Naval Power In World History

Jeremy Black has an international reputation for his prolific writings on the past, present and future of politics, diplomacy, warfare, strategy, empire, historiography, cartography, the press, and even the historical context of James Bond. Like other scholars in such fields, he has his roots in diplomatic history, in his case that of the early eighteenth century.

This book exhibits all his trademark qualities as a writer and historian: accessibility, wide and recondite learning, global approaches, long chronological spans, lateral thinking, striking observations, and confident exposition.

Often provocative, he is unfailingly interesting, with the ability to see familiar issues in new ways, and to leave the reader with food for thought on important subjects. This book provides an analytical survey of naval warfare from the ironclad era of the 1860s, through the two World Wars (including substantial chapters on the inter-war period) and the Cold War, to the current era and into the future. As he says at the outset, the focus is on the interplay of technological, geopolitical, and resource (for which read fiscal and economic) issues.

This approach enables avoidance of both narrowly technical force structure issues and of a too broad-brush treatment which pays them insufficient attention. In adopting an explicitly global and comparative framework, Black shows his understanding of military forces in general and navies in particular: the critical nature of their relative, rather than absolute, power and their relevance beyond the purely local or regional maritime domains.

While indicating how naval power was a key to imperial acquisitions and maintenance in the late 19th century, Black points out its limitations in both protracted and truncated continental conflicts. The American Civil War saw the effective initiation of littoral anti-access strategy with coastal-defense monitors and fortifications armed with 15-inch guns. Along with the perennial strategic problem of Canada (the British Empire’s indefensible landward frontier), this precluded British intervention on the side of the Confederacy. The Franco-Prussian War, swiftly decided on land, gave little opportunity for a French blockade to work and underlined for France its age-old need to prioritize the army over the navy and the continental over the maritime front.

Black gives attention to developments and conflicts usually ignored in the Anglosphere, such as the attempt of Korea to modernize naval power and the War of the Pacific 1879-1883 which saw Chilean victory over Bolivia and Peru. While surveying naval technological and doctrinal changes after 1880, Black places them in context by observing how the First World War would have been strategically recognizable to British admirals of past eras – a continental conflict in which Britain was successful by means of economic warfare, trade protection, alliance diplomacy, and expeditionary forces.

Unlike in 1870, the German failure to knock out France at the outset meant that the war evolved into a long and complex confrontation, largely between continental and maritime power, in which the latter was victorious. Time, as usual, worked in favor of maritime power which then excelled in creating strategic options. Railways, as Black points out, could mobilize the resources of a continent, but ships could deploy those of the world. The great irony was that sea power prior to the war had, however, over-promised and was seen as under delivering.

Black draws parallels between the inter-war period and the current era, while distinguishing between the rise of Japan, an insular state, as a naval power in the early 20th century and China today, a continental state whose maritime ambitions have been enabled by the absence of a landward threat since the end of the Cold War. Interestingly, when considering the force structure issues of the 1930s, Black argues that rumors of the death of the battleship were greatly exaggerated and that its expected vulnerability to air attack was not fully borne out in the 1940s. Like other surface warships, it had enduring value, including as a means of naval night fighting.

The longest chapter deals with the Second World War which was marked, as Black points out, by the ‘world ocean’ becoming a unified theatre involving every type of naval conflict. He therefore resists the temptation to divide the analytical narrative into European and Pacific stories but treats them as an integrated whole. This enables consideration of British grand strategy in having to tackle an ultimately impossible task of war with three enemies in two hemispheres (the strategic nightmare of the British Empire triggered by the rise of a hostile extra-European naval power in Japan – a problem which had never arisen during the age of sail).

The German blitzkrieg of 1940 repeated the outcome of 1870 with the rapid defeat of France in a land war. But the pivotal difference was British naval-maritime power which enabled prolonging of the conflict. Black argues correctly that Britain was not in real danger of invasion, given the strength of the Royal Navy and the inadequacy of German amphibious capability. The critical struggle was of course in the Atlantic, where air cover against U-boats had to be progressively developed: a need insufficiently anticipated by both the RAF and the RN.

Striking at Pearl Harbor, Black argues, was not in Japan’s interest when the Pacific naval balance of forces was in the IJN’s favor in terms of a campaign in South East Asia. He also explores the interesting counter-factual of what he sees as the lost Japanese opportunity to project greater naval power in the Indian Ocean, threatening the British position in India, rather than fighting wholesale against the US Navy in the Pacific.

Black divides his treatment of the Cold War into two chapters dealing with the period of American dominance up to the late 1960s and that of the stepped-up Soviet challenge which followed. He points out the importance of naval power even in a period of confrontation rather than conflict, including its role in globalising great power rivalry and conducting regional wars as in Korea and Vietnam.

The US alliance system, in both the Atlantic and Pacific areas, was very largely a construction of sea power, and created issues of planning, procurement, and interoperability greater than those which had faced Britain and the Dominions in an earlier era. The Falklands War, as a successful episode in sustained maritime warfare in the missile age, encouraged both US political commitment to a maritime strategy and Chinese interest in naval power projection.

Black’s discussion of the post-Cold War period recognizes the complexities of naval power in an era of state and non-state actors, network-centric and asymmetrical capabilities, new awareness of the operational level of warfare at sea, and the high financial cost of cutting-edge naval technology. He is good on the politics of US naval power in a democratic age, on force structure issues for the major and medium powers, and on the psychology of Chinese maritime strategy.

That navies do not carry the baggage of association with the interventionist wars following 9/11 is a political asset for them, especially in a period of growing maritime rivalry. Black argues that despite the political charisma of air power, and given the largely unfulfilled promise of trans-Eurasian land transport, navies are of enduring relevance when population growth and economic activity are concentrated in littoral cities, and when global maritime trade continues to increase in capacity and cost-efficiency.

While appreciating how warships are increasingly threatened by land-based weaponry, he recognizes the sheer strategic value of naval surface forces. Perhaps the fundamental choice facing advanced navies today is between fewer more costly and highly capable units and more which are less capable but less costly and more readily risked. One should add that the latter category probably involves more lives at stake.

If there is a criticism to be made of the book, it is that somewhat more emphasis could have been placed on the human element of naval capability. But there are interesting observations, for example on the superiority of US naval leadership education between the Wars which fostered the higher operational and strategic problem-solving skills evident in the defeat of Japan.

The book takes advantage of the explosion of modern naval historical writing over the last generation, and as usual Black’s footnotes are worth a read. Australian developments, from the creation of the RAN to the Defence White Paper of 2016, are given attention and placed in global context.

While each reader will find opinions with which to differ, the book has something informed, perceptive, and sensible to say about virtually everything within its scope, and is highly recommended for its rich and intriguing detail as well as thematic imagination.

Dr. John Reeve is Honorary Senior Lecturer in History at University of New South Wales Canberra, Australia. This review originally appeared in the Australian Naval Institute.

The image shows, “The Battle of Jutland,” by Montague Dawson, painted ca. 1949.

What Is England?

Not to submit forever, until
The will of a country is one man’s will,
And every soul in the whole land shrinks
From thinking – except as his neighbor thinks.
Men who have governed England know
That dreadful line that they may not pass
And live.

These lines are from The White Cliffs, that famed long poem by Alice Duer Miller, written in September of 1940, in the very midst of the Battle of Britain, that epic struggle of the few against the myriads of the Luftwaffe. By the time this opening phase of a six-year long war finally ended in October of that year, 544 of the “few” had been shot down and killed over English skies. Eighty years on, their sacrifice is remembered by way of commemorative events, but what of the England that they died for? Has it endured in its will, in its national character, which Miller points to in her poem?

This, perhaps, leads to a larger question, one more difficult to answer – what is England in the 21st century? Further, is a nation a set of ideas, or the shared experience of a group of people bonded by common origins, or simply a geographical location in which people live without espousing anything essential other than circumstance of birth, or economic necessity and advantage?

To write a history of a nation encompasses far more than the tracing out of events, since the past must now more than ever also be justified as possessing intrinsic worth that will yield its value to all upon its retelling. Given the entrenchment of intersectionality, the past is fraught territory, lest anything within its ambit be glorified and thus foreground essentialist conclusions of “Englishness.”

Jeremy Black’s most recent book, A New History of England, rather deftly navigates these tricky waters to arrive at an apt justification, in that “past and future also exist in a counterpoint with each other.” Black understands that “The future and identity of Britain… have become unclear…” and thus, “…In this context, there is renewed interest in considering the identity of England.” He is also well aware of the now-contentious ground of history: “Those who fear the future tend to praise the past, while those who chart hopeful destinies for the future are often critical of the past. The curse of the past is particularly present for those who seek to empower themselves through past grievances, whether real or imagined; but to abandon history leads to the broken continuity with the past in which identities are lost and values atomised.”

Perhaps the reason why history is now so problematic is that we have a lot of problem defining the discipline properly. What is history? The totality of events, or the written report of said events? Adding to the ambiguity is the shift away from any and all notions of human destiny in favor of causal laws, which then makes history a rational explanation, by way of description or reconstruction of what happened in the past. Since modernity lacks cohesion, only point of view, opinion remains. Thus, existentialist, neopositivist and historicist opinions see history as capricious, without true description – which means that history is not an explanation but simply another story, in a much-tangled network of narratives. Nothing but this network exists or matters. The great flaw in this argument is that history is not a natural science that it must meet standards of rational causation – and more importantly, it is a necessary component in contemporary life – and thus cannot be rejected nor simply be a story poorly or deftly told.

Black rather admirably grounds the importance of history within the expanse of res gestae, by both acknowledging that consciousness is the standard of truth for modernity, while also recognizing the necessity of transcendence, in that history must also contain “…the far more complex reality of overlapping and often very different, if not clashing, senses of identity. Alongside nationhood, people can also identify through social structures, religion, gender, ethnicity and other factors, although there is a risk of putting excessive weight on modern ideas of self-identification through gender, ethnicity and other factors.”

Such an understanding allows for a rather precise conclusion: “… the English are those who live in England.” As to why the book is about the history of “England” rather than a history of “Britain,” Black offers this clarification: “…the idea of Britain, especially of the Anglicised bits of Scotland, Wales and Ireland, is, in many (but by no means all) respects, essentially a ‘bigger England’ view: an English identity was stamped on some of the ‘Celtic Fringe’ and, in turn, opposition to real or alleged English interests and values helped drive local identities and political activism.” The “idea” of Britain is also summarized. It is the “…strength of the core of England – Westminster, London, the monarchy, the [national] system.”

Thus, the first chapter is geographical in nature, or that other “history, that of the relationship with the environment.” Accordingly, the impact of human activity throughout the breadth of the region is examined, with the ensuing loss of certain species of both flora and fauna. However, the area that comprises England is also the most fertile in the entire island, thanks to the Gulf Stream and reliant rainfall. This gave those who lived in this region economic power and thus the “fuel” to extend control.

Further, being an island, geography required an outlook and thus institutions which were markedly different from the Continent. Thus, there was a reliance on the navy, which made conscription for a standing army less important (although this did not preclude England from getting involved in various military ventures). Raw materials also played their part, especially coal. Therefore, it is not surprising that the notion of environmentalism as integral to history is developed in England, in the 19th century by Charles Pearson.

The second chapter looks at the condition of England before the arrival of the Romans, starting with early hominid presence, and then the coming of the modern humans in the Paleolithic period, the hunter-gatherers of the Mesolithic, and the eventual spread of domesticated animals and wheeled vehicles and metalworking (copper, bronze and lastly iron). By the second millennium BC, there are stone circles and henges, with Stonehenge being the most famous, though certainly not the only one.

From 800 BC, England came to be dominated by the Celts, who spread westwards from what is now Germany. There were many settlements and towns, but no real indication of an urban civilization. What can be learned about this era is from archaeology mostly, as the Celts were not literate and left no written culture. This means that it is impossible to speak of a “proto-England” at this early era.

With the coming of Julius Caesar in 55 BC, the island became part of the Roman world, and thus Chapter 3 deals with Roman Britain. The subduing of the island was no easy maneuver and required much hard-fighting and effective military leadership, which lasted well into the next century, with the invasion by Claudius in 43 AD. This process finally ended with the conquest of Wales in 76 BC. The Romans, of course, never managed to hold sway over Scotland and Ireland. Hadrian’s Wall (seventy miles long), built in 122 AD, was an admission of this inability.

As Britain became a Roman province, it acquired the many benefits of Mediterranean civilization. Towns were established, provincial capitals established, with London being the capital of the entire province. As well, roads were laid down, agriculture improved, technology imported and trade with the rest of the world established. And important cultural changes, such as, Christianity, had immediate impact. On the whole, Roman Britain was peaceful; the source of the unrest were Roman military units who were always in turmoil because of the political ambitions of their commanders. Eventually, Britain, as with the rest of the Roman world in the West, could not hurl back the relentless attacks by barbarians. Rome itself was captured by Alaric the Goth in 410 AD. This also spelled the end of Roman Britain, which was left defenseless in the face of barbarian threats from the Continent.

Chapters 4, 5 and 6 deal with three pivotal events in the history of the island – the coming of the Anglo-Saxons (which established the English language and England itself), Danish conquests (the Danelaw), and thirdly the Norman Conquest. The Anglo-Saxon period, from 450 AD to 1066, was one of rich culture, as evidenced by the finds at Sutton Hoo, as well as high literary achievement, in both Old English and Latin, such as, Beowulf and the work of the Venerable Bede.

During this 600-year period, the character of England may best be described as “Scandinavian,” since it was finely integrated with that northern world, culturally and linguistically. The fateful year of 1066 changed all that, for with the Norman Conquest, England not only changed dynasties but cultural alignment – the Normans sheared away Scandinavian influence (and made Scandinavia itself a back-water of Europe) – and merged England with the life of Europe.

Chapter 7 examines the medieval period, in which kingship was Norman and French. However, during this time, England also created institutions that were unique, for feudalism gave way to the Magna Carta, with the growth and establishment of parliament. The Church was a cultural engine, for it established monasteries, hospitals and universities. The resultant intellectual and economic growth led to innovations in technology and flexible civic structures (towns and corporations). England also extended westwards and now included Wales, which began the transformation of England into Britain. However, this was also the time of the Great Plague, the Hundred Years’ War and the devastation of the War of the Roses, which effectively ended the medieval age.

Chapter 8, examines the Tudors, which saw emerge a new energetic type, namely, the “gentleman,” who possessed power not by virtue of noble birth, but because of individual effort. The Tudors greatly promoted gentlemen, who in turn gave them wider influence and wealth. Such men defeated the Spanish Armada, brought English colonies into North America, extended trade, and gave England a novel status – that of world influence. Paradoxically, such expansion also meant that a more dynamic type of governance was needed. This was found in a refurbished parliament – and the consequent diminishing of royal power. By the time Queen Elizabeth I died, royalty had lost most of the “divinity” that once hedged a king.

Chapter 9 concerns the Stuarts and the Interregnum in which the Civil War and Cromwell’s rule ensured that parliament would now be above the crown. This meant that law was paramount (the habeas corpus) and the State limited in overreach so that the subject possessed rights that could not be supervened. More importantly, the crown, because it was under parliament, became an integrated part of the nation, instead of an overarching system of power. As well, England formed a union with Scotland (1707) and became Britain.

After the Stuarts, parliament could also readily “import” suitable sovereigns (William from Holland, who was in fact the grandson of Charles I, and after him the German Hanoverians). Such integration – people, parliament and crown – ensured great social, economic and political stability, something that the rest of Europe would never enjoy until well into the 19th and 20th centuries.

Chapter 10, concerns the 18th century, which was a period of great innovation and invention, for this saw the Industrial Revolution, the Age of Reason, and a global reach of the English language. France, with its Napoleonic Empire was defeated and humbled, which gave England the baton of a world power. But England had also suffered its own humility, with the American Revolution, which meant the loss of half the continent of North America and the creation of the United States. Internally, however, England saw none of the upheavals that gripped Europe throughout this period. This is because of three factors – the entrenchment of a powerful and independent legal system; Whig liberalism; and socially conscious Anglicanism, which fostered gentility, or what could come to be called, “the Sentimental Revolution.” These three political and social forces allowed England to maintain stability and cohesion.

Chapter 11 deals with the 19th century, which is also generally known as the Victorian Age, after the monarch whose reign spanned for much of the century. England saw its prestige and influence increase globally, as it also became an empire on which it was said “the sun never set.” This imperial achievement (thus, Great Britain), came as a result free trade (beginning with the abolition of the Corn Laws) and a more streamlined fiscal system that also had simplified taxes. There was also the establishment of the post office; the laying down of an extensive rail network; the creation of a civil service that was not political aligned but concerned with the responsible management of the nation. England also brought an end to the international slave trade.

But rapid industrial growth created untold misery, for the ordinary factory-worker had no real protection and exploitation was rife in a Britain rapidly industrializing. The Factory Act of 1819, and its later refinements, imposed limitation on the number of work-hours for men, women and children; which, in turn, brought about the weekend holiday (beginning with half the Saturday off). The work week (the “English week”) gave dignity to labor that was previously absent. More importantly, a new class of citizenry was created – the middle-class, which soon became the backbone of the nation. All this did not mean that there was no mismanagement and bad decisions (like the Great Famine in Ireland). Nevertheless, there was always the higher ideal of working towards stability and peace.

Chapter 12 deals with the 20th century, which brought an end to the power of England, by way of two World Wars, even though Britain won both. The cost of victory was great, for meant dismantling the empire itself into a Commonwealth of nations and dominions (beginning with Ireland). England, as in the start of its history, slowly retracted until it once again became an island nation, within the broader context of Europe, which eventually brought it into the European Union (an economic and cultural relationship that is now, in turn, being dismantled through Brexit). Britain is no longer Great, but merely the United Kingdom.

The final chapter engages with an interesting issue – that of English identity, where the unity itself of the Kingdom is now being called into question by those who would like to see it dissolved, so that England once again becomes surrounded by other nations – Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Thus, regionalism has meant a collapse of another kind – that of cultural continuity, so that “Englishness” is nothing more than a heap of fragments which cannot really be glued back together again – for there is no “glue” available to accomplish such a task. As Black observes: “Thus, the destruction or weakening, from the 1980s, of traditional and, until then, still vital benchmarks of national identity – the Common Law, Parliamentary sovereignty, national independence, the monarchy, the Church of England, a culture of tolerance – was not followed by the creation of any viable alternatives.”

So, what lies ahead? Black is not overly optimistic about England: “Not only the sovereignty and the cohesion of the United Kingdom, but also the character and unity of England are being recast, or is it destroyed, in the name of modernity. It is difficult to feel optimistic about the outcome.” It appears that those who now govern England have now rather blindly passed that line which Alice Duer Miller warned about in her poem.

