On Human Rights

First remark

Today, political correctness demands that we say in French droits humains [human rights] when we used to say droits de l’homme [rights of man]. This demand, which also occurs in other areas, is made because the French homme, like ‘man’ in English, does not distinguish between the human race and the male gender. German is better equipped, differentiating between Mensch and Mann. Latin distinguishes between vir and homo, Greek between anèr and anthropos, etc.

We could discuss the reasons for this. However, it is also important to note the introduction of another ambiguity. The adjective ‘human’ in French has a value that corresponds to the usual meaning we now give to the term ‘humanist’ and, more generally, to the moral qualities of ‘care’ (a word which has recently been imported unchanged from English into French), ‘compassion’ or ‘charity’.

The English language attributes this value to the word ‘human’, further ascribing to it a more specific term, ‘humane’. German has introduced, along with menschlish, the words human, humanitär, and Humanität as terms of ethical evaluation.

In other words, human rights can be seen as rights basking in the aura of humanity, since this term, in its currently impoverished and rather ridiculous sense, has taken on the meaning of a ‘love of mankind’ or ‘friendship’ (in French, this is the meaning frequently ascribed to philia).

Now philanthropy — which was actually a secular displacement of the ostensibly all too Christian charity — is based upon a more or less hidden axiom of condescension: it is the act of the rich, cultivated and dominant, who feel benevolence, compassion and pity for the social misfortune of others. For all that, philanthropists have never sought to challenge the social order, except in minor ways.

Philanthropy contains an implicit negation of the respect for the unconditional dignity of all human beings, which appears at the beginning of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 (hereafter referred to as ‘Declaration’) and is repeated further on. It can even be said to represent an interpretation of dignity that is conservative, selfish and gushing with sentimentality.

Without arguing against the use of the term ‘human rights’, it is necessary to draw attention to the extent of its ambivalence. For whatever the term used, human rights are marked by a certain degree of philanthropy mixed with a promise of ‘social progress’, which is always linked to a ‘larger freedom’. In this sense, freedom prevails over social justice through the resonance, tone and emphasis of the text.

Moreover, the Declaration affirms that ‘the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people.’ But what is proclaimed here and cannot be challenged should not be considered the ‘highest aspiration.’ One can and must think that freedom (of speech and belief) does not limit the aspirations of the common people [hommes].

It would not be wrong to say that the people can expect and want different things — engagements, collaborations, relations — things that are larger, infinitely larger and more, than freedoms. Being ‘free from fear and want’ is not the only reality of freedom; there are other stakes that lie beyond any human freedom. Spinoza, for example, who can hardly be accused of being inhuman or an enemy of freedom, considered ‘freedom’ to only exist as the freedom of the entire world (which he called ‘nature or god’).

The independence and autonomy of persons has a long way to go before it reaches its limits, if limits exist. Autonomy should be conceived in relation to the sense of existence, or more exactly, in relation to existence itself — of each, of all and of the world as sense.

Some will object, ‘What do you expect from a declaration of rights? You’re not considering the extent to which your words go beyond the predetermined sphere that constitutes a kind of minimum necessary to free humanity from oppression. You’re departing the realm of right for philosophy, if not for dreams or speculation.’

My response is that it is indeed necessary to enter a philosophical register since the text of the Declaration — and the huge body of texts inspired by it and by the defence of ‘human’ rights — carry an implicit or latent ideology that should be brought to light. In fact, this is the price to be paid in order to avoid the self-righteous inanity of such ‘rights’. The self-righteousness here is that of a ‘humanism’ of European origin, which one must always remember ‘does not think the humanitas of man high enough’, as Heidegger wrote.

Pascal, another European, said the same thing much earlier but in a different way: ‘Man infinitely surpasses man’. Pascal was a Christian. Heidegger, on the contrary, believed that he could find the force of re-foundation in an anti-Christian direction. Today, all these references are written off, and human rights float more or less on the surface of the ‘icy water of egotistical calculation’.

Second remark

The Declaration is based — as a declaration of rights, that is to say, as a juridical production or juris-dictio — on the following sentence:

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law.

This is the third of seven ‘considérants’ (‘whereas’) after which the text proceeds with the actual declaration. The French text reads:

Considérant qu’il est essentiel que les droits de l’homme soient protégés par un régime de droit pour que l’homme ne soit pas contraint, en suprême recours, à la révolte contre la tyrannie et l’oppression.

We will pass quickly over the complex and fragile character of a proposition that seeks to avoid a resort to rebellion. It is clear that this resort is seen as something ‘compelled’ and that this compulsion can engender ‘tyranny and oppression.’ In 1948, in a text drafted by a committee of nine members whose political and intellectual composition calls for lengthy analysis, tyranny and oppression focused on the fascisms that had just been defeated.

In a sense, the Declaration is part of the general movement that, somehow nebulously, fosters the condemnation of ‘fascism’ and what this word would, over a long period, ignominiously signify. However, any questioning of the underlying reasons for the rise of fascisms is relegated to the background, if not even further.

There is no examination, from the perspective of democracy and 20th century capitalism, of what could have facilitated or even caused the emergence of fascisms. There is, therefore, no opportunity to consider other possibilities of oppression — and consequently of rebellion — like those represented by the abominable figure of a Head of State or Leader flanked by party apparatus, police and mythology.

Here, again, some will protest. The preceding sentences will be criticised for being unacceptably suspicious of the virtuous words of the Declaration. I was careful above to write, ‘in a sense’, and to limit myself to pointing out the absence of examination, nothing more.

In all sincerity, I am not trying to construct a machinery of denunciation. Yet it is difficult to dispute that the question of ‘humanism’ has been continually refined or deepened, according to different views. This has occurred along the road from the defeat of fascism to the unbridled expansion of capitalism, which is undermining human rights in an increasingly obvious way.

It is a road that passes through the other collapse of so-called ‘socialisms’ and, today, through the various tensions in religious and/or communitarian movements. ‘Humanism’ is strictly coeval with mercantile civilization, techno-scientific development and democracy. ‘Human rights’ are not absolutely pristine, as their prehistory in Roman law [droit] after a certain period already shows. They derive from Roman legal culture, transported first out of Roman civil religion and then out of Christianity to fertilise the spirit of modern law [droit] and especially so-called ‘natural’ law [droit].

Now, it is here that we must consider the other clause of this ‘whereas’. The French version provides a striking statement: Human rights must be protected by the rule of law [régime de droit]. The English distinguishes rights and law, the Italian distinguishes diritti and norme giuridiche, whereas other languages (e.g. Greek or German) repeat, like the French, the same term. Perhaps the Latin translation best clarifies the distinction in stating that: hominum jura civitatis forma quae justa est tegi (human rights must be covered by a just civil form).

This is much more than a linguistic curiosity. Repeating a single term (droit) or distinguishing two terms (rights and law), indicates the same difficulty: do rights [droits] exist that have not been established by law [droit]? Here the Declaration declares its own necessity: it is not just a formulation, words solemnly declared.

The Declaration is the legal institution of the rights it declares. If we leave aside the well-known American and French antecedents that paved the way, prior to the Declaration only factual rights and not legal rights [droits de droit] existed. At most, some of these rights pre-existed as rights of certain States, the United Kingdom, the USA and France in particular. But what are ‘factual’ rights or national rights with regard to international law? These two distinct questions are in part intertwined.

These questions share a concern about the foundation of a right in general. The idea of ‘human rights’ brings to light the extraordinary difficulty of founding right, if not the impossibility of such a foundation. We have sought to dismiss the idea of ‘natural rights’, which represents an internal contradiction because their non-positive (in the legal sense) character prevents legal enforcement and sanction.

Yet we have invoked a ‘minimum norm’ (Rawls) which is necessary for the constitution of a just State or of the State under the rule of ‘law’ [Etat de ‘droit’] as it is popularly called today. This is no less lacking in foundations, in the fullest sense of the word, than ‘natural’ rights.

Hannah Arendt also showed how the national appropriation of ‘human rights’ gave rise to categories of persons without rights (refugees, displaced and stateless persons). It follows from these analyses that forms of non-right have not stopped imposing their iron law within positive rights, with the help of economic, technical, and political chaos.

Undoubtedly, the ‘right to have rights’, as Arendt formulated it, is plain to see: we can recognise neither the quality of the human being, nor, perhaps, that of the existent in general, without the involvement of this right. However, this again says nothing about the nature of this singular ‘right’ or about the possibility of its recognition, which should be universal and prior — if not superior — to any determined legal institution.

It is well known that the powerlessness of international law [droit] — of what passes under this name — or perhaps the basic impossibility of such a law [droit] (yet called for, desired and proclaimed by philosophical humanism for more than two centuries and formally declared in the 20th Century) impedes its effective implementation.

But as Hegel says, what is well known is not known at all. What remains here unknown is nothing other than the absence of foundation of right in general. This absence is not temporary or contingent: it is constitutive, I would even say that it is ‘constituent’ of right.

Indeed, right can only exist or be guaranteed by a divine authority, whatever that may be. In such a case, it is not a question of right, if something worthy of this name requires the continuing possibility of recovery, transformation and re-creation in the various practical circumstances — technical, political, cultural and spiritual — to which it must respond.

Both the history of legislated rights of the Roman type as well as the customary rights of the Anglo-Saxon type clearly show that an essential plasticity of right exists within the fixity that the law, no less essentially, requires.

Both the interminable ascent to the ‘basic norm’ in a pyramid of norms (Kelsen) and the recourse to an ultimate power to decide the exception (Schmitt), the right to exceed right, converge towards a passage to the limit.

Right can only be exposed to such a passage; it is by nature the institution of what cannot be instituted, in other words of justice in the non-legal sense of the word. And it is not by seeking a categorical legal imperative that we can hope to found such a justice since the universal can be found neither here nor in a Kantian imperative, where it is reduced to the representation of ‘nature’ as a ‘type’ or nondeterministic model of morality.

In a sense, which itself passes on to the limit of sense, justice consists in rendering justice. This is not ‘to render the justice’, which assumes a determined or instituted justice. This is rendering to someone or something the justice that this person or thing — event, work, any form of existent — deserves.6 But what does each X deserve? Each X deserves an infinite recognition of its singularity. In other words, the justice that must be rendered to X is a justice whose nature and extent or non-naturalness and incommensurability only X can determine.

This justice must be effectively rendered, given back, returned to any X. This justice must be recognised for every X. Justice must be done to X and yet it is not it — whatever it is, tree or man [homme] — that can produce its due and present it as ‘justice’ or as ‘right’. This justice rests on the unfoundable certainty that it is just that that exists. On the certainty, therefore, that it is just that the world exists even though nothing can justify its existence.

Unjustifiable justice, far from founding any kind of rights — as extensive as these may be — opens up instead an infinite perspective that exceeds all possibility of right. From this infinity and to this infinity, all things and every singularity proceed and return.

This perspective must remain present beyond the horizon of right; for without an appeal or a sign towards it, right can only fall back into its inevitable fragility, whether of impotence, arbitrariness, relativity or rigidity. The greatest merit of ‘human rights’ is to bring out all these difficulties and all of these exigencies. The aim of these two simple remarks was, within their narrow limits, to draw attention to this.

Translated from the French by Gilbert Leung.

The photo shows, “The Fair” by Vladimir Egorovich Makovsky, painted in 1885.

Bruno Manz – Strange Portrait

There are numerous autobiographical testimonies about World War II and the Third Reich. The memoirs of former generals or soldiers engaged in telling their hardships and feats from a heroic perspective abounded for a time in German language.

Many of these authors were perfectly willing to accept that Hitler was a tyrant who dragged Germany to disaster, but not to give up pride in their exploits during the war, which they considered legitimate. Giving up their pride would have meant accepting the terrible absurdity of the adversities they had passed through. Is it not too high a price for those who had left the best youth in the battlefield? After all, our psyche requires us to be able to give meaning to our suffering, even if this meaning has to be fabricated.

With the advent of May 1968, the European mentality experienced a turning point that ended this attitude. Thereafter, the former heroic testimonies could only be self-published or appear in small publishing houses with a more than questionable political affiliation.

