. This should be obvious; and it is obvious to those who are either not part of that elite, or who wake up from their slumber and look at what a political mess this elite is making.

The Rousseauian/Kantian constitutionalist approach to the political also provides the philosophical grounding and rationale of institutions, such as the European Union, and UN. And the criticisms levelled at these institutions are also but variations of the critique just mentioned. The hiatus between institutional reality as a conglomerate of practices and practitioners and the ideal it is supposed to represent or express is indicative of a dualism that I think is inescapable—when we reference reality to an idea.

Even in instances where there is an acceptance that deontology of the Kantian sort is too stringent, contemporary ethical philosophy invariably devotes itself to mapping out what is rationally right and thus laying down what we ought to do—thus assuming that (a) we don’t really know what is right or wrong unless we receive philosophical guidance; and (b) that the philosopher has the right tool—reason—which he or she or they (pronouns themselves now being considerate philosophically serious matters) can wield well. This is as true today of Aristotelians as it is of utilitarians, though the problem I was alluding to above about utilitarianism lies in the open infinitude of its variables—and the most plausible way of solving the problem was to dissolve utilitarianism into economics. Of course, by dissolving worth into monetary value, utilitarianism risked losing connection with the sentiments which find expression in Aristotelian or Kantian types of ethics—but at least it was able to come up with a cost-benefit calculus that worked. However, while developments in economics were driven by utilitarianism (obvious in the most elementary premise of much modern economics, marginal utility theory), not many utilitarian philosophers would agree that the ethical problems they wrestle with should be left to the marketplace.

Generally, ethicists defer (most do so tacitly) to another branch of philosophy to decide exactly what reason is. But while that shifts one problem to the side, the other problem remains insurmountable—the ethicists have a very tough job getting other ethicists to agree with them.

But the fact that there is no one ethical theory which philosophers find universally convincing does not perturb the many philosophers who press on in the hope that they will or have found the proper principle and/or theoretical approach. The fact that they keep searching, after some two and half thousand years, might lead us to think there is no definitive answer waiting in reason’s cupboard.

Indeed, as philosophers keep searching, as problems spawn diverse groups of adherents, and as each more innovative philosopher stands alone with his/her/their own philosophy, we need to ask what is really going on here. One thing is definitely going on—”ethics” is a discipline of a profession called Philosophy, and to be a member of this profession requires that one keep “researching” and writing on one’s topic. So, there is definitely what Marxists call a “material” interest that keeps the debate going. There is also the question of what exactly is not only a philosophical argument, but a convincing philosophical argument about ethics? Would it have to—indeed, could it—convince everyone, for it to be seen as a definitive example of a convincing argument? In the case of the physical sciences, we have sufficient consensus of proof structures, and methodological procedures, so that practitioners of the discipline can generally share a common disposition toward the “evidence” at hand—but this is not the case in philosophy. And if it is not the case in philosophy, matters get no more “reasonable” the further we go outside the academy and into the world.

3.

Why then are we taking ethics seriously? In part it is because we take reason, understood as rational argument, as a means of orientation seriously. But philosophy has long disputed about whether our moral institutions may be a better guide than our reasons, or whether reason can be completely detached from our moral intuitions. Some philosophers like Hume, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche thus intertwine reason and intuition as simply intrinsic to action. So, as Schopenhauer puts it, willing and representing the world we participate in are part of the same process; or as Nietzsche puts it in Beyond Good and Evil (not without some unconvincing rendering of how he differs from Schopenhauer) “a genuine psycho-physiology” sees “thinking as only the relationship of these drives to one another.” Hence, from this perspective, to draw a sharp distinction between intuition (moral or otherwise) and reasoning is already to be subject to a philosophical prejudice. Thus also Nietzsche’s one page History of Philosophy in the Twilight of the Idols—”How the ‘True World’ Finally Became a Fable”—is “The History of an Error;” thus also the opening chapter of Beyond Good and Evil is entitled “On the Prejudices of Philosophers.”

Nietzsche embroiled himself in a great deal of pseudo-physiology (typically played down in post-Nazi/post-fascist readings of Nietzsche). And a major flaw in his thinking was that he was too prone to replicate the mechanistic metaphysicians with their distinction between primary and secondary qualities, instead of sticking to his own advice about staying with appearances—for the social world is so symbolically saturated. While it does not change the fact that we laugh and cry, bleed and die, it does mean that an enormous amount of what triggers responses in us that make us weep, laugh, harm or seek redress is due to social codes, roles, manners, and expectations, as well as economic and technological modes and processes.

One of the great downsides of the triumph of philosophical naturalism (somewhat countered in different ways by Marx, Nietzsche, and more especially Husserl and Heidegger) was that what had evolved as a metaphysic to deal with the specific problem of the interrogation and manipulation of nature, to serve human desires became served up as an answer to everything. To be sure, post-Marxist and post-Nietzschean (and hence post-structuralist) philosophers focus primarily upon the social character of Philosophy, a great deal of Philosophy carries on oblivious to the significance of sociality. This is evident as much in its grammatical undertow of the indicative and subjunctive moods, which facilitates the philosophical task of showing what the world is, what is wrong with it and how it can be fixed, as it is in what, at different times, commands its attentions.

The philosopher working on an ethical problem sees his activity as purposeful in itself, and the history of the practice of no more importance than the history of medicine to a doctor. Except medicine is an empirical science. The classical approach to ethics in both Aristotle and Plato is akin to this medical model. But while there are very powerful aspects to the classical approach; there are some equally powerful counter-considerations and hence criticisms. For example, the classical approach to the good is that it tries to harmonise what exists, even if it does so in the idealist manner of Plato in the Republic (assuming for the sake of this argument at least that Plato genuinely believes in the model he builds). But this means the good becomes an obstacle to the better.

I would not argue for a moment that the history of Western civilization has been one of constant and uniform progress; but I doubt that anyone who wished to return us to relationships of fealty, or take voting rights away from women or working-class men would be thought to be defending a position that would garner much consensus. But while I think what I have said is true of people whose lives involve all manner of investments and whose identity is staked around these boons of freedom—i.e., us—there are plenty of spokesmen for a restoration/creation of a pre-liberal society, such as advocated by members of the Taliban, ISIS, Hizb ut-Tahrir, who appeal to social possibilities and actualities which have appeal for them.

Some years ago, when I spent a lot of time watching, for example, the British Islamist Anjem Choudary attack modern British society and its freedom, while defending the virtues of past and future imagined caliphates and the social and political strictures and directives which he finds in the Koran and hadiths, it was very obvious that, though I thought him mad and bad, he was no less capable of drawing inferences or mounting arguments than anyone else. He and those sharing his “idea” of what human qualities, practices and institutions are really “good” and “true” and “beautiful” can easily be dismissed as mad and bad—but what good exactly do such classifications serve? He and those like him who speak and think and argue in similar ways, find audiences, convince others, who had previously never had any interest in the kind of appeals Choudary and Co. were making to the form of life they advocate.

4.

My discussion of philosophy and ethics has proceeded largely in keeping with the kinds of positions typically laid out by philosophy departments in the US, Canada, UK and Australia; that is, by departments that have come out of the Analytical tradition. But if I were to shift for a moment to connect the point I have just made about the collective rationalisation of, and commitment to, contingent values to the manner in idea-brokers, professionally invested in defining the specifics of the general will I mentioned above, then I think we can better see the kind of terrible paradox plaguing modern ethical thinking. That is, on the one hand it has sought to replace revealed truth with reason—and let us add that life itself is a revelatory process, and one great mode of revelation is the revelation of what kind of creature we are due to our very instincts (instincts themselves being “micro-reasoning” processes that we respond to), only to be confronted with the absolute failure to find any kind of compelling consensus that even those who defer to, and make a living out of, using their reason cannot achieve.

On the other hand, if we shift away from analytic philosophy but turn to the kind of philosophically driven hegemonic narrative that now passes for truth amongst the Western elite wishing to dictate how we should all behave, we see a certain confirmation of Hegel’s idea that reason is totalising and substantiating. Let me add immediately that I think Hegel is only right to the extent that what he calls “reason” is defective—defective by virtue of making itself primary when life teaches us again and again that reason is not primary. God is not reason writ large, and neither are human beings reason writ small.

But Hegel’s argument that reason is substantive, that it is dynamic and historically and socially saturated and not just an empty set of cognitive procedures, which we deploy to fathom experience or form extra-experiential claims about the morally good or the beautiful, strikes me as having trumped the position, still on view every time one witnesses analytical philosophers discussing ethics. If we accept this, then we will also apply Hegel’s critique of Kant’s moral theory to all variants of “principle”-style ethics, viz., the contingency has to be fathomed in light of its sociality and historicity; and this includes the contingencies which constitute our very selves.

The modern propensity to take seriously moral abstractions as political absolutes invariably contribute to a class of people who no longer seek the classical objectives of reason’s quest—the good, the true and the beautiful—they have become the instantiation of the good, the true and the beautiful. That’s where the entertainers come in—they ensure the good and true are not left hanging in the air, as they tie (ostensibly) rational moral commands and proscriptions to flesh, blood, desire—though, because they earn their living by pretending to be who they are not, they are also intrinsic to a world of image presiding over the real. That is, they represent the representations that the creators of value have laid out as pertaining to the public good—which is emancipation. This why they are as much an embodiment of Nietzsche’s higher men and women, as they are an expression of Plato’s philosopher kings, as of Kant’s instigators of the moral imperative, as the legislators of Rousseau’s general will. They are also the harbingers of Marx’s unalienated society and their further honing of who is oppressor and who is oppressed is predicated upon his primal model of class antagonism.