This book was a joy read, for it is marked by deep insight, clarity of thought, and an impressive marshalling of facts. It really should be on every thinking person’s bookshelf, for it possesses that rare quality among books of its genre – it does not disappoint.

The image shows, “The Departure of a Troop of 11th Hussars for India,” by Thomas Jones Barker, painted in 1866.

End Of The Myth Of The French Revolution

Celebrated with great pomp at the end of the last century, the bicentenary of the French Revolution (1789-1989) did not fail to rekindle debates and controversies over the interpretation of the event. Many French intellectuals and academics were still dreaming of the “blessed” era when Clemenceau invited them to take the “Revolution as a bloc.” After all, it was justifiable or excusable for them to pass over in silence the Terror, the Vendée “genocide,” the terrible treatments inflicted by the Republic and its leaders on “monsters,” “sub-humans,” the “execrable race,” that it was appropriate to “exterminate” or “purge” the nation.

Under blows from foreign authors, in particular English-speaking ones, it had to be admitted that the “heroes” of the revolutionary gesture could not escape historical research. The corruption of Danton, the intrigues of Mirabeau, the paranoid delirium of Robespierre, the fanaticism of Saint-Just, the violence of Marat, the deceit of Hébert, the villainy of Barras were very troublesome. These men hardly corresponded to the idealized image that Republican education (primary and secondary school) had long given of this period to legitimize the foundations of a regime that had become uncertain. How many already seemed old and outdated, such as, the Robespierrolatry of a Laponneraye (1842), or the hagiographies of Danton by Quinet (1865), of Saint-Just by Hamel (1859) or of Hébert by Tridon (1864). But on the whole, the myth of the Revolution as a veritable monolithic bloc still held firm. No one imagined the magnitude of the earthquake that a group of researchers and academic historians would cause in the late 1980s.

For nearly two centuries, the theories of interpretation of the Revolution have opposed each other and clashed. But justification, advocacy, and respect for the vulgate remained the rule of research and higher education – a strict, imperative prescription that no reasonable researcher could break without risking his career.

Diverse and contradictory, the theses and interpretative theories of the French Revolution can be grouped into three categories. Of course, the historiography of the subject cannot be reduced to these three antagonistic schools, but this classification at least has the merit of clarity and convenience.

The first school of thought sees the Revolution as a mythical phenomenon, as a revelation of absolute values pushed onto the stage of history under the pressure of Justice, Liberty and the People. Suddenly enlightened and responding to the call of revolutionary divinities, the People spontaneously revolted against tyranny. The archetype of this dogmatic literature is the Histoire de la Révolution française by Jules Michelet, published from 1847 to 1853. It is perpetuated, to varying degrees, in the spirit of primary and secondary education textbooks and in cultural news delivered by the mainstream media. We find it sometimes in the liberal-Jacobin form, sometimes in the socialist form, the latter mainly deriving from L’histoire socialiste de la Révolution française, by Jean Jaurès (1901-1904).

A second school, to which most academics are closely or remotely attached, sees the Revolution as a mechanism, a social phenomenon. This positivist, sociological interpretation inspired classic Marxist historians from Georges Lefebvre to Albert Soboul (and later Michel Vovelle), but also historians of socialist (Blanc), radical (Mathiez), radical-socialist (Aulard), Jacobin- republican (Reinhard, Godechot), liberal-conservative (Mignet, Thiers, Guizot, Tocqueville) and nationalist-republican (Edgar Quinet) alliance.

One of the main representatives of this interpretation, Hippolyte Taine, who published from 1875 to 1894 Les origines de la France contemporaine, saw the Revolution as a process of degeneration and dissolution. His thesis was then systematized by Augustin Cochin (La Mécanique de la Révolution, 1926) who gave a remarkable description of the fundamental role of the Societies of thought (Sociétés de pensée) in the genesis and development of the Revolution. His teaching would later be taken up in terms of the reconstruction of facts and events, by Pierre Gaxotte in his Révolution française (1928).

Finally, a third school, that of the “traditionalist” or “counter-revolutionary” current (Edmund Burke, Joseph de Maistre, Louis de Bonald) considered the Terror as the fruit of the principles of 1789 and, more generally, that revolutionary logic inevitably leads to terror. One part of this approach, the supporters of a conspiracy theory, refers primarily to the works of the Jesuits Augustin Barruel and Nicolas Deschamps, or to those of Crétineau-Joly and Monseigneur Delassus. According to them, the French Revolution was the fruit of a triple conspiracy hatched by Jansenism, Masonry and other sects such as the Illuminati of Bavaria. This conspiracy theory has been the subject of fierce criticism from pro-revolutionary historiography, deeming it fanciful and untrustworthy. However, it received an unexpected reinforcement from Marxist or socialist historians, like Albert Mathiez, and Freemasons, like Albert Lantoine and Louis Blanc, who, without using the term “conspiracy,” insisted heavily on the “project” and on the “plan” of the Jacobin group and of the Masons, which could not be fully realized, solely because of the lack of maturity of the masses and their ignorance.

The proponents of this third school of thought point out that for the most conscious protagonists of the Revolution, the revolutionary movement was imagined and executed against Christianity, against the Church and in the last analysis against God. This is the thesis set out in the works of Louis Daménie, La Révolution (1970), and Jean Dumont, La Révolution française, ou, Les prodiges du sacrilège (1984), for whom the Revolution was persecuting and oppressive of the Church and the people, of God, because it was anti-Christian, capitalist and bourgeois.

Since the 19th century the various currents dominating French political life have not ceased to oppose and tear each other apart on the subject. On the right, for the Orleanists, the Bonapartists and soon the nationalists, 1789 is sacred, 1793 is hated. For legitimists and traditionalists, the distinction is not appropriate: 1789 announces 1793. With them, Maurras’s Action Française placed a heavy responsibility on an Old regime that had been contaminated for too long. On the left, they chose 1793. The left said, “No” to so-called human rights that it stigmatizes as individual, formal and bourgeois rights. The fascists of the 20th century followed suit. Drieu la Rochelle explained that Hitlerites and Mussolinians wanted to break with the legacy of 1789, which was liberal, but not with that of 1793, which was Jacobin and totalitarian.

For more than a century and a half, the battles of the Revolution, like its internal struggles, were an inexhaustible fuel for the political battles and ideological quarrels of the time. Under Louis Philippe (1830-1848), after the adventures of the Revolution and the Empire, French liberalism drew lessons from the double experience. It refocused on the right. The golden mean, eclecticism, compromise, seeking the middle ground were now the watchwords. A moderate historiography was forged by Thiers (Histoire de la Révolution, 1827) and Lamartine (Histoire des Girondins, 1847). But gradually the official discourse was radicalized on the left.

At the turn of the 20th century, outside of the usual minority, the “Revolution” was taboo. Its protests were sometimes seen as unpleasant, but it was also seen as the necessary step in achieving universal equality, freedom and prosperity. The basis of the consensus rested on a few words: “Let us forget, and do not question what is achieved.”

The first specialized chair in the history of the Revolution was created at the Sorbonne in 1866, on the initiative of the Council of Paris. It was occupied by Alphonse Aulard. The act was clearly political. Aulard until then taught only literature and philology. On the other hand, he was an ardent republican, appreciated by the authorities and by Clemenceau. Radical and aggressive, he was soon overtaken on his leftism by his pupil and rival, Albert Mathiez. The master was radical and anticlerical, the disciple was radical-socialist and Robespierrist. The two antagonists imposed their truth on the Sorbonney.

Allied to communism in 1917, Mathiez presented himself and imposed himself for succession to Aulard in 1926. To his posterity belonged primarily Georges Lefebvre, Albert Soboul, Michel Vovelle and Claude Mazauric – and later, in the 2000s, the pure Jacobins, Jean-Pierre Jessenne and Michel Briard. All were or had been militants, sympathizers or “fellow travelers” of the Communist Party. They reigned almost unchallenged over the French University for more than forty years. “The Revolution,” historian Pierre Chaunu would say, “was the privileged place of ideological manipulation padlocked by a Sorbonicole nomenklatura from Mathiez to Soboul… Masters who knew the way, ensured the scholastic self-functioning in a vacuum closed by the monopoly of recruitment.” They have thus built “one of the most beautiful monuments of institutionalized stupidity” (Le Figaro, December 17, 1984).

After the Second World War, the ideological and cultural hegemony of Marxism oriented and directed official historiography. In the 1960s, Albert Soboul still appeared as “the great specialist whose work is essential.” Intellectual terrorism marginalized or condemned to silence the independent, non-conformist researcher. The revolutionary catechism mechanically identified revolutionaries with the capitalist bourgeoisie.

This catechism made 1789 the first step in a process of which 1917 and the Russian Revolution was the final step. This thereby legitimized the Jacobin=Bolshevik equation.

But times and fashions change. The 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s were marked by a major break. English-speaking historians, little suspecting of espousing the quarrels of French academics, were the first to open the breach. Let us take two titles among others. The first, The Debate on the French Revolution, 1789–1800 by Alfred Cobban, was published in 1950 and translated into French in 1984, after the author’s death. This incisive book helped shake the commonplaces and conventionalisms of the Marxist vulgate, destroying the simplistic thesis of a bourgeois and capitalist revolution which would have replaced an old feudal regime.

Not everything is memorable in Cobban’s work. Thus, he is wrong when he insists on the population explosion. Pierre Chaunu demonstrated, with Jacques Dupâquier and Jean-Pierre Bardet, that France was the country in Europe where the population had increased the least (from 22 to 28 million in a century), and whose demographic dynamism was broken, everywhere, twenty years before 1789. But we must nevertheless salute in Cobban the first truly operative iconoclastic approach.

A second English, quite remarkable, should be cited – The French Revolution and the Poor by Alan Forrest, 1981 (translated into French in 1986), in which the author masterfully dismantles the mechanism of the evils of revolutionary ideology, the deadly refusal of realities on the part of revolutionary leaders.

François Furet and Denis Richet took up where these two English-world authors left off. In La Révolution française (1965), they tackled the already old thesis of the slippage from a first liberal revolution of the elites to a second Jacobin revolution. From a position that was still on the left, since they refused to take the plunge and to think that 1793 could have been contained to a certain extent in 1789; or, in other words, they refuse to think that the logic of the revolution carried massacre, extermination and genocide within it. Nevertheless, they did undermine Marxist dogmas.

A former communist (1947-1959), François Furet did not yet distinguish clearly enough between Jacobin liberalism (Latin, essentially egalitarian), from English liberalism (essentially elitist or even aristocratic). But in 1978, in Penser la Révolution, he rehabilitated the forgotten and proscribed analyses of Tocqueville, of Taine, even of Augustin Cochin. Notably absent in his book is Edmund Burke, the brilliant Irishman who differentiated 1793 from 1790. Furet’s work was later continued by Patrice Gueniffey (see, La politique de la Terreur: essai sur la violence révolutionnaire, 1789-1794). But it may also be useful to recall the words that Pierre Chaunu confided to me: “When Furet and I discuss in private the origins, causes and consequences of the Revolution, know that we are 90% in agreement.”

An important point must be stressed – the reflection initiated by French academic historians on revolutionary terror comes at the very moment when Marxist ideology is experiencing its first major cultural setbacks. At the top of the state (François Mitterrand was then president), reactions were quick to come. Max Gallo, spokesman for the socialist government, was sounding the alarm bells.

Gallo, historian, novelist and essayist, a former Communist who joined the PS in 1981, then reacted as the guardian of the temple. He left the Socialist Party and supported Sarkozy’s UMP in 2007, but in the 1980s, he was at the forefront of the political and cultural struggle of the Mitterrandist left. Censoring the new Muscadins in an Open Letter to Maximilien Robespierre, he churned out articles and virulent statements against them in the media. The politically condemned academics were accused of nothing less than Vichyism, even Nazi nostalgia. They were “guilty,” he said, of spreading a “right-wing” vision of the Great Revolution. Behind him were the ex-fellow travelers of the communist organizers, responsible for more than 100 million deaths around the world. All shamelessly set themselves up as masters of republican morality. Ridicule is not fatal!

It did not matter to Gallo and his political friends at the time that non-university historians, such as Jean-François Chiappe or Jean Dumont, published anti-revolutionary works. What was unbearable and unacceptable to them was “the betrayal of the University.”

One of the main targets of the socialist authorities was Pierre Chaunu, professor at the Sorbonne, member of the Institut de France (of the l’Académie des sciences morales et politiques). The prestige of this Protestant historian was considerable. Renowned Hispanist (author with his wife Huguette Chaunu of Séville et l’Atlantique, 1504-1650, in 11 volumes), specialist in classical European civilization (La civilisation de l’Europe classique), and enlightenment civilization in Europe (La civilisation de l’Europe des Lumières), founder of “quantitative history,” he was one of the outstanding figures of French academia.

But Pierre Chaunu was not the only intellectual blacklisted. There was no shortage of targets for government hostility. In the disorder let us mention Frédéric Bluche for Septembre 1792: Logiques d’un massacre; Jean Baechler, for his Preface to the reissue of L’esprit du jacobinisme by A. Cochin; Jean-Joël Brégeon for Carrier et la terreur nantaise, and co-editor with Sécher of La Guerre de Vendée and the depopulation system of Gracchus Baboeuf; and finally, Reynald Sécher for La Vendée-vengé. Le génocide franco-français ,and Du génocide au mémoricide, supplemented in 2017 by the work of Jacques Villemain, Vendée 1793-1794. The latter cited documents that leave no room for doubt – the Committee of Public Safety wanted to exterminate the entire Vendée population.

The genocide thesis was supported by Reynald Sécher first in 1986 and 25 years later in Du génocide au mémoricide. The Robespierrist point of view, denying the genocide, is still developed in particular by Jean-Clément Martin. The losses are estimated at a minimum of 100,000 souls from a total population of 800,000 inhabitants.

To this incomplete list of “reprobate authors,” we must add the names of Jean Tulard, co-author of Histoire et dictionnaire de la Révolution française and responsible for the university edition of La Révolution française by Pierre Gaxotte; Émile Poulat for Liberté, laïcité: la guerre des deux France et le principe de la modernité; Stéphane Rials for Révolution et contre-révolution au XIXème siècle; Florin Aftalion for L’Économie et la Révolution française; Jean-François Fayard for La Justice révolutionnaire; René Sédillot for Le coût de la Révolution; François Crouzet for De la supériorité de l’Angleterre sur la France; Jean de Viguerie for Christianisme et révolution and Histoire du citoyen; Xavier Martin for Naissance du sous-homme au cœur des Lumières and Régénérer l’espèce humaine; and finally a whole host of young academics who, at the turn of the 21st century, are at the dawn of their careers. Among them Philippe Pichot Bravard, author of a quite remarkable overview, La Révolution française (2014), has to be mentioned.

Clearly, the death of Lenin-Soviet eschatology has done immense damage to the Marxist and crypto-Marxist historiography of the French Revolution. The simplistic idea, popularized by vulgar Marxism, that the French Revolution is a bourgeois revolution which destroyed feudalism and replaced it with a new, essentially capitalist regime, is totally questioned. The objections are significant.

Professor Emmanuel Leroy Ladurie, himself a former Communist, sums them up in these terms: “The first is that the bourgeoisie which made the revolution is not a capitalist class of financiers, traders or industrialists, who were then ‘apolitical’ or ‘aristocrats.’” The bourgeoisie was thus juridical; it was composed of officers, civil servants, lawyers, doctors, intellectuals, whose role and action could not consist in giving birth to an industrial revolution. Second objection, the example of England shows that in a rural society, like 18th century France, the evolution towards agricultural capitalism passed through the great seigniorial domain. On the contrary, the Revolution tended towards the fragmentation of farms and further retarded their technological progress. Finally, the third objection, “it put a definite halt to big capitalism, that is to say, colonial capitalism, foreign trade and big industries.” Foreign trade did not regain its high level of 1789 until 1825. The Revolution “represented in a sense the triumph of the landed strata of society, conservatives, large and small, including many former nobles… a landed bourgeoisie… and finally small peasant owners” (Le Figaro, December 17, 1984).

The revolutionary explosion of the summer of 1789 appears to be the culmination of the contradictions of the Ancien Régime, which was unable to reform in time. At the origin of the Revolution there was the financial crisis – the debt had become too heavy a burden for the finances of the kingdom. The expenses of the American War were too great. After forty years of economic expansion and prosperity, the situation deteriorated in the 1780s. A succession of bad harvests, the great drought of 1785, and a particularly harsh winter increased the difficulties.

At the same time, an “aristocratic reaction” from the traditional nobility and the nobility of the robe challenged absolute monarchy and demanded parliamentary control, which would allow it to better retain its privileges and prerogatives in the face of the rise of a bourgeoisie that desired its share of power. To this can be added the evolution of ideas, the social critiques of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the encyclopedists, the determining role of “Sociétés de pensée.” Finally, we must also take into account the errors of Louis XVI, who was undoubtedly a good man, but who was not on top of things.

Scientific history has shown that the Revolution ruined France; that it broke its economic momentum; and that it downgraded it. This is the conclusion of the most serious studies. Le livre noir de la Révolution française, published in 2008, leaves little room for doubt. But while academic research has shed all kinds of light on the horrific gray areas of the French Revolution, its results still needed to be accessible to the general public. Pierre Chaunu achieved this objective, thanks to a comprehensive, rigorous and attractive work, Le grand déclassement (1989), about which it is appropriate to say a few words.

Republican, Protestant and Gaullist, hardly suspected of sympathy for the “complex of counterrevolutionary sensibilities,” Pierre Chaunu (1923-2009) has undermined the sacrosanct myth of the two revolutions, one liberal, the other authoritarian, centralizing, liberticide – striking head-on one of the pillars of official historiography. And he got it right.

Let us sum up his argument. In 1789, France was roughly fifth in size, in Europe; but in power, it commanded nearly a third of available resources. Overall, she was pretty much the first. An example – the literacy rate was higher in England, Scotland and a few provinces of Prussia, but France had many more literate people than England, Scotland, Prussia and practically as many as the rest of Europe. Between 1710 and 1780, the number of those who reached the stage of independent reading and fluent writing tripled and quadrupled. After the great ebb that the Revolution brought about in this area, in which progress did not resume until 1830.

In 1789, France had at least 28 million inhabitants. Its population growth rate of 0.5% per year was one of the lowest, if not the lowest, in Europe. 16% of the population was urban. The distribution of the population was relatively more equitable than in the rest of Europe. Two million households owned 40% of the land (with some 5% of communal property). The rest of the land belonged to the nobility (25%). Finally, 10% was Church property, and 25% bourgeois property. The Third Estate therefore owned 65% of the land and the so-called “clergy” were, in large part, social assets, that supplied schools and hospitals. Peasant property was encumbered with seigneurial rights, but they were more irritating and vexatious than limiting. Common land was more expensive on average than noble land.