The heroic discourse was gradually becoming a stale and reactionary attitude, which was inappropriate in the new times. In return, the victims’ testimonies, a genuine literary genre with its own rules which had been formerly unnoticed, proliferated and spread more than ever. A new desire to be a victim, which was replacing the old pride of being a hero, began to emerge: in some extreme cases impostors appeared describing in great detail stories of survival in the concentration camps which they had never experienced. I may return to this in a future entry.

But the kind of testimony that has always shone eloquently for its absence is the unrepentant Nazi, despite the fact that a high percentage of the German population of 1945 consisted of them. The reasons for this absence are in and of themselves and are undoubtedly related to an unacknowledged feeling of shame.

However, we can barely count with direct testimonies of someone who recognizes himself as being deeply convinced of the truth of the Nazi worldview. It amazes me all the more that one of the most valuable testimonies of this type rarely appears in the endless bibliographies about Nazism and still does not even have a German translation. I’m referring to A Mind in Prison, the extraordinary memoirs of the German-born physicist Bruno Manz, published in 2000.

As the title suggests, Manz’s mind was imprisoned by the ideological and propaganda machine of the Third Reich, but also by the strong convictions held in his home. His father had always been an assured Nazi, and the deep love that the child felt for him facilitated inoculation of his ideological venom. It was easy for the Hitler Youth to do the rest. Later, the handsome soldier Manz ended up becoming an enthusiastic teacher who was responsible for, among other things, the indoctrination of Wehrmacht soldiers in Nazi ideology.

Apparently, Manz was lucky not to be directly involved in violent crimes; however, he was undoubtedly an ideological criminal, a truth about himself that he finally accepted with all its bitterness. The book also describes with unusual honesty the disturbing ideological liberation process he had to face after 1945.

Among other things, and though it took him several months, he ended up being forced to accept that the death camps were not a mere invention of Allied propaganda. Finally freed from his mental prison, in 1957 Manz emigrated to The United States and settled in the country of the former enemy, taking American citizenship. Ironically, he worked as a physicist in the missile development program of his new country.

Manz said that, as in many other German homes, in the entrance of his house in Dortmund there was a kind of domestic altar. Set in the middle was the Nazi flag; on top, a portrait of Hitler, and on either side pictures of Goebbels and Göring. Is there any better proof of how the National Socialism was a political religion?

Well, now let’s have a look at the valuable testimony of Manz:

The picture that represented the Führer was a technically inferior photograph of his profile that my father had bought at Nazi headquarters. From the very beginning my father was unhappy with this picture, but he put up with it for want of a better one. The stumbling block was the Führer’s shaggy hair, which was dotted with mysterious spots that looked quite unnatural and created the impression that the photograph had been tampered with. […] Apparently the Goebbels propaganda was also unhappy with the Hitler photograph, for it suddenly ordered the picture to be withdrawn from all shops and showcases. But no explanation was given, and that’s when the rumors started. The Stürmer, we heard by the grapevine, had launched an investigation, yet its findings were so sensitive that they could not be printed. They could only be transmitted by word of mouth, and then only to the most trustworthy. In this way, we eventually learned the “truth”. The pathetic photograph of Hitler was a sinister fabrication of the Jews. With great technical skill, they had woven all sorts of Jewish faces into Hitler’s shaggy hair, thus putting him on notice that they were still calling the shots. Now our eyes had been “opened.” Turning the picture around and viewing it from all angles, we “saw” a whole array of Jewish faces laughing and scoffing at us.

I was stunned. I am not sure whether my father took the affair as seriously as I did, but it was he who dug even deeper into the sinister plot. As the commotion was already cooling down, he surprised us at the dinner table with a view that tingled my spine. Turning Hitler’s profile upside down, he showed that his ear became a Jewish nose, his lower jaw turned into a bald forehead, a strand of hair was transformed into puffy lips, and so on. Now I was really frightened. If the Jews could penetrate the inner sanctuary of the National Socialist Party, was there anything they could not to?

The sudden withdrawal of Hitler’s photograph, which had a strong impact on the German population, was with no doubt due to image control measures of the Ministry of Propaganda. Trade with Führer portraits had become a big business, so images of poor quality proliferated. This was to be avoided at all costs. Moreover, Hitler’s personal photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, had exclusive photographic rights to the dictator. Any of these reasons amply explains the confiscation of the image referred to by Manz, without resorting to a conspiracy theory.

But in modern western civilization, conspiracy theories always had a big success. The extraordinary effectiveness of their argumentative mechanism has always fascinated me. By constructing false causal links, a conspiracy theory allows us to mark as true something that is nothing but a prejudice, a fear, an irrational hatred or mere suspicion.

There is always a conspiracy theory that will allow us to claim a rational attitude and a logical scrutiny to cover feelings that would embarrass us if we showed them in all their naked irrationality and primitivism. Conspiracy theories even allow us to be proud of our superior intelligence. After all, it was us who knew how to see Jewish faces in the image, where other ignorant mortals only see mere spots formed by chance.

Rare and valuable testimonies like these, though anecdotal, allow us to come closer to the mental mechanisms of horror. What matters is not so much to be aware of the tragic consequences of barbarism, but the simple and effective cognitive mechanisms that, at any given time, can make us a barbarian. In this sense, Manz has given us a priceless testimony.

Rosa Sala Rose lives in Spain.

The photo shows, “Das Wilde Jahd,” by Franz von Stuck, painted in 1889.

Carl Schmitt On Federation

One of the most thorough and interesting discussions of the relationship between federalism, constitutionalism and democracy is presented by Carl Schmitt in Constitutional Theory. A federation of states, or just a federation, is according to Schmitt a curious and structurally contradictory interstate relation, which has to be distinguished from, on the one hand, a confederation (an alliance of sovereign states) and, on the other hand, a federal state (one sovereign state).

A federation is a permanent association of two or more states which rests on a free agreement of all member-states with the common goal of self-preservation; an agreement that however changes the political or constitutional status of the member-states. It is immediately clear that the federation lies in between—or is a curios synthesis of—the confederation and the federal state.

On the one hand, in contrast to the federal state, which rests on a public law constitution, but similar to the confederation, the federation rests on an international contract. On the other hand, in contrast to the confederation but similar to the federal state, the establishment of a federation leads to a political change of the member-states’ constitutions.

The constitutional change of the member-states does not necessarily entail a change of constitutional law in the member-states; the constitutional change regards something far more important, namely, “the concrete content of the fundamental political decisions on the entire manner of the existence of the state.”

It is here important to note that Schmitt operates with a fundamental distinction between a constitution and constitutional laws. The constitution is not the sum of the constitutional laws. The constitution consists in the fundamental political decision on the political form of the state. In this way, the fundamental decision on democracy is encapsulated in the preamble to the Weimar Constitution: “the German people provided itself with a constitution” and “State authority derives from the people” and “The German Reich is a republic.”

The constitutional change of the member-states of a federation consists in the establishment of a permanent order that includes the member-states in their total existence as a political unity into a common political existence. This common political existence does however not eliminate the existence of the individual member-states; the federation and the states exist politically alongside one another.

The federal constitution is an interstate contract the content of which simultaneously is a component of each of the member-states constitutions. The federal contract is the only genuine form of contractual constitutionalism, because it presupposes two or more politically existing states, each of which containing within them one subject of the constituent power.

Within a state, a constitution will according to Schmitt always be a one-sided decision by the sovereign people as the sole carrier of the constituent power. The federal constitution is in this way a contract between two or more national subjects of the constituent power.

The aim of the federation is self-preservation. This entails that all federations unconditionally guarantee the political existence of each of the members of the federation, even if this is not stated explicitly. Internally, self-preservation signifies a necessary pacification. Internal peace is essential within the federation; a war between two member-states would signal the end of the federation.

Furthermore, in the name of the common interest in self-preservation and security, the federation has the right of supervision and, if necessary, intervention with regard to maintenance, preservation and security.

Externally, the federation protects all the member-states against foreign invasion: “Every federation can wage war as such and has a jus belli. There is no federation without the possibility of a federation war.” However, this does not mean that the individual members of the federation are totally deprived of their jus belli; “it follows from the nature of the political existence of the individual members that a right to self-help and to war is only being given up insofar as it is conditioned by membership in the federation.”

The federation as a political form is, according to Schmitt, characterized by three legal and political antinomies. Firstly, there is a contradictory relationship between, on the one hand, the federation’s aim of self-preservation hereunder the maintenance of the independence of all member-states, and on the other hand, the lessening of this independence of every member-state with regard to their jus belli.

In this way the federation leads to a contradictory status with regard to the self-preservation of the member-states. Secondly, there is an antinomy between, on the one hand, the fact that the federation members seek to preserve their self-determination and their political independence through the federation, and on the other hand, that the federation in the name of common security and self-preservation has the right to intervene since it cannot ignore the domestic affairs of the federation members. Thirdly, and most fundamentally, there is an antinomy between the political existence of the federation and the political existence of the member-states which have to coexist under a federal constitution.

The federation is conditioned on this coexistence: neither the member-states nor the federation are to be subordinated to the other part: “the federation exists only in this existential connection and in this balance.” The essence of the federation resides in this “dualism of political existence.” If the existential balance of this dualism is not kept intact the federation will dissolve either into individual sovereign states or into one federal sovereign state.

The problem of this dual existence is practically best illustrated by the problem of secession. On the one hand, the federation is founded as a permanent order which entails a continual renunciation of the right to secession. On the other hand, the federation is a contract of independent politically existing states which must have the continual right to decide upon the status of this contract themselves, also with respect to the annullability of this contract, i.e., the right to secession. In this way, the federation is existentially conditioned both on the member-states’ continual right to secession and renunciation of this right.

In this way, the fundamental problem of the federation can be stated as follows: if an existential conflict arises between the federation and the member-states, who decides? The problem is, that the federation is predicated on the existential balance between the two parties’ equal right, and if a decision is made, the federation will dissolve because either national or federal sovereignty is declared supreme.

For this reason, the existence of the federation is conditioned on a perpetual openness of the question of sovereignty, that is, the existence of the federation is predicated on an existential exclusion of internal conflict in the federation. It is important to note here that existential balance between two political entities, according to Schmitt, does not entail a “division of sovereignty”: the question of who decides is merely left open.

The only possible resolution to these antinomies, according to Schmitt, lies in an existential and substantial homogeneity among all members of the federation, which will ensure (a) that the first antinomy regarding the member-states’ self-preservation is resolved by ensuring internal pacification and external compatibility of enmity (in this way the jus belli of the member-states will coincide with the jus belli of the federation), (b) that the second antinomy regarding the self-determination of the member-states is resolved by ensuring that the interference of the federation in the internal affairs of the member-state will not appear as foreign in existential terms (in this way the interference by the federation will not be against the will of the member-states) and (c) that the third antinomy regarding sovereignty is resolved by ensuring that internal conflict is existentially excluded (in this way, the closure of the question of sovereignty is precluded).

Two questions have to be raised in relation hereto: Firstly, how is the homogeneity established? Secondly, what are the consequences of this homogeneity for a federation of democratic member-states? Regarding the first question, Schmitt argues, substantial homogeneity can primarily be derived from national similarity of the member-states’ populations. However, political form (democracy, aristocracy, or monarchy) and principles such as religion, culture, or class can add to the principle of national homogeneity. Homogeneity is in this way primarily something which is existentially given.

In order to answer the second question, a short discussion of Schmitt’s conception of democracy is necessary. According to Schmitt, democracy is in general treated as an ideal concept not properly distinguished from liberalism and the Rechtsstaat (hereunder socialism, justice, peace and international understanding); an ideology and a political form which democracy, according to Schmitt, is not merely distinct from but directly opposed to.

In contrast to the general discourse of the Rechtsstaat presenting freedom and equality as the dual principles of democracy, Schmitt argues that not merely is freedom not a democratic principle, freedom and equality are often opposed to one another.

The democratic principle is according to Schmitt equality; not the general human equality of all persons discussed by liberalism which precludes political distinction and exclusion, but the concrete equality of a people within a nation-state: “Even the French Declaration of the Rights of Man,” Schmitt writes “states that all persons are by nature free and equal. As soon as it involves political rights and those of the state, however, it no longer speaks of persons (homme), but instead of state citizens (citoyen).”