What we see here, and what I will continue to extrapolate upon, is a process of modern reason’s substantiation—a substantiation which reconciles vast contradictions, and which, in spite of the fact that our lives are built around contingency and encountering which defies any kind of Hegelian totalism, the philosophical contrivances, devoted to emancipating us, is an astonishing confirmation of Hegel’s principle of the dialectical development of identity within difference. For the spirit of our times conjoins philosophies that on the surface should be completely antithetical to each other, but which become variations of the one spirit of our own time. The great reconciliation, that is also a time of the great emancipation, was, in the formulation of Derrida and Agamben, “the to come.” It is both an intimation of the messianic and an instantiation of the true, good, and beautiful, as all the victims of the earth now finding their voice, thanks to our cultural moral/ethical leaders. It is Lenin and Lennon—“What is to be Done?” plus “Imagine” as ethical life. Everything important has become ethics, and the antinomian-ism of the ‘68 generation (the story has been well told in Julian Bourg’s From Revolution to Ethics: May 1968 and Contemporary French Thought) was just the vehicle by means of which jouissance/play/desire, etc. all became the ethical emancipatory key.

I have jumped into the way in which I think philosophy has provided a kind of unified consensus within a certain group—it is as I have also said a very Hegelian development—the fact that those making it frequently despise Hegel (Deleuze, for example, and Foucault) is completely beside the point, in so far as they were so caught up in their faith in their own ability and game that they were very poor judges of what they could be seen as doing by someone who was not interested in joining in their particular associations and priorities.

The above observation illustrates (even if we have not had to completely buy into the entirety of his system) the truth of Hegel’s argument that reason is substantive; that it is dynamic and historically and socially saturated and not just an empty set of cognitive procedures, which we deploy to fathom experience or form extra-experiential claims about the morally good or the beautiful. It also strikes me as having trumped the position still on view every time one witnesses analytical philosophers discuss ethics. If we accept this, then we will also apply Hegel’s critique of Kant’s moral theory to all variants of “principle” (style ethics), viz., the contingency has to be fathomed in light of its sociality and historicity; and this includes the contingencies which constitute our very selves, and the ethico-socio-political priorities of our age.

5.

This leaves us with the conclusion that our world is our world, and the reasons (in the sense of arguments, and not simply inferences) we have about it are stories we tell ourselves to console ourselves about it or help us change it. Ethics is but a particular means of making a story, to try and get people to act in one way rather than another. If we notice the philosophical stories which emerge in an age and which are responses to the problems of the time, by a group whose ways and means are very similar, we can see that their differences are not that different. Or rather, to become seriously different they have to step outside of the ideational consensuses that are intrinsic to the philosophical game they are involved in.

Thus, to ask why this particular “game” (the game of philosophy as such, and, more specifically, philosophical ethics, is being played is not irrelevant), it gives us pause to think about the game we (ethicists) are playing; why it commenced. For the hopes latent within it are very conspicuous in the origin: the classical ethical reasoning of Socrates and Plato. It is closely bound up with a need to legitimate itself—to differentiate philosophical reasoning from alternative types of pedagogical (which Plato represented as pseudo-pedagogical) speech, viz., poetic/sophistic/and oratorical speech. Plato saw these forms of speech as suffering from the same methodological deficiency, viz., lack of illumination from ideas, which have been espied by recourse to properly breaking down the one into its many parts and rationally reassembling them into a rational definition. Aristotle was a Platonist in so many ways, but he could not come at the theory of ideas. Yet he too hoped philosophy would solve the problem.

To repeat and develop my earlier point, if a philosopher ever solved the problem of the best or most rational way to live, he or she was no better at convincing other philosophers than our professionals today. Ancient philosophy proliferated with competing schools and doctrinaires, whose members Lucian depicted (apart from his sceptical-minded, robustly “common sense” position) in the second century, as nothing but a scrubby rabble, full of self-importance, spouting nonsense.

Indeed, there is quite a serious comic critique of philosophy running from Aristophanes’s Clouds to Lucian’s Hermotimus or the Rival Philosophers to Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel. It is interesting how closely it parallels the religious criticisms of philosophy that run from Tertullian, Tatian, to Pascal and Kierkegaard—for both critiques draw attention to how little we know, and how little reason itself helps us with the most pressing decisions that befall us: how at sea we really are. The comedian has us laugh at the absurdities of who and what we are, and frequently has us laugh at the pomposity of authority (or those who want to usurp it)—and how delusional we often are. The great religious thinkers also emphasize the absurd, but in connection with the miraculous-ness of creation transcendence and/or redemption.

But if philosophy can be criticised for not delivering on its promise, this does not mean that philosophy does not produce its “offspring,” does not have a legacy. Of course, it has. In the case of classical philosophy, its legacy is visible in the Roman Empire, in the works of grammarians and legal thinking. But where philosophy started to garner real power was not in the ancient world. In antiquity, it was not philosophy that pulled antiquity out of doctrinal and political conflicts, or forged a greater social or political unity that we might well call more ethical. Antiquity was changed far more by religion than philosophy. The solidarity of the underclasses throughout the Roman Empire was largely achieved socially by Christianity.

I would also venture that philosophy would have died out were it not for religion—Christian and Moslem scholars who were able to revive philosophy in a social world of tribes and imperial growth. There is, to put it bluntly, nothing natural about philosophy—even if the concept “nature” is a term favoured by classical philosophers. It is an exotic plant, which is the result of a plethora of highly unusual socio-political (there is nothing, as far as I can see quite like the polis in antiquity) and narrative innovation and conditions (the importance of poetry, the particular abstractions it generates, the discord within the Greek pantheon, most painfully expressed by Hesiod in the Theogony, underpins a search for a cosmic moral order).

Moreover, while nothing might seem to make more sense than the History of Philosophy as the story of a self-contained development of a practice beginning with the Pre-Socratics, moving through Classical Greece, Rome and the Middle Ages and then Modernity and the situation now. Yet what philosophy meant for the Epicureans, Stoics, neo-Platonists, the Scholastics, or the mechanistic metaphysicians, thinking about the universe as an object of scientific inquiry, is due to all manner of non-philosophical contingencies, especially historical circumstance and location.

The value of applying philosophy to contradictory legal and theological points, for example, was crucial in the introduction of Aristotle into Western universities; but that was predicated upon a proliferation of legal domains requiring some kind of systemic legal reasoning—while the Thirty Years War (and its English compatriot the Civil War), was pivotal in the emergence of Deism and the mechanistic metaphysical view of life that broke with all the mess of history, and that embroiled such geniuses as Descartes, Spinoza, Hobbes, Locke, and Leibniz. This does not mean that truth is reducible to the contingency of an origin, but philosophical truths are inescapably anchored not just to reality as such, but to the contingencies of communal life. And communal life is located not only in nature’s world, but the world of human nature—which is the world of nature as well as beyond nature: symbols and history.

The human world is as much a world of imagination, of taking nature and remaking it, including our own nature and our own growth. This is not a relativistic metaphysical claim, but an empirical one: for as we try to make the world one way rather than another, we focus upon features of our story which were invariably hidden from those looking in another direction. We are ever making ourselves and our world, and that making is formed by the surging and convulsions of living pasts incubating in the plethora of inheritances which we wake up to everyday, buried as they are in our language, our institutions and social choices and values, and the contemporary reactions to what appeals to or disgusts us, what we fight for or flee from, and the alternative futures which beckon or attract us.

In making our future, we invariably remake our past, the remaking of which also impacts upon how we remake our future. This relationship between past and future is further complicated by the crises and catastrophes which take place in the present, which makes us rethink our future and thus also our past, and so on. This temporal triadic interflow renders meaningless any idea of us being disinterested subjects (except on “special occasions,” as a methodological “moment”), or there being some mere object to be observed. What disinterest we may garner—as a member of a jury, or the observer of an experiment—makes sense only once we have portioned off a bit of life that matters for us. We cannot get completely out of our own way. We are always making ourselves in our own ways; we are our ways. But our own collective life-ways differ radically from each other precisely because different collective dreams, traumas and memories are not simply capable of being overlaid upon each other. This is also why to simply interrogate such conundrums in terms of ethical absolutes or relativism is to surreptitiously transform an anthropological condition into a metaphysical problem. No wonder the problem is insoluble.

The different trajectories and prejectives of different collectives have been described by Rosenstock-Huessy as being a problem of different time bodies. For living groups are entwined in their own temporal cadences: which is why suddenly bringing groups together who have no common sense of mourning or triumph is so fraught with problems. It literally takes time to make a new time together. Another way we can say this is that the social imagination is also intrinsically temporal. For our imagination is social to the extent it dwells on what we share or should share, and it is fuelled by regrets, fears, and pride in the past, and/or present, and/or future. It holds out promises so that we can have a tomorrow worth living or fighting for. This process effects all of us; but it makes no sense to render it as a process in which there are objective truths about us and the world that we must locate before we act. We live on the brink of trial and error. But our trials and errors, to repeat, are not ones that are simply conglomerates of facticity.