Overall, seigneurial rights were less heavy in France than anywhere else on the continent, except in England. Nowhere else was peasant ownership so widespread.

England broke the record in the West for the concentration of land in a few hands. But in France, the Revolution would not change anything. Since taxes were generally heavier afterwards, the levy on the peasant mass was roughly the same in 1815 as in 1789. Social upheavals affected only one tenth of the population at most. The Revolution only distributed a tenth or a fifth in value of a good part of the land, and therefore brought wealth and prestige to just a minority of its apparatchiks and associates. It was all really restricted to a few permutations at the top.

In 1758, the tax burden per capita was double in England, being around 190 in 1789, while France was at 100. At equal wealth, from the second half of the 18th century, the English paid at least one and a half times as much as the French. France, a tax haven, would nevertheless engage in a rotating strike. Almost 15% of the GNP and 3.5% of the population were in the service of the state. The King of France had 10 times fewer men on hand to control his capital than the King of Prussia, or the British Parliament.

The entire 18th century was driven by the halt that the Parliaments, recklessly reestablished in their prerogatives by Louis XVI, brought to the ministerial reform initiative. Here was the drama of the monarchy. From 1774 to 1789, the Parliaments, where only the privileged strata of society were to be found, were the winners across the board. The Ancien Régime was paralyzed by the encroachment of the law. Parliaments do not represent society, either in their composition or in their thoughts. The court was never less costly, yet its usefulness never less evident. The system was jammed, unable to match its resources to its needs; it was considered tyrannical when it was only powerless.

In 1789, most French people were Catholics and most were devout – 97 to 98% of the French people believed in God, more than 80% were attached to their Church. On the intellectual and moral quality of the clergy and on their generosity, which redistributed a good half to the poor and a share to hospital and school assistance, there was no real criticism, no bad marks. Better, the almost unanimous claim of the register of grievances is that the priests, who were well-loved and whose worth was widely felt, should be give more.

Finally, no one died had of hunger since 1709. It was not until 1794-1795 and run-away inflation that the specter of famine loomed again and that people died from it as before. In the 1780s, faced with a population growing at a rate of 0.5% annually (a growth rate lower than the English rate), production increased at a rate of 1.9%.

Paradoxically, in general, it is prosperity, not misery, that carries the risk of revolution. French society remained sufficiently open. France lived, changed, evolved. The state was jammed, motionless, paralyzed. Between the two, tensions continued to grow.

The Revolution began with a plunder, the easiest – that of the property of the Church. Monastic France was soon sold. The finest jewels of Romanesque and Gothic art were broken. They were removed, disassembled, sawed apart, broken, looted. The artistic rampage was immense. No modern war has destroyed so much wealth.

The Revolution was not the mass phenomenon that they want us to believe. There were 50,000 Parisian sans-culottes, 80,000 profiteers of national property and 200,000 onlookers. The number of angry, hateful and guillotinous dechristianizers hardly exceeded 40,000. But you only win and lose if you convince the small active number.

When, on July 12, 1790, the civil constitution of the clergy was adopted, only 4 bishops out of 136 agreed to swear to the constitution. 44% (40% after withdrawals) of the clergy swore. This is not much, because not to swear meant the loss of employment, of all resources, misery, the threat to freedom and life, banishment from the community. Since dozens of episcopal seats had to be filled all at once, Talleyrand, “a pile of shit in a woolen stocking” as Napoleon called, devoted himself to the task. He was the only one of four bishops who accepted to carry out coronations. All those poor jurat priests, some of whom claimed to have rediscovered the simplicity and rigor of the primitive Church, would know by the end of the winter of 1791 what the words of the constituent deputies were worth – a reprieve for the guillotine.

Thanks to the assignat, famine and the ruin of the economy, people died as much and more than from the guillotine during the winter of 1794-1795. The famous paper money assignat was criminal folly. To pay off its promises, fuel its fantasies and finance the war of aggression against a peaceful Europe, the Revolution had only one means – inflation, the most unjust tax.

The mortal sin of the Revolution was, after religious persecution, gratuitous war. The war allowed murder to be legalized, any internal opponent being equated with foreign enemies.

For the period 1792 to 1797, losses amounted to at least 500,000 men. Disease killed more than bullets (3 to 4 times more). If we add the civilian losses, men, women, children (mainly in Vendée), the losses of the revolutionary period came to cost nearly 1 million human lives. The Empire would add a second million to the first. In total, 4.5 to 5 million dead, in a Europe of less than 150 million souls. The responsibility, all the responsibility for the outbreak of war rests with the revolutionary power. It deliberately chose war; it provoked, attacked, invaded.

The war broke France’s growth; it slowed it down everywhere else, even in Great Britain, but in which case the slowdown only affected consumption. In the France-England equality ratio, we go to a gap of 10 to 6. France had, per capita, caught up with England in 1789; it was in the ratio of 100 to 60-65 in 1799. Ten years of assignats and the great massacres definitively downgraded France. The gap would no longer be made up.

Let Pierre Chaunu conclude in a concise manner: “While all the work of history released from the myth establishes that the chaotic process which created the revolutionary vortex was the effect of chance – September (1792), Fouquier Tinville (public accuser of the Revolutionary Tribunal), ruin by the assignat, and the war, the destruction of the artistic, moral and religious cultural heritage, the depopulation and the devastation of the demographic impetus, the genocide-populicide of the Vendée and the populicides of Lyon, Toulon and elsewhere – all this follows implacably from the most implacable revolutionary logic. Once the Revolution is born, it kills. Death is its profession, annihilation its end.”

Product of chance, execution of a deliberate project, direct or indirect consequence of one or more social factors, the debate on the interpretation of the Revolution is not about to end. But one point is clear – for rigorous and serious history, the Revolution led France to a terrible moral, social, economic and political collapse.

Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECD. He is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.

The image shows, “The Zenith of French Glory: The Pinnacle of Liberty. Religion, Justice, Loyalty & all the Bugbears of Unenlightend Minds, Farewell!”. A satire of the radicalism of the French Revolution. A picture by James Gillray. February 1793.

Translated from the French by N. Dass.

Violence In The French Wars Of Religion

For no less than thirty-six years, from 1562 to 1598, the kingdom of France was the scene of eight wars of religion – in reality, conflicts that were just as political as religious. These wars comprised those who opposed the “Huguenots,” those who supported the Reformation, and those who defended the traditional Catholic faith. The Reformed message, in its predominantly Calvinist but also Lutheran version, spread rapidly, from 1555, first in the towns and then among the nobility, and especially in the southern part of France, but also in Normandy.

Once peace returned in 1598, the demographic, political and economic toll was heavy: the monarchy was in enormous debt and the country was considerably impoverished. It is estimated that the population of the kingdom had fallen from 17 to 16 million inhabitants. But in this deficit, it is not known what was the share of actions of violence and war, famines, plague and harsh climatic conditions.

After the decades of the “beautiful 16th century” corresponding to the reigns of Francis I and Henry II, the kingdom of Valois fell for nearly forty years into the throes of what historians of the 19th century came to designate as the time of “Wars of Religion” – an era of iron and blood which saw France torn between supporters of the Calvinist Reformation and defenders of the traditional Catholic faith. They would clash in eight civil wars interspersed with fragile truces that were regularly called into question.

These were wars with complex origins that mixed religious and political issues, nobiliary rivalries and popular violence, all in an international context which remained dominated by the antagonism between the monarchy of the Valois and the Empire of the Habsburgs, at a time when European Christianity had also to contend with the Ottoman threat.

These civil wars saw the outburst of extreme violence that collective memory has come to identify with one event known as the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (1572), which cannot, however, account on its own for the magnitude of this outburst. Violence generally attributed to Catholics seeking to maintain religious unity of the kingdom and therefore hostile to freedom of conscience; the weakness of the last Valois rulers; the intrigues of the queen mother and regent, Catherine de Medici; the ambitions of the Guises; and the “fanaticism” of the Catholic League – all have long imposed the idea that the Protestants were the victims of “intolerance,” which then generated the violence.

Rather than looking for those responsible for this violence within royal power which, it appears, frequently sought conciliation, or within the rival ambitions of the great nobiliary families and their respective clients – instead, the historians of today, familiar with the study of mentalities, insist more, as historian Jean-Marie Constant explains to us, on “religious sensibilities, on Catholic and Protestant violence because of systems of representation, and these imaginary phantoms carrying such irrational intransigence that they precipitated the populations one against the other.” This is how, in his Guerriers de Dieu, Denis Crouzet deciphered the nature of the imaginary phantoms, which then commanded violence, thus profoundly renewing the approach that we had until then of the great politico-religious divide that France experienced, from 1562 to 1598, from the brawl of Wassy to the promulgation of the Edict of Nantes.

It should first of all be remembered, unlike an overly Manichean reading of the period, that violence was widely shared and that massacres and cruelties were carried out by both sides, with the strictly religious factor hardly being the sole cause or reason. In addition to the impossible peaceful coexistence of the two rival confessions of faith, it should in fact be emphasized that the conspiracy of Amboise of 1560 (a failed Protestant attempt to seize the person of King Francis II), the repeated attacks of the Huguenots, the surprise of Meaux in 1567 (Protestants’ attempt to kidnap King Charles IX), or the devastating campaigns led by Coligny (leader of the Huguenots) in the South were all perceived as challenges to royal authority. As for the cruelties that punctuated the confrontation between the two sides, they were widely shared, as shown by Ronsard – a man of a third party which hoped for reconciliation – in his Discours des misères de ce temps (Discourse on the Miseries of these Times), he strongly condemns

These new Christians who have pillaged, plundered France,
Stolen, murdered, despoiling all by virulence,
Beat down the body by blows a hundred thousand
As if it were a virtue to be a brigand,
Living sans chastity, and to hear them declaim,
It's God who leads them, when simply they laugh at Him.
And then what? Burn houses, plunder and brigandage -
This is what all of you now call the Reformed Church?

The explosion of violence which occurred after the 1560s, echoes the continuous progress of the Reformation and the failure of the attempts to eradicate it implemented by Henry II, who accidentally disappeared in 1559. The concessions made by the regent Catherine de Medici were not enough to calm the impatience of the Protestants, who were perceived as dangerous heretics by the Catholic masses worried about their salvation, in a time of eschatological expectation which generated extreme anxiety.

The will of the Protestant minority to assert itself openly, and the growing visibility of a faith perceived as rival and dangerous, exasperated the Catholic people, who were infuriated by the arrogance and contempt the new faith inspired among the adherents of the cause of Geneva. But we must also take into consideration the recent availability of the warrior-class, deprived – since the conclusion in 1559 of the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis which put an end to the Italian mirage of the Valois – of the glories that the campaigns carried out for half a century beyond the Alps, once assured them. The entirety of the Nobles of the Sword was now available for the violence that was to unfold within the realm. Murders, massacres and vendettas, therefore, under these new conditions, continued for nearly four decades, until the peacemaking and restorative reign of Henry of Navarre, who became Henry IV.

Violence took on new forms during this period. In addition to the pitched battles between opposing armies, in the traditional manner – in Dreux, Jarnac, Moncontour, Coutras or Ivry – it now becomes necessary to speak of the common practice of the sacking of towns controlled by the enemy, general massacres targeting the places or the regions supposed to be won over to the opposing side, popular “emotions” which threw the supporters of one confession against their neighbors attached to the opposite faith.

Violence no longer concerned soldiers alone; it affected all strata of society and even broke free from the chivalrous rules which until then governed the conduct of war. Non-combatant populations were no longer spared, especially women and children, and, churchmen, Protestant pastors or Catholic clerics, were even specially targeted. The code of honor, which once ritualized the exercise of violence, and was imposed in particular to spare the wounded, appeared largely to be forgotten.

The new characteristics which the fighting then took on were revealed in the first “wars of religion”. On March 1, 1562 in Vassy, in Champagne, the men of the Duke of Guise confronted Protestants celebrating their worship inside the village, which was not permitted by the January edict which only authorized it outside the city walls.

The initial quarrel degenerated into a generalized brawl and the Catholic soldiers of François de Guise massacred their opponents, leaving about twenty to fifty dead on the ground, including five women and a child, and one hundred and fifty wounded. The event aroused immense emotion among Reformers and Catholics alike and, according to Protestants, started the civil war, the first act of which was identified by Catholics with the attack launched by Condé on Orleans a month later.

The conflict immediately reached unprecedented levels of violence and signified the abandonment of the chivalrous ideal still embodied by Bayard (1475-1524) under the reign of Francis I, a model by which the nobility of the time had long been recognized. A Huguenot gentleman, François de la Noue, author of Discours politiques et militaires, published in 1587, lamented the loss of the principles which every good captain should obey.

Certainly, several great leaders whom he worked with, in particular the Duke of Guise, were able to show both magnanimity and bravery, which earned the author – after the defeat suffered by the Protestants at Moncontour – to be spared by the Duke of Anjou, the future Henry III. François de la Noue insisted on the fact that “such beautiful acts should not be buried in forgetfulness, so that those who make profession of arms shy away from imitating them and move away from cruelties and unworthy things, where so many let themselves go in these civil wars, so as not to know or want to curb their hatreds.” A wish that says a lot about the reality of the times and the primacy given to “the spirit of revenge;” the desire for revenge most often overriding the demands of honor and virtue so dear to the nobility as a whole.

Thus it was that prisoners were routinely killed, for they are too numerous to be kept and maintained by the victors, and the low social status of the greatest number denied any hope of ransom. It should also be considered, in these times of religious mobilization, that this also ensured these same prisoners would not again be fighting the present winner in the future. For Blaise de Monluc, one of the most famous Catholic captains, “There was no mention of prisoners at that time” because “we had to come to austerity and cruelty.” In this case, the concern to obtain legitimate revenge for the losses suffered by his own side was added to the conviction that to get rid of the adversary was part of a process of militant piety in the service of true faith threatened by heretics.

Merciless for the foot-soldiers, the war also did not spare the most prestigious leaders, who were no longer protected from ignominious death. Several of them were coldly murdered on the battlefield. In Dreux, in December 1562, the Marshal of France, Jacques d’Albon de Saint-André, taken prisoner, was killed, shot in the head by the Protestant Jean Perdiel de Bobigny, a former servant of the Marshal, who had condemned de Bobigny a few years earlier.

In February 1563, outside Orléans, Duke Francis of Guise – the defender of Metz, the victor of Calais, one of the best warriors of his time – was treacherously shot down by the Protestant Poltrot de Méré, a relative of whose had been one of the victims of the repression that occurred in 1560, during the conspiracy of Amboise.

In 1569, Louis of Condé, the leader of the Protestant side, was killed by a Gascon captain by the name of Montesquiou when, wounded, Louis had surrendered, after a fall from his horse, in exchange for two officers of the Catholic army. His body was then carried on the back of a donkey to the nearby town where, leaning against a church pillar, it was desecrated by the Catholic crowd. By getting rid of enemy leaders in this way, some people thought they were finishing off the other side, according to La Noue “by way of the body they sought to cut off the head.”

Often, private vendettas came to mingle with confessional antagonisms, exacerbating, according to the historian Olivia Carpi, “The strong propensity of the nobles to seek justice through bloodshed, for offenses they or members of their family had suffered… This, within a nobility that the sovereign could no longer control, as in the past, because of his inexperience and financial difficulties that led to the reduction of his liberality; the civil conflict subverted all the rules, to the point that some no no longer distinguished between a legitimate act of war and the expression of private violence, between vendetta and the service of a public cause.”

The authors of the time, La Noue or Agrippa d’Aubigné – who left us Histoire universelle, giving an account of the wars, in which he had been a participant – stressed the barbarism shown by the soldiery towards defenseless populations, the main victims of the troubled times. Providing for the needs of armies on the march was a most severe test from the start, with the looting, destruction and rape that this implied. These crimes were tolerated by leaders who saw them as a reward for their troops and a sure way to terrorize populations believed to be unlikely to come to terms with the enemy if the fortunes of arms turned.

The practice of “spoiling,” or scorched earth, was thus established as a legitimate means of deterring any attempt at resistance with terror. To keep Guyenne for the king, the lord of Monluc did not hesitate to hang all Protestants suspected of defying monarchical authority. This encouraged, because of the terror inspired by such measures, subsequent surrenders.

The sacking of conquered towns and villages also allowed the leaders to retain troops who might otherwise be tempted, during long and exhausting campaigns, to desert or mutiny. Baron des Adrets (a loyal supporter of Protestant troops who later joined the Catholics in 1564) thus believed that “if we do not want to see the troops slip away from behind in good measure, we must take away from them the hope of any forgiveness so that they seek no refuge nut in the shadow of the flags, no life except in victory.” The same war-leader also affirmed that “the only way to put an end to the barbarities of the enemies is to pay them back with revenge… because no one practices cruelty by returning it.”

We then see to what degree of unprecedented violence such a vision of war could lead. Thus, although life had been promised to them during their surrender, the Protestant defenders of Orange (commune of Vaucluse) were all killed after their surrender when the city was recaptured by the Catholics, which also brought many atrocities inflicted on “civilians,” who were burned alive, impaled, cut into pieces, while women and girls were raped and young children smashed against the walls. Applying the law of retaliation, which he had made his code of conduct, Baron des Adrets encouraged his Protestant troops to behave in the same way when they seized Pierrelatte, Pont Saint Esprit and Bollène.

We know that the apex of violence was reached during the night of August 24, 1572, during the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. Historians have distinguished the operation aimed at neutralizing the Protestant nobility – gathered in Paris for the marriage of Henry of Navarre and Marguerite de Valois and mobilized by the failed attack against Coligny – from the anti-protestant pogrom which was under-taken, beyond all control, by the Parisian Catholic mob – and all in the context of eschatological expectation, finely analyzed by Denis Crouzet.

The Parisian event had aftershocks in the provinces; and this dramatic episode largely contributed to the victimization of the Reformed minority. But it should be remembered here that the Michelade of Nîmes in 1567, which saw dozens of notable Catholics thrown into wells, was five years prior to the Paris massacre.

Huguenot violence was also expressed, during these terrible years, in the form of large-scale iconoclasm, heralding the “vandalism” denounced by Father Gregory during the Revolution. The destruction of images, the sacking of shrines, the looting of church treasures, or the desecration of relics could only arouse legitimate anger on the Catholic side, bringing about a fierce desire for revenge.