In a national democracy, like the French, the presupposition of democracy is a substantial equality of a people, meaning a national homogeneity: “democratic equality is essentially similarity, in particular similarity among the people. The central concept of democracy is people and not humanity” (p. 261-3).

Democracy is by Schmitt defined—both as a state form, a governmental form and a legislative form—as the identity of ruler and ruled. Identity as the key term of democracy has at least three meanings for Schmitt: (a) the identity of a homogenous people (national identity), (b) the identity of politically unified people (political identity) (c) the self-identity of a physically present people as in contrast to representation (presence identity).

Democracy rests in this identity because if the identity is strong enough there will be no difference between the opinion of one and the opinion of another: there will be one sovereign will of the people. It is this will that has the power or authority to constitute a state as a democracy: the homogenous sovereign will of the national people is the subject of the constituent power.

Regarding the second question: since both democracy and federations rest on substantial homogeneity, it is necessary that the national homogeneity converges with the federal homogeneity.

For this reason, Schmitt argues “it is part of the natural development of democracy that the homogenous unity of the people extends beyond the political boundaries of member states and eliminates the transitional condition of the coexistence of the federation and the politically independent member states, and replaces it with a complete unity.”

In this way, the principle of homogeneity that led to the resolution of the antinomies of the federation—the antinomies which again, if not resolved, would lead to the dissolution of the federation because of the closure of the question of sovereignty—has in the case of democratically constituted states a path dependency which stirs the federation directly toward its dissolution into a federal state.

On the other hand, if the homogeneity is not strong enough, the antinomies of the federation will lead to a collapse of the federation into sovereign states. For this reason, the legitimacy of a federation, in Weberian terms (the sociological criteria which will lead the population to accept the political system), will lead (a) to the dissolution of the federation into a federal state if they are fulfilled and (b) to the dissolution of the federation into nation-states if they are not fulfilled. The non-statist form of the federation is therefore, according to Schmitt’s theory, merely a transition from one form of statehood to another form of statehood.

The photo shows, “Spring in the Trenches,” By Paul Nash, painted in 1918.

Early History Of Germany

The Germanic tribes, which probably originated from a mixture of peoples along the Baltic Sea coast, inhabited the northern part of the European continent by about 500 B.C. By 100 B.C., they had advanced into the central and southern areas of present-day Germany.

At that time, there were three major tribal groups: the eastern Germanic peoples lived along the Oder and Vistula rivers; the northern Germanic peoples inhabited the southern part of present-day Scandinavia; and the western Germanic peoples inhabited the extreme south of Jutland and the area between the North Sea and the Elbe, Rhine, and Main rivers.

The Rhine provided a temporary boundary between Germanic and Roman territory after the defeat of the Suevian tribe by Julius Caesar about 70 B.C.

The threatening presence of warlike tribes beyond the Rhine prompted the Romans to pursue a campaign of expansion into Germanic territory. However, the defeat of the provincial governor Varus by Arminius at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in A.D. 9 halted Roman expansion; Arminius had learned the enemy’s strategies during his military training in the Roman armies.

This battle brought about the liberation of the greater part of Germany from Roman domination. The Rhine River was once again the boundary line until the Romans reoccupied territory on its eastern bank and built the Limes, a fortification 300 kilometers long, in the first century A.D.

The second through the sixth centuries was a period of change and destruction in which eastern and western Germanic tribes left their native lands and settled in newly acquired territories. This period of Germanic history, which later supplied material for heroic epics, included the downfall of the Roman Empire and resulted in a considerable expansion of habitable area for the Germanic peoples.

However, with the exception of those kingdoms established by Franks and Anglo-Saxons, Germanic kingdoms founded in such other parts of Europe as Italy and Spain were of relatively short duration because they were assimilated by the native populations. The conquest of Roman Gaul by Frankish tribes in the late fifth century became a milestone of European history; it was the Franks who were to become the founders of a civilized German state.

Merovingian Rule, ca. 500-751

In Gaul a fusion of Roman and Germanic societies occurred. Clovis, a Salian Frank belonging to a family supposedly descended from a mythical hero named Merovech, became the absolute ruler of a Germanic kingdom of mixed Roman-Germanic population in 486. He consolidated his rule with victories over the Gallo-Romans and all the Frankish tribes, and his successors made other Germanic tribes subjects of the Merovingian Dynasty.

The remaining 250 years of the dynasty, however, were marked by internecine struggles and a gradual decline. During the period of Merovingian rule, the Franks reluctantly began to adopt Christianity following the baptism of Clovis, an event that inaugurated the alliance between the Frankish kingdom and the Roman Catholic Church. The most notable of the missionaries responsible for Christianizing the tribes living in Germany was Saint Boniface (ca. 675-754), an English missionary who is considered the founder of German Christianity.

The Carolingians, 752-911

Charlemagne inherited the Frankish crown in 768. During his reign (768-814), he subdued Bavaria, conquered Lombardy and Saxony, and established his authority in central Italy. By the end of the eighth century, his kingdom, later to become known as the First Reich (empire in German), included present-day France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg, as well as a narrow strip of northern Spain, much of Germany and Austria, and much of the northern half of Italy. Charlemagne, founder of an empire that was Roman, Christian, and Germanic, was crowned emperor in Rome by the pope in 800.

The Carolingian Empire was based on an alliance between the emperor, who was a temporal ruler supported by a military retinue, and the pope of the Roman Catholic Church, who granted spiritual sanction to the imperial mission. Charlemagne and his son Louis I (r. 814-40) established centralized authority, appointed imperial counts as administrators, and developed a hierarchical feudal structure headed by the emperor. Reliant on personal leadership rather than the Roman concept of legalistic government, Charlemagne’s empire lasted less than a century.

A period of warfare followed the death of Louis. The Treaty of Verdun (843) restored peace and divided the empire among three sons, geographically and politically delineating the approximate future territories of Germany, France, and the area between them, known as the Middle Kingdom. The eastern Carolingian kings ruled the East Frankish Kingdom, what is now Germany and Austria; the western Carolingian kings ruled the West Frankish Kingdom, what became France.

The imperial title, however, came to depend increasingly on rule over the Middle Kingdom. By this time, in addition to a geographical and political delineation, a cultural and linguistic split had occurred. The eastern Frankish tribes still spoke Germanic dialects; the language of the western Frankish tribes, under the influence of Gallo-Latin, had developed into Old French. Because of these linguistic differences, the Treaty of Verdun had to be written in two languages.

Not only had Charlemagne’s empire been divided into three kingdoms, but the East Frankish Kingdom was being weakened by the rise of regional duchies, the so-called stem duchies of Franconia, Saxony, Bavaria, Swabia, and Lorraine, which acquired the trappings of petty kingdoms. The fragmentation in the east marked the beginning of German particularism, in which territorial rulers promoted their own interests and autonomy without regard to the kingdom as a whole. The duchies were strengthened when the Carolingian line died out in 911; subsequent kings would have no direct blood link to the throne with which to legitimate their claims to power against the territorial dukes.

Courtesy of German Culture.

The photo shows, “Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, or Varusschlacht,” by Otto Albert Koch, painted in 1909.

Why Is There Islamic Violence?

What is the connection between Islam and violence? Few ask this question, that is, among those who still have the right to speak in this institutionalized world, whether secular or religious. More often than not, this question is avoided by denying that Islamic tradition and the Koran have actually justified violence for fourteen-hundred years. Or, the question is drowned in a flood of platitudes – all those magical calls for peace in which some Muslims are invited to participate (with sincerity or not, it does not matter) – calls which change nothing.

First Consideration: The Manipulation of Islamic Violence

All this has been going on for fifty years now, as explained by an ex-Leftist who saw the light – the former journalist, Yves Mamou, who has just published, Le Grand Abandon. Les élites françaises et l’islamisme (“The Great Abandonment: French Elites and Islamism”), in which he lists the various French collaborators with Islam: “In the end, I realized that I had put together a directory of power in France. Almost all the political parties, the great bodies of the State, the justice system, the universities, the experts, the artists and the centers of culture, the media – all were on the side of the Islamists. Even the Catholic Church was alongside the Islamists.” Of course, we cannot share Mamou’s conclusion, but his book is very important.

The word, “Islamism,” in the title of the book is chosen by design. Properly speaking, there really is not an “Islamization” of Europe that we are witnessing. If that really were the case, as the Algerian blogger, Aldo Sterone, has observed, then there should be mosques in Europe representing all the trends and movements within Islam. Rather, what is happening in the West should be called, “Islamitization,” for despite ethnic or national diversity, almost all mosques are under the umbrella of the international Islamist organization known as the Muslim Brotherhood, which is regarded as a terrorist outfit in several Muslim countries (Egypt, UAE, Saudi Arabia, although this does not stop Saudi Arabia from funding mosques throughout the world).

All the while, the Muslim Brotherhood is in power in Turkey. The elite media hides the true nature of Islamist totalitarian tyranny in present-day Turkey. Ever since the shoddy attempt to eliminate Erdogan in 2016, 55,000 people have been arrested and 140,000 sacked or suspended; 4,395 judges and prosecutors have been dismissed; 2,281 private institutions closed, including 15 universities; 19 unions suspended and nearly 2,000 people sentenced to life imprisonment. Arrests and convictions continue. Further, the Muslim Brotherhood is perfectly tolerated in the West, actively collaborating with Washington, in particular under former President Obama (and everyone already knows about the deep links of the Bush family with Bin Laden).

In contrast, there is the law signed by President Trump on December 11, 2018, which defines the crimes carried out by jihadists against Christians and Yazidis, in Iraq and in Syria, as genocide. Such a law now requires the American government to prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes and authorizes governmental or private aid to the victims, including Syrians who earlier had been excluded because of the embargo of 2004 (an embargo which was the first act of war against the Republic of Syria).

What therefore emerges is a massive collaboration between globalist and Islamist elites – a collaboration which also excludes all those that oppose them. How and why?

Briefly (because this is not the decisive aspect of Islamic violence), violence is a tool for the various powers in place, Muslim or not, who have little interest in the welfare of populations, only in their subjugation or submission (which is precisely the meaning of the word, “Islam”). To put it another way, violence is very useful, especially as terrorism, through which the powers in place come to dominate civil society. It is not by accident that Western secret services, and their client states, created and now support jihadist organizations. The British MI5 brought about the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1920s; the CIA created the Taliban in Afghanistan, long before the invasion of that country by the Soviet Union. Then the CIA created Al-Qaeda, then the Islamic State (ISIS, or Daesh), then Al-Nusra, and so on.

It is not without reason that President Sissi of Egypt warned young people not to be enticed by Islamism when visiting the West: “You want to go there with your culture which you consider non-negotiable. You say, this is who we are and you must accept us as such because of human rights. No. If you visit a country as a guest, you must fully respect its laws, customs, traditions, and culture.” Al-Sissi even defended the right of any country welcoming migrants to “protect its people,” while “respecting human rights, in a framework that preserves its national interests.” President Al-Sissi was addressing young people at a forum in Sharm el-Sheikh, on December 13, 2018. He knew that the worst jihadist criminals in Syria were the young people indoctrinated in the West (with full complicity of elected politicians).

But people are now catching on and all this is starting to be known and understood, especially in France, despite the control of the media and censorship. The uniqueness of France, as a civil society that has not yet been annihilated, is something that many are waking up to, although it is already late, no thanks to the Church. In fact, has the Church in the West become so very incapable of bringing people to God – that Western people now go searching for God in Islam and other religions?

The phenomenon unfolding before us is this – civil society is confronted by the ruling elites who want to enslave it (and, in effect, destroy it). This is the true origin of the spontaneous movement of the Yellow-Vests (the gilets jaunes). But this phenomenon is not particular to France, or even to the West – it has arisen in all parts of the world, including in countries where Islam is the state religion. Such a confrontation is the reason why this civil movement has been embraced everywhere. Manipulation by the elite is certainly the initial explanation for the existence of Islamic violence, and its terroristic aspect.

But this is also not the fundamental explanation – for how is it that Islamic violence fits so well with some of the games of geostrategic domination? Why Islam? Or more precisely, why Muslims and Islamists in particular? Are they better able to be manipulated and used (they certainly are not alone in that regard)?