The fact is that we moderns, who do philosophy, share a certain common sense because we share a world. If we enter sympathetically into another world, as anthropologists do, we can see what matters and what makes sense in those worlds. And those terms “matters” and “sense” are apposite words pointing to a collective pre-philosophical understanding of collective life. To say “something matters” is to recognize that it materializes. To say it “makes sense” is to say it is sensory-forming, as well as meaning-forming. The making-sense of a world, or making things matter within the world, is a social process of mutual participation, a sharing of collective emotional and mental depth. It is a dialogical process involving shared filtering. To be sure this filtering and selection may happen in diverse ways—common opinion, or victors’ stamping and sealing events with their narratives. But even in such a case as the latter, it remains real only to the extent it is formative; and if a people cease to conform to a particular cluster of narratives, they will rethink their past and future. And they do not need to await the declamations of a philosopher masticating on an old saw to see what really matters in their lives.

Philosophy is but one means of making “such stuff.” Within modern times, it is astonishing at how much “stuff” can be traced to philosophy: without philosophy there would have been no scientific revolution, nor modern politics as we know it—for all the ideologies of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are incubating in the French Revolution—a revolution which was in its inception identified as a revolution of “philosophism.”

I do not mean to suggest that modernity is only built out of modern philosophy—that is not true. The combination of commercial revolution and a republic of civic virtue, which lays the grounds for liberalism, antecedes the ideas of the new metaphysicians and has its roots in theology, specifically Calvinism. Indeed, just as Medieval philosophy was nurtured within the bosom of a faith, the anticlerical philosophes of the Enlightenment are the progeny of Calvinism and monarchical and religious intransigence: the blood of the Huguenots, the animosity towards the Jesuits, the failure of the Catholic Church to reform, and the role of servitude the Church played alongside the nobility in walling off the crown from Paris and the country side. All these processes, and many more, conspired to transform what had become a class, the intellectual, into political actors seeking to make the state in their image.

Plato hoped that philosopher kings would save the polis, but it was the French philosophes who succeeded in enflaming the crowds and political actors who would wipe out the non-enlightened and thus illegitimate modalities of power which had been the bulwark of the European state. The French Declaration of the Rights of Man pays direct tribute to both Rousseau (it references the general will) and Montesquieu (it references the separation of powers).

But the French revolution more generally spawned faith in genius taking precedence over authority, in the rights of people to will their own future, unencumbered by the dead weight of traditions. Rights, reason, and national will seemed to effortlessly flow into each other, as if nothing were more obvious than our being able to publicly judge the worth of all authority and right. That the twentieth century would entwine these ideas into the most hostile and contradictory and ideological strands was not anything any eighteenth century philosophe seems to have envisaged. Yet surely socialism and communism were philosophical products, attracting all sorts of philosophical minds (Plekhanov, Bukharin, Korsch, Adorno, Benjamin, Bloch, Lukács, Althusser, Negri—to just take a small sample). While Fascism and National Socialism were anti-intellectual in all manner of way, nevertheless, they still managed to attract some of the greatest philosophers of Italy (Giovanni Gentile) and Germany (Heidegger and Carl Schmitt). The three ethicists and the philosophical dispute we considered at the beginning of this essay all look rather innocuous when compared to the more bloody philosophical contestations of modernity.

But philosophers have been no better at settling their political differences than their ethical differences. Possibly the only thing philosophers agree upon is that philosophy is a worthwhile activity, and that a society is better with it than without it. Though it is not only the conclusions that separate philosophers, it is even an agreement about what it is. The mainstream consensus, somewhat felicitously, concurs that there is but one major divide on this issue: that between Anglo/American-Analytics and Continentals. In the eyes of the majority of Anglo-American professional philosophers, one of them is rubbish the other philosophy. But this is a professional squabble. In fact, and to pick up an earlier point, faith in a method enabling us to be, as Descartes put it, “lords and masters over nature” so that we could live more comfortable lives (the objective of Descartes’ philosophy) has been tremendously successful (though if happiness as a variable is factored in as a criterion of success, its value plummets). Likewise, faith in the science of economics, which grew out of moral philosophy.

One feature of the metaphysicians of the scientific revolution, rarely given enough attention, is that it was predicated on the need to bring the imagination under the reign of the understanding—thus the importance of the facultative logic which is operative in Descartes, Locke, Spinoza, Leibniz, and which culminates in Kant’s three Critiques.

But it was precisely because of the dangers of demanding and expecting too much of nature’s laws that moral dualism of the Kantian sort emerged as a reaction to the Spinozian and Leibnizian equation of freedom and necessity. Likewise, it was the recognition that humanity spiritually needed to do more than just know the world around it and try and act with dignity that led to aesthetics (a philosophical branch completely absent amongst the early mechanistic metaphysicians), becoming an important field of modern philosophical inquiry. Schelling and Hegel—on the continent at least—and Schopenhauer pushed these three great bastions of the true, good and the beautiful into previously unheralded territory—and after Nietzsche, they no longer made any sense. (Though the Anglo-American Analytic has remained far more tied to the metaphysics of the seventeenth century than the Continentals have.)

I want now to return to the contingencies which we put under the rubric of religion. For in the Western world, religion has largely been relegated to the domain of private belief, which is able to be expressed publicly only within certain sites allocated by the state. In this respect, the Enlightenment has triumphed over Calvinism, philosophy over faith. It is also because of this triumph that ethics takes on such importance—because we need orientation and, at least, within the public sphere, we need to compensate for the fact that the more “enlightened” we have become, the more disconnected we have become from each other culturally, socially, and spiritually. Philosophy would like to heal our fractured and fragmented world, but I fail to see how it can do so—for it is predicated upon a plethora of talents and conditions being met, which are held by few and of little interest to many. Not only that, philosophy as a discipline in itself the way it is practiced is but one further symptom of our fractured world. So too is the notion that there is something called religion as opposed to the “what is not religion.” The moment philosophy dictates what the gods should be (Hesiod, Xenophanes and Plato), the gods have already begun their flight. While Plato and Aristotle imbued the universe itself with a certain rational and moral purposefulness, the focus of the moderns is upon the motion of mechanisms, which means divesting all moral authority out of the universe—leaving it reside purely within the human subject via our communal sentiments and habits (Hume), will (Kant), history (Hegel), will to power (Nietzsche).

Everywhere we turn prior to philosophy, we see peoples who imagine the world/ universe as spirited or god-ed in some way. God/s, humans, world are the poles of the real which humans have traditionally addressed and confronted. The philosophical disposition asked after the nature and essence of a thing; but pre-philosophical humans supplicate themselves to, call upon, or summon traditional powers in order to carry out their lives. Most importantly, the kind of powers they are is not revealed through “observation” but through the kind of life one has. To the philosophical mind this is not satisfactory because it could be false: but what does it mean to say that a life is false? Are indigenous lives false? Hindu lives false? Does a false life not bleed and cry and laugh as much as a “true” life? To those who reply, but it is only the beliefs that are false— I reply but are we not already introducing a certain kind of fracturing technique when we look at gods as objects of “belief,” as if their existence was something that could be divorced from the kind of worlds in which certain names, rituals, practices and routines that sustained them and are sustained by them are made?.

The great problem with philosophical notions of truth as involving some kind of correspondence between intuition and concept (to put it in Kantian terms) is that the intuition we are asked to consider is itself a fiction. For we are asked to consider a living power as if it were a spatial and temporal power subject to a certain kind of reductive compositional analysis. But one has to accept already that spatial temporal powers and the kind of modelling accompanying them are the only powers that are real. Or else, if we wish to stay with Kant, they are either generated by reason alone or else fevered imaginations; that is, imaginings not curbed by the understanding which has slowly built itself up piece-by-piece with confirmable representations. And yet there is a Chartres Cathedral, there are pyramids and ziggurats, temples, frescos of Jupiter, prayers and curses to gods—a panoply of lived god-ed worlds, each revealing meaningful lives.

We might not see the world in the same way anymore, and while we might find all manner of aspects to them morally objectionable, they are not a whit less ontologically loaded than our world, with its own plethora of technologies, techniques and superstitions (does anyone—outside the beneficiaries of the discourse—not consider managerialism a superstition?).

A world is shot through with imagination, and the imagination is triggered by all manner of powers—emotions and traditions, panics and hopes, alternative futures. Our understanding is an important disposition that we may bring to bear upon our imagination; but it is a matter of faith whether it is better to trust it than our imagination. For our imagination may yield all manner of fruits that exceed our understanding. To be sure, if claims about processes are made which are clearly capable of a reductive analysis, then a true analysis may well occur—though even this is tricky. For what we are doing and what we think we are doing do not always match up. On the other hand, the world is full of shysters and rogues; but along with deluders are the self-deluded. The real test of a claim is frequently not to be found, though, in the terms in which it is made, but in the contribution to a certain kind of world which it makes.

Our world is not (as late Wittgenstein appreciated as well as anyone and which he used to overturn his earlier philosophy) a stock of items, a collection of facts which are all that are—we are facting and defacting constantly, imposing ourselves with our half-baked grasp of things and fully fledged confidence in what we want and believe. It is only some facets of the real that we may know, even with open-mindedness. On the other hand, there is no shortage of people and peoples who world themselves via their faith in magic of one sort or another—many have their livelihoods, much like the bureaucratic, political and legal spokesmen of the “general will,” implicated in the magical view of life they peddle. Where clear lines can be carved between “objects” and “subjects,” all well and good, then a certain philosophical disposition may comfortably affirm the importance of its existence.