It was the same with the massacre of clerics ordered by Protestant leaders. From July 1562, ten years before the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, the parish priest of Saint Paterne d´Orléans was executed in front of all the Huguenot leaders. The same year, during the capture of Pithiviers, the Catholic fighters were spared against an oath not to fight the Reformers any more, but all the clerics were killed. I

n the South and in Normandy, similar decisions cost the lives of many priests and monks. The most terrifying case is that of a Franciscan monk from Mâcon who was taken, rope around his neck, around the city in a sinister route, punctuated by mutilating stations. His ears, fingers and nose were cut off one-at-a-time, his feet were burnt, and he was not finished off until he was castrated. Even during truces, priests were forced, in many regions, to go underground to escape death because the Huguenots intended to deliver the world from “shavelings and superstition,” who all collected tithes for their own benefit.

These outbursts of extreme violence naturally provided the material for interpretive disputes that remain far from being appeased. The uncertainty about the prospects for salvation, the eschatological concerns specific to the time, the militant millennialism of the end of the period all contributed to a crisis of conscience which would not subside until the first part of the 17th century. This resulted in “panic” reactions to the challenge posed by the Protestant heresy, to the point of generating behavior of unheard-of violence among the population, which remained overwhelmingly Catholic.

Protestant violence seems at first to be more psychological and provocative, and iconoclasm was part of this initial violence. Affirming the rejection of the Catholic faith in the name of the fight against “superstition” could also only elicit an extreme reaction. Once wars started, Huguenot violence became physical but appeared to be more thought out and more planned than Catholic violence, the latter most often expressed in the form of an instinctive reaction of self-defense in the face of people who called into question that which the faithful held most sacred.

In the Dauphiné and in Provence, the Baron des Adrets intended to multiply – with massacres and prisoners thrown into chasm – the examples which would dissuade the Catholics from continuing the struggle. The purpose of the extermination of the priests was to tear the populations, which followed them, from their deadly influence and the hate speech which accompanied this “purification” has very contemporary overtones since it is a question of “expelling the vermin of the shavelings, do away with this malicious breed of the devil, clean up the foxes and cockroaches.”

At least as fanatical as the Catholic, Huguenot violence is reminiscent of that which revolutionary France would experience two centuries later. It is a question here of imposing the new conception, based only on the Scriptures, of the kingdom of God. This was all based on a total contempt for those who remained attached to “superstitions,” affirming a religion forged over the centuries, of the presence of God in the world – while their opponents, attached to the single letter of Scripture, always identified themselves on the side of Truth and Good.

Historian Philippe Conrad was seminary director at the École supérieure de guerre and director of the Nouvelle Revue d’Histoire. He is the author of several books devoted to the First World War, the conflicts in the Middle East and the Spanish Civil War.

The image a colored print showing the Battle of Jarnac in 1569.

Translated from the French by N. Dass.

Russia, Europe: Past and Present – A Conversation With Andrzej Nowak

This month, we are greatly honored to present this interview with Professor Andrzej Nowak, a Polish historian and a public intellectual. He is a professor at the Institute of History, Jagiellonian University, Krakow, and is the head of the Comparative Imperial Studies Section at the Polish Academy of Sciences.

Professor Nowak has lectured as a visiting professor at Columbia University, Harvard University, Rice University, the University of Virginia, University of Cambridge, and University College, London. He is also a recipient of the Order of the White Eagle – Poland’s highest order.

He is the author of over 30 books, among them a multivolume history of Poland, Między nieładem a niewolą. Krótka historia myśli politycznej (Between Disorder and Captivity. A Short History of Political Ideas), Metamorfozy Imperium Rosyjskiego: 1721-1921 (Metamorphoses of Russian Empire), and History and Geopolitics: A Contest for Eastern Europe, Russia and Eastern Europe.

He is interviewed by Dr. Zbigniew Janowski, on behalf of the Postil.

Zbigniew Janowski (ZJ): Thirty years ago, when we met, you were a scholar of Russia. You had published several books on the topic. They drew the attention of Andrzej Walicki and Richard Pipes, two well-known experts on Russian history. Now you are writing about the history of Poland. Thus far you have written four out of ten intended volumes. Could you briefly describe your intellectual trajectory? What made you leave Russian history?

Andrzej Nowak (AN): Indeed, my research interests began with an analysis of the concept of the multiplicity of civilizations by Nikolay Danilevsky, a contemporary of Dostoevsky, an ideologue of Russian Pan-Slavism. That was forty years ago.

In recent years, however, I have returned to the history of Russian imperial thought. In 2018, I published an extensive volume of studies on the manifestations of this thought in Russian culture, from the time of Peter the Great to the formation of the group of so-called Eurasianists during the First World War. I am still interested in Russian topics. Not only because it is fascinating in itself, but also because of its numerous connections with the history of Poland to the present day. For Russia, over the centuries, Poland has been the first obstacle on the way to Europe, leading to its subordination.

Marx expressed it succinctly in 1863, when he wrote that “the rebuilding of Poland meant the annihilation of (imperial) Russia, the cancellation of the Russian candidate for world rule” (“Wiederherstellung Polens ist die Vernichtung Rußlands, (die) Rußlands Absetzung von seiner Kandidatur zur Weltherrschaft”). The issue of neighboring Russia and its geopolitical significance has been my concern for a long time; and it is precisely the historical Russian-Polish relations and the comparison of two political cultures that have developed so differently in the two countries.

When it comes to the multi-volume history of Poland, for me it is an attempt to reread the specificity of Polish political culture, its rootedness in the European republican tradition (this issue has been discovered in recent years by such outstanding scholars as Quentin Skinner and Martin van Gelderen).

Queen Maria Clementina Sobieska, wife of James III, painted by Antonio David, c. 1722-3. Private collection, reprinted with permission.

But has anyone pointed out that the term “Polish citizen” – civis Polonis – appears for the first time in a document from the mid-12th century? I found out about it while writing the first volume of my synthesis. Now that I am on volume five, which covers the 17th century, I wonder about the crisis of the republican system, as well as the geopolitical conditions of its duration (wars with Russia, Protestant Sweden, and Islamic Turkey).

Such issues give me a lot of intellectual pleasure – and also because they allow me to look at the present day, for example, of the European Union, from the point of view of the longest lasting union in the history of Europe: the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1385-1795). Why did this union end up being partitioned by its imperial neighbors? How did they use the mechanisms of republican freedom (veto, applied in the Polish parliamentary system until 1791)? These are not just historical issues. In each case, like a shadow, being a neighbor to Russia brings back the problem of the empire.

ZJ: Russia is fascinating. One reason is Russian literature: Pushkin, Lermontov, Chekov, Gogol, Pasternak, Bulgakov, and, above all, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. No nation, I dare say, can claim to have so many outstanding writers. Yet Dostoevsky stands out among them. He is not just a great writer but a great thinker; one of the most insightful critics of Modernity.

If you want to understand the cultural malaise of the West in the 20th century, you turn to Nietzsche, Ortega y Gasset and Dostoevsky. “The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor” lays out all the fundamental problems of political and social organization. It is a real tour de force of political theory, which, matches only Plato’s considerations in The Republic. Chapters 7 and 8 of Notes from Underground, on the other hand, is an unsurpassed analysis of the dangers of the nascent scientific mentality, the danger of which was described in the 1950s by Jacques Ellul in his The Technological Society. Aldous Huxley, on the other hand, turned Notes into his Brave New World (1932) – which describes a soft totalitarianism, the world which we seem to be building.

On the one hand, Dostoevsky is a great prophet, who saw the future of the West, a future where the scientific mentality dominated everything and discredited the Past (tradition, religion, hierarchy, custom, history); and, on the other hand, Dostoevsky is the Russian sui generis. He is suspicious of the West, Western ideas, Western Christianity, and, let me add, who passionately dislikes the Poles for Poland’s Western orientation and Catholicism.

Czeslaw Milosz saw Dostoevsky as someone from a backward country, who realized the danger that Western ideas posed, which were flooding Russia at the beginning of the 19th century. Dostoevsky’s literary output is a short history of modern Europe. Do you agree with Milosz? And what is your attitude toward Dostoevsky?

AN: The term “backward country” of course implies that there are “progressive” countries which are the yardstick for the rest of the world. Such an attitude was adopted by Dostoevsky himself, fascinated by the ideas of Saint-Simon and Fourier, which he got to know in the circle of the young intelligentsia in St. Petersburg. The death sentence he was given for participating in this circle, and then exile, certainly came as a shock.

When, after Russia’s defeat in the Crimean War, the so-called “progressive countries” – Great Britain, France and Sardinia, saw a liberal “thaw” in domestic politics, so that Dostoevsky was no longer enthusiastic about following “progress.” He quickly saw that liberalism and the so-called the utopian socialism, which fascinated him earlier, had a common source. And it is a poisoned source – the belief that man can build a paradise on earth on his own, and that the West is close to this paradise; and countries such as Russia should intensely imitate the West, so that one day they may find themselves at least in the vestibule of this paradise.

Imitation of the West will end in the revolution of nihilism, the foretelling of which Dostoevsky already noticed in Russia. He described them in the form of two generations in Demons: the older generation – “rotten” liberals and the younger generation – radical revolutionists.

The same observations were made earlier by poets of the Polish Romantic emigration: Adam Mickiewicz and Zygmunt Krasiński. The latter, in the drama “the Undivine Comedy” of 1833, presented exactly the vision of total revolution as a rebellion against God, as Dostoevsky had done 40 years later. The difference is that for Krasiński, the criticism of the revolution and of the preceding evolution of Western civilization is an “internal” criticism – he mourns this crisis because it is his civilization. He would like to save it, like Joseph de Maistre; he would like the Polish nobility to support the collapsing dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome with their sabers.

Maria Clementina Sobieska. Private collection, reprinted with permission.

Polish Romantic thinkers imagined that Poland could play the role of the last defender of the European classical and Christian moral tradition against the forces of decay.

On the other hand, Dostoevsky, along with a large part of the Russian intellectual elite, took a different perspective: the crisis arises from the very essence of the West, from the rebellion of the West (that is, Catholicism) against the only true faith that has been preserved by the Orthodox Church. This is the perspective of the criticism of the West that continues in Russian thought right up to Solzhenitsyn and contemporary ideologues of Putin’s era. There are also great Russian writers who refer to this tradition today, especially Zachar Prilepin, a contemporary Dostoevsky.

ZJ: However, one can raise the following argument: Poland, as a country, disappeared from the map of Europe in 1795. Polish nobility turned Poland into “a country for sale,” because they invented a political system that made the Polish state (and the regal power) weak. Its downfall was predicted by King Sobieski.

The idea that the Polish nobles can “support the collapsing dome” is – pardon me – a piece of rhetoric, which inscribes itself well within the context of the post-French Revolution world, but it misses the point. How could de Maistre think that one could entrust the fate of Christianity, Catholicism to the people who could not even manage the political affairs of their own country? If one looks for defense of Catholicism or Christianity, a better place than de Maistre, in my opinion, is Chateaubriand’s The Genius of Christianity and Constant essays on religion.

Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski in coronation robes, by Marcello Bacciarelli (1764).

AN: Sorry for the misunderstanding. The vision of the Polish nobility supporting the collapsing dome of St. Peter was written by Zygmunt Krasiński, a Polish Romantic conservative. Yes, he was inspired by de Maistre’s political philosophy, but this was a vision of Krasiński, not of a Savoyard reactionary.

De Maistre saw, for a time, in tsarist Russia the hope of saving the European tradition, until he realized how much revolutionary fuel was in Russia itself. Krasiński’s vision assumed that the Polish nobility most consistently represented the traditions of Roman republicanism, combined with Latin Christianity. As a conservative, however, he considered original sin as the cause of the contamination of all worldly endeavors and projects. That is why he saw in the attitude of defending the traditions of European Christianity a heroic but futile act. Poland’s act is to defend a struggling Christian Europe desperately to the end, just as it fought desperately for the independence of the lost (also through its own fault) Poland. But she will win this fight alone. Only Providence can win this fight. We have a duty to fight; we have no guarantee of victory.

It seems to me that this attitude is absent both in Chateaubriand and in Constant. Their “bland,” more melancholic and cultural view of Christianity presents it as a beautiful adventure of the European past, which may be saved as a kind of museum monument in the modern world. Krasiński, on the other hand, sees the issue of Catholic Europe as a fundamental existential, dramatic choice – against “this world” created by the triumph of liberalism and capitalism.

This is a completely different kind of romanticism than the ethos found in Chateaubriand. I think more realistic – at least from today’s perspective. This does not mean, however, that I believe that “Polish nobility” or Poland simply had some unique opportunities to save tradition.

Poland itself is part of the European community of fate. People who consider themselves in some sense heirs of Krasiński, but also of John Paul II and Saint Faustina (a Polish nun who initiated the world cult of God’s Mercy), must look for those Germans who feel spiritual communion with Pope Ratzinger, those Italians who understand one’s identity in the spirit of the Catholic tradition; Spaniards who still know who Miguel de Unamuno was; the French who understand the choice of Pascal and Antoine de Saint-Exupery; The English who have in their spiritual heritage Thomas More, Cardinal John Henry Newman, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Chesterton. We are all in one boat and we will drown together, or we will keep on going together. We will reach the shore as Providence decides. We have a duty to row, in spite of those who want to sink our boat now.

ZJ: But the fate of a nation, unless we understand it in Oedipian sense, is not sealed. Fate of countries lies either in having a strong culture which gives a people a specific national identity – different from others – or strong political institutions capable of sustaining that culture.

Poland is a unique example. After more than eight centuries, it disappeared from the map of Europe at the very end of 18th century. What happened was more a result of the malfunctioning of political institutions than a lack of national identity, which, let us recall, was forged in the historical process since 966 AD, when Poland became a Christian country. Poland had elected kings and a republican system of government, which led to political weakness.

If you look at the American debate (the so-called The Federalist Papers) how such a new political system should work, the Founding Fathers (Madison and Hamilton) thought of the legislative process as an attempt to reconcile the conflicting interests that take place in a society at large. Representatives of the states are supposed to represent the general attitude of the people they represent; they do not have a mandate to act or vote in a predetermined way. They are not delegates!

The Polish republican experiment was exactly the opposite. It was based on, first, the unanimity principle and, second, the “imperative mandate.” What the result of it was that the Polish Diet was prevented from being a deliberative assembly, like the English House of Commons around the same period.

As Willmoore Kendall, the translator of Rousseau’s The Government of Poland wrote, “Because of the former [liberum veto], it was improbable that any decision could be taken; because of the latter [the imperative mandate], minds were already made up, so why deliberate?”

Such a system left virtually no room for strong central government – the elected king – to govern effectively. The king was stripped of the power to govern, whereas the nobility could claim to enjoy “Golden Liberty.” But this liberty could be had only at the expense of the weak State and submission of the vast part of the population.

The American Founding Fathers, on the other hand, worked on the assumption that the people are free to participate, and the role of the government is to mitigate the conflicts. To prevent anarchy, or impotence of the government, the State – the federal government – had to have considerable power. Polish liberum veto, which made it possible for one person to veto the majority decision, was the opposite of the majority principle.

Can you very briefly explain how such a system came about? Were there any serious political thinkers – like Grotius, Hobbes, Locke – behind it? Or was it something that was spontaneously generated during the historical process?

AN: The system was modeled on a Roman one that lasted only a little longer. And it was not Grotius, Hobbes, or Locke who supported the creation of this system, but much more “serious thinkers” – Aristotle and Cicero first of all.

The founders of Polish republicanism modeled themselves on their works above all. They believed, somewhat anachronistically, that in the sixteenth or seventeenth century their republicanism could exist between Moscow – the “third Rome”- the Ottoman Empire, the Habsburg Empire and the Protestant military monarchy of the Swedes, the Commonwealth, i.e. the republic – as in Cicero or Aristotle (monarchia mixta), with the Polish nobility as equals, the Seym (the parliament) as a concilium plebis, the senate as the senate, and the king as an elected consul or princeps.

This is how Jan Zamoyski, influential co-founder of this system, imagined an extremely influential co-founder of this system. Zamoyski authored the Latin treatise on the Roman Senate, and was at the same time chancellor and hetman of the Republic of Poland at the end of the 16th century. He was the author of the concept of the free election of a king, in which every noble had an equal voting right. Thus, theoretically, it had the right to vote, active and passive(!), with several hundred thousand citizens of the Republic of Poland (in practice, the election of the king came from 10 to 40 thousand).

The right of veto was to secure the union with Lithuania. Lithuania was smaller than the Polish part of the union; it could always vote in the Sejm. Thanks to the right of veto, the Lithuanians could feel safer as a political minority. For the first time, a single veto, i.e., the vote of one deputy, broke the deliberations of the Seym only in 1652, that is, after a very long earlier period of efficient functioning of the Seym. The election instruction of the sejmik (imperative mandate), which elected a deputy to the Seym, was to guarantee the voting power of the local government.

There is no place here to analyze this system in detail, which was much more complex and effective (for at least 200 years) than the caricatures that Bodin or Montesquieu created on the basis of their ignorance and arrogance, or the ideological enemies of republican freedom, such as, Hobbes or Locke.

Let me refer you to the already available serious studies of this system, which can be found in English with Marc van Gelderen, Quentin Skinner, Anna Grześkowiak-Krwawicz, Edward Opaliński or Dorota Pietrzyk-Reeves, as well as the latest monograph by Richard Butterwick, published by Yale UP. (Light and Flame), which perfectly analyzes what you are asking about: the crisis of the Rzeczpospolita/Res Publica system in the 18th century and its repair in the legislation of the Great Seym in 1788-1792.

ZJ: I want to return to Russia, and explore a bit more the Dostoevsky question. As we said, he was Russian, Orthodox Christian, skeptical of science, which he thought was dangerous for man’s understanding of himself as a man endowed with free will, and thus responsible for his actions. As Dostoevsky observes in Notes, the belief that man’s behavior can be “tabulated and calculated” spells out the end of mankind.

Dostoyevsky understood that scientific thinking was bound to see man as a machine, whose life will be organized by the scientific state. This is the premise of Huxley’s “brave new world,” and, let me stress it, our world. We are daily bombarded by phrases such as “A new study shows…” “New research demonstrates…” Such phrases take away from us the power of making decisions about our individual lives.

Would you agree that for historical reasons, which brought Russia closer to Europe, early 19th century Russia became a focal point of Western civilization, where the problems of the modern West shone with much brighter intensity than in Western Europe. Nowhere – not in London, Paris, Berlin or even Warsaw – writers or philosophers reacted so intensely, as did Dostoevsky, at the thought of where the West was heading.