The Deciding Factor – The Truncated Hope Of An Ideal World

For answers to these questions, some turn to the Koran, because this book supposedly fell out of the sky. Indeed, if a book advocates violence (at least as a means to an end) and is held to be divine, one faces a huge problem, reaching down into the very bedrock of religious psychology (for what God wants must be done). This is likely the initial response. However, serious Islamologists know that the Koran has a long and complex history. Thus, it is important to understand the historical and cultural context in which this book was fabricated. If violence is advocated and also encouraged (and the Sira, or biography of Muhammad elaborates further: massacres, rapes, robberies, deception and ruses, etc.) – what is its end goal? If the objectives pursued imply the domination of the world and the elimination of everything that is not Islamic (the annihilation of the Other, as Claude Lévy-Strauss said in Tristes tropiques), what is all that for?

Possessing an innate theological sense, ordinary people understand the ultimate goal, which is to realize on earth a model of the ideal society that God supposedly wants (which has nothing to do with Plato’s political dreams). In this model, the will of God is supposedly known by the rulers, personified by the Khalifa (thanks to the Koran and the Sunnah), who must comply with divine will and convert the totality of mankind to obey it (down to the smallest details of daily life), the imposition of Shariah. This is the great Muslim Cause, the source of Islamic violence.

Below the rulers are the rest of the Muslims (men) , who must be mukallaf, that is, militants, devoted body and soul to the Cause and always obeying the Khalifa (upon pain of death). Below the men are Muslim women, who must be subject to men, otherwise the men risk being diverted from the Cause (see, Koran 64.14, a verse often overlooked). A Muslim can take a Christian or Jewish woman, but only on the condition that he control her judiciously. The children of such a union are to be Muslims.

Below the Muslim women are non-Muslims, Jews and Christians, who are provisionally tolerated. Finally, at the very bottom are the mass of other men, namely, slaves, or those who must be made invisible (those whose existence is a heavy weight upon the earth).

Curiously, there is hardly a theologian (Catholic or Protestant) who opposes this radical character of Islamic totalitarian thought, which evokes a pyramidal shape, but which is far more than that. Was it really so very difficult to find this same type of thinking in other ideological systems, by way of historical ties of kinship? At the end of his life, the theologian Henri de Lubac looked at this question in his last book entitled, La postérité spirituelle de Joachim de Flore (The Spiritual Posterity of Joachim de Flore). Of course, Lubac does not speak about Islam; but he does show that the idea of ​​a New Era which is to be built in order to fulfill the will of God on earth is explicit in the West at least since the twelfth century, and that it then led to genocides and modern concentration camps. We know that Joachim de Flore, a true heretic, was considered a saint in Rome by certain cardinals (who willingly saw themselves as ministers of the coming Universal Kingdom). Such a totalitarian idea obviously did not suddenly appear one day out of the blue – it already had in a long history. And it did not appear suddenly in the seventh century with Islam. Where did this fundamentally mistaken idea come from?

This fundamental error took shape at the end of the first century AD, among ex-Judeo-Christians, who had renounced the teaching of the Apostles. The error consists in truncating the promises of Revelation – and in particular those of Jesus when He called Himself the “Son of Man” – promises which concern the establishment of the reign of God upon the earth, after the Glorious Return of Jesus, and after the “Judgment” uniquely associated with it. And not before. The difference is crucial – the conditions of life will no longer be the same after. The manifestation of the Coming or Glorious Presence will bring about a communion of the willing, which renders any pyramidal system useless (which is only fabricated for coercion).

The way in which human beings will be organized no doubt will be diverse, each according to condition and ability. Pondering all this should have been the work of theologians, had theology (Western) not been so thoroughly damaged by playing with ideas and moral precepts that precisely sought to bring about a human project, that is, seeking to establish a society or life which was reminiscent of certain aspects of the pyramidal. This is what is known as “Augustinism,” a hardened and ideologized form of Augustine’s thought (mainly at the end of his life), which was developed by the thinkers of the Middle Ages. It gradually fashioned occidental theology to its ultimate self-destructive consequences in the twentieth-century. Losing all ability to question the world (which can only happen if you do not lose sight of the Glorious Return), such theology fell into empty and nonsensical atheism, which was then polished up as “spirituality” and good intentions, and which can now no longer be concealed. You cannot amputate Revelation with impunity.

And the alibi of this amputation lies in the confusion systematically maintained of what comes “before” the Glorious Return and what comes “after.” Worse, those who refuse to think about what comes “after” the Glorious Return are the very same ones who a few years ago announced the coming of universal socialism and who have now been recycled today as the “multireligious,” which is just one aspect of multiculturalist ideology, which is supposed to bring peace on earth.

These successors of Joachim de Flore and of the totalitarianisms of the twentieth-century are the same ones who admire Islam(ism). This is only logical. If, in relation to the promises of the Glorious Coming, you replace the proposition “after” with “before,” you become the propagator (always sectarian) of any politico-religious ideology pretending to bring about these promises. Of course, the Magisterium of Rome has condemned these projects of an ideal society before the Glorious Coming, but it has done so, without the necessary explanations. If you do not explain the perversion of flipping “after” to “before,” condemnation serves no purpose whatsoever.

This flipping, moreover, obscures a given of Revelation which (and without understanding it) the Muslims have preserved (alongside the fact that they are waiting for the Coming, but materially not Glorious, of Jesus) – and that given we are speaking of is the question of the Anti-Christ. This is not a point of detail; it goes to the very heart of Revelation and gives it coherence. The question of the anti-Christ has recently been clarified by the theologian Françoise Breynaert, in her learned and impressive book, La Venue glorieuse du Christ: Véritable espérance pour le monde (The Glorious Coming of Christ: True Hope of the World).

In a word, this book speaks of salvation, not so much the narrow personal future of each person (in the individualist and Augustinian sense of “I have obtained my salvation and the world can perish”) – but in the sense where the world itself is called to participate in the glory of the children of God. This book must be widely read. And this book helps us walk away from Augustinism, which has amputated the theology of the Latin Church for many long centuries.

Rediscovering Revelation

At the end of September 2018, the Mission Congress was held in Paris, which brought together various Christian communities as well as Christian groups in France (Catholic, with an ecumenical bent). The get-together was powerful spiritually (as well as in acoustics and sound). On Saturday afternoon, there was a round-table on Islamic issues, with Samuel Pruvot, a journalist, who served as president. He was flanked by two brave Muslims who opposed Islamism (one of them was a municipal councillor), as well as a philosopher.

What the four of them said can be summarized in this way: That the French nation has great integrating power, which only needs the schools to play their role (along with all the other institutions), and soon Muslims will be proud to be French. Anyway, the four of them recognized that their hope (which might have been meaningful fifty years ago) was disconnected from reality. It would have been far better if they had not spoiled such a precious coming together of so many young people and had let these young people to listen to the Word of God speak about building the future. You cannot better illustrate the disconnect that exists in the Church between human discourse and one that takes faith into account.

And above all, if you want to dialogue with Muslims, it is imperative to understand what it is that they have in their heads and in their hearts. Certainly, the hope of the world conforming to the will of God is legitimate, provided it is placed after the Glorious Coming and Judgment Day. Indeed, it is possible to address these issues in the context of the well-known Muslim prayer, the Fatiha (Surah 1 of the Koran). And this necessary dialogue therefore must be done by understanding what lies at the heart of Islamic conviction. Such a dialogue may also address the secular minded, provided that such a mind is even open to such a dialogue. A fifty-page booklet has taken up this challenge (Canevas On the Method of Deradicalization In A Secular Setting Which Also Takes Faith Itself Into Account). It shall certainly inspire others.

For Christians, the will of God has meaning only in an outlook of faith which, on the one hand, views as the starting point the creative act of God, and on the other, the destiny of the created to ultimately enter into His Glory (except those who oppose it, for the Glory of God implies the freedom of His creatures). Therein lies the key. It is this God that Christians have to proclaim to Muslims (and to all men).

Translated from the French by Father Edouard-Marie and N. Dass.

Theologian and Islamologist, Father Edouard-Marie Gallez is the author of Le messie et son prophète (The Messiah and His Prophet), published in Paris in 2005 (and awaiting an English translation), which is an 1100 -page study that reconnects the origins of Islam to factual history by showing that the Koran and Islamic legends developed gradually over time. This study paved the way of current research into early Islam. For more information, see http://rootsofislamtruehistory.com and http://thegreatsecretofislam.com. Father Edouard-Marie also participates in research groups on early Christianity and its influence.

The photo shows, “The Bulgarian Martyresses,” by Konstantin Makovsky, painted in 1877.

Eumeswil, Or Whither Human Excellence?

Ernst Jünger’s Eumeswil, one of the famous German’s last works, published when he was eighty-two years old, is often regarded as an exposition of libertarian thought. This is understandable, but completely wrong. Such a reading attempts to shoehorn concepts in which Jünger had little interest, or toward which he was actively hostile, into an exploration of unrelated themes.

Moreover, it ignores that in this book, though somewhat masked, Jünger has more contempt for so-called liberal democracy than dislike for what some call tyranny. Thus, this book is not a call to rework society, or individual thought, along libertarian lines. It is instead a call for human excellence, and a criticism of the modern West for failure to achieve it, or to even try.

One cannot really understand Eumeswil without reading, preferably first reading, Jünger’s earlier The Forest Passage, which was published in 1951, twenty-six years before Eumeswil. On the surface, they are very different—this book is cast as dystopian science fiction, and The Forest Passage is a work of philosophical exposition.

But Jünger himself explicitly ties the two books together, linking the earlier book’s concept of the “forest rebel” with this book’s concept of the “anarch.” In both books, the author’s focus on freedom, specific to each individual, is easily misinterpreted, because what freedom means to most people today is not what Jünger means by the term. Jünger means an internal, spiritual freedom, an elitist freedom, not the freedom of license and consequent ennui. This confusion drives all the misunderstandings of Eumeswil.

While they fit together, a key difference between the books is often, or always, overlooked. Both are analyses of how a man should live under tyranny. But the tyrannies to which the protagonist in each book reacts are completely different.

Thus, while there are some differences between the forest rebel and the anarch, those differences are best explained not by developments in Jünger’s thought, but by the differences in the tyrannies examined in each book. That is to say, Jünger is looking at a general problem of stifled freedom from two radically different angles—in the earlier book, from the perspective of those trapped by Communism or other totalitarian ideologies; in the later book, from those trapped in a much different type of tyranny, one into which Jünger saw the West decaying, having nothing to do with Communism.

It is the difference between 1951 and 1977, one which often escapes us now, but was very evident to a person of the time, and should be even more evident to us today, since the defects found in 1977 in bud form are now in full and poisonous flower, while the evils of 1951 have disappeared entirely.

Not much actually happens, plot-wise, in Eumeswil. Most of the book consists of the private musings of the protagonist, Martin Venator. He lives in the city-state of Eumeswil, somewhere in today’s Morocco, after an unspecified global apocalypse some time before. (The name comes from Eumenes, the most clever of the Diadochi, the “successors” of Alexander, who fought over and divided his empire. The theme of such decline is everywhere in this book, starting with the city name itself). Eumeswil is ruled by a man referred to only as the Condor, a soldier who overthrew the “tribunes,” the leading men of a broad oligarchic and quasi-democratic order, the “republic,” whose adherents viewed, and still view, themselves as beneficent and liberal, in contrast to the Condor, whom they naturally loathe.

Venator, a young man, has two jobs. By day he is a historian, or rather some type of graduate student; by night he tends bar in the Condor’s palace, at the Condor’s private bar. This permits him to observe the Condor and his aides, as they interact and discuss both high and low events. In Venator’s dispassionate telling, the Condor and his men are far from fiends; they are competent and genial men, highly intelligent and rational, concerned mostly with possible rebellions in the city, maintaining order, keeping the people happy, and not getting on the wrong side of people more powerful than they.

Of those latter, there are really two—the Yellow Khan, apparently either a very powerful neighbor or some sort of overlord, who sometimes comes for state visits that are a combination of pleasure and peril for the Condor and his men; and the vague “catacombs,” subterranean realms of some kind from which come advanced technology, still being developed by unspecified people, not unearthed from dead ones.