But the economics, anthropological and sociological and political dimensions of any life-world implicate even the most dispassionate and empirically verifiable truths. The traditional way philosophy has tried to shore up its “understanding” of a more reasonable way to view reality is to break up reality into a plethora of potentially certifiable claims (again Descartes strikes me as the master puppeteer here). But I repeat it is one thing to sharply bring into question through naturalistic sound philosophical means the belief about the way the world is, and another thing altogether to question the persons who are making themselves and their world through their fantasy.

And this is where, like it or not, we all are bound together. There is no escaping the fantastical nature, not only of our existence, but of the meanings we give to our existence. Nowhere is this more obvious than in historical memory. While it is one thing to be able to argue that events, such as Caesar crossing the Rubicon, Columbus reaching America (even though, after three voyages, he died thinking he had reached the Indies), Bradman getting a duck in his last innings confirm that truth is not merely relative, there is no event of any real significance which does not contain such a massive array of interwoven processes (causes), aspects, and consequences that anyone who invokes reference to the event in making the case for others to join him or her in acting a certain way can avoid filling-in all manner of gaps.

We cannot face the future in any plausible way without reference to our understanding of the present which is itself saturated with historicity—and everybody’s historical memory is but bricolage and shard. All memory is episodic—and the episodic is always of bits and pieces. There was momentous irony in the fact that the general tendency to ahistoricism of the Enlightenment precipitated the Romantic reaction which led to historicism—but historicism rested upon the fanciful notion that the historian’s own interest in history had nothing to do with the historical facts being “discovered.”

We dwell in shadows and dreams as much in light. We are as moved by cries and sighs, roars and whispers as by reasons; and reasons themselves being inseparable from sociality and historicity are also “results” of cries and sighs, roars and whispers. We are a plethora of possibilities and powers that may be activated in countless ways and by all manner of invocations and declarations—will we really be better off if we curtail all these, so they conform to a certain modality of speech? Ultimately this is what philosophy is—a certain kind of speech, a cluster of grammatical proclivities and accentuations which open up some vistas of the real, but at the expense of others.

Being “at the expense of others” is part of the very raison d’être of philosophy—Plato’s fury at poetry for its implication in Socrates’ death is fortunately quickly recognized by Aristotle to be overstatement, and he more sensibly and generously concedes the importance of the poetic in our lives. The Platonic expulsion of poetry is echoed some two millennium later in the Enlightenment critique of religion.

The Enlightenment arc that runs from Descartes, through the French revolution and Napoleon’s “liberation” of nations from empire, then the subsequent waves of national liberations in the 19th century would flow into a century of World Wars that had much to do with philosophical faiths, particularly the faith in the political form that had been so strongly advocated by the philosophes—the nation. Kant’s contemporaries, in different ways, J.G. Hamann and Friedrich Jacobi both emphasized that faith penetrates our being so much that it cannot be ontologically severed; and Heidegger, though somewhat more coy about his theological debts, was doing something similar by trying to disclose the fundamental ontological disposition of Dasein.

But we do not need philosophy to tell us that the world that we live in is a vast entanglement of orientations and faithed ways of existence. Charles Taylor’s (and not only his) formulation of the “Post-Secular,” to describe the kind of world we in the West now inhabit, catches the reality that the secular mind-set is but one; and whether it is the most rational or not does not really amount to anything—for the whole question of what is reasonable means nothing, if it does not put reason back into the life-worlds of those who use reasons. Indeed, that is the issue that breaks the enlightenment hold—whether reason is something which is part of what we do, or whether we are part of reason. After Nietzsche, it is difficult for anyone to accept the metaphysical God of Reason. Yet, our so-called godless state has re-opened the matter of religion in the most interesting of ways.

I mentioned above the faiths behind the World Wars; and that raises a fundamental question of philosophical-anthropology which is all too often ignored because of the fairly ubiquitous acceptance within philosophical circles of the myth of the “free” self. Again, as with Nietzsche, the “self” is as much a myth as the sense of freedom, when it is transported from being a relatively useful way of expressing a certain narrative sense of identity (which not all human beings—babies, people with Alzheimer’s or brain damage, possess) to being a metaphysical claim about our nature. Just as we are responsive beings—something evident from the dependency into which we are born—we are also creatures who not only come into the world needing orientation, but whose existence is, in spite of all the routines of security we engage in to “protect our-selves,” metamorphic—a fact that is pressed home in sickness, in hardship, and in new relationships.

Rosenstock-Huessy had made the point in Practical Knowledge of the Soul that religion, like every other sphere of life, comes with its own speech-ways, and its linguistic practices and seals—prayers, office, ritual, and rites, and sacred names—but “its shrine preserves transformation itself, the secret of transformation.” That we are constantly being transformed is common to us all; but how we transform very much depends—and the different great religions of the world are testimony of how differently we as members of the same species may make ourselves. Likewise, the faith that bears us in our decision to carry on may be bearing us along very different life-ways. But that we are conscious of this process of being borne along and that there is faith (and by faith I do not so much mean a counter concept to knowledge, but rather trust) in the manner of the bearing is something that is intrinsic to religion.

In the main, philosophy has ignored the disposition of supplication that is intrinsic to transformation. The questions—all variants on the same question: Why did so many follow Hitler, Mao, Stalin as if they were gods? Or, why do so many join cults? Or why should/do I/ we determinedly remain true to the calling of my/our office?—all point to the deep-rooted need/desire to follow. Meaning is generally following; only very few completely open up a new pathway of reality—and this is no less the case for philosophers, however much they may consider themselves not Socratic or Platonic, who remain participants in a reality they “blasted” open.

A world is a semantic field, and names the means of our navigation within and beyond the world we are enmeshed in – semantic fields, where gods, humans and worlds were inextricable connected may, in some important ways, have been more luminous than the ostensible enlightened world where the gods are banished to the private realm of belief: even though, as my question above about fidelity to one’s professional office (one’s professional ethics) some power is still holding over one. The ethicist would like us to believe it is reason doing the holding; but I simply cannot see it that way. For once reason has been “de-metaphysicized;” it is no longer sufficiently equipped for such holding. Which is in large part why no matter how important the ethicists think they are—the overwhelming majority of people are responding to other voices in their commitments, in their relationships, and roles and offices, and spheres of solidarity.

Historically we know that the law precedes ethics. To be sure, politics as not merely the imposition or seizure or maintenance of authority, but as the institutional mediation of different interests leading to legislation begins with the Greeks. It is no accident that ethics, philosophy, and politics emerge within the one people—or rather with a certain social system in which relative freedom exists along with the division of labour and settled conditions of social reproduction. Law precedes ethics because a certain degree of sociality, division of labour and different interests, and the opportunity for social articulation enables peoples to articulate sufficiently similar concerns to arrive at common solutions. The solutions were not perfect; and in the fallout of the Peloponnesian Wars, they looked pretty terrible. But the terribleness did not lie in the lack of reason itself, but in the politically riven nature of the polis, a rivenness exacerbated by the sophists and orators, fuelling the flames of the assembly, so that practices that had been part of the community became out of control—execution, exile, property seizure and the like.

Our own age is a riven one. It is pure folly to think it can be saved by ethics or by philosophy. It can only be saved by shared commitments and healthy loves; the triumph of convivial and living associations over the purely commercial or mechanical; the imagination that reaches out and beyond closed associations so that the powers that have accrued over times and peoples freely circulate communally. Philosophy certainly has a role to play in this—it can assist us in sharpening our questions. But it can only do so if it recognizes that it is something within life not above it; a practice that cannot stand alone, a practice that is but one “moment” of a complex amalgam of interrogations and speculative conjectures that constitute what we somewhat misleadingly call the “human” or “social sciences.”

Life is not law—and unlike the authors of the Bible who scrupulously studied what occurs when we violate God’s commands, our philosophers have not even begun to take seriously the idea of there being laws of the spirit which are far more significant to us in our world-making than the laws of nature. Irrespective of our faith or philosophy, the most serious choices we have to make almost always come down to tragic alternatives. No one seriously responding to a tragic alternative would desire to elevate their choice into a principle. We who must build are constantly forced to choose between unpalatables; the philosopher glowing in the pure light of principle escapes the choke of tears and the palpitations of horror that come from the genuine circumstance. The grime of reality is reduced to the platitude of the classroom, the free and easy room where responsibility is primarily to consistency and purity of principle, to one’s own self-worth.

The moral law, says the moral philosopher Christine Korsgaard, is “the law of self-constitution, and as such, it is a constitutive principle of life itself.” Speaking of duty, Korsgaard gives these tellingly honest examples of the moral dilemmas faced by professional moralists: “We toil out to vote, telephone relatives to whom we would prefer not to speak, attend suffocatingly boring meetings at work, and do all sorts of irksome things at the behest of our friends.”

Oh, what bliss to be confronted by such monumental moral crises. But this too is a symptom of an elite that has no understanding of what is required to cultivate peace and contribute to a future that is never a creation of our design, and ever a reminder of the paltriness of our ideas, and the fragile and limited nature of what we and our reason can do.


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


Featured: “The Post-Apocalyptic Selfie,” by David Whitlam, early 21st century.

Overturning Roe v. Wade: An American-style Conservative Revolution

The number one news story in the world today is not the Russian special military operation, or the collapse of the Western economy as an aside, but the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade constitutional guarantee of the right to terminate a pregnancy. Now the issue of abortion has been moved back to the states. And immediately the U.S. Attorney General of Missouri, Eric Schmitt, announced the decision to ban abortion. The decision blew up the U.S., and the whole globalist wing of that nation, having received such a blow, rushed out into the streets, howling and roaring, with an uncontrollable appetite for burning cars and looting stores. In my view, this is very serious.