AN: But all that fascination with Russia, the “depth” of the Russian soul, which 20th century Western European writers discovered in Dostoevsky, can also be found in the great literature of Romantic Europe: in Adam Mickiewicz, Zygmunt Krasiński, but also in Shelley, Keats, and even earlier at Byron. The terrifying pattern of a “brave new world” can be found in the practical idea of the English philosopher, Jeremy Bentham.

To illustrate the relationship between the vision of horror, which Western thought was able to perfectly design, and the implementation of this vision, which was possible (for some time) only outside the West, e.g., in the authoritarian system of Russia, let me recall the history of the Panopticon. Jeremy Bentham had a brother, Samuel. Together they created a project of perfect supervision of imperfect humanity. They named it the Panopticon. They created it in Krzyczew (today on the eastern border of Belarus), which was occupied by Catherine II during the first partition of Poland.

Samuel Bentham found employment, like many world reform enthusiasts, in imperial Russia. Krzyczew and several thousand surrounding square versts taken from Lithuanian owners was given by the empress to her favorite Prince Grigory Potemkin. It was for him that the English engineer invented a new factory in the fall of 1786: a building with such a system of corridors and mirrors to be able to observe all its employees from one place. It was not about disciplining simple peasants in the area, but about supervising overseers brought in from England. To have control over every movement of those who are to act as “intelligence,” “professionals,” “elite.” This is the starting idea of the Panopticon.

Jeremy Bentham, who visited his brother in Krzyczew in 1787, was fascinated. He took up his idea and turned it into a project of an ideal prison, under the same name. He was ready to develop other applications of the same idea – apart from prisons and factories, also for hospitals and schools. See and supervise everyone without interruption. The prison inspector, playing this role, could, according to a utilitarian concept, combine business with pleasure: invite guests to his gallery, from which one could admire what the supervised do at any one time. Big Brother watches, controls and provides entertainment.

A union of perfect supervision, with the ideal of social transparency was to make life happy and safe (I recommend the movie The Circle from 2017, which shows perfectly how it works – and therefore destroyed by “right” criticism). Minimum pain, maximum pleasure. In England, the idea of the Bentham brothers was not realized – at least during their lifetime. In Russia, the younger brother did not manage to bring complete the factory: Potemkin sold Krzyczew in 1787 and set out to prepare the way for Catherine II’s triumphal journey from St. Petersburg to the Black Sea.

Samuel Bentham busied himself with the construction of Potemkin villages along the route. He returned to the idea of the Panopticon in 1806, when commissioned by Tsar Alexander I, he built such a school in St. Petersburg. A perfect prison according to the model of the Bentham brothers, including the US and Cuba, was only constructed with the use of electronic surveillance bracelets in Amsterdam, the capital of post-modern utility and pleasure (drugs plus euthanasia), in 2006.

ZJ: Dostoevsky’s suspicion of the West appears to be a distinguishing feature of the Russian mentality. But suspicion can translate itself into a political posture that one country assumes vis-à-vis other countries or civilizations. Suspicion can also produce a mentality which has a sense of its own of mission. Russia, like America, believes that it has a historical mission. Marquis de Custine, a French aristocrat who visited Russia, even prophesized that that the fate of the 20th century would be decided by Russia and America.

Let me quote here the 15th century letter by Philotheus of Pskov, which he wrote to the Grand Duke Basil III of Moscow: “The Church of Old Rome fell because of its heresy; the gates of the Second Rome, Constantinople, have been hewn down by the axes of the infidel Turks; but the Church of Moscow, the Church of the New Rome, shines brighter than the Sun in the whole Universe… Two Romes have fallen, but the Third stands fast; a fourth there cannot be.”

If you take the message of the letter to be an expression of a mind-set, there is Putin’s rule today, in that he sees nothing wrong with 74 years of Communist rule in Russia; he pours tears over the collapse of the Soviet Union as the greatest disaster of the 20th century. Russia’s aggressive posturing under Putin appears to be more than lack of civility, or even cynicism of a former KGB agent. Russia in Putin’s mind continues to be a country with a historical mission.

Arnold Toynbee, who used this letter in a chapter on Russia in his Civilization on Trial (1948), wrote: “In thus assuming the Byzantine heritage deliberately and self-consciously, the Russians were taking over, among other things, the traditional Byzantine attitude towards the West; and this has had a profound effect on Russia’s own attitude towards the West, not only before the Revolution of 1917 but after it.”

Ultimately, it would appear that today’s world expresses the ideas that go back to the sources of our civilizations: Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin) Christianity, Eastern and Western Roman Empires, two different sets of political culture, political institutions. We find the echo of it in Dostoevsky too, in “The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor,” in his criticism of Caesaro-papism, don’t we?

AN: Russia is born with a sense of a threat to its civilizational identity; it defends itself against the specter of political and spiritual colonization. This is how the fundamental idea of Russia is formed: Moscow – the Third Rome. Ruthenia linked its identity with Byzantium, with the Orthodox center of civilization. In 988, at the time of Vladimir the Great’s choice of state religion for Kievan Rus, this Byzantine center seemed to be an unchallenged alternative to “Latin” identity. In the 15th century, this center collapsed.

Orthodox civilization was then the basis of identity of only one sovereign political center: Moscow. Triumphant “Latin” pressed on it from the West, and Islam from the South. If Moscow dies, all civilization will die. Civilizational violence threatens the Orthodox world primarily from the West, from the “Latin” side. Byzantium itself succumbed to the West’s temptation just before the fall, accepting the ecclesiastical union in Florence (Moscow rejects this temptation). However, at stake in this game is not only defense against civilizational violence. The fate of the world is at stake, since it is about defending not so much one civilization as such, but the only true religion and its place in the world. Philotheus, the monk of the Pskov monastery of Eleazar, writes about it, puts this thought into words and presents it as an ideal-mission addressed to the power of the Moscow principality.

Easter Procession in the Region of Kursk, by Ilya Repin, panted ca. 1880-1883.

Laid out for the first time in a message to Grand Duke Vasilii III (around 1514-1521) and elaborated in letters in the years following, the idea of Moscow – Rome III – became the best known and most frequently updated concept of Russia’s special mission from the 19th to the 21st century. Thanks to this, Philotheus can be considered the first intellectual in the history of Russia. He is not an official writing for the state.

He is, in a sense, a man from the margins (Pskov had only just joined Moscow in 1510), passionately experiencing public affairs, the affairs of his spiritual and political community and seeking to rescue it in the face of a new great “civilizational” challenge. He seeks this rescue in the sphere of ideas and suggests it to the authorities. He does not appear as an unconditional servant of this authority, but shows its immense responsibility to protect the great idea it reveals.

Philotheus also shows examples of the betrayal of this idea by the state power – in Rome I and in Rome II (Byzantium) – and the punishment of the inevitable fall that the government’s betrayal of the ideal entails. Philotheus teaches authority: “let him know… let him remember….” He sets the condition: “If you will arrange your empire well – you will be a son of light and an inhabitant of upper Jerusalem, and, as I wrote above, so now I say: beware and note that all Christian empires have joined in yours, that two Romes have fallen and the third is standing. There will be no fourth. Contrary to the widespread interpretation of this text, it seems that it is not an unequivocal expression of faith that Moscow will always remain Rome III, that it will certainly bear the burden of this responsibility. Moscow is also threatened with the “Sodom sin,” an internal apostasy warned against by the voice of a 16th-century “intellectual.”

The Soul of the Russian People, by Mikhail Nesterov, painted in 1916.

Philotheus only states that Moscow has no one to replace it, in its great mission to save the truth and the world. If it collapses – Rome will certainly not exist; there will be no more truth and justice in the world. That is why Moscow must not be allowed to fall! This is the pathos of the mission assigned by Philotheus to the Orthodox empire, and thus the pathos of his own, “first intelligence” of the mission.

Combined with Moscow’s heritage of Rome – empire, strength, and Jerusalem – is the heritage of the spirit. And against the world in which “lies in evil.” In practice, to the ”Latin” and Western world, which in the 16th century, after an internal split connected with the Reformation, and which entered the phase of great colonial expansion and became an obvious source of the problem of modernization and, at the same time, Moscow gives models and techniques for solving it. Russia needs to strengthen its empire to save its spiritual identity from the threat from the West, and thus maintain the ability to salvage/save/liberate the whole world. This is how the thought of Philoteus is read by some in intellectual circles and is not without influence on contemporary public opinion in Russia.

ZJ: Hostility, mutual suspicion between the Russians and the Poles is well known. The Polish see Russians as aggressors, the country that dismembered Poland in the 18th century, that erased the Dutchy of Warsaw in the 19th century. The Poles fought the Russians in the 1919-1920 war, after Poland regained statehood in 1918, after 123 years. Finally, it was Soviet Russia which imposed communist rule on Poland after WWII. This is only a handful of historical events that shape the attitude of the Poles toward Russia. Putin’s hostile attitude toward Poland today can be seen as the continuation of “the old story.”

However, looking at Polish-Russian relationships in a long historical perspective, one can see a different picture. If one takes into account the Polish conquest of most of White Russia and the Ukraine – in the 17th century Polish forces came close to Moscow, but were driven out. Russia can see itself not as aggressor but as a victim of Western aggression, of Western or Latin Christianity against the true Eastern Christianity, the Orthodox Church. If you add to it Napoleon’s Russian adventure, then the German invasion, the feeling of victimhood gets more augmented. One could say, Russia’s imperial posture was never motivated by the desire to dominate others but was a defensive posture, a posture that Russia had to assume to save herself and her Orthodox faith. Can such an argument on behalf of Russia be made?

AN: Yes, Russia has for centuries justified its expansion with the need to obtain a “security buffer” that would protect it against aggressive neighbors from the East and West. When Moscow began its expansion in the 15th century, it occupied a territory the size of the state of Utah. She “felt” threatened by her neighbors, such as the Tver principality or the republic of Novgorod – she absorbed these neighbors.

Then she “felt” threatened by subsequent neighbors. In the West, it was Lithuania, which was joined in the 14th century by many small principalities of Kievan Rus (today’s Ukraine and Belarus), emerging from the rule of the Mongolian Golden Horde. Moscow then announced the ideology of “collecting Ruthenian lands” (which had never belonged to Moscow before).

Poland did not make any conquest of the lands of Belarus or Ukraine, but entered into a dynastic union with Lithuania in 1385 – and on this basis (the marriage of the Grand Duke of Lithuania Jagiełło with the Queen of Poland, Jadwiga), a state union was established, which for four hundred years united Poland and Grand Duchy of Lithuania, including the lands of today’s Belarus and Ukraine.

During these four hundred years, Moscow had been waging a series of wars in which it had finally taken all these territories, except for a small scrap of former Russia which was occupied by Austria as a result of the partitions of Poland.

On the Kulikovo Field, by Pavel Ryzhenko, painted in 2005.

At the same time, in the East, Moscow “felt” threatened by the remnants of the Mongolian Golden Horde, the Kazan, Astrakhan and Siberian khanates – and conquered them militarily in half a century (1550-1600).

Then, of course, it was “threatened” again by successive neighbors, small khanates, in Central Asia – it took them all by the mid-19th century. It also reached China at the end of the 17th century. And she felt “threatened” by China. However, it has not managed to permanently remove this threat, that is, to conquer China.

In the South, Russia “felt,” from the 16th century, “threatened” by Turkey and Persia, so it began to conquer their possessions, including Transcaucasia – Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, as well as the Crimean Khanate on the Black Sea. It has not yet conquered Turkey itself (although that was the goal of Russian policy from the end of the 18th century). But she still “feels” threatened by Turkey. After the partition of Poland, under Catherine II at the end of the 18th century, Russia became a neighbor of Prussia. Of course, she “felt” threatened by the power of Germany united by Prussia in the times of Bismarck.

If we adopt such a logic of a threat that justifies defensive conquests only. Then let us note that from the 15th century to the end of the 18th century, Russia conquered on average about 60,000 square kilometers each year, combined territories of Maryland and Massachusetts. Each year, Russia was enlarging its territory in this way for over 300 years!

Stalin, in the name of this logic, persuaded Roosevelt to agree in Tehran and Yalta to give Russia (the Soviet Union) a “security buffer” covering all of Eastern and Central Europe, including Prague, Budapest, Warsaw, and including half of Berlin and Vienna. Of course, he still could not “feel” safe. Russia’s security can only mean to bring the whole of Eurasia under its control, from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

You can accept this reasoning only if you see in it an analogy to the American “Manifest Destiny.” But it is worth asking the opinion of the inhabitants of all the countries that first Moscow, then imperial Russia, and finally the Soviet Union, conquered in the name of Russia’s “sense of security” and the right to “self-defense.”

ZJ: Let us talk about 1989, the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe, and 1991, the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Eastern European countries rushed to join the EU. Russia, on the other hand, is where it always was. For the Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians, the citizens of the Baltic states – Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia (former Soviet “republics”) – the motivation was not just economic but cultural above all. One could hear the language of “returning to Europe” after decades of the culturally foreign rule. What prevented Russia from getting closer to Europe after the collapse of Communism?

AN: We need to remember, Russia has formed its political and cultural identity as an Orthodox empire, in contrast, often, against Latin, that is, Catholic Europe. Under Mongol rule for two and a half centuries, it was, as it were, forcibly opened to Asia. Since the 15th century, Moscow, pursuing a policy of “collecting Ruthenian lands,” entered into intense diplomatic and trade relations with European powers: the Habsburg Empire, and the England of Elizabeth, in order to geopolitically surround its immediate neighbors.

However, Russia did not participate in the spiritual life of Europe, in the crucial period of the Renaissance. Only from the Baroque, actually from the end of the 17th century, does Russia interact with the intellectual currents animating European culture. At that time, however, Russia had already made a great march in the opposite direction to the former Asian steppe empires – from the Western end of the Great Steppe, over the Black Sea, it reached the Pacific; in the 17th century it began to border China, Korea, followed by Japan.

Such a geopolitically enlarged Russia could no longer enter Europe, “fit” in it. The intellectual challenge, often fascinatingly analyzed by Russian writers and ideologues, is not “Russia in Europe,” but “Russia and Europe.” Space – prostor – history and religion make up a deeply rooted political culture in Russia. Together they create a “mental map” on which the memory of Tchaikovsky’s ballets, Pushkin’s poems or Dostoevsky’s novels is not “evidence” of Russia’s Europeanness, but a reason for imperial pride, along with the equally grateful memory of Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, and Stalin.

ZJ: Let me go back one more time to 1989. One thing one notices is that the 1989 European dream in Eastern European countries is gone, and to some, the dream became a nightmare. Brexit is the prime example of that. The British sentiment can be said to be this – we did not sign up for that. We did not think our sovereignty would be limited to such an extent. This is what one hears in Budapest and Warsaw.

Recently, I asked a Polish politician – what do you think of a Polish Brexit? To my surprise, he said: “Nothing would make me happier.” Let me stress – this is not a view prevalent among Poles, most of them like where they are. But there is a considerable segment of Polish society which considers it as a serious intellectual option. The reason is the sovereignty of the Polish or Hungarian state, which EU crushes – the sovereignty that Poland was deprived of, first by partition and then the Soviet rule. It should not surprise anyone why Poles (but also others) are sensitive about a bunch of Euro-bureaucrats deciding their fate. You cannot be yourself – English, Polish, French, Italian – you must be a “European,” which means being a total abstraction.

A few months ago, I saw a headline in a major Polish newspaper: “EU must defend its citizens in Poland.” The article concerned so called minorities. According to the liberal Polish newspaper, they are EU citizens and therefore, Polish laws are violations of their rights as EU citizens. One wants to repeat after Bentham, it is nonsense on stilts, yet it is the de facto European reality. Was the post-communist dream false, or did the West change in the last 30 years?

AN: Both. The expectations of the intellectual opposition in Poland towards the West were certainly exaggerated. The image of the “free world” depicted in our imagination in contrast to the gray and openly oppressive world of the “Communist camp” was idealized.

At the same time, however, it must be remembered that the West in 1989 was still the West, politically represented by Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and above all – John Paul II was in Rome. Back then in Europe they referred to the so-called founding fathers of the European Union, to their Christian-democratic roots: Konrad Adenauer, Alcide de Gasperi, Robert Schuman.

Marxism, after the obvious failure of this ideology in the countries under its authority, seemed finished, at least from our perspective. In 2020, you can see how Marxist inspiration fills the longest shelves with philosophy and politics in bookstores in Paris and London. As it dominates universities in Western Europe and our part of Europe, described in a postcolonial way as “new” (“new” democracies, “new” Europe, etc.), it actually follows these trends in a way that perfectly confirms the mechanisms described by some theorists of postcolonial studies.

However, part of the “intellectual layer,” and many so-called ordinary people, in countries with a strong historical and cultural identity of their own, such as Hungary, Poland or the Czech Republic, still keep the memory of the real experience of enslavement by the Communist logocracy, from which today comes the political correctness that dominates in the West and is imposed on us. That is why this new enslavement, this time coming from the West, is met with some resistance here.

However, fears of the real neo-imperialism of Putin’s Russia do not allow countries, such as Poland or Lithuania, to suddenly cut off from the European community, even in its present, disastrous shape. We can try to change Europe, stop this fatal process from within. This is what worries the Brussels, Parisian and Berlin political and intellectual elites. They ascribe to themselves the role of teacher and therapist for a “backward,” “sick” part of Europe (here the most frequently mentioned are Hungary and Poland).

In fact, I see in this attitude also a deep fear that the attitude of the elites currently ruling in Poland and Hungary, in matters of culture, customs, understanding of the European tradition – may turn out to be attractive to many Germans, French, Italians, and Spaniards – who do not necessarily want to run after the “bright future” promised by European progress officials. Many European people are looking to defend their common sense against ideological madness. Some people recall that Europe has always been rich because of its diversity and not of top-down centralization, and not by exchanging arguments about the good life, development models, and not by imposing “just the right approach.”

ZJ: What you have said makes me think of a famous sentence from John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty (1859): “Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement, and the means justified by actually effecting the end. Liberty, as a principle, has no application to any state of things anterior to the time when mankind have become capable of being improved by free and equal discussion. Until then, there is nothing for them but implicit obedience to an Akbar or a Charlemagne, if they are so fortunate to find one.”

Unlike democracy, despotism or autocracy, with which we associate the Orient and Russia, is not a political system or a theory of government. Rather, it is mode of governing a people. As a specialist on Russia, can you say that Mill’s words apply well to the state of Russian society at that time? In other words, is autocracy a system of government – the only force that could guarantee social and political order?

AN: I would disagree. Aleksander Wat, a Polish futurist poet who passed through nearly 20 prisons of Stalinist Russia during World War II, once gave a very good definition of the Soviet system – the absolute concentration of absolute power on an absolutely large area. An alternative to despotism (i.e., centralism) may be federalism – the development of regional self-government in a territorially large state.