To accompany these external forces, to the south, across the desert, lies the “Forest,” a mutated, wild land, where (spoiler alert) at the end of the book the Condor leads an expedition, joined by Venator, and none of them are ever heard from again.

Under both the tribunes and the Condor, Eumeswil is a place that is waiting, passing the time, forever, so far as can be seen. There are no grand plans or any real hope for the future. Here, at the end of all things, not much happens. Perhaps it will come around again, though there is no sign of it. (As M. John Harrison says of “defeated, resigned landscapes” in The Pastel City, “Or was it just waiting to be born? Who can tell at which end of Time these places have their existence”)?

Those in Eumeswil birth few children; two maximum, not by law but because people can’t be bothered and see no reason to have more children. Abortion is illegal but ignored in practice, along with other vices, such as pederasty and drug use. From a libertarian perspective, pretty much everyone is free to do as he wants, as long as he does not overtly upset the public order (and does not challenge the ruler, on whom more later). History is mostly ignored; the entire society smacks of what is today called postmodernism. In other words, Eumeswil is a stand-in for the modern West, and its people, regardless of their formal type of government, are not analogous to those under Communism in The Forest Passage, but to Jünger’s West German compatriots of the 1970s.

Martin’s father and brother do not approve either of his job with the Condor or of his disinterest in politics. They were prominent partisans of the tribunes, although they were not punished upon their overthrow. (It is not even very risky to oppose the Condor, who executes nobody except a handful of criminals, and governs with a very light touch, though he does exile the most problematic dissidents to offshore islands).

They talk politics incessantly, making family dinners unpleasant, while they hedge their bets, preen themselves, and do nothing, just like all their class. Venator has little sympathy with them (exacerbated by, as he repeatedly notes, his father unsuccessfully having tried to get his mother to kill him in the womb), but fulfils his filial and family obligations.

Venator’s repeated references to his father’s attempts to kill him do not seem incidental; what Jünger appears to be saying is that men like Venator’s father, supposedly devoted to freedom, are in fact mediocrities with no future, happy to serve their own interests (“his rights,” as Venator bitterly calls his father’s attempt to murder him) when push comes to shove, and afraid to take responsibility or take action. They are, thus, the opposite of the forest rebel.

Venator respects the Condor; he has nothing but a distant contempt for the tribunes, even though they seemed to offer more political freedom. They “had stylized the word ‘human’ into a sublime concept.” But their lofty ideals “all cost money, which, however, they collected from concrete and not ideal human beings.”

The tribunes, moreover, were addicted to regulation, such as forbidding private collection of salt so as to maintain their tax revenue, “patrolling by customers inspectors, who ambushed the poor.” They even required the salt sold in government stores to have “mixed in additives that their chemists praised as useful, even though they were injurious.

The fact that men with such minds consider themselves thinkers is forgivable; but they also claim to be benefactors.” Worst of all, the tribunes offered, if not utopias, abstract visions. “ ‘There is no progress,’ I often hear my [father] say; he seems to regard this is a misfortune. He also says, ‘Standing still means going backward.’ ” The little people, in contrast, are satisfied if everyday life remains constant; they prefer to see their chimneys smoking, not their houses.” The type of progress that Venator’s father looks for, in other words, is not progress at all, but false forward movement paid for by others.

Much of the book is taken up with disjointed thoughts, ranging from discussions of how the Condor’s palace, or citadel, the Casbah, is situated a few miles outside the city (complete with references to Machiavelli on such placements), to talk of Venator’s girlfriend, to lengthy expositions of the thought of Venator’s various teachers.

To make sense of Eumeswil, you have to pay close attention, pick out, and weave together what Venator says. The only steady and obvious thread is that he clearly and repeatedly identifies himself as an “anarch”; we can presume, I think, that Venator is here a stand-in for Jünger himself. “Such is the role of the anarch, who remains free of all commitments yet can turn in any direction.”

The anarch is emphatically not an anarchist. The anarchist is focused on overthrowing the existing order, which inevitably leads to its replacement by something not to the anarchist’s taste. The anarch’s goal is, on the contrary, to remain aloof from all political systems. He obeys the law of the state, just as he obeys, automatically, the laws of nature. His internal freedom is what matters.

This concept, of internal freedom, is as far as most mention of Eumeswil ever gets. Venator says, “I am an anarch in space, a metahistorian in time. Hence I am committed to neither the political present nor tradition; I am blank and also open and potent in any direction.” He does not oppose the rules of the society in which he lives. “One must know the rules, whether one is moving in a tyranny, a demos, or a bordello. This holds, above all, for the anarch—it is the second commandment, next to the first: ‘Know thyself.’”

Usually, this conception gets a nod as a type of pure, Zen-like freedom: the sovereign individual, keeping himself internally liberated, but not choosing to fight for formal freedom in the temporal realm. In other words, as with The Forest Passage, a common present-day interpretation of Jünger’s politics is as libertarian—the freedom to do as one chooses, which is what we would have if everyone could take the actions that germinate in an anarch’s head. This is completely wrong. Jünger is instead pushing an elite freedom, the freedom to avoid the mediocrity and oppression of the collective, not the freedom to do as one pleases. The anarch can move in any direction, true, but to what end?

It is the petty and controlling, fake benefactory and semi-utopian, nature of the tribunes to which Venator objects, rather than to their laws as such. The key is that he rejects the tearing down of authority. “Although an anarch, I am not anti-authoritarian. Quite the opposite: I need authority, although I do not believe in it.”

Those would who have unbridled freedom are parasitical and destructive. “Why do people who leave nothing unchallenged still make demands of their own? They live off the fact that gods, fathers, and poets used to exist. . . . In the animal kingdom, there are parasites that clandestinely hollow out a caterpillar.

Eventually, a mere wasp emerges instead of a butterfly. And that is what those people do with their heritage, and with language in particular.” That’s what Jünger really thinks of libertarians, and it’s not pretty. And for the same reasons, Jünger pretty obviously had no use for what liberal democracy has become, with its closely related destructive rush to atomized freedom and total emancipation.

Most of all, Venator objects to the tribunes’ utopian schemes. Remember, in my reading, the tribunes, and Eumeswil itself, are stand-ins for the modern society of the West, which by the 1970s was offering so-called liberal democracy as a utopian panacea, with an insufferable smugness that reached its high point only a few years later in Francis’s Fukuyama’s “end of history.”

Jünger, a man who lived through all the horrors the twentieth century had to offer, had no interest in offering utopias, whether political or philosophical, and had seen first-hand who pays the price for dreams of false progress. At an early age, Venator, and doubtless his alter-ego, Jünger, “formed [his] conviction of the imperfect and peaceless nature of the world.” Given that conviction, all utopias are a mistake, because they are impossible, and only result in misery.

Along these same lines, Venator endorses the core idea of Carl Schmitt that pinning rationales for war on utopian visions of an abstract humanity, rather than a recognition of who the enemy is by nature, results in far worse killing. “If humanity is written on the standard, then this means not only the exclusion of the enemy from society, but the deprivation of all his human rights.” The implication is that for all the supposed freedom under the tribunes, which Venator’s father and brother claim to miss so much, it did not mean anything at all that mattered, and cost more than it brought.

On the other hand, Venator seems to have little objection to the Condor. Yes, Venator regularly, though dispassionately, refers to the Condor as a tyrant. But is he really? If he is, he has nothing to do with modern totalitarianisms. More than once Venator ties him to Periander, the Tyrant of Corinth who died in 585 B.C. Periander was one of the Seven Sages, men of wisdom and power, who also included Thales of Miletus (to whom, among others, the Delphic maxim “Know thyself” is attributed), and Solon of Athens.

Eumeswil is not even a police state. In fact, it allows all sorts of ordered freedoms, and many disordered freedoms, within the constraints of not too directly challenging the ruler. A modest amount of vice is allowed and it appears that there is a sizable amount of low-level corruption greasing the skids of day-to-day life. What shows most of all that he’s not a real tyrant is that Condor can and does openly move around, “discreetly accompanied,” on the public streets and the waterfront, talking to and joking with the people, with whom he is popular. If he is a tyrant, he is a tyrant in the mold of Augustus.

The Condor is explicitly not a despot, by which Jünger means capricious or interested in degrading people to show his power. As far as is evident, Eumeswil has the rule of law. A moderately free press exists. The justice system works. “Tyranny [i.e., the Condor] must value a sound administration of justice in private matters. This, in turn, increases its political authority.”

The Condor does not offer any ideology and is pleased to encourage education and what culture there is, as well as try to improve himself. “The Condor sticks to Machiavelli’s doctrine that a good military and good laws are the fundaments of the state.” Really, the Condor is not dissimilar to Machiavelli’s “new princedom,” like that of, say, Francesco Sforza (who took over Milan in the fifteenth century). (I suspect that a close reading of The Prince with Eumeswil would show quite a few interesting overlaps).

The Condor is fiscally prudent, ensuring a hard money economy and restraining state spending, all of which benefits the common people (and is in contrast to the tribunes, who talked of the common people but despised and harmed them).

ünger may not regard the Condor as ideal, but he regards him as having a form of excellence, of aristocracy, and he thinks little of the mass of the population of Eumeswil, and especially the political class of Venator’s father and brother, where language is degraded, history is ignored, and nobody is very interested in excellence, or, for that matter, true freedom—all just like today’s liberal democracies, but not like Augustan-style “tyrannies.”

Jünger makes it explicit that the anarch is the same as the forest rebel—or at least one conception of the forest rebel. In Eumeswil, however, Jünger seems less enamored of actual action by the forest rebel in The Forest Passage. He denigrates partisan bands and other commitments to political change (such as anarchism), as “stuffy air, unclear ideas, lethal energy, which ultimately put abdicated monarchs and retired generals back in the saddle—and then they show their gratitude by liquidating those selfsame partisans.”

Joining the partisans makes on dependent on them; the anarch’s goal is to avoid dependence, even while he serves someone, whether the Condor or someone else. “The difference is that the forest [rebel] has been expelled from society, while the anarch has expelled society from himself.” Really, though, that’s a distinction without a difference, because the result is the same.

Perhaps, I think, what Jünger is saying is that under a totalitarian tyranny, that of the forest rebel, action may make more sense (something covered in The Forest Passage in some detail), but under the modern tyranny of liberal democracy, action is futile, because it is not the government that is the problem, but the society. If you extend Jünger’s line of thought, the Condor points toward a possible solution to the flaws of liberal democracy, not something against which rebellion is either necessary or desirable.

So what does that imply for the anarch, who can turn in any direction, but presumably will, at some point, choose a direction? Jünger is explicitly not a reactionary in the sense of wanting to return to a better past. In the words of his alter-ego, “It is not that I am awaiting a return to the past, like Chateaubriand, or a recurrence, like Boutefeu [a Nietzsche-like figure]; I leave those matters politically to the conservatives and cosmically to the stargazers. . . . No, I hope for something equal, nay, stronger, and not just in the human domain. Naglfar, the ship of the apocalypse, shifts into a calculable position.”

Naglfar is the ship, in Norse mythology, that will ferry dead men to fight the gods in the final battle, Ragnarök. That is, Jünger wants a renewal, but he sees no way that Eumeswil can be renewed in the usual course of life. The Condor cannot do it, nor does he try. But it is significant, in this context, that the book ends with Venator and the Condor marching into, and disappearing into, the Forest, seeking that which they would find. That is, the book ends with the Condor himself turning forest rebel.

It is just as significant that Venator, the exemplar of the anarch, chooses wholly voluntarily to accompany the Condor as his servant, as his “Xenophon,” on this expedition. Both of them seek excellence and a renewal of things through human action; they are the opposite of José Ortega y Gasset’s “mass man,” the necessary end product of liberal democracy. As one of Venator’s teachers tells him, urging him to go, “A dream comes true in each of our great transformations. You know this as a historian. We fail not because of our dreams but because we do not dream forcefully enough.”

This is not the language of libertarian inertia or pleasure maximization; it is the language of Godfrey in the gate. Nor is it random (nothing in this book is random, even if frequently it is opaque) that in the very brief postscript written by Venator’s brother, committing Venator’s writing to a sealed archive (presumably because his thought is dangerous), he says smugly, “A great deal has changed in the city and, if I may say so, for the better.