The fact is that, until recently, the only branch of government in the United States that had not yet discredited itself was the courts. Their authority was indisputable for all political actors. It was believed that corruption and ideological lobbies had failed to fully seize control of the judicial system. And now the judges appointed under Trump have made their move. All of this requires the most serious reflection.

The fact is that there is not one United States, but two countries, and two nations with that name. And this is becoming increasingly obvious. It is not even about Republicans and Democrats, the conflict between whom is becoming increasingly acrimonious. It is the fact that there is a deeper division in American society.

Half of the U.S. population are supporters of pragmatism. This means that for them there is only one criterion for evaluation—things work or they don’t work. That’s it. And no dogma about the subject or the object. Everyone can think of himself as anything, including Elvis Presley or Santa Claus, and if it works, no one dares object. It’s the same with the outside world—there are no inviolable laws; do whatever you want with the outside world; but if it responds harshly, that’s your problem. There are no entities, only interaction. This is the basis of the core American identity. It is how Americans themselves have traditionally understood liberalism: as the freedom to think whatever you want, believe whatever you want, and behave however you want. Of course, if this leads to conflict, the freedom of one is limited by the freedom of the other; but without trying it, you won’t know where the fine line lies. Try it. Maybe it will work.

This is how American society was up to a certain point. And here banning abortion, allowing abortion, sex reassignment, punishing sex reassignment, gay pride parades or neo-Nazi marches were all possible, nothing was rejected from the get-go, whatever the outcome. And the courts, based on a host of unpredictable criteria, precedent, and considerations, were the last resort in problematic cases to decide if it worked or didn’t work. This is the mysterious side of Americans, completely unintelligible to Europeans, and also the key to their success—they have no boundaries at all, which means they go do wherever they want until someone stops them. And that is exactly what works.

But among the American elite, which is made up of people from a wide variety of backgrounds, at some point a critically large number of the wrong kind of people, the non-Americans, have been congregating. They are predominantly from Europe; often from Russia. Many are ethnically Jewish, but steeped in European or Russian-Soviet principles and cultural codes. They brought a different culture, a different philosophy to the United States. They did not understand or accept American pragmatism at all, seeing it only as a background for their own advancement. That is, they took advantage of American opportunities, but were not about to adopt a libertarian logic, alien to any hint of totalitarianism. In fact, it was these foreign elites who hijacked the old American democracy. It was they who rose to the head of the globalist structures and gradually seized power in the US.

These elites, most often left-liberal, sometimes outright Trotskyist, brought with them a position deeply alien to the American spirit—the belief in linear progress. Progress and pragmatism are incompatible. If progress works—great. If not, it must be abandoned. Here is the law of pragmatism—it works/it doesn’t work. You want forward, go ahead. You want backwards, no problem. That’s what freedom is in the American way. In the Old American way.

But the Old World emigrants carried with them very different attitudes. For them, progress was dogma. All history was seen as one continuous improvement, as a continuous process of emancipation, improvement, development, and the accumulation of knowledge. Progress was a philosophy and a religion. Anything was possible and necessary in the name of progress, which included a steady increase in individual freedoms, technical development, and the abolition of traditions and taboos. And it no longer mattered whether it worked or not. What mattered was progress.

But this represented an entirely new interpretation of liberalism in the American tradition. The old liberalism asserted—no one can ever impose anything on me. The new liberalism countered with—the culture of abolition, of shaming, of the total elimination of old habits, of sex change, of the freedom to dispose of the human fetus (pro-choice), of equal rights for women and races—which was not just a possibility, it was a necessity. The old liberalism said—be whatever you want, as long as it works. The new one countered—you have no right not to be a liberal. If you are not a progressive, you are a Nazi and must be destroyed. In the name of freedom, LGBT+, transgender and Artificial Intelligence, everything must be sacrificed.

The conflict between the two societies—the old libertarian, pragmatist society and the new neoliberal, progressivist society—has been steadily increasing over the past decades, culminating in the Trump presidency. Trump embodied one America, and his Democratic globalist opponents the other. The civil war of philosophies has now come to a critical juncture. And it is precisely a matter of interpretation of freedom. The old America sees individual freedom as something that excludes any external prescription, any requirement to use it only this way and not that way, only for that, and for nothing else. For example, only for abortion and gay pride, and never for the prohibition of abortion or the ravings of perverts. New America, by contrast, insists that freedom requires violence against those who do not understand it properly enough. This means that freedom must have a normative interpretation, and it is up to neoliberals to determine how to use it and how to interpret it, and by whom. The old liberalism is libertarian. The new liberalism is openly totalitarian.

And it is in this context that the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision on abortion should be considered. It is in favor of the old liberalism and pragmatism. Note, it does not prohibit abortion, but only states that there is no clear solution at the federal level. The states can solve the problem however they want. But it means, no more, no less, that time is reversible. That it is possible to move in one direction, progressive; or it is possible to move in the opposite direction. As long as it works. So, it’s not about abortion at all. It’s about understanding the nature of time. It’s about the deepest divisions in American society. The point is that one America is, more and more blatantly, at war with the other.

The whole totalitarian dictatorial strategy of the globalist neo-liberal elite is being undermined by the Supreme Court, which is acting—somewhat like the Russian Bolsheviks—in the name of the future. Progress justifies everything. Until then, all decisions were only in one direction—in favor of individualism, egocentrism and hedonism. And suddenly the Supreme Court takes a sharp step backwards. Why was it allowed to do that? And once desperate old Americans, pragmatists and libertarians rejoice—the freedom to do what you want, not what progressives and technocrats say—to go in any direction, not just where the globalists force you to go, has triumphed again. And the brave Missouri attorney general has already shown what can be made of it. Bravo! This is a pragmatic revolution—an American-style conservative revolution.

And naturally, the whole globalist progressive rabble is about to be knocked flat on their asses. Something as important as Trump’s election has happened. The old America has counter-attacked the new America.

“Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand” (Matthew 12: 25). It’s coming soon…


Alexander Dugin is a widely-known and influential Russian philosopher. His most famous work is The Fourth Political Theory (a book banned by major book retailers), in which he proposes a new polity, one that transcends liberal democracy, Marxism and fascism. He has also introduced and developed the idea of Eurasianism, rooted in traditionalism. This article appears through the kind courtesy of Geopolitica.


Featured: “Builders of Ships – The Rope,” George Bellows; painted August 1916.

Dostoyevsky: The Taste for Literature and the Taste for Life

I remember the writers who gave me a taste for reading: Richard Matheson, Bram Stoker, Eiji Yoshikawa. Adventure and fantasy stories were my first literary loves; and both genres do have an unparalleled strength to capture imagination. The pleasure was always immediate: a mysterious or epic world opened up to us. Evil and heroic characters appeared there. A breathtaking plot, respecting certain codes specific to entertainment, was set up. Knowing how to appreciate such a narrative structure, enjoying the simple fact of opening a book, but also closing it, knowing that the story will continue the next day, this is what we could call “having a taste for reading.”

The “taste for reading,” I distinguish from the “taste for literature,” without discarding the hypothesis that the second is the maturation of the first. This “taste for literature” was given to me by Fedor Dostoyevsky; and I would like to show here that these are two different aesthetic events; that one can be awake to the first without being so to the second; that one can love to read without loving literature.

I discovered Dostoyevsky as a teenager. It was a purely chance encounter, almost a misunderstanding. But it had the charm of an encounter made without a go-between. As was the family tradition, I was on vacation in the Vendée, on the island of Noirmoutier. In the bookstore, where a few years earlier I had unearthed the novel, Stone and the Sword [first book of Musashi], I found myself intrigued this time by a name, “Dostoyevsky,” and by a title above all, The Possessed (it was only much later that I learned that this translation was incorrect and that it should be The Demons). Not knowing anything about the writer—the name vaguely reminded me of something—I thought I was in the presence of a fantastic work, a true story of possession. I bought the book hoping that this Dostoyevsky was a kind of Russian Stoker or Shelley.

What a surprise it was for me when I waded into those boring first pages (hardly the best beginning among Dostoyevsky’s novels), which had those exchanges, whose issues I did not understand, between Stefan Trofimovich (old idealist, father of Piotr Verkhovensky) and Varvara Petrovna (Stavrogin’s mother). I stuck it, however, for hours on end, waiting for the moment when the story of possession would occur. But nothing of that nature happened. In fact, something much more important appeared in the person of Stavrogin, a charismatic and shady character who dominates the novel with his fascinating presence.

It is a known fact that Dostoyevsky worked on his characters like no other writer; that he did so not by giving them a detailed physical description nor by placing them in a particularly coherent social and historical framework, but by giving them a deep psychology, in the sense of Nietzsche; and by playing on certain behavioral traits (gestures, manner of expression or, on the contrary, the unspoken). Some observers have made of this particular talent a pinnacle of “realism.” This is the case, for example, of the Welsh writer John Cowper Powys, who writes in his Dostoievsky (1946): ” I would add as a codicil that not only must what happens to the characters be of absorbing interest but the backgrounds, while entirely realistic, must have about them that something else without which, by some strange law of the mind, things do not remind us of that deeper reality of our own experience which must always remain on the brink of mystery.” In his eyes, the superiority of Dostoyevsky’s art over other realist novelists lies in the fact that it takes into account a dimension of reality often hidden, irreducible to the materiality of events. Dostoyevsky was able to show something that the others do not show, trapped by certain traditional codes of realism—codes that Dostoyevsky hijacked to transcend the genre and forge a realism “in four dimensions”: “Here we are at the heart of the problem: it is located between the ‘realism’ of Zola, say, or De Maupassant or Tolstoy or Hardy, and the more real realism of Fedor Dostoyevsky.” But is that what Dostoyevsky is all about? Is the issue only that of literary genre? Should we be satisfied with the fact that Dostoyevsky shows us “the mystery,” the hidden reality in a kind of overcoming of realism? In my opinion, it is something more powerful than that, which has to do with the very definition of literature.