Let me remind you that until the beginning of the 16th century, the Polish-Lithuanian state was larger in terms of territory than Moscow and until the partitions (in 1772) it was the second largest state on the European continent. And it was on such a large area that a system of decentralized authority was created, based on local self-government (district councils), which functioned well from at least the 15th to the 17th century.

As is known in the United States, this system continues. In Moscow, they also showed possibilities of developing a system of representation of the society several times: at the beginning of the 17th century, in the form of the so-called “earthly councils.” The movement of local, that is, earthly self-government, became strong again at the end of the 19th century – this is the self-government in which people like Chekhov and the heroes of his plays could find their place.

The defenders of despotism as the only recipe for the problems of the great state refer to one argument above all: if we do not have a tsar and we do not listen to him – then we will lose the empire. Putin successfully appealed to this argument after the last great experience of the crisis of the empire, which also coincided with the revival of Russian self-government – in 1991.

Ultimately, the dilemma faced by the supporters of this power for Russians (and not only for them) is – either size (grandezza as Machiavelli would say), or freedom – a liberta. You want greatness, give up your (republican, self-governing) freedom. At the same time, a new tone appears in this argumentation – state despotism (meaning the lack of civil self-government) can be reconciled with liberalism – economic and the right to privacy.

In the Russian philosophical tradition of Slavicism, there is such a contrast – the state is a heavy-duty power – and society willingly gives its burden to the people of power, and itself enjoys non-political freedom. And this is probably not only the Russian tradition, but the constantly reviving temptation to organize political life without citizens. There is only the state (and its guardians) – and on the other end – individual consumers.

ZJ: Could one say the same thing about China, and the Chinese leaders’ rhetoric that we have been hearing for about 20 years – that what China fears the most is anarchy. Ergo, the Chinese Communist Party is the sole guardian of social order; and since anarchy is worse than anything, despotism or autocracy is a legitimate way of governing the population. Some 15 years ago, Boris Johnson wrote a piece for the Spectator, where he accepted this view about anarchy in China, which makes me think that Chinese rhetoric works. Today Johnson is Prime minister, and what he thinks can translate into his country’s foreign policy.

AN: China has just adopted the model I outlined at the end of the answer to the previous question. Does this mean that it is the only model that suits the Chinese? After an intense indoctrination lasting for generations, one can get this impression. The Chinese from Hong Kong have a different opinion, however.

Please allow me to express my opinion on Prime Minister Johnson’s view and on Mill’s remark earlier cited. Well, I see them as a reflection of the imperial-colonial tradition, especially strong in the English (later also American) elites. Outside of Great Britain, and maybe even outside the club, which brings together the elite from Eton and Oxbridge, there are actually no gentlemen. There are barbarians all around – at least to the East of Germany are surely the habitats of barbaria. The barbarians living there can be cannibals, if that suits them, we – gentlemen from the club – will not hinder trading with them.

The most cynical example of this attitude I found in the liberal prime minister, David Lloyd George, who in 1920, when he initiated political negotiations with Lenin, said that he did not care about the political principles of these barbarians, let them even have the Mikado – it is their business, as long as they kill other barbarians (this is what Lloyd George meant about the Armia Czerowna – the Red Army – which at that moment was storming Warsaw). And let them get together as they please – this is their freedom. And this is our liberalism that we will not impose our political standards on them. We must reach an agreement with them, if they are so strong that without them it is impossible to establish a global order. This is a specific combination of liberalism (à la Lloyd George) and imperial Realpolitik.

In America, this is the approach of many – formerly Henry Kissinger, now John Mearsheimer. For me, this is a very short-sighted doctrine of appeasement – the false hope that aggressive despotism will feed on victims only from the circle of “barbarians.” Eventually, however, comes the moment when the “barbarians” start eating the gentlemen. Such is the logic of despotic empires. It is perfectly summarized by the saying of Bezborodko, Chancellor of Catherine II – what does not grow, rots. The despotic empire must continue to expand – otherwise it risks imploding. And they know this very well not only in Russia, but also in China. It is good that this has also been remembered in London and Chicago.

ZJ: Now that the Democrat Biden has become president of the United States, we will have a different foreign policy. If you were on the team of Russia advisers to the president, what would you say should be the US policy vis-à-vis Russia?

AN: President Biden will have other advisers. I can only express some concerns based on the historical experience with the presidents of the United States, who over the past three decades came from the Democratic Party and represented a left-liberal ideology. They were, let me remind you, Bill Clinton and Barrack Obama.

The former started with dreams of a “reset” with Russia. Fortunately, Russia was so weak during this period that it could not take advantage of this policy. The disaster happened under Obama, who has the blood of hundreds of thousands of people in Syria on his hands. His complete irresponsibility led to an escalation of the civil war and to the re-installing of Putin’s Russia as a key player in the Middle East.

Obama also made a significant gesture to Putin – he resigned from the project adopted by the previous administration (Bush Jr.) to install the so-called anti-missile shield in Poland. President Obama announced his decision to withdraw from this project, which was indeed very irritating to Putin and which strengthened the sense of security for Poland and the entire region of Central and Eastern Europe, on September 17, 2009. It was exactly the 70th anniversary of the Red Army’s invasion of Poland in 1939.

Putin may have felt invited to a new expansion – and he tried it in Ukraine. At that time, however, President Obama was probably instructed by people who knew the rules of world security better than him – and there was a certain reaction to the aggression in Crimea, and then in the Donbas.

What am I afraid of? That under the slogan of the fight for a “brave new world,” led again by liberal America, the US president will not recognize that it is not good stigmatizing smaller countries that do not accept this ideology and handing them over to Russia as “pariahs of the democratic order.” It does not have to be democratic or liberal, but it is very important to this vision of “restoring order” that it be fulfilled by restoring its former zone of domination (Ukraine? Maybe Poland? Maybe most of Central and Eastern Europe?).

In short, I am afraid of combining the slogans of the ideological “crusade” (actually, anti-crusade) inside the so-called Western community, understood as a community of LGBTQ+ rights and unlimited abortion – with a practical policy of the so-called realism in relations with non-Western empires such as Russia. The costs of such a policy would be paid primarily by the countries of the inter-imperial border, such as Poland, Lithuania, or – on the border with China – Korea and Taiwan.

ZJ: Given what you said about Russia and China, it seems to me to be only proper to invoke here two Frenchmen. In the 1830, they embarked on long trips in two different directions – Alexis de Tocqueville went to America; Marquis de Custine went to Russia.

Not much was known about the two countries. Before Tocqueville published his book, there were, I believe, only three or four books about America. Tocqueville’s and his young companion Beaumont’s books were the first ones to offer an exhaustive view of both the country and, above all, American democracy.

De Custine, on the other hand, was looking for an alternative to democracy. For Custine, in the words of Robin Buss, the English translator and editor of his Letters, “democracy meant mob rule and the dictatorship of public opinion, through rabble-rousing speeches and the press.” Encouraged by his friend Balzac and the Polish Count Ignacy Gurowski, he set out for Russia.

The fruit of his visit is Russia (1839), or The Letters from Russia.
By today’s standards, Tocqueville’s book is an international bestseller, and everyone who wants to understand democracy must read it. Given its success in the 20th century, the popularity of Tocqueville’s work is not surprising. However, the 21st century is different.

The rise of China with its autocratic style of government should be of concern to everyone. Russian democracy is a democracy in name only; for all intents and purposes it is a mild form of old autocracy. The difference between it and China is that the Chinese rulers do not hide their contempt for democracy, Xi Jing Ping openly says that the system is a failure. Both leaders share two things – the respective countries’ tradition of autocratic rule (strengthened in the 20th century by the experience of Communism) and the belief that only autocratic rule is capable of preventing a country from sliding into anarchy.

Would you agree that given democracy’s current performance in America and Europe, there is every reason to read de Custine’s account.

AN: People knew quite a lot about Russia in France before de Custine. Let us recall, for example, that the French Grand Army visited Russia in 1812, and two years later France was “returned” by the Russian army (Normandy was a Russian occupation zone for two years). A lot of arguments have already been gathered, both on the side of Russophobia and Russophilia.

The first French treaty stigmatizing the Russian political system as oriental despotism was published in 1771. It was written by Abbé Chappe d’Auteroche who visited Siberia (voluntarily), and Catherine II herself replied to him with a two-volume refutation of his arguments (I write about it at length in my recent book, entitled, Metamorphoses of the Russian Empire 1721-1921). This work, published immediately in French under the title Antidote and translated into English, was not only the defense of Russia’s right to the name of a European power, but also the justification of the autocracy.

As I argue in this book, in such a huge country as Russia, another form of power would lead to disintegration. The Russian system is not despotic, but a noble, enlightened absolutism, motivated by concern for the greatness of the state and the welfare of its subjects. So much for Catherine the Great. And it is so today, until the time of Putin’s apologists.

These arguments excellently convinced the French elite (and not only them). After all, Montesquieu said the same – this is why we should refer to de Custine’s work, because it helps us understand that the nature of the Russian despotic system is not autocracy itself, but above all lies, systematic, omnipresent, gradually disturbing cognitive abilities. The lie of the subjects against the authorities, the lie of the authorities against the subjects, and the systematic lie of the power of the Empire against its foreign partners.

No partner is actually a partner; each one is treated as an enemy to be deceived and manipulated. The KGB school, from which most of Russia’s current political elite hails, has raised this ability to lie to an incomparably higher degree than was possible in the days of Nicholas I and de Custine.

The contradiction of the various “narratives” that this Russian rule presents about itself is staggering. For the right wing, Putin is to be the “eschaton” of the Christian order, the last defender of the Cross against neo-paganism and Islam. For the Left (the propaganda of the Russia Today television station is addressed to this audience) – the last tough opponent of hated America, to some extent heir to Lenin’s Russia. For Western businessmen – a model of a good business partner. And so on. Whoever reads de Custine will understand the genesis of these narratives.

ZJ: Russia is not the only country that created national myths, such as the Third Rome. Other nations have this tendency too: Rule Britannia, the City on the Hill, the Third Reich, and many, many others.

The Poles – very much like the French – are obsessed with national history. They created a myth which is not about ruling the world but saving the Western World from barbarian onslaught. It is the myth of the antemurale chirstianitatis, the Bulwark of Christianity. The origin of it is not Polish. As far as I know, it was coined in 15th century, during the papacy of Pius II. It was Skadenberg, an Albanian Nobleman, who coined the term, which meant that Albania (and Croatia) was Italy’s Christian bulwark against the Ottoman Empire. Poles adopted it; it functions in Poland, but in Poland it means more than the fight against the Muslims or infidels at the battle of Vienna on September 11 (!) 1683, where the Poles defeated the Turks.
It is understood as antemurale against the East, Orient, the oriental despotism. It includes Russia as a barbarian force as well. Given the Christian (Orthodox) nature of Russia, is this historical vision justified; and using it against Eastern Orthodoxy, are we not in danger of creating a false historical imagination?

AN: I do not know if Poles are “obsessed” with national history. I have a different impression when I look at the youth which is protesting today in the streets of Polish cities with the most vulgar words, to emphasize their hatred for the Catholic Church, Christian tradition and the historical identity of Poland.

Let me make a comment on this issue. It is difficult, for example, for Belgium to be “obsessed” with its history, since it was created as a completely artificial state entity less than 200 years ago. It is difficult for Germany to express “obsession with history,” that is pride in its tradition, for obvious reasons. Simply put, nations have different histories, of different lengths, and different intensity as to how this history is experienced by social groups of different sizes. No one matches China in this respect. When you compare Poles with Jews, the Jews will undoubtedly turn out to be a nation much more “obsessed with their history.”

And now about the “bulwark of Christianity.” Again – a complete misunderstanding. The idea of a bulwark appears in Polish history in 1241 – during the great Mongol invasion. After the conquest of Ruthenia (Kievan Rus’ or Ruthenia!!! – not Russia), the Mongols moved to Hungary and Poland. On April 9, 1241, the prince of Poland, Henry the Pious blocked the way of the Mongols near Legnica. He led about 7000 – 8000 Polish and German knights, including 36 Templars. The prince was killed, the battle was lost, but the Mongols, having suffered heavy losses (similar to the parallel battle fought in Hungary), turned back.

The mood in Latin Europe at that time was truly apocalyptic. The fear of the Mongols as invaders from a completely different, completely alien world, as if of an invasion of the Martians, paralyzed the will of defense in many, but fired the imagination of no fewer people in the Latin West. Part of the Jewish communities scattered around the cities of the Reich were very excited about the news of the mysterious approaching Mongols. The Jews waited for liberation in the year of 5000 (1240/1241), which was exactly at this time on their calendar. There were also those who expected such liberation to come from the hands of the Mongols. In fact, some even saw in Genghis Khan the Messiah, the son of David.

After the defeat in Legnica, the echoes quickly reached even out to Frankfurt am Main, where the local Jews in May opposed with unprecedented audacity the baptism of one of their fellow believers who had freely chosen Christianity. It ended on May 24 with a terrible pogrom, which brought upon the Jews the fear of the Frankfurters and rumors of favoring the wild invaders from the East by the followers of Moses. The threatened rulers, including the Hungarian king Béla IV, the Czech king Wenceslaus I, Prince Frederick of Austria, and the emperor Frederick II Hohenstaufen himself, in letters, called for defense against the Mongols.

This was the context in which in Poland, Henryk the Pious, Legnica appeared, the heroic but lost fight on the Eastern fringes of the empire and Latin Europe. And this was the beginning of not only a myth, but a practical experience, the last (thus far) military act which, in Poland, is considered as having stopped the invasion of Central Europe by the Bolshevik Red Army in the summer of 1920, in the Battle of Warsaw. Legnica 1241 was most often mentioned in the journalism of the time. Will new experiences be added to this in the 21st century? I do not know, but I do not rule it out.

ZJ: Allow me to finish this conversation with a question which has been on my mind for many years. At the beginning of the 1990s, Poles coined the word “lustracja” (from the word “lustro,” mirror) which means “mirroring.” It is a made-up term that describes the process of making former communists, State apparatchiks, secret agents and collaborators accountable for their participation in building socialism.
In the post-communist societies people who did not support socialism, who suffered, who were persecuted or prevented from social advancement felt it necessary to expose those who upheld the system, who held power at the expense of the people who refused to participate in the Great Lie.

It was a form of showing the former commies and collaborators that their participation in the system was simply a matter of human indecency.

Unlike Poland, former Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Russia have never undergone such a process – no moral or legal punishment for the former communists and collaborators. The old communists and collaborators, KGB agents, like Putin, became the lords of the New Russia. No such thing would be imaginable in Soviet satellite countries.

In your expert opinion, first, how significant has been the lack of “lustration” for the moral health of Russia, and, second, did the Russians realize what Communism did to Russia?

AN: The importance of this issue was best described by James Billington, an outstanding scholar of Russian thought and culture, in his book Russia in Search of Itself. Let me quote a key excerpt from the summary of this book: “There are essentially four ways that a nation can move beyond the fact of massive complicity in unprecedented evil. 1. Remove the problem from public consciousness. 2. Transfer the burden of evil to others. 3 . Evade the problem of evil in society by creating a noble personal philosophy for an elite. 4. Overcome evil by accepting the redemptive power of innocent suffering.”

This book was published in 2004. In 2020, it can be said that the official policy of remembrance in Putin’s Russia is a combination of the first two attitudes. The attitude most consistent with the Christian, Orthodox tradition, listed as the fourth in this list, has been marginalized.

As early as 2004, Billington was able to accurately pinpoint the cause of this state of affairs: “What is missing for this fact to open up broader redemptive possibilities for the Russian people is accountability, or even searching self-scrutiny, on the part of the Church itself.”

I am sorry to note that the lack of full accountability in a part of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Poland, for the cooperative spying of a small minority of priests with the communist police system in 1945-1989, also brings poisoned fruit into my country, Poland.

ZJ: Do you see any similarities between this and participating in all kinds of PC projects today – which is all morally questionable? Many people in the West, especially in academia, sold themselves to the Devil for the same reason that communists of old did. They are willing to justify today’s injustice in the name of future benefits. I am afraid, they, like the former commies will wake up from their dream of the better world, where all are equal and happy – very disappointed.

AN: Conformism, the lack of civil courage, is the most important, established and widespread feature of academia, at least in the humanities and social sciences. The ideology of “emancipation,” which today is the main instrument of the degradation of these areas, works – in my opinion – on a slightly different principle than you presented in your question.

In fact, under the lofty slogans of redressing past wrongs (towards women, animals, sexual minorities, and countries once colonized), professors of sociology, English studies, philosophy, political science, history and similar fields (displaced by new, more politically correct combinations) are ruthlessly fighting for their particular, current interests – for survival in a ruthless struggle. Survival of the fittest – this is the reality of this essentially amoral struggle, in which the stakes are a professorship, appearing on television, or the role of a social media star – and the alternative is the loss of a job, or experience of attacks by the media and environmental campaigns.

Adapt to the ideology currently imposed by the big media and their disposers – this is the method of survival. This is how the cultural revolution unfolds, more and more like the one that swept through China under Mao Zedong. Anyone who does not want the media and groups of students manipulated by it – to put on a “hat of shame” (as was done in China) – must join in stigmatizing colleagues who are still defending themselves against such degradation.

There is no labor camp waiting for them yet, but it is becoming more and more real to hand over those who still have the courage to think “incorrectly” to therapy, into the hands of therapists who will, anyway, remove “wrong” thoughts, concepts, and memories from their defiant heads. .

Probably no one has described the attitudes of intellectuals subjected to terror and the temptation to justify their cowardice better than the Polish poet Czesław Miłosz in his book, The Captive Mind. It is a book written in 1951 about the Polish intelligentsia conquered by the Stalinist diamat (dialectical materialism). This is also a book about the situation today at American and European universities. It is worth reading again.”

ZJ: Thank you, Dr. Nowak for this enlightening conversation.

The image shows, “Introduction of Christianity in Poland,” by Jan Matejko, painted in 1889.

Civil War In Finland

You have likely never heard of the Finnish Civil War. A brief war, in some ways a simple war, it lasted only three months, from late January to late April, 1918, but killed around one percent of the population. It was started by the Left, the Reds, and ended by the rest of Finnish society, the Whites, who crushed the Reds, preserving Finland from the fate of Bolshevik Russia. This war is an object lesson in how even a homogenous, largely united country can quickly end up in civil war when part of the population becomes gripped with Left ideology, and it is also an object lesson in what to do in response.