The Casbah is now desolate; goatherds pasture their goats inside the walls of the stronghold.” The Condor, and the anarch, may have failed in their goals, but at least they dreamed great dreams, and, even more importantly, took risks to achieve them, unlike the decayed people of Eumeswil, ruled by the even more decayed class of the tribunes.

Thus, despite the common misconception (including that of the excellent Introduction by Russell Berman), this is not a book about the tyranny of Communism, or about tyranny in general, such as that of some banana republic authoritarianism. It is about the specific tyranny and flaws of liberal democracy, the fatal defects of which Jünger saw clearly long before most.

Like Václav Havel, Jünger did not believe that liberal democracy was the solution to much of anything, even if it was better than totalitarianism. Jünger may not have seen, or anticipated, all the specifics of the defects of end-stage liberal democracy, the core problem of which is Ryszard Legutko’s “coercion to freedom.” (Jünger does explicitly prefigure Legutko when he has Venator remark that in Eumeswil, “freedom was consumed for the sake of equality”). Nor did he, at least here, narrate the inherent defects of the Enlightenment project of atomized freedom.

Presumably someone more familiar with Jünger’s voluminous output (much of which is untranslated and which, in the German, runs to twenty-two volumes) could offer a more precise answer, and a more precise slotting of this book into Jünger’s thought.

But still, it is fascinating that Jünger saw our current future long before most, and, perhaps, he also saw possible paths toward, if not finding a solution, at least addressing the problems. Maybe that path is something less dramatic than disappearing into the Forest—but maybe it is marching into it, for nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The photo shows, “Arbeit schaendet” (Work is a Disgrace), by Georg Scholz, painted 1920-1921.

Theodore Adorno On Barbarism

Theodore Adorno’s use of the term “barbarism” has probably been most often referred to in the context of his much-cited dictum that “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” While, nowadays, the term is usually and fortunately presented within the broader context of his works, his intended meaning was frequently misunderstood particularly after Adorno had articulated it for the first time.

For clarity, the aforementioned dictum was not a verdict intended to silence poets or artists. It was rearticulated a few times by Adorno—specifically in response to Celan’s poetry—who calls for arts and culture to respond from within and in the face of an inescapable aporetic condition. Namely, to write poetry after Auschwitz means to write from within a differend—a radical chasm between the signifier and the signified that one neither ought nor could overcome via writing or aesthetic means in general. Yet, poetry (and also art and thinking, per se) as a form of active engagement with sociopolitical realities, has to respond to the ungraspable (i.e., the Holocaust); it cannot simply avoid doing so. It permanently has to speak whilst knowing that it will never reach the addressee; that it must fail in speaking.

While much controversy prevailed over the dictum as a whole, little attention has been devoted to the term “barbarism” implied therein. However, understanding the concept in the broader dimensions underpinning Adorno’s (and partly, Horkheimer’s) usage of it is crucial for fully grasping the dictum. Most importantly, the miscellaneousness of “barbarism” touches upon a myriad of issues characteristic of Adorno’s overall theoretical venture. Namely, the term reoccurs in the context of his critiques of technical rationality, of mass culture, and of progress. In short, in his radical critique of the Enlightenment as adhering to an exclusionary form of instrumental reason. “Barbarism,” while never explicitly defined by Adorno, can thus be considered to, at the very least, implicitly address the complexity of his critical philosophy as a whole. The term appears not only in “Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft,” where it was articulated in relation to the aforementioned dictum, but also in most of his major works, Negative Dialectics, Minima Moralia, The Dialectic of Enlightenment and, in what many consider to be his (posthumous) magnum opus, Aesthetic Theory.

I contend that there are four diverging yet intertwined dimensions that underpin Adorno’s usage of the term, all of which primarily reflect his radical and permanently present call to face infinite ethico-political responsibility in the face of an irreversible past. This call concerns not only the arts or culture alone, but also involves science and politics — the society as a whole conceived of as a center that relentlessly excludes peripheries. In essence, it concerns our very own engagement with socio-political realities.

I

The first and probably most obvious dimension is related to the Holocaust as the utmost expression of barbarism. Connected to this dimension is a fundamental aporetic condition, that is, we live on in spite of Auschwitz, which, as the “ultimate end”, would logically prohibit any sort of living on in its aftermath. A certain barbarism is thus, per se, implied in our very being in an era post-Auschwitz. Any single word is a confirmation that life can go on after; any articulation of a concept or term relentlessly affirms what would have to be radically negated, but what can no longer be negated as the negation is no longer available to us. The past cannot be reversed. To put it bluntly, a consequence of this is that the whole (i.e., being) itself is barbaric; this implies that “nothing less than all things are barbaric” – another facet of the dictum “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” In one very general sense, it is barbaric simply because anything one could think of is barbaric; thinking itself is barbaric as it is a mode of continuous existence. Thus everything is barbaric: to write, to breath, to live—specifically, to live-on.

II

The second sense refers to the fact that culture itself—and with it, philosophy—was incapable of preventing Auschwitz from happening. Moreover, not only has culture not prevented it, it, at times, even proactively contributed to Nazism and thereby became complicit in a much more radical sense. (This assertion seems most obvious in Adorno’s resolute and lifelong rejection of Heidegger’s fundamental-ontological “Jargon”, which applied not only to Heidegger’s own writings but, foremost, to different strands of Heideggerianism.)

Culture and philosophy, being dimensions of living-on after the failure of the Enlightenment, are also, in this sense, ultimately barbaric. Adorno writes:

Auschwitz irrefutably demonstrated the failure of culture. That it could happen in the midst of all the traditions of philosophy, art and the enlightening sciences, says more than merely that these, the Spirit, was not capable of seizing and changing human beings. […] Whoever pleads for the preservation of a radically culpable and shabby culture turns into its accomplice, while those who renounce culture altogether immediately promote the barbarism, which culture reveals itself to be.

***

As I mentioned earlier, in spite of frequently alluding to a barbaric whole (in both a general sense and in relation to culture as a specific mode of living-on) Adorno is not attempting to silence culture, arts or philosophy. What he termed a “New Categorical Imperative” attests much to this. The articulation of this imperative in his Negative Dialectics can best be seen as his own response to the more general barbaric condition expanded upon in (I) and (II). Imposed upon “unfree mankind” by Hitler, this imperative demands that individuals “arrange their thoughts and actions so that Auschwitz will not repeat itself, so that nothing similar will happen.” Initially striking is Adorno’s assumption—much expanded upon with Horkheimer in the Dialectic of Enlightenment—that men are “unfree”, meaning that they are far from having successfully released themselves from self-incurred tutelage. Auschwitz had finally proven that the alleged linear process of “civilization” had not suspended barbarism—far from it. Its relentless and irrational suppression has not served to overcome it; rather its ignorance reinforced its return in the form of utmost excess with the result of turning an envisioned universally enlightened end-state into a radical disaster eliminating any possible allusion to universality as such.

Consequently, Horkheimer and Adorno attest that we can no longer hope for salvation in simply appealing to alleged universal reason (the Kantian Vernunft). No means exist in which men could ever be freed (not to mention a means in which they could free themselves) from the general, intrinsically barbaric condition in the first general sense mentioned. However, rather than reclaiming a hopelessly lost universality, our responsibility in light of the new categorical imperative is first and foremost to confront ourselves with our own irreparable failure.

In spite of this, it is crucial to acknowledge that Adorno hints at potential unbarbaric modes of responses to the fundamentally barbaric general condition mentioned, and it is these that we ought to concentrate on as well as respond to; the New Categorical Imperative which so emphatically calls not solely on our thoughts but also, and particularly, on our actions that goes along with the demand to “restore an unbarbaric condition.” Thus, in spite of the whole being barbaric, the “sole adequate praxis after Auschwitz is to put all energies toward working our way out of barbarism.” Practically, this must, of course, remain utopian in light of the whole being inevitably barbaric; however, there is a sense in which we could at least work toward a threshold pointing toward this impossible utopian restoration. Adorno envisions a condition for which there is no locus, which is why it is utopian in the very literal sense of the term’s origin. There is merely a nonplace, a u-topos for it. In this sense, it guides our actions and thoughts via calling on our responsibility from within an aporetic condition.

Our responsibility—in spite of the whole being barbaric—is then, finally, to decode those peculiar barbaric impetuses that prevail within what Adorno and Horkheimer refer to as “new barbarism.” These occur in the context of cultural-political modes of being that are more specific than the general “barbaric condition” in which we adhere (in the sense that we have decided to live on after the ultimate end). Adorno’s implicit call to respond to specific barbaric impetuses that still constitute the sociopolitical has consequences regarding our modes of reasoning on the one hand (a thought that dominates much of his Negative Dialectics and his Einführung in die Dialektik) and the ways in which we relate and respond to processes of reification on the other (most explicitly articulated in The Dialectic of Enlightenment and in his writings and commentaries on the culture industry).

III

Adorno’s mode of thinking could potentially respond to this new imperative as permanently aware of a radical chasm between the object and the concept (Begriff in Hegel’s sense). In other words, a synthesis between both is no longer attainable. Adorno calls emphatically for a mode of thinking that avoids a position that deems itself superior to what it attempts to grasp. This thought is surprisingly close to Derrida (even though it implies a different epistemological movement): The object always escapes the concept that tries to subsume it. Consequently, to reason in a manner which diverges from barbarism—Adorno actually terms this “the unbarbaric side of philosophy”—is conditioned upon a “tacit awareness of the element of irresponsibility, of blitheness springing from the volatility of thought, which forever escapes what it judges.”

Adorno contends reasoning always risks becoming totalitarian. It always involves the judging, naming and conceptualizing of some other. Any concept, too, risks losing peculiar heterogeneities and potential ambiguities that adhere to the object. By way of example, the term “society” (or, Gesellschaft in German) attempts to subsume an extremely ambivalent and ever-changing actuality into an allegedly coherent concept. In other words, there is always a considerable and unavoidable amount of violence exerted in the processual course of conceptualization (Begriffsbildung), which cannot but abstract from and thereby reduce the objects it perceives. (In the Einführung in die Dialektik, a series of lectures held at the University of Frankfurt am Main, Germany, in 1958, Adorno frequently uses the expression “does violence to the Object” [“dem Gegenstand Gewalt antun”]).

The thinking and reasoning subject that loses awareness of this fundamental epistemological aporia becomes inevitably hegemonic, dogmatic and, therefore, totalitarian in the sense of promulgating a mode of reasoning that subscribes to two extremely problematic modes of irresponsible abstractionism: (A) a positivistic, scientific, quantifying mode of thinking, as well as (B) a bureaucratic, disengaged, unworldly way of being and acting. To the contrary, an unbarbaric mode of thinking refrains from deductions; it does not seek security in fundamental “firsts” or absolutes in the sense of a prima philosophia.

One passage articulated in his Einführung in die Dialektik sums this up nicely: The relation between the universal and the particular, Adorno asserts here, is something “over which the thinking being properly has no power” (“worüber der Denkende eigentlich keine Macht hat,” and to pertain to this powerlessness toward the object is—strikingly—a “criterion of truth.” Any consolidating synthesis reconciling that over which I am in truth powerless would thus by necessity imply a considerable amount of force. To put it in Adorno’s terms, a synthesis would be “applied” to the object by the “arbitrariness of ordering thought” (“von der Willkür des ordnenden Denkens […] aufgeprägt”).

To avoid this quasi-hegemonic stance implied in “ordering thought”, Adorno subscribes to a very idiosyncratic perspectivism—one that is always attentive and capable of responding to the unexpected, whilst remaining aware of the need for concepts—even if Adorno, at points, seems to be calling for an almost rhizomatic mode of thought. While Adorno frequently alludes to “labyrinthine paths” and even speaks of “subtarranean corridors” and “inter-related models,” he still, strikingly, adheres to the picture of paths. What he hints at could thus probably best be imagined as akin to Paul Klee’s illustrated quasi-labyrinth in Haupt- und Nebenwege (1929), where a major path is still graspable which allows for a myriad of minor paths ending in uncertain horizons. This arguably separates Adorno from Deleuze’s rhizome. Adorno does not go so far as to call for thinking without concepts; for him, there is no such thing as an image- or concept-less thought, and neither should there be one in spite of the radical chasm between object and subject. In essence, what Adorno hints at in the very last consequence is a thinking that applies the critical force of reason onto itself as a reflection on an Enlightenment tradition that has lost its own consciousness, having thereby become, to a certain extent, alienated from itself.