Powys is right to make this point, but we think he does not go far enough. It is not enough to say that types like Stavrogin (based in part on the nihilist theorist Neshayev) or like Myshkin (after all, Christ is a historical figure) can be met in reality, can find a real equivalent in terms of intensity. It is necessary to go further and affirm—and here is perhaps the key to the mystery of literature—not only are exceptional historical characters not “novel characters,” but novel characters are exceptional “historical” characters. This is perhaps where Dostoyevsky’s genius lies in particular (but also that of a Balzac, despite Powys’ displeasure); and this is why his encounter with him is so disturbing.

By showing the mysterious dimension of the world, by exposing the souls of his characters, Dostoyevsky reaches a level of reality that is higher than the one we encounter in everyday life. This is why the meeting with Stavrogin is a shock (a shock that is renewed with Raskolnikov, Myshkin or the Karamazov siblings later). Dostoyevsky shows, through fiction, the essence of reality; that is to say, life. He does not only show us appearances, pretenses, social conventions, hypocrisy, which is the tragic and grey daily life of our reality. He shows the interiority of the soul. He shows the naked man. He exposes him in his greatest vulnerability. Dostoyevsky allows us to know his characters, not as we know others—since their interiority remains fatally inaccessible to us—but as we know ourselves.

In a strong sense, Dostoyevsky shows subjectivity. He manages to show what is usually invisible. André Suarès had already noticed this in his Dostoïevski (1911): “No power is closer to life. The great dreamers are the great living. Where they seem to be farthest from life, they still touch it more closely than others.” Or again, “Everything is interior. It is not even the thought that creates the world, by figuring it. It is the emotion which creates all life, by making it sensitive to the heart. The world is not even the image of a mind. The universe is the creation of intuition.”

This is what one realizes when confronted with the presence of Stavrogin: this unique character is indeed a “real man,” a living man. He is a real man because of the radical nature of his baseness, because of the unhealthy fascination he exerts on others, because of the absurdity of his behavior. For sure, a real hero of a novel would never have acted like this, with this ambiguity, this perpetual balancing between the greatness of the commitment and the emptiness of the conviction. Stavrogin expressed something extremely powerful and completely new for me—literature is the most adequate expression of reality, of life itself.

The encounter with Dostoyevsky, which I had first thought of as entertainment, as the possibility of reading a pleasant book on the beach, turned out to be something else entirely. From then on, I understood something new—books are not only there to amuse us, to give us aesthetic pleasure, nor even, as we trivially say, to make us think. Books, in so far as they are authentically literary works, are manifestations of reality. They are both the expression of a subjective life, that of the writer, and the concrete realization of a new “objectivity.” Stavrogin exists, like Raskolnikov or Prince Myshkin. But they exist in a certain way outside the world, outside the lies of the world. Or rather, trapped in the world’s theater, they drop a veil and participate in its indictment.

For Dostoyevsky, the world (both in the “worldly” sense and in the sense of the strict objectivity of what is visible) is the place of lies. This is what gives Dostoyevsky’s astonishing power—he teaches us, often for the first time, that the world as it is, is a scandal. This constitutes a sort of exit from innocence. The staging of abjection and injustice functions as a revelation. In Crime and Punishment, the hero Raskolnikov is the murderer of an old pawnbroker, while Sonia, a redemptive figure, has sacrificed everything for her family, even going so far as to prostitute herself in order not to starve. In The Demons, the hero Stavrogin rapes a little girl. Shatov, on the other hand, is killed while his child is being born. In The Idiot, Myshkin, a Christ-like figure and main character, is mocked for his benevolence. Nastasia Filipovna, the woman he loves, eventually marries his rival Rogozhin, who eventually kills her. Hyppolite, a young phthisic who wants to go on a rampage, is unable to commit suicide.

It is a commonplace to say that certain books or writers accompany us throughout our lives. But it would be a mistake to say that Dostoyevsky is a simple companion. He does not only accompany us in the world, he shows us the reality of the world. He brings with him the world as it really is by exposing the souls of men. He tears the veil of appearances to show a man, often mediocre, unhappy, sick, sometimes ignoble, sometimes fortunately close to sanctity. Dostoyevsky’s work constitutes, as we said, an indictment of the world and its hypocrisy. Hypocrisy in the social conduct, in the respect of certain hierarchies and, more generally, in the value that one can grant to men. Dostoyevsky asks this radical question: what is a man worth? Not in the lowly material sense of professional success, but in the sense of the purity of his heart, of his closeness or distance from the Christian model. And Suarez knew how Dostoyevsky answered: “He considered that the first in rank are often the last in life; and the last in the world, the first in the hidden soul of the world. There he learned to put himself above all appearances. There he made himself to live in depth—for all the work of Dostoevsky is a life in depth and, no doubt, in the secret truth, which is the only truth.”

With Dostoyevsky, the world of childhood, the reassuring cocoon—the one where the book is a fiction that we look at from the outside and that cannot reach us—suddenly collapses. It disintegrates before our eyes and reveals its nightmarish nature. This is perhaps the fundamental difference between “reading” and “literature.” The book, which constitutes a simple “reading,” can be closed, put on our night table, put at a distance of our conscience. Its history does not follow us afterwards, except perhaps in our dreams. The book, which belongs to “literature,” never closes. We start to read Dostoyevsky, but we never finish. His work becomes for the reader a perpetually turning page. The world that Dostoyevsky brings with him is not only a fiction, a repulsion imagined to make the readers shudder, it is the face of the world itself.

This is why Dostoyevsky was very critical of Turgenev, whom he considered a writer of good conscience. Dostoyevsky is the writer of the bad conscience! The writer of sin! That is why he speaks to us so much. Because we all know in the end that nothing is right. Or rather, every sane man knows that he has something to blame himself for. In 1928, Freud showed in his preface to the German translation of The Brothers Karamazov, “Dostoyevsky and Parricide,” that Dostoyevsky was fundamentally a figure of the sinner, that he was haunted by the idea of sin at the same time as by that of freedom. For the one does not go without the other; there is no sin without freedom; and, conversely, there is no freedom without sin. It is this very human tension that Dostoyevsky meditated on throughout his work, that he experienced in his flesh; and we with him.

Dostoyevsky obsesses the reader because he confronts him with his faults, with his most unavowable desires and with the vertigo of freedom. The latter offers man the possibility to do everything, to act beyond good and evil, to accomplish the greatest things, but also the lowest. But there is something that limits our use of freedom, and that is the consciousness of sin. To what extent can a free man assume to be a sinner? This is the question that Dostoyevsky’s characters ask themselves; it is the question that he asks himself; and it is the question that we ask ourselves.

Dostoyevsky shows the disturbing abyss implied by the very possibility of an unlimited use of freedom. But at the same time, he says: can you assume the odious character of such a freedom, of a freedom without God or in place of God? Can you assume the freedom of a Raskolnikov, a Kirilov, a Stavrogin? The first takes the path of redemption; the second commits suicide to show that he is God himself; the third, who believed he could make his conscience evolve in an amoral space, ends up hanging himself, caught up in his terrible sin: the rape of a girl.

The supreme act of nihilism—the outrage inflicted on the child (the most innocent of innocents), reveals the very failure of nihilism. Nihilism is impossible for man. It claims that “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.” But God does exist insofar as He is the condition of possibility of freedom itself. Pierre Boutang does not say otherwise when he writes in an article entitled “Stavrogin”: “When Stavrogin wants to explain, in his confession, the effect of Matryosha’s suicide on his existence, he cannot hold his own judgment within ethics. Despite his desire for the Cross, without faith in the Cross, he fails to be a Christian, to conceive of the evil and shame of his crime. No, in this fragmentation of inner time, he oscillates between an almost social, extremely low and diabolical idea of the act as ridiculous, and a metaphysical view, beyond ethics, but which can only lead to madness and death.”

For Dostoyevsky any attempt to evolve beyond good and evil is doomed to failure. And this is also the case of literature. This is why, as André Markowicz points out, his conception of literature is not aesthetic but ethical (or rather, contrary to the proponents of art for art’s sake, it identifies ethics and aesthetics). Dostoyevsky’s work cannot therefore be consumed as entertainment. Its goal is not to please us. It is fundamentally an indictment of the world and a revelation of the profound reality of existence. In his quest for truth, which is synonymous with the quest for God, Dostoyevsky tells us what man is. And with him we understand—it is through literature that we gain access to the radical interiority of life, that is to say, to the person of Christ who is the only beauty.


Matthieu Giroux is a Dostoyevskian sovereignist and the editorial director of PHLITT. This article appears through the generous courtesy of PHLITT.


Featured image: “Dostoevsky in St. Petersburg,” by Ilya Glazunov.