There is more than one reason you have not heard of this war. Finland is obscure, as shown by that there is apparently an internet myth that Finland itself is a fiction cooked up by the Japanese and the Russians to preserve bountiful fishing grounds that exist where maps show Finland to be. More importantly, perhaps, other events in 1918 had much greater historical consequence—the Bolshevik Revolution and the height of World War I occurred at precisely the same time.

But just as relevant to this war being unknown is that the Left, who for over seventy years has written the histories taught to us, is embarrassed and afraid that they lost the war, a war of rebellion they chose to begin because Finnish society rejected their poison. They know that their loss disproves the idea that the arrow of history points left, just as does their loss of the Spanish Civil War. They can’t ignore the Spanish Civil War, so they simply lie about it (and lie more as time goes on and the truth slides further from view). If the Finnish Reds had won, you would know about their triumph, which would be sold as a righteous victory. I am here today to remedy this historical amnesia.

Of course, the war is well-remembered in Finland itself. English-language sources, however, are few and far between; I bought and read every one of consequence. I started with a basic overall history of Finland, David Kirby’s A Concise History of Finland, which I separately reviewed a few weeks ago.

I then read what seems to be generally acknowledged as by far the most important English-language history, the massive The Finnish Revolution 1917–1918, by Anthony Upton. This book, a monograph in the old style of great detail and little editorial comment, was published in 1980 and was then translated into Finnish; apparently even in Finland (though I speak no Finnish at all) it is regarded as one of the, if not the, masterworks on the Civil War. Upton’s book narrates the run-up to the war and the war itself in day-by-day, nearly hour-by-hour, detail.

I also read a recent academic anthology, translated from the Finnish, The Finnish Civil War 1918, edited by Tuomas Tepora; and the updated second edition of Risto Alapuro’s State and Revolution in Finland. These two latter are less substantive than Upton’s work, but still thorough. And in this small selection, at least, the authors avoid propaganda masquerading as history, a real problem in books about the Spanish Civil War, although to be sure all three books lean toward the Reds.

Tepora’s volume spends far too much time on worthless areas like “gender and psychohistory,” but does contain some updated factual scholarship since Upton wrote. Alapuro’s work seems like it should be propaganda—he’s an avowed Marxist, and the book was published by an explicitly “radical left” press, Haymarket Books. Nonetheless, he strives to be neutral, and his biases tend to show up in his macro interpretations, not in distorting the actual history.

I also consulted some other books focused or bearing on the war, such as John H. Hodgson’s 1967 Communism in Finland; C. Jay Smith’s 1958 Finland and the Russian Revolution 1917–1922; Henning Söderhjelm’s The Red Insurrection in Finland, published in translation in London in 1919; The Memoirs of Marshal Mannerheim, by the key figure in the entire war, the White commander, Baron Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim; and German general Rüdiger von der Goltz’s My Mission in Finland and the Baltic.

Furthermore, brief discussions of the Civil War usually show up in detailed histories of the Bolshevik Revolution. Lenin and his compatriots took refuge in Finland after their failed coup of July 1917, and the Bolsheviks, as we will see, supported the Finnish Reds—though such support was ancillary to their own problems and focuses. Therefore, I studied some Bolshevik-oriented writings as well, even if none really added anything new.

From all these sources, it’s possible to get a complete picture of the Civil War. Although I can’t be certain, not having read the Finnish-language literature, it appears that the war is not subject to the kind of completely fabricated propaganda typically generated by the Left during its conflicts with the Right. Probably that is mostly because there were, and are, nearly no foreigners interested in the war who could be profitably targeted with such propaganda.

Moreover, in a small, homogeneous society and with the war being short and well-documented, it would be difficult to convincingly maintain manufactured falsehoods over the long term. Thus, propaganda about the war, during and after, was and is apparently confined to exaggeration, not fiction.

A note on terminology. I will here simply refer to the Finnish Civil War as the Civil War. For a long time it was referred to in Finland as the “War of Independence,” tying it to successfully separating Finland from Russia, and at the same time tarring the Reds with the brush of attempting to prevent Finnish independence. Which is true, but not because they wanted to be subject to Russia, rather they believed that socialism would usher in the Brotherhood of Man, making independence irrelevant.

The Finnish Left has long called the Civil War the “Class War,” and other names have been used as, since the 1960s, leftist influence has gained in Finnish historiography. The simplest name makes the most sense, and “Civil War” (or “Domestic War”) is apparently mostly used today among the Finnish public.

As to the participants, traditionally “Whites” and “Reds” have been the primary terms used, and I will often use those as well. True, a more accurate characterization of the Whites would be the “Loyalists” or “Republicans,” since they represented the legitimate democratic government (far more so than Spanish “Republicans”). That would be confusing, however. I will frequently use the catchall term “the revolutionary Left” for the Finnish Reds. As with any political movement, there were variations within their ranks, but in practice all acted under the umbrella of the Social Democratic Party, the SPD, which was a revolutionary Marxist party, and which, since there was no Finnish Communist party until well after the war, contained within itself all elements of far-left thought. One might make subtle distinctions, as in Russia among Social Revolutionaries, Mensheviks and Bolsheviks, but for our purposes, they were all the Left, committed to violent revolution.

Sometimes when reading about the Civil War, the reader is struck by the feeling that this was a stupid and wholly unnecessary war. The Left leadership contained no men of excellence or real drive; they were men of weak character who bounced from one crisis to another, often of their own incompetent manufacture, both before and during the war. They held the principles of Lenin, or close to them, in theory, and shrieked them loudly in the press, but shrank from their full application, which did nobody any favors. They were led to war, a war they, and they solely, chose to initiate, by the own iron logic of their ideology, unable to come up with creative approaches or to take the long view. And not having any line of demarcation to their left, they were inexorably drawn to ever more violence, in the usual dynamic of leftist movements.

Background

Finland did very well during the nineteenth century. For centuries it had been part of Sweden (and to this day Swedish is one of Finland’s two official languages), until Russia defeated Sweden, and in 1809 Finland became part of the Russian Empire, as the Grand Duchy of Finland. In practice, Finland occupied an advantageous position within the Empire, viewed as loyal to the Tsar and largely left to govern itself internally. Finns did not even have to serve in the Tsar’s armies, though many chose to make a career in the Russian military, and Finland was able to sell to Russian markets on advantageous terms (to the annoyance of many Russian nationalists).

Class divisions in Finland were not nearly as extreme as in some other European countries. Finland is sparsely populated and crop agriculture limited, so a good deal of Finland’s agriculture was husbandry, including dairy products, and timber, both wood itself and derivatives such as pine tar. Demand for all these products both from Russia and from Europe increased sharply during the century, enriching all of Finnish society, and at the same time creating some fractures within what had been a stolid, patriarchal-type society with a high degree of social satisfaction.

The small Finnish upper class based its wealth partially on land holdings (although most timber was owned by peasants), and partially on their position in administration of the state.

A handful of rich industrialists also emerged toward the end of the century (steam-powered sawmills were introduced in the 1860s), owning manufacturing concentrated in a few areas in southern Finland, notably Tampere. Crucially for the course of the war, the railroad network had become quite extensive by 1918, bringing a land of frozen lakes and roads made impassable by mud together, and allowing more industrial activity, mostly in the south but also in a few more-northern regional centers. Still, by 1914, there were only around 200,000 industrial laborers.

A large middle class existed, including very many smaller farmers who owned enough land to live comfortably (and more, if they owned significant timber). At the other end of the rural scale were landless laborers, who in that harsh land typically spent the winters in the forests cutting wood to make ends meet. In-between was a large group of crofters, who held long-term leases on land, often paid largely or wholly in-kind. Conflict between landowners and crofters arose when landowners perceived they could get better returns by ending the leases and hiring laborers—a problem exacerbated by that many of the leases were oral.

Also in the middle class were clergy (Finland was uniformly Lutheran) and civil servants of one type or another—as was common in many areas of Europe, government service was regarded as a prestigious employment.
What bound the Finns together, then and apparently now, was nationalism. Despite practical loyalty to the Tsar, Finns regarded the Russians as beneath them, and always had. All classes, top to bottom, idealized Finnish independence, in combination with a century-long national recapture of Finnish culture, such as the Finnish epic, the Kalevala.

The Russians made little effort to tamp down Finnish thought and speech about independence, but refused to even confirm the specifics of what the Finns saw as a special constitutional status, much less grant formal independence. The Finns played the long game, strengthening their cultural institutions and evincing a great degree of unity around the matter, but keeping it as an aspiration, not a concrete political goal. But in 1901 the Tsar introduced conscription, and the response was the politicization of the independence movement.

This politicization occurred at the same time as other political matters were fermenting. One was the issue of crofters’ holdings. Another was expanding the franchise, which for the most part was restricted to property holders. The SDP was formed in 1903, unopposed by the other classes, who (mostly incorrectly, as it turned out) thought that organized workers would be educated, and therefore responsible, workers. It was, as typical for such parties, a hard Marxist party, not what we think of as “social democracy” today.

The SDP was explicitly revolutionary from the start—but not with quite the same vigor as the Russian Marxists, rather similar to the German Marxists, whose program, as Upton says, they incorporated verbatim. They contemplated that the triumph of Communism was inevitable, and their job was to manage the inevitable. It is very important for us today to understand what seems to us a quirk in early Communists, but is an essential point. They believed that Communism was science, and its triumph was as certain as any other scientific law, or that two plus two equals four.

This encouraged an attitude of passivity, sometimes fatalism, among the Finnish Left, where violence was known to be inevitable, but something that could not be controlled, rather in effect being an independent actor.
Politically, naturally, the focus of the SDP was class struggle (the trade unions were somewhat separate, although ultimately also dominated by the revolutionary Left), and the majority view among the SPD until after the Civil War was that all class enemies, collectively referred to as “bourgeois,” should not be fraternized with, whether socially or politically.

This meant that parliamentary democracy was largely a farce, since from the very beginning of strife, one side rejected compromise and normal parliamentary give-and-take. This character defect in the SDP was exacerbated by the single biggest factor in dividing Finnish society along class lines—the relentless mendacious propaganda peddled by the revolutionary Left press, especially the SDP’s flagship newspaper, Tyomies (The Worker). The education level in Finland was low, and as a direct result the working class believed the lies told to them, which revolved during the 1910s around the supposed hatred of the “bourgeoisie” for the working man and their desire to starve the working man into submission for their own enrichment.

In 1905, when the turmoil in Russia resulted in political change there, the SDP called a general strike, hoping to achieve similar dramatic results in Finland. The representative of Russian power, the Governor General, bolted, and the small Finnish police force largely disbanded (there was no Finnish army), leaving a power vacuum.

This led to the creation of Red Guards in urban centers for the first time by the SDP—not that this was an original idea, since orthodox twentieth-century Marxism always contemplated self-generated militias supposedly to “protect the workers,” in reality to impose revolutionary Left will. But mostly these forces were a ground-up creation, not one created or commanded by the Executive Committee of the SDP, and this set the pattern for much of the next fifteen years—a weak Left leadership swayed by those even further left. So while theoretically, the Red Guard reported to the SPD leadership, in practice, its leaders often dictated to the SPD.

In response, a “Home Guard” (sometimes referred to as the “Civil Guard”) was formed by the “bourgeoisie.” At this point in the reading of the various books on the Civil War, a crucial defect shows up in all of them, most evident in Upton. None of the authors, except Alapuro to a limited extent, give any depth to the loyal elements of Finnish society, those opposed to the Reds, the Whites. They all richly sketch the SDP and all Left entities. But everyone else is just the faceless “bourgeoisie,” the standard derogatory Left term (until they switched to “butchers,” of which more later). Thus, after detailing at length the creation of the Red Guards, Upton simply says “the bourgeoisie formed a separate Home Guard, consisting mainly of university students.” We are not told anything at all more (although if you examine the data closely, it is evident that in an inversion from many Left revolts, students supported the Whites—only two students died fighting for the Reds, and 251 died fighting for the Whites).

Similarly, we are told that at this time the SDP “recruited a group of largely bourgeois intellectuals,” many of whom were very important in later years, notably Otto Kuusinen. What made them “bourgeois,” we are not told. With the exception of Mannerheim and a few government ministers mentioned from time to time, all the authors treat the “bourgeoisie” as the Borg, a mass with no individuals. Its motives are opaque, and it acts as a monolith, though that can’t actually have been true, and hints of broad diversity peek out. We get endless detail about the internal arguments and tensions of the SDP, but we get almost no understanding of the Whites except as it relates to military decisions. We learn all about the administrative structure of Red Finland, and almost nothing about White Finland’s, other than in connection with Mannerheim. I don’t know if this massive lacuna is present in Finnish-language literature, but it’s jarring to the reader of any of the books I read, and makes the reader wonder what else is being left out of the story.

In any case, in 1905 in Finland, as in Russia, matters settled down, somewhat. The Tsar confirmed a radically new constitution put forth by the Finnish estates that included universal suffrage (thus showing pretty clearly the “bourgeois” weren’t opposed to the working class at all—although unlike in other countries that suffered violent Left revolutions, it does not appear any of the rich funded the Left out of ideological sympathy or a desire to be eaten last). The SDP disbanded the Red Guards (and the miniscule nascent Home Guards were also disbanded) and instead focused on electoral politics, building an efficient machine.

Realizing that urban workers numbered too few for their purposes, they aggressively and successfully recruited throughout the countryside, as a result winning forty percent of the seats in the new Parliament. Mostly, they recruited crofters, not the landless laborers. Upton says the latter were “too sunk in ignorance and apathy, or too dependent on employers to be willing to engage in politics.”

Probably that was true, but the urban working class was ignorant, too—more likely the issue was that exposing rural workers to a stream of propaganda was harder than doing the same for urban workers, and direct personal appeal to the interest of the more educated was a better strategy. Moreover, rural success was limited by the SDP’s aggressive emphasis on atheism and free love, the usual Marxist bellwethers—Finnish rural society was strongly religious, having undergone a pietist revival during the nineteenth century, and contempt for Christianity was not a good selling point.

But the power of Parliament was, for the most part, an illusion, since the Tsar was now taking a far more active role in Finnish matters, and Parliament was not the sovereign—the Tsar was. In practice, what Parliament did was advisory, and the Tsar mostly rejected the advice, which meant he rejected most of what additional the SDP wanted. (He did bar the termination of crofter leases, however—but the SDP wanted the land given as freehold, without compensation to the owners, to the tenants, so even this was inadequate in their view). Rather than cooperating with the other elements of society to increase pressure on the Tsar, the SDP chose to view every non-Left group ideologically, and concluded they were the problem, not the solution. They fed this false view, for which Upton notes there is no evidence at all, to the workers.

Nonetheless, at the beginning of World War I, Finland was quite peaceful. Big talk did not mean big problems. Prosperity was widespread. The Finns did not fight, except as volunteers, in the World War, but the Russian presence increased greatly, since Finland occupied (and occupies) a strategic position for Russia. This led to yet more prosperity, as the Russians spent money in Finland on massive fortifications—but this was counterbalanced by the loss of Germany and Britain as export markets. Still, Finland did not suffer much in the war—the biggest problem was food insecurity, because Finland relied on grain imports from Russia, which became unreliable.

In 1916, the SDP won a slim absolute majority in Parliament—although the Tsar refused to allow Parliament to meet, given that it was prone, in his view, to agitation, which he could ill afford at that time. And he made clear that if Russia won the war, Finland would not gain more independence.

A group of Finns, in essence a clandestine single-issue political party, the “Activists,” whose main program was immediate total Finnish independence through violence against Russia if necessary, and who had some relationship with all the recognized Finnish political parties except the SPD, negotiated with the Germans (the logical patron to the Finns if the Russians refused independence) to achieve the opposite result. Among other actions they recruited somewhat more than a thousand Finns to travel to Germany, to fight under German command but with plans to later assist in seizing Finnish independence. This became the “Jäger Battalion,” an important component of the later Civil War.

Unrest in Russia during February 1917 led to uncertainty in Finland. Russian soldiers stationed in Finland, mostly on the coasts and mostly sailors, mutinied and shot their officers. The soldiers set up Soviets and proceeded to stir up trouble in Finland, including encouraging allied revolutionary Left Finns to form new Red Guards, again to “maintain order.”

Order had to be maintained because a key demand of the Left was the disbanding of the police in all the cities and towns, such that the Left, through its militias, would be the only group able to exercise force. (It’s strange to see this same demand appearing in 2020 in America, now in the mouths of the BLM terrorists, for the same reason as a hundred years ago. Although in Finland, the Left demanded the municipal governments pay the Red Guards, and today George Soros pays their modern equivalent, Antifa).

Kerensky’s Provisional Government was sympathetic both to Finnish independence and to the Finnish Left, but most concerned with not giving the Germans an opening in the World War. The Russian change in government was, in some ways, the proximate cause of the Civil War, because the Tsar’s abdication created an ambiguity as to who held the ultimate power in Finland. Did it revert to the Finns, under a creative interpretation of the events of 1809, making the Finns automatically and permanently formally independent? Or did it transfer to whomever held supreme power in Russia at any given time, from whom formal independence must be sought? This argument clouded all power relations in Finland until the end of the Civil War.

The Russian Provisional Government persuaded the Finns to form a government, complicated by that although the SPD held the most seats, on principle most of its members still refused to participate in any type of coalition government with “class enemies.” After pressure, though, the SPD bent enough to form the socialist-majority “Tokoi government,” named after its chief minister, and containing ministers from four other parties, the “bourgeois” parties. Those were the Old Finns, the Young Finns, the Swedish People’s Party, and the Agrarian Party. (Again, we get almost no information, other than scattered hints, about what these parties believed, what they held in common, and what their position was on issues crucial to the SPD. They are merely “bourgeois,” a contentless propaganda term).

The SPD quickly lost control of the more radical revolutionary Left elements, which engaged in mass demonstrations in Helsinki and other towns. A key demand was to seize food from imaginary hidden stocks of the non-Left classes; fear of starvation was a major problem by this point, and a nonstop propaganda topic of the SPD was the supposed thievery and hoarding by the non-Left, endlessly repeated to whip up hatred and unify the Left, although without any evidence provided. (We have yet another analogue today, as the American Left shrieks “racism!” constantly, while never providing evidence of any actual racism at all.) Nonetheless, the SPD leadership maintained enough control to prevent open violence—for a little while.

Meanwhile, by the end of April 1917, with the police disbanded, the Red Guards began to engage in violence against the non-Left, both in cities and in the countryside, along with coercion of municipal authorities, making the Left militias in many instances, as was intended and planned, the ultimate authority. The non-Left parties therefore began, by June, to discuss setting up their own paramilitaries, but unwisely failed to do so; the SDP’s organs used these discussions anyway to whip up more hatred and fear among the rank-and-file Left. As Upton says, “In short, the socialist press sought to persuade an unsophisticated and captive readership that the capitalist enemy was deliberately trying to starve the workers so as to weaken them and beat them into submission.”