IV

The last dimension within which a “new barbarism” becomes most clearly evident is in the context of Adorno’s rejection of the new rise of capitalism’s massive culture industry that he closely witnessed in the late 1930s and 40s during his exile in the US. During this period, barbarism reoccurred in the hegemonic modes of fabrication of goods, of massification of cultural objects. The ever-expanding market as a constantly growing field that so quickly entered the sociopolitical could only reveal an implicit complicity with barbarism in that it was entrenched in an ideology related to a system trying to control a mass. It promoted a form of culture that prioritized sameness over critique and thoughtless enjoyment over an urgently needed, committed confrontation with actualities.

None of what Adorno saw emerging in capitalist culture was, to his account, in any way responsive to the ultimate peak of barbarism itself (i.e., the Holocaust as the ultimately destructive Ereignis), and, in this way, was non-responsive to his newly formulated imperative. He saw too little (if any) theoretical and practical preoccupation with culture’s own complicity in light of Auschwitz, specifically after WWII. To the contrary, capitalism’s relentless production of sameness (what Adorno frequently termed the “Always-the-same”) inevitably contributed to total homogeneity which excluded otherness and, with it, non-identicality. The Culture Industry again formed a mass in spite of its emphatic propagations of liberty on the grounds of an alleged emancipation of the general, as discussed above.

Far removed, however, Adorno was aware that it, in truth, solely engaged in infinite production cycles at the expense of actual potentialities for emancipation and thereby reinforced the whole’s overall irrationality—and thus its falsity—in its blind reliance on technological reason. According to Adorno, implied again was the assumption that rationality was superior to its other and alleged “cultivation” superior to alleged barbaric primitiveness. On the grounds of this assumption, capitalist mass culture could only continue to suppress yet not overcome its inherent barbaric impulse (in Freudian terms, it continued to produce its destructive discontents). The truth for Adorno was that it could, therefore, only concentrate the force of potentiality to destruction. Here, it is worth quoting at length one of Adorno’s remarks taken from Minima Moralia:

If the nineteenth-century connoisseur only stayed for one act of an opera, partly for the barbaric reason that he would allow no spectacle to shorten his dinner, barbarism has now reached a point, the possibility of escape to a dinner being cut off, where it cannot stuff itself full enough of culture. Every program must be sat through to the end, every best-seller read, every film seen in its first flush in the top Odeon. The abundance of commodities indiscriminately consumed is becoming calamitous. It makes it impossible to find one’s way, and just as in a gigantic department store one looks out for a guide, the population wedged between wares await their leader.

However, also in the context of capitalism’s barbarism—a theme so dominant in Adorno’s writings—one can find margins expressing a glimmer of hope for potential escape routes. Adorno, at points, calls for what he terms “barbaric asceticism…towards progress in technical means” and “mass culture.” This glaring statement is vital regarding the contemporary cultural-political situation. How such “asceticism” might appear is hardly envisionable nowadays, which makes Adorno’s writings and a thorough reflection on his concept of barbarism with a focus on its sociopolitical connotations all the more pressing.

The following remarks by Robert Hullot-Kentor are of striking significance in this respect: “More than a half century after the publication of the Dialectic of Enlightenment, we know ourselves the addressee of Adorno’s work in a way that we could hardly have realized a decade ago. For the interregnum of the post-war years is over. We are experiencing a return of the great fear, as if it never ended—and perhaps it never did. We are, without a doubt, the occupants of the most catastrophic moment in the whole of human history, in all of natural history, and we cannot get our wits about ourselves. What is being decided right now for all surviving generations including our own, is the exact sum total of the irreversible remainder, the unalterable “How it might have been.”

Anna-​Verena Notthoff is at Johann Wolfgang Goethe Universität, Frankfurt, Germany.

The photo shows, “To Oskar Panizza,” or “The Funeral,” by George Grosz, painted 1917-1918.

Traditionalism, Or More Insanity

This book is an academic study of an obscure movement, Traditionalism. The name has a specific meaning; it does not mean traditional forms of belief, that is, generically, conservatism. Rather, “Traditionalism” is a type of Gnosticism, holding that a core of hidden knowledge, contained within all true religion, is the cure for what ails the modern world.

I certainly think that the modern world needs curing, though I don’t think that Traditionalism is what the doctor ordered. Still, the pull of Gnosticism across time and space must mean something. But what? Mark Sedgwick’s book helps us begin to answer that question.

I read Against the Modern World as part of my ongoing analysis of the lesser-known branches of modern right-wing thought. I was dimly aware of one Traditionalist thinker, the Italian self-described “superfascist” Julius Evola, about whom there was a burp of interest in 2016 when Steve Bannon mentioned his name as someone with whom he was familiar.

George Hawley’s excellent Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism spent some time on Evola and other Traditionalists, expanding my minimal knowledge; it noted an overlap between Traditionalism and the French New Right, wellspring of people like Guillaume Faye and his Archeofuturism.

No Traditionalist is a household name; I therefore read this book hoping to gain more insight. I learned facts I did not know, but as far as insight, I was disappointed—although, to be fair, given that I expected no new wisdom, I can’t really complain.

Sedgwick’s writing isn’t great; he’s an academic, not a popularizer. But he seems to know an awful lot about his subject. Though British, for a long time he has worked in Denmark as a professor of Arab and Islamic Studies, so he is very familiar with the different threads of Islam, essential since the majority of Traditionalists have a close relationship to Islam (more specifically, Sufism).

In fact, his enemies say that Sedgwick long ago converted to Islam, which as far as I know he has neither denied nor confirmed. If that’s true, it does not appear to affect his writing in any way, so for these purposes it’s irrelevant.

Most of his book revolves, in one way or another, around Rene Guénon (1866–1951), the French founder of Traditionalism. Guénon espoused and spread what he viewed as the “Perennial Philosophy,” or “Perennialism,” the idea that there is some “primal truth” that precedes, and is contained in, many (but not all) of the world’s major religions.

The term arose with the Renaissance priest Marsilio Ficino, who tried to reconcile Plato and Christianity, and as whose heir Guénon viewed himself. This idea of reconciling Greek philosophy and Christianity wasn’t new with Ficino, of course—although Sedgwick doesn’t mention it, Christian Neoplatonists, such as Saint Augustine, worked along the same lines, and the tradition of an underlying truth had continued up until and after Ficino, both within Christianity, and, to a greater degree, among movements like Hermeticism. But it had died out in the early modern world, as modernism and materialism came to dominate the West.

What brought Traditionalism back was the perceived defects of the modern world; hence the title of this book. Sedgwick doesn’t do a great job of describing what defects Traditionalists saw (and see); they seem to revolve around spiritual anomie and excessive materialism, which are viewed as inevitably leading to collapse and barbarism.

The modern age is often thought of as the Hindu kali yuga, the fourth and final stage of human degeneration before the cycle begins anew. Such preoccupation with decline and collapse is a very twentieth-century preoccupation, and part of the larger culture beyond Traditionalism—Oswald Spengler being the most obvious example. The Traditionalists, however, put a specifically religious gloss on both the projected collapse and its solution.

My key initial objection, or concern, is that we are never told with any precision, by Sedgwick or anyone else, what the claimed tenets of the universalist “Perennial Religion” are. I don’t think that’s Sedgwick’s fault, but rather the Traditionalists’.

There is much talk of “ancient wisdom,” but nobody seems to think it particularly important to actually identify or specify that wisdom. The only belief that seems evident is in a transcendent deity of some type, source of all wisdom and perfection. The other characteristics of this deity seem opaque, and it is not because they are deliberately hidden in the Gnostic manner—Traditionalists wrote many books.

There is talk of “the sacred unity of reality,” whatever that means. As a side dish, there is muttering about the “Absolute which is indescribable,” which may be accurate, but is not very clarifying. What it all seems to boil down to is generic mysticism; a claimed path to approach, and to understand, the divine and ineffable without, and outside of, detailed rational thought.

Now, mysticism has a long and respectable pedigree in most of the world’s religions, tied to and found as an extension of core doctrines. In contrast, though, most or all Traditionalist mysticism seems to be solipsistic navel-gazing, unmoored from religion. It pays lip service to religious belief, but really thinks religious doctrine is fiction. To Traditionalists, that is probably a feature, not a bug, but it feels a lot like more sophisticated Oprah, pushing The Secret, talking about how the “Universe” wants each of us to have a new car.

One way to understand Traditionalist mysticism, from what I can tease out, is as an accelerated, shortcut, hobbled version of Orthodox theosis, union with the divine energies of God (but not with the divine essence). However, Orthodox doctrine, and thought outside doctrine, is extremely specific about the characteristics of the divine, what God requires, and in what manner it is necessary to approach God. (I imagine the same is true of other religious mysticisms, such as Sufism or those found in Hinduism).

Blathering about “ancient wisdom” and “unity,” beyond feeling like it was derived from a fortune cookie, seems calculated to impress other humans, not set one on an actual path to mystical experience. Probably that’s why, it seems, a lot of Traditionalists end up partaking of various rituals, many newly manufactured, to unlock the key to the divine presence.

Whether to prevent being sullied by the uninitiated, or to prevent being ridiculed, these are rarely publicized (hence the “secret intellectual history” of the book’s subtitle). That’s not new, either, though—the reason we know little about the original Christian Gnostics, other than that some of their thought was suppressed, is that, like all such movements throughout history, they were obsessively secretive about their “hidden knowledge,” a necessary element of their attraction.

At first glance, Traditionalism is thus just another in a long line of quasi-religions that have a strong shyster element. The most obvious precursor is late nineteenth-century Theosophy, progeny of the earlier Spiritualism and mishmash of fraudulence and silliness, associated with the conwoman Helena Blavatsky (died 1891), which lasted some decades as an undercurrent in American intellectual circles.

Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Thoreau had ties to it; later on, Henry Wallace, sometime Vice President to Franklin Roosevelt, lost his chance to become President, and impose Communism on America, by being exposed as a Theosophist. Sedgwick spends a good deal of time parsing various other related movements, such as Martinism (tied to Freemasonry). None of this is surprising—as Chesterton did not say, but should have, when men cease believing in God, they do not believe in nothing, they believe in anything.

Or, as Sedgwick names it, citing Bryan Wilson, we get a “cultic milieu,” where, like the Island of Misfit Toys, fringe beliefs collect to support each other in their fringiness.

Today we get New Age beliefs and various other clownish schools of “thought,” which, to be fair, are even more degenerate in their stupidity and lack of intellectual sophistication than Theosophy and its relatives. (Admittedly, these modern beliefs aren’t Gnostic, which makes them somewhat different in structure and approach. Maybe that’s confirmation of Traditionalist beliefs about modern degeneration—today, we can’t even manage a decent Gnosticism.)

The core of all Gnosticism has always been to promise initiation into some hidden, esoteric knowledge. Thus, it is no surprise that most Traditionalists end up connected to, and many formally received into, Sufism. Christianity has always treated Gnosticism as a heresy and held that truth is available openly to all.

Sufism, on the other hand, offers both orthodoxy and a distinction between exoteric and esoteric belief. All (or nearly all) Sufis are devout Sunni Muslims (despite occasional tension with those finding mysticism unpalatable), but they add a layer of esoteric belief. This maintains the precise certainty for believers, something that Islam offers most of all among the major religions, while also offering the feeling of secret knowledge, and thus superiority and being on the inside track, all at the same time, a neat trick.

A few of the Traditionalists profiled in this book tried to combine Perennialism with Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy, but the inherent tensions in that project seem to always pull them either toward orthodox belief or its opposite, formal universalism.

A few others, Evola being the most prominent, combined Traditionalism with a total rejection of monotheistic religion, focusing on what to them were real, earlier pagan gods.

Most Traditionalists seem to find much of value in Hinduism—easy to do in Hinduism, with its many threads and voluminous, opaque writings, which they pick and choose from as their starting point, but I suspect that actual, devout Hindus would not agree with Traditionalist thinking, and anyway all the Traditionalists seem to abandon everything but a few cherry-picked elements of Hinduism, moving on to focus on other religious traditions—from which they also cherry pick, since universalism is rejected by all such traditions.