The Italian Street

Several years past I was granted a summer sabbatical in beautiful, sunny Provence. My base was a traditionalist Benedictine monastery where I was privileged to engage in a deep study of the ancient Roman liturgy.
My stay was accentuated by a somewhat fitting element of penance as well, for I happened to be there during a Mediterranean heat wave dubbed “Lucifer.” The unrelenting sun and soaring temperatures resulted in actual forest fires breaking out in the countryside very near to where I would take my daily strolls. My assigned monastic cell had no American-style air conditioning and it was necessary to close the heavy wooden shutters all day in a desperate attempt to stop the withering radiation from heating up the room to cooking temperature. It helped somewhat, I suppose, but the long-term effect was that I ended up baked like a clerical baguette in a monastic oven.

The Benedictines deserve great respect for their penitential lives dedicated to night and day Divine Worship under such hard-living conditions. That said, in short time I was on the road, zipping past Nice and heading Eastward. I broke for a brief visit to the magnificent Principality of Monaco. Pushing on, I was soon safely immersed in the cool sea breezes, culture, cuisine and Catholicism of Italy.

The “Italian Street,” if one might so call it, is a complex, somewhat tricky reality. This is uniquely the case for an American priest resolved to go about the entire time donning a cassock in public.

Many Italians, like the French, have been diminished by secularism. Yet there does seem to endure a particular warmth (or should I say, heat) for the Church. In bella Italia there is still a great deal of openness and friendly love for priests that brings out smiles. Still others appear indifferent but convey a not so subtle message: “Padre, you might think I’m ignoring you, but I am watching you out of the corner of my eye, so you’d better be on your toes! And if you pass the test I’ll buy you a limoncello, d’accordo?

Different than in reserved and sophisticated France, there is a Catholic exuberance in Italy that amicably endures. The towns are absolutely full of churches, sometimes one next to the other. There are charming little shrines to Our Lady on corners, on walls, on pillars, everywhere. And all have fresh flowers before them or perhaps a burning candle in testimony to some anonymous person’s Faith. There are always people at Mass, despite the statistics, and on my particular Sunday in the North that week the seaside church was happily packed.

It is tempting to conclude that an atheist in Italy is really just smarting in the face of the hardships of life. That is a danger for all of us of course. A deceased and famous Italian journalist claimed in life to be a “Catholic atheist.” Towards the end of her earthly tenure she was granted an hours long interview with Pope Benedict XVI. Emerging, she proclaimed him to be the greatest man in Europe. She died, if my sources are correct, with the Last Rites and bequeathed her library to the Gregorian University in Rome. As the saying goes, an Italian atheist maintains that there is no God, and the Madonna is His Mother!

Besides food, art, music, architecture and religion, the wonderful Italians have also perfected cynicism. It is almost an attitudinal art form, especially when at times it is directed at Holy Mother Church and the clergy. If one can stay ahead of this it keeps the conversation exciting. If not, it cuts to the heart.

Therefore, I knew it was taking a risk wandering about as I did. One such street cynic levelled a gratuitous barb at me as I ambled about admiring the elegant palazzi of Florence. He actually stopped square in front of me to score his point with maximal acidic effect. I was taken aback and wanted to be sure I understood, asking, “Signore, tu m’insulti?” (Sir, are you insulting me?). To which he hissed, “Per forza” (Of course!). There was no yelling, just an opportune jab at a priest. It really was that straightforward and uncomplicated.

But I quickly got on top of it, made a mental note of his gratuitous rudeness to a complete stranger, and we parted ways, almost in a business-like manner. I would go further and say that his brazenness was of the kind that quarrelsome family members exhibit. There is, after all, a great deal of operatic yelling in Italy. If a German were to do such a thing one might – well, let’s leave that to the reader’s imagination to decide. At any rate, I intuitively grasped that peculiar reality and saw no reason to engage. Plus, it was time to get an espresso since it was after lunch. There was no time to waste!

Yet another man crazily yelled out above the din as I walked along, “Morte alla Chiesa Cattolica! Viva Giordano Bruno!” I perceived this to be a rather perplexing exclamation, since Bruno is long dead (he was a heretic by the way, so think the details through a bit) and the Catholic Church lives on and on.

Shortly thereafter on the same busy street a man with slick hair pulled back in a pony tail and looking like Di Niro’s character in The Mission materialized in the midst of the hustle and bustle of a teaming crowd, grabbed my arm and yanked me to the side away from the thrall mob of tourists. I was a dead man this time for sure! But there was no stiletto between the ribs awaiting me. Rather, he just wanted to confess, right there in the street! You see, the mean old cynics are mixed right in with those who have genuine devotion. He quickly cancelled out his compadre’s brutishness.

In Genoa a man beckoned from a doorway set in a grungy back alley down which I had taken a wrong turn. He told me straight off how much he loved God, the Church and his parish priest. He was hurting terribly since his father had recently died an untimely death. He showed me the photo of his handsome family patriarch which he carried close to his heart. Italians know how to grieve a death. I blessed him and we went our ways.

As I entered the Cathedral of Genoa, the hometown of Christopher Columbus, an elderly, well-dressed man with the typical Italian balding pattern and sporting an elegant ascot stopped me on the steps. I presumed he had been in the church to pray and perhaps light a candle. But he was tainted by that biting cynicism which kept lunging intermittently at me during that week. He did not greet me so much as go off on a tirade about the “spazzatura” ruining his fair city. It’s an ugly word, and as he said it he pointed to the poor and downtrodden sitting on the church steps eating focaccia, which especially enraged him for some odd reason. They needed a “crack on the head!” he said. Scoffing, he added that the clergy would do nothing about it at all (Voi non fate nulla!)

There you have it: It was my fault and if I were serious about the spectacle on the church steps, not to mention the Gospel, I should go clunk their coconuts immediately! He was so extreme and dramatic that he was almost charming in a sit-com sort of way. I managed to say something reassuring, slipped inside the cathedral and found a glorious side altar where a kindly sacristan set me up for Mass.

In a parking garage as I left the city of Venice I spotted a young man feverishly digging in a garbage can. There were other people about so we could easily have missed each other. Yet we both looked up at the same time and our eyes locked. He was Italian. And he could not ignore a priest walking by, especially since I stopped and said, holding my thumbs to my first two fingers and shaking them up and down, “Amico, ma che fai!?” (My friend, whatever are you doing!?). He was desperate, caught in a complex web of problems partly of his own making, reduced to eating garbage because he could not ignore the elemental urge of his body simply to eat. He was a Catholic. He has a worthy name, it is Antonio. He believes in Jesus but his life is a disaster. Yet there was a brief moment of hope. He bowed his head as I gave him a blessing. We parted ways with his fear filled eyes burned into my heart. We think we ourselves could never end up in a such a state. I wonder though…

Every single day I was repeatedly approached by people begging. Now how is it that some who are evidently cultured are so adept at hurting a priest, even insulting him to his face, whilst the downtrodden practically come to us on hands and knees? I suppose the old bunioned cynic would scoff that the beggar just wants money (perhaps because that is what they themselves love) and sees an easy target in the clergy. Yet that in itself is a testimony to the clergy. The beggars see hope in the priest, even should it be through the confused lenses of their untidy lives.

I took the time to talk to each person who held out a hand. Some were quite dirty, some were horribly deformed, many were immigrants. But did you know that they all have names? They came from somewhere and have fears and hopes just like us, mingled with a torrent of complex problems that have landed them in their humiliating state. They are largely ignored and many told me that they are stung by the indifference of the throngs of people marching by with selfie sticks, Gucci handbags and touristic determination etched grimly on their faces to get to the next cultural marvel. Meanwhile Christ is languishing in the streets. How much more sublime it is to be a pilgrim rather than just a tourist.

In the train station of Florence a gypsy girl with dark brown eyes and braided hair came up to me and we began to talk. The gypsies are often despised in Europe. They are nomads and are quite discomfiting to the comfortable classes. But a gypsy has also been raised to the altars, Blessed Ceferino Giménez Malla.

A cynic bellowed, “That’s right, just one!

Thank you, sir, for that contribution. Permit me to continue: the holy gypsy defended a Catholic priest who was being maltreated, which was not quite the fashionable thing to do in 1930’s Catalonia. He was subsequently awarded the palm of martyrdom by his leftist interlocutors.

Now the particular gypsy beggar girl with whom I was chatting had two babies, a husband and a name. And then, with genuine humanity, she even asked me how I was doing. The cynics don’t do that, except to find out if you spent too much on your shoes or something so they can judge the priest for being a phony. She was a Romanian Orthodox. I offered her a priestly blessing which she readily accepted, and with bowed head.

In the same train station an elderly bearded man in a beige tunic then approached me, begging. A few steps away stood watching protectively a burly Italian police officer who looked like Luca Brasi. I nodded to him as if to say “I’m OK, officer, grazie tanto.” The beggar was named Mahomet. He told me he was a Muslim from North Africa. He had great worry in his eyes and written in the lines of his face. He had a family, was weakening with age, had been a laborer but was now unemployed. He felt himself despised in Italy and he was hungry. We talked, and for quite some time. Before we departed ways, I offered him a blessing. He looked at me with uncertainty. I then stated forthrightly, “I am a Catholic priest. I am willing to call down God’s blessing upon you. But you must understand who I am and what I am offering you. And you must say yes freely.” His hesitation changed to resolution, he bowed his head, and said, “Yes, please bless me.” Then, laying my hands upon his head, and invoking the Name of the Holy Trinity and through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, I imposed a Christian blessing upon this Muslim man in the midst of the packed train station of Florence. There was a pause, and as we parted ways he thanked me.

It happened. The encounter left me marveling at the movement of unexpected grace. Mahomet of North Africa does not know Francis M. de Rosa (with his many and admitted faults). To him I was just an anonymous priest, a man not even of his own kind. But there was a recognition that the priest represented a bit of hope right then and there. This is the power of the Gospel and this is the only true answer to the Muslim situation in Europe. We must show these strange newcomers the greatness of our Holy Religion and we must do so with supreme love and confidence. They too must find Jesus Christ. They too are called to the family of the Holy Catholic Church. On a large scale it is a very complicated matter, of course, and I do not want to be naïve or simplistic. Yet before me for those few moments there stood just a frightened fellow human being, whom age and fatigue and cruel circumstance had ground down to the point where he was forced to beg for bread to eat, in public, before all the hostile passers-by in the grungy train station of Florence.

In truth he needed more than the few coins I spared. He needed someone to look him in the eyes and ask his name. And in God’s Providence I myself needed to do so to encounter our common humanity that groans beneath the weighty woes of life in this Valley of Tears.


Father Francis M. de Rosa is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. A graduate of Niagara University, the Ateneo della Santa Croce in Rome and Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Maryland. He also holds a Licentiate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington, D.C. He has published articles on bioethics in the Linacre Quarterly and the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly. He was ordained in 1997 and is the pastor of St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Colonial Beach, Virginia and St. Anthony of Padua Mission in King George, Virginia.


Featured image: “Italian Street,” by Dmitri Danish; painted in 2021.

The Genealogy Of Jesus

We are very excited to introduce an important undertaking in the area of Patristics and Church history. This initiative is the undertaking of Dr. Phillip Cuccia, who is a retired army officer and who served in armored and cavalry units before changing his job specialty to teaching Military History at West Point. He changed his job specialty once again to work in the Army attaché corps, serving in Italy at the U.S. Embassy in Rome. He has a Master’s degree in security studies from Sapienza University in Rome and a Master’s and Ph.D. in Napoleonic Studies from Florida State University. He currently teaches history for Liberty University. He established the Eusebius Society in 2019.


Welcome to the Eusebius Society, whose mission is to promote the study of Patristics through learning and sharing about the writings of Eusebius of Caesarea and other early Church Fathers, in order to gain a better understanding of the world of the early Christians and the Sacred Scriptures. My interest in writing about Eusebius and early Church history developed out of the intersection of my general interest in writing history and my interest in the mutual effect that culture has on religion and religion has on culture. I hope that these writings may spark some interest in the topic of the early Church Fathers, encouraging the reader to pursue further independent reading and study of the early Christian Church.

Eusebius is considered the first church historian. He was born about A.D. 260 and was probably a native of Caesarea, the limestone city built by Herod the Great on the coast of Palestine. Early in life, he became the disciple and close acquaintance of Pamphilus, a teacher who greatly influenced him. Pamphilus established at Caesarea a large and well-stocked library of theological books, which contributed greatly to Eusebius’ education. Eusebius had already published many books when he paused his own publications to help his tutor with composing the work, Defense of Origen.

In A.D. 309 Pamphilus and Eusebius were imprisoned as confessors of Christ. However, they continued to labor with their writings until Pamphilus was put to death for the Faith—a martyrdom which greatly affected Eusebius. When released from prison, Eusebius went to Tyre, where he honored his mentor’s memory by assuming the name Eusebius Pamphili “Eusebius, son of Pamphilus,” and contributed the sixth and final book to the Defense of Origen. Completing his tribute to his mentor, he wrote a Life of Pamphilus, which, like his part of the Defense of Origen, is lost.

In A. D. 311 Eusebius left Caesarea for Egypt where he was once again imprisoned, but only briefly, and the next year he returned to Palestine. It is unknown when he was ordained to the diaconate and priesthood but it is known that in A. D. 314 he was consecrated Bishop of Caesarea, a position he held for the remainder of his life. Although twice imprisoned, he toiled his whole life edifying his fellow Christians. His publication output was phenomenal: he is credited with no less than 46 works, some of them in 10, 15, 20 and even 25 volumes. He was not content to write books and forget about them, as he revised and enlarged them, putting forth newer and better editions.

As an introduction to the Eusebius Society, I thought it would be interesting to look at the genealogy of Jesus. St. Matthew’s Gospel gives an account of the genealogy of Jesus – the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel and hence the first story in the New Testament. But St. Luke’s Gospel gives a totally different genealogy of Jesus. Why does Matthew give Joseph’s father as Jacob and trace a different genealogy from Luke’s gospel, which states that Joseph was the son of Eli?

Can they both be right?

Today people who dismiss the Scriptures because of this apparent discrepancy, are no different than people in ancient times who used it to dismiss Christian beliefs. Several early Christian authors responded to these criticisms. The Manichaeans used this discrepancy to promote their heresy. The Church Fathers Irenaeus, Augustine, Africanus, and Eusebius responded to the heretical writings concerning questions about these two divergent genealogies.

This quick video concerning these discrepancies aptly uses Eusebius’ writings as one of the possible explanations:

Eusebius explains in Book 1, Chapter VII of his Church History:

  1. “Matthew and Luke in their gospels have given us the genealogy of Christ differently, and many suppose that they are at variance with one another. Since as a consequence every believer, in ignorance of the truth, has been zealous to invent some explanation which shall harmonize the two passages, permit us to subjoin the account of the matter which has come down to us, and which is given by Africanus, who was mentioned by us just above, in the epistle to Aristides, where he discusses the harmony of the gospel genealogies. After refuting the opinions of others as forced and deceptive, he gave the account which he had received from tradition in these words:
  2. For whereas the names of the generations were reckoned in Israel either according to nature or according to law – according to nature by the succession of legitimate offspring, and according to law whenever another raised up a child to the name of a brother dying childless; for because a clear hope of resurrection was not yet given they had a representation of the future promise by a kind of mortal resurrection, in order that the name of the one deceased might be perpetuated—
  3. Whereas then some of those who are inserted in this genealogical table succeeded by natural descent, the son to the father, while others, though born of one father, were ascribed by name to another, mention was made of both of those who were progenitors in fact and of those who were so only in name.
  4. Thus neither of the gospels is in error, for one reckons by nature, the other by law. For the line of descent from Solomon and that from Nathan were so involved, the one with the other, by the raising up of children to the childless and by second marriages, that the same persons are justly considered to belong at one time to one, at another time to another; that is, at one time to the reputed fathers, at another to the actual fathers. So that both these accounts are strictly true and come down to Joseph with considerable intricacy indeed, yet quite accurately.
  5. But in order that what I have said may be made clear I shall explain the interchange of the generations. If we reckon the generations from David through Solomon, the third from the end is found to be Matthan, who begot Jacob the father of Joseph. But if, with Luke, we reckon them from Nathan the son of David, in like manner the third from the end is Melchi, whose son Eli was the father of Joseph. For Joseph was the son of Eli, the son of Melchi. [Eusebius quotes Africanus verbatim. In Africanus’ original Epistle to Aristides, it does in fact state “For Joseph was the son of Heli, the son of Melchi.” But Luke 3: 23-24 states “Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his work. He was the son (as was thought) of Joseph son of Heli, son of Matthat, son of Levi, son of Melchi, son of …” Africanus, and hence Eusebius, leaves out two generations skipping over Matthat and Levi.]
  6. Joseph therefore being the object proposed to us, it must be shown how it is that each is recorded to be his father, both Jacob, who derived his descent from Solomon, and Eli, who derived his from Nathan; first how it is that these two, Jacob and Eli, were brothers, and then how it is that their fathers, Matthan and Melchi, although of different families, are declared to be grandfathers of Joseph.
  7. Matthan and Melchi having married in succession the same woman, begot children who were uterine brothers, for the law did not prohibit a widow, whether such by divorce or by the death of her husband, from marrying another.
  8. By Estha then (for this was the woman’s name according to tradition) Matthan, a descendant of Solomon, first begot Jacob. And when Matthan was dead, Melchi, who traced his descent back to Nathan, being of the same tribe but of another family, married her as before said, and begot a son Eli.
  9. Thus we shall find the two, Jacob and Eli, although belonging to different families, yet brethren by the same mother. Of these the one, Jacob, when his brother Eli had died childless, took the latter’s wife and begot by her a son Joseph, his own son by nature and in accordance with reason. Wherefore also it is written: ‘Jacob begot Joseph.’ (Matthew 1:6) But according to law he was the son of Eli, for Jacob, being the brother of the latter, raised up seed to him.
  10. Hence the genealogy traced through him will not be rendered void, which the evangelist Matthew in his enumeration gives thus: ‘Jacob begot Joseph.’ But Luke, on the other hand, says: ‘Who was the son, as was supposed’ (for this he also adds), ‘of Joseph, the son of Eli, the son of Melchi’; for he could not more clearly express the generation according to law. And the expression ‘he begot’ he has omitted in his genealogical table up to the end, tracing the genealogy back to Adam the son of God. This interpretation is neither incapable of proof nor is it an idle conjecture.” [Eusebius, Book I. Church History]

Thus, Eusebius gives an explanation to this apparent discrepancy in the genealogy of Jesus. There are many apparent biblical discrepancies that people bring up today. By looking at some of the earliest Christian writings, one can discover logical explanations to various apparent inconsistencies.


Featured image: “The Root of Jesse,” attributed to Jan Mostaert, ca. 1500.