Back to the history. Probably the reason Guénon got as much traction as he did was because in the early twentieth century mysticism was in the air, and more mainline figures, such as the prominent Catholic thinker Jacques Maritain, initially sponsored his writing to some degree.

As with almost all Traditionalists, Guénon soon thought himself into being fundamentally opposed to actual Christian doctrine, as being both too exclusive in its claims and being a religion of enervation and femininity (shades of Nietzsche), so he went his own way.

A circle formed around Guénon and a new journal in which he was involved, The Veil of Isis, from the name of which you can tell which way they headed, toward secrecy and supposed Eastern wisdom. World War I helped Guénon’s project, in that it made the idea that modernity was fundamentally broken hard to argue. Still unsatisfied, Guénon ended up a Sufi, moving to Egypt and going native.

Sedgwick’s covers two basic periods, before and after Guénon’s death, in 1951, since his death caused divergence into several vaguely connected movements, and turned an already nebulous philosophy into a mishmash. In fact, at least according to Sedgwick, most of the influence of Traditionalism in the past several decades has been through what he calls “soft Traditionalism,” not always easy to identify.

Basically this consists of academics in various fields (all in the humanities), who dislike modernity and hold to the universalist beliefs popularized by Guénon, such that elements of Traditionalism appear in their works, but they are by no means necessarily devotees. Such soft Traditionalism extends to men like E. F. Schumacher in his book Small Is Beautiful, and even to Prince Charles, who to external appearances is mostly just soft in the head (though if he is pulled toward Traditionalism, this, more likely than actual devotion to Islam, explains his frequent positive comments about Islam).

In Russia, though, Traditionalism has lately had some apparent real political impact, through the “Eurasian” program of Alexander Dugin, alleged to influence Vladimir Putin and the Russian government (and having a great deal in common with Faye’s Archeofuturism).

Sedgwick talks about so many people, all obscure, that they are hard to keep straight. Thus, for the most part, I think this book is most valuable as a reference work, although to understand the overall framework you really have to read the whole book.

A few people stand out, or maybe they just stand out to me because these are the ones I’ve heard of. Isabelle Eberhardt, Swiss woman of dubious mental stability, who converted young to Islam, moved to French Algeria (cooperating with the French colonizers but also assisting the locals, and conducting a tangled relationship with Hubert Lyautey, the French officer and Legionnaire in charge), and died before she reached thirty.

The Italian Julius Evola, pagan occultist, worshipper of what he called the Absolute Individual, kept at arms’ length by both Mussolini and the Nazis, because he thought they did not go far enough in maintaining hierarchy, and that they were too materialist by believing in racial, as opposed to spiritual, superiority.

After the war he abandoned politics for his vision of “riding the tiger,” i.e., surviving modernity by ignoring it until it collapses (similar in some ways to Ernst Jünger’s concept of the Forest Rebel, or his related concept of the anarch).

Frithjof Schuon, whom I know of because he lived nearby while I was at school at Indiana University; what I did not know was his adoption of the usual cult leader practice of sleeping with his disciples’ wives, a practice to which he gave the elevated name of “vertical marriage.”

He only died in 1998, after a scandal involving naked carousing with underage girls; apparently even the Bloomington police have limits. Since then, only Dugin has any relevance today, so apparently, at least as against Traditionalism, the modern world is in the ascendant, despite more than a hundred years of effort.

What all the many people Sedgwick profiles had in common was subscribing to the Perennial Philosophy. Again, though, I can’t figure out what that means. I doubt if Eberhardt and Evola had much in common, other than a declared belief in some kind of transcendent unity of all things. What that implied for life meant very, very different things for them, and for most of the Traditionalists.

It seems to me that something that has no predictive value, that ex ante cannot describe the acts or thoughts at any relatively narrow level of generality of any person, is not a useful categorization.

I’m all for attacks on the modern world. This is a difficult argument to make today, because Steven Pinker isn’t wrong, that in a great number of important ways, we are better off than we used to be.

The ways in which we are not better off are harder to quantify, and counterintuitive—for example, excessive personal autonomy is bad, but it feels so good. Yes, there are external indicia of the problems, most notably the failure of all modern societies to reproduce themselves.

But Traditionalism is not a cure for modernity. It makes historical claims that are easily falsifiable. Its theology, to the extent it has any, smacks of pandering to the self-absorbed.

What is needed is a much more grounded philosophy and political program. I am working on it, you will be glad to hear. In the meantime, this book is an interesting exploration of a dead end.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The photo shows, “The Punishment of Loki,” by James Doyle Penrose, a work on paper, published ca. 1912.

Budapest – A City of Overtourism?

My love affair with Budapest began at an early age when the spirit of the city’s former late-nineteenth-century grandeur was still evident despite the destruction of the Second World War, the Hungarian Uprising, and the quarter-century of communism that followed.

As a child, I found the baroque buildings – the grimy plaster facades of many marred by bullet holes and artillery fire – fascinating, and I remember spending much time studying the neglected angels and classical figures over the doorways wondering if and when they would emerge from their enforced hibernation and regain their former glory.

Beyond the baroque and neo-classical buildings forming the inner city core stood ugly the lines of panel apartment blocks, which not only provided a strong contrast to the inner-city architecture, but also stood out as the unsightly testament of socialist utilitarianism.

I spent much time in Budapest as a child, and as a young adult I was fortunate enough to witness Budapest shake off its communist oppression and begin its renewal. Of course, this renewal was not without its trials and tribulations as the turbulent and tempestuous assault of unconstrained liberty drowned the city in feverish impulses and ruthless ambitions.

Budapest of the 1990s and early 2000s was indeed a City of Earthly Desire, its streets marred by poverty, homelessness, and crude businesses that exploited the upended social structure and lured many of the country’s inhabitants to sell their souls in exchange for financial gains.

These forces were dissipating when I lived in the city from 2001 to 2003, but the ill effects of the hyper-liberalization that filled the vacuum communism had left behind could still be felt, and I drew much inspiration for my novel The City of Earthly Desire from the two years I spent living in Budapest.

Before moving back to Hungary in 2015, I considered settling in Budapest again, but after having spent most of my life living in or extremely close to big cities – Toronto, New York, and of course Budapest – I had little desire to reside in an urban center again, especially after the rather pleasant experience of living in a small rural town in northern England.

Hence, I turned my back on the possibility of Budapest and settled instead in a small village near a minor provincial city near the Austrian border. Though I have been to Budapest many times since moving back to Hungary nearly four years ago – mostly visiting relatives who live in the suburbs and outskirts of the city – my forays into the city itself were few and brief.

I could feel the city’s magnetic pull, but I was reluctant to spend any significant amount of time wandering through its streets and reacquainting myself with its charms. I don’t know what the source of the reluctance was. Was I afraid of what I might find there, or did I simply wish to preserve the city that existed in my memory?

Fast-forward to 2018 and after my brief two-day visit I can proclaim that Budapest continues on its seemingly endless transformation from a capital debased by communism to a city that has recaptured and may even surpass its former glory. At the surface level, Budapest has never looked so good.

Many buildings have been refurbished or rebuilt; the bridges gleam as they stretch across the Danube; the public squares are both tidy and inviting. The grime and soot that previously besmirched landmarks such as the Parliament Buildings and the Buda Palace is gone. Streamlined streetcars and busses have replaced the noisy, ramshackle public transportation vehicles of the past.

As I walked through the city with my wife, I was overcome with wonder and admiration at the transformation that had taken place since we had moved away from the city, but the more we walked, the more my admiration became tempered by mild displeasure.

An unsettling form of over-cosmopolitanism has settled down inside the city’s refurbished exterior, especially within Districts V, VI, and VII. Here one can walk for blocks without hearing a single word of spoken Hungarian or seeing a single storefront sign that is exclusively written in the country’s language.

The sidewalks here throng with tourists of every shape, form, and age – young Brits out on a boisterous pub crawl, kitschy Russians and Ukrainians sauntering past the marquee stores lining Andrássy Street, timid Japanese shuffling about the Parliament, groups of bewildered American retirees overwhelmed by the hustle of a guided city tour, and everyone else one can imagine mixed in among these crowds sloshing through the streets like ceaseless, almost liquid, human waves.

The amenities in these districts cater almost exclusively to Budapest’s international visitors – trendy burger restaurants, sushi stands, fusion cuisine bistros, burrito bars, and glorified street food venues have replaced the often grimy, but delightful eateries than once lined these sidewalks.

You can enter one of these new restaurants and encounter serving staff who speak no Hungarian, and chances are even the native-speaking staff will greet you in English when you walk in the door. Concentrated between these eateries are the many bars, nightclubs, and drinking establishments where the price of a beer is easily triple what you would pay for one in another part of the city. And of course there are the boutique hotels, the designer stores, the high-end beauticians and barber shops, and the trendy clothing shops.

I walked past these establishments and tried to imagine the amount of money all the tourists milling around spent and how positive that undoubtedly was for the local economy.

The only problem was I had a craving for a good, old-fashioned bowl of gulyás soup while I thought of these things, but I could not for the life of me find a simple Hungarian restaurant and ended up settling for an overpriced, modish goose meat hamburger instead.

As my wife and I walked back to our hotel, I cast glances up at the apartment windows above the many rowdy bars, glitzy souvenir shops, and chic eateries and wondered how the locals felt about it all, assuming there were any locals left in those apartments. For all I knew, the lit windows might now be Air BNBs.

Overtourism is a difficult concept to define because it is hard to set the parameters delineating it, but I would hazard to guess that Budapest has morphed from being The City of Earthly Desire to a City of Overtourism.

If I had to choose, I would find the latter preferable to the former, but that does not imply that the rampant overtourism Budapest is now experiencing is not without its pitfalls. Statistics show Hungary welcomed well over 50 million tourists last year; that works out roughly to five tourists for every citizen. I imagine at least two-thirds of the 50 million visited Budapest exclusively, which would put the tourist-to-local ratio somewhere in the ten-to-one or perhaps even the twenty-to-one range.

Now there is no denying the vast economic benefits tourism can bring to a city or a country, but I cannot help but wonder what some of the drawbacks might be, especially over the long term, and whether the short-term benefits are worth the long term negatives.

Whatever the case may be, I humbly assert Budapest needs to be careful – another decade of the kind of hyper-tourism I witnessed may transform the city into nothing more than an urban playground for budget-airline party seekers and the global well-to-do.

​And that would be a shame, to say the least.

Francis Berger blogs from Hungary and is the author of the novel, The City of Earthly Desire.

The photo shows, “A Street Scene,” by Antal Berkes, painted ca., 1938.

Courage, Comrades! A New World Is About To Be Born!

The following remarks were published eight years ago, when the trend, now common, of universities forsaking the teaching of languages, first began to be evident. These remarks have only gained in urgency as the Humanities continue to vanish from university curricula.

To choose between eliminating French or Philosophy . . . what a fabulous choice! Should one rather take out the liver or the lung? The stomach or the heart? The eyes or ears?

We need to invent teaching that is, on the one hand, strictly monolingual – for isn’t it true that everything can be translated into English? – and strictly lacking in all forms of questioning (for example concerning what is implied by “translation” in general and from one language to another in particular). A single language unencumbered by the static [parasites] of reflection would be a great subject for university study, smooth, harmonious, easily submitting to the controls of acquisition.

We should propose eliminating both of them, French and Philosophy.

And everything existing in proximity to them, like Latin or psychoanalysis, Italian, Spanish or literary theory, Russian or History. Perhaps it would be wise to introduce in their place, as requirements, certain computer languages (like Java), as well as commercial Chinese and technological Hindi, at least until such languages are able to be completely transcribed into English. Unless the inverse were to happen first.

In any case, let’s teach what is displayed on our advertising billboards and on the stock exchange monitors. That and nothing else!

Courage, comrades, a new world is about to be born!

Jean-Luc Nancy is a renowned philosopher, who teaches at the University of Strasbourg. (With thanks to Critical Legal Thinking.

The photo show a Soviet-era space poster, “The Hymn to the Soviet Land – Our Triumph in Space,” published ca. 1950s.