Violent propaganda was the stock-in-trade of the SPD; the standard term for any non-Left opponents, from long before and through the Civil War, used scores of time in quotes in all the books I read, was “butchers.” Seeing the writing on the wall, in the countryside, the farmers began, without government help, to organize mostly unarmed “fire brigades,” excluding socialists, something assisted by the great popularity among rural Finns of intermediary institutions, not just churches but also many other social-benefit groups, theater groups, and so forth.

Inevitably, as Upton says, by August 1917, everywhere in Finland there was an atmosphere of fear.
The Tokoi government was incompetent, due to the contradictions it contained, and it could not work well with the Russians, since even the SPD was keenly interested in formal Finnish independence, the non-negotiable demand of all Finnish parties, and not in the least interested in getting involved in the World War, to Kerensky’s annoyance, given he regarded the two as necessarily linked. Kerensky therefore stalled by claiming he could not authorize Finnish independence without the Russian Constituent Assembly, which had yet to meet, and in the meantime, he expected the Finns to fight.

The SPD therefore began to fall fully into the orbit of the Russians even further to the left than Kerensky, most of all the Bolsheviks, who were only too happy to promise immediate complete independence—even though the Bolsheviks had no power in Finland, except for tight personal ties to some in the SPD.

Endless talks with the Russian government produced no real movement toward a solution, so the SPD passed a bill claiming full Finnish independence, the valtalaki, annoying Kerensky, who rejected this action as ineffective, even more. And when Kerensky crushed the premature Bolshevik revolt in July, the Provisional Government, as sovereign, dissolved the Finnish Parliament and scheduled new elections for the beginning of October. The SPD was not happy, but assuming they would win the election, grudgingly accepted this dissolution.

Violence by the Left increased rapidly, including riots in the major cities; in response, the non-Left elements of society finally started forming private security forces. These forces tended to fall within the Activist orbit, and have strong anti-Russian overtones, rather than being directed at the SPD, which should have reduced tension – but they could hardly announce that their purpose was getting rid of the Russians, and anyway since the SPD looked to the Bolsheviks more and more, and were friendly with local Russian Communist elements, these new loyalist forces ultimately were certain to conflict with the Red Guards. T

hese security forces blended into the Home Guard forces that began to be raised in the countryside and started to assume a more formal structure. Both the Red Guards and the Home Guards made strenuous efforts to acquire weapons, which were rare and hard to get (something Americans of today find difficult to comprehend), and managed to accumulate a modest quantity and variety of light weapons, mostly bolt-action rifles and revolvers, with a very few machine guns, and little ammunition. Inevitably, the first political murder was on September 24, when SPD elements, in revenge for the arrest of some Red Guards, shot a random Home Guard member on the street in a Helsinki suburb.

But, shockingly to them, amidst large turnout, the SPD lost the election, although there was no clear mandate for any of the other parties, either, and no party had a majority. The surprised SPD immediately started threatening violent revolution, and calling for concrete action, issuing a long list of non-negotiable demands, including confiscation of any non-Left weapons and confiscation of all food stocks for distribution to SPD supporters.

Most of all, they denied the legitimacy of the election, demanding an immediate new election with a lowered voting age. They falsely claimed, with zero evidence, that the results of the election were fraudulent and “the product of conspiracy between the bourgeoisie and Russian reactionaries.” Not only must the non-Left parties agree to a new election on their terms, they must also agree immediately to a new constitution and a purge of all non-Left judges and civil servants, and the formal disbanding of all Home Guards and similar groups. Or, don’t you know, the SPD would not be responsible for the violent revolution sure to result over which they had no control, since it was a scientific inevitability.

This denial of legitimacy is the crux of the matter and was the immediate cause of the Civil War. Although the confused question of sovereignty vis-à-vis Russia clouded the matter, that’s a smokescreen. The reality is that, always and everywhere throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the Left denies the legitimacy of any election it loses under conditions where it expects a revolution. Given what we’ve seen in America from 2016 through 2020, we shouldn’t be surprised at this course of events at all.

At this point, in October, the Bolsheviks took power in Russia. Lenin, who had a close relationship with top members of the SPD, particularly those most far left, encouraged the SPD to “rise and take power” (although the flow of Russian weapons to the SPD temporarily slowed, as the Bolsheviks needed them to cement their own rule). The leaders of the SPD were not Lenin, though; they lacked his virtues, and were always prone to half-measures combined with threats they could not, or did not, follow through on, to Lenin’s annoyance and disgust.

Still, on November 14 the SPD announced a general strike. In those days, a general strike was not what we see in France occasionally today, where the bus drivers stay home and museums close; it was an overt attempt to take power through extralegal means, short of full rebellion but with full intent to use violence, and under the guidance of a “Revolutionary Council.” The Home Guard was still struggling to be born, and the non-Left parties were neither prepared to nor inclined to fight, yet, so in all the major cities, and many smaller ones, the Red Guard took control, invading homes of their opponents to search for guns and food (and liquor, to the chagrin of SPD leadership), and arresting and imprisoning hundreds of their opponents, murdering some people along the way.

In truth, the Left had taken over much of the country without much violence. But the government, in the form of civil servants, shut down, and the SPD leadership lost its nerve, calling off the general strike on November 16, over the objections of the Red Guard leadership—although in much of the country the strike, and violence, continued for another week. As always, the SPD leadership were men who talked big but could not follow through.

And to cover their incompetence, they ramped up talk of violence, blaming their opponents for murders by Reds (twenty-seven by November 26) and generally endorsing violence, a move not calculated to calm the situation, and alienating those non-Left politicians who still had any interest in cooperating with the SPD. When Parliament convened, a non-Socialist government was formed, on November 26. The SPD had gotten the opposite of what they wanted, and the opposite of what they had promised their constituents.
In a sense, the general strike lost the Civil War for the Reds, since it forewarned their opponents. The non-Left elements were not going to be caught flat-footed by the Red Guards again. All Finnish society still wanted formal independence, and now the new Parliament treated with the Bolsheviks. In theory, of course, the Russian Communists were only too happy to have the Finns be independent, if they only asked, since socialism had no borders.

So, Parliament, after wrangling about form, declared independence in early December (today December 6 is Finnish Independence Day), formally notifying the Bolsheviks as requested, though they found it degrading to do so. The mechanics of independence were not nearly as simple, though—there was the matter of the extensive Russian military presence, both troops and equipment, much of it immovable. Nonetheless, independence was, over a few weeks, internationally recognized, creating a brief wave of good feeling in Finland.

It did not last. The SPD had never abandoned their list of non-negotiable demands, and continued to press them. But the non-Left parties refused, of course, and they could, because they held parliamentary power. The Red Guards, still only tenuously under control of the SPD leadership, continued to expand and engage in freelance raids for food and arms, extortion, and other forms of politically-oriented criminality, openly and, as Upton says, “all with complete immunity from legal sanctions.” (It appears this was because they could not be arrested without violence, not because the judicial system had been taken over by the Reds, as ours has today in many American urban areas).

Among other things, in Turku (the second city of Finland), the Red Guard led three days of riots on December 15, looting shops and burning buildings, and setting the entire country on edge. The SPD leadership publicly frowned on the violence—and blamed their enemies for it, claiming the Turku riots were organized as a provocation, not conducted by the Red Guards (again we see a reflection of this in 2020, with the gaslighting total lies we are told that right-wing “white supremacists” were in some way involved in the massive exclusively Left violence in American cities this summer).

The government was unable to openly rebuild defense forces against this insurrectionary activity, except in secret, because of threats from the Red Guards, who controlled crucial chokepoints on the rail network, preventing the assembly of anti-Left forces except by drips and drabs. Whatever the government’s inability to raise forces, no surprise, the Home Guard, privately funded and organized, grew rapidly, although with little central direction, rather on a local level. (The SPD, of course, lied that the Red Guards had only come into existence to counter the previously non-existent Home Guard).

Unlike the Red Guards, though, the Home Guard focused not on looting, but on training, either under Finnish officers with some military experience or under small contingents of Jägers sent home by Germany (who were coming home in small groups, rather than in one large group, because the Germans were making nice with the Bolsheviks at the time). They still lacked weapons, however – the Germans sent some, but were unsuccessful in sending more. The Finnish government, after some dithering, did proceed to establish a military command, recruiting (as their second choice) a Finnish aristocrat who had fought for the Russians – Mannerheim. He was a man of overwhelming self-confidence and competence.

On January 9, Parliament authorized the creation of a large army, directed at the Russians if they would not leave, and an internal security force, clearly directed at countering the Red Guards. Mannerheim immediately began to implement these directives, while the SPD shrieked hysterically in Parliament that the “butchers” were starting a war, waving on the floor of Parliament poisoned dum-dum bullets that the government was supposedly issuing to the Home Guard to use on the workers. Meanwhile, the SPD asked for, and got, more large shipments of weapons from the Bolsheviks (even if, again, by modern American standards, these were trivial amounts of weapons).

Although only a minority of the SPD leadership actually wanted war, they all believed fervently that the “triumph of the workers” was inevitable, and a hard core of militants was able to dictate SPD policy – as had been seen in the general strike, consistency was not a hallmark of the SPD leaders. Naturally, they continued to claim that any violence was due to their opponents. As Upton paraphrases the official SPD position, published in Tyomies, “Their [opponents’] sole responsibility for any violence that ensued was further asserted by the doctrine of historical necessity; those who oppose the forces of history are guilty of the violence this causes.” Thus, after some waffling, on January 27th, the SPD’s Executive Council declared that “It has been decided to take all state power into the trustworthy hands of the nation’s workers. . . .” The Civil War was on.

The Civil War

As seems to be the case with most modern civil wars, everyone was expecting this to happen, and was just waiting for the show to begin. Intellectually, the Whites viewed this as a war of independence, against Russia, not a war against the Reds, whom they chose to view as a proxy for the Russians. For the most part, this was not true; the violence was just another in a long line of wars begun by the Left when they could not achieve their goals within an existing system.

Sometimes they manage a veneer of legality for grabbing power that they never intend to risk giving up again, as in 1936 Spain or 1970 Chile; when that fails, as it did in Finland, they turn to direct action. It’s not really their fault; it is baked into the way they view the world. Anyone with sense can see the signs long before the fighting actually begins. You might want to take a look around America today.

The government immediately handed over supreme White military power to Mannerheim, who in his high-handed aristocratic way interpreted this as all power, causing tension with the civilian government, which would ultimately, had the war lasted longer, had to have been resolved. As it turned out, though, the government’s ministers fled southern Finland, stronghold of the Reds, barely escaping, and were initially dispersed in northern Finland, so Mannerheim was able to do as he pleased with little trouble, in practice largely functioning as the ruler of White Finland during the Civil War.

The pressing problem Mannerheim faced was that he directed no real military power; the government was far behind the Reds in organizing for war. Even with his minimal forces, Mannerheim immediately responded to the SPD’s declaration of war with bold assaults on Russian garrisons in White Finland, successfully disarming several with minimal bloodshed, and managing to capture significant stocks of desperately-needed weapons.

The Reds did not engage in immediate military action; there were no White garrisons to attack in Red Finland, and they contented themselves with arresting specific people, when they could find them, which they mostly could not—it appears Finland is, or was, an easy place to hide.

For ten days, both sides made ready. Control of the rail network was crucial; the roads were hard to use and could, at this season, only be travelled by sledge, though frozen lakes could also be crossed by men on foot, but movement at speed of large forces required rail. Mannerheim focused on cementing control in northern Finland, and by mid-February, controlled all north Finland (which was most of Finland, but only half its population). In retrospect, the only chance the Reds had was a massive initial push, since when the war began, only they had organized fighters and weapons.

But they lacked the training and the will, and their decision structure was not nimble. The White and Red armies coalesced during the month of February, while each tried to figure out the best way to defeat the other. As with all things in this somewhat cut-rate war, most of the Red leaders could not put their whole heart into it. This is perhaps the strangest thing about the Civil War—the lack of competence of the Reds. In the usual course of left-wing violence, hard men of power come to the fore, shoving aside those with less will. That did not happen here.

Soon enough, both sides turned their focus to the rail network, which had main east-west and north-south trunks. For both sides, preventing the other side from attacking along the three north-south trunks became critical. The fighting during the war did not, with a few exceptions, involve large masses of men fighting in positional warfare.

The front lines were, except in a few places located on critical rail junctions, usually many miles apart, miles that were in practice impassable except by small groups of scouts or skirmishers. Conflict, outside the taking of towns and cities using men brought up by rail, mostly involved men shooting at each other from a distance, with few casualties and, if an advance was attempted, victory almost always going to the defenders. Artillery was minimal.

The Bolsheviks promised troops but failed to deliver; the Russian garrisons mostly wanted to go home to Russia, not fight in another foreign war (evenj if a considerable number did volunteer to fight for the Reds). And although the Bolsheviks sent a lot of weapons, the supply was unreliable, and Lenin’s personal intervention was repeatedly necessary to get weapons released. Mannerheim spent the initial days of the war, when not strategizing, aggressively training his men and expanding his army, including through conscription. He also negotiated with the Germans for support, for weapons, for the full return of the Jägers, and for troop support, although the latter was the least important to him, since he wanted to show a Finnish, not a German, victory. His goal was independence, along with destroying Bolshevism.

It is important to remember that at this point the Germans were, in a way, patrons of the Bolsheviks—the German aim was to win the World War, still ongoing, and keeping the Bolsheviks out of the way, avoiding restarting fighting in the East, was their goal. Thus, Mannerheim realized, the Germans were not as anti-Bolshevik as the Finns, and if Germany was needed to win the war, Finland would likely become a German satrapy, defeating the overriding goal of full Finnish independence.
As always under Communism, the Reds immediately unleashed a Red Terror in the areas they controlled.

But, by comparative historical standards, it was a fairly restrained Red Terror. The usual Left mechanism of “Revolutionary Courts” was used, combined with opportunistic murders by Red Guards, and the target was any members of the Home Guard, or those politically opposed to the revolutionary Left. However, as with so much about the Finnish Reds, this was terror-lite, or in the eyes of the Bolsheviks, an incompetent Terror.

The Revolutionary Courts mostly handed out fines and imprisonment, not executions, and in a rare departure from revolutionary Left orthodoxy, focused not on class membership, but specific proven actions deemed to be harmful to the working class. The Red Guards were annoyed at this, wanting just to kill class enemies, and engaged in parallel organized murders. But these were relatively few in number, except in Helsinki, where the Red Guard in practice ran the city and the initial Red Terror was more significant – but still modest by usual revolutionary Left standards.

Perhaps this was some quirk of the Finns themselves, slow to rage, or maybe the short duration of the war and the need to focus on immediate concerns meant less immediate killing, and the Reds would have unleashed a greater terror over time. Later events suggest the latter.

Many more Reds than Whites died in the Civil War. In 1998 the Finnish government commissioned a study to determine, so far as possible, the names and details about every person killed during the war and its immediate aftermath. (I assume this was non-political and accurate, but have no way to determine if that’s true).

The total was about 37,000, in a nation of 3.2 million people. Of those, about 9,000 were killed in battle; 9,000 were murdered or executed; and 13,000 died in prison camps. But 27,000 were Reds and 5,000 were Whites (with 5,000 “other,” presumably Russians or those impossible to determine). 7,500 Reds were executed or murdered; only 1,500 Whites.

The disparity wasn’t because of the more merciful character of the Reds, but because the Reds captured few prisoners in battle and captured no towns or cities they did not initially hold. The Whites weren’t merciful either, though. Often the Whites killed prisoners out of hand on the grounds they were not legitimate wartime opponents, but traitors and murderers. (Captured Russians fighting for the Reds were almost invariably shot).

Mannerheim waffled on what treatment should be meted out to captured Reds, sometimes calling for courts martial after the war, sometimes implying they should be shot immediately, so in effect he was responsible for much of the killing of prisoners. This was probably a mistake, since most of these men were probably simply misguided, and the actual architects of the Civil War mostly escaped punishment after the war, hiding abroad.

The role of the civil service deserves its own attention. Most of the bureaucracy was trapped in Red Finland, so Mannerheim did not benefit from their service, which they would mostly no doubt have given, since most of the civil service was “bourgeois” by Left definition. The Reds dismissed the bureaucrats from their posts for refusing to work, and tried to administer the existing machinery of government themselves. This was largely a failure. However, the crucial postal and rail services kept working, more or less, thanks to the efforts of the lower-level workers who may not have been Reds but were willing to keep working, in part simply to feed their families.

The banks mostly refused to open, but the Reds controlled the Central Bank, and simply blew open the vaults and helped themselves to all the cash on hand to pay their bills, then printed more. (C. Jay Smith notes that this “operation [was] facilitated by the fact that the [Red] Minister of Finance, Edward Gylling, was an ex-burglar”).

Printing money would have ultimately crashed the Red economy, but did not within the three-month period of the war. Telegraph workers stuck around—and, since they were, according to Upton, “notoriously White sympathizers,” proceeded to pass secrets to Mannerheim. (Of course, the usual term for refusing to work is “strike.” Upton adopts the Red characterization of any refusal to work for the Reds instead as “sabotage,” aligning himself with the Reds—similarly, no person is ever described by Upton as “notoriously a Red sympathizer”; negative emotionally-laden terms are reserved for Whites).

Food was also a problem for the Reds; they quickly discovered all their wild claims of food hoarding were false, and so had to rely on Russian imports, which were sketchy at best, along with seizing any food they could find. But they managed to avoid starvation.

The Reds were also disappointed in the workers who were supposedly the core of their support. After years of relentless propaganda, most did support the Reds. However, Upton makes clear that generally the workers offered “low productivity and rising expectations”—in other words, they wanted more pay for less work, and, no surprise, “pious exhortations” had little effect. Again, in three months this did not cause real problems, and many of the workers were happy to join the Red Guard, simply to get pay and food, and opportunity for loot, so adequate troops were not really a problem for the Reds.

Demonstrating their usual tendency to lack of focus, the SPD leadership spent quite a bit of time during the war planning for a postwar socialist society, which would have democracy again, since everyone knew democracy inevitably led to socialism. And having no dynamic and charismatic leaders, they strangled themselves on committees and “democracy” within their structures, compared to the Whites, who operated much more efficiently, even though they had only a skeleton government.

An interesting aspect of the Finnish political division is that before and during the war, Finnish artists all supported the Whites. We associate artists with the Left, but that is largely historical happenstance. For a century, Finnish culture had been organized around a vision of Finland as an independent nation with its own deep culture. Thus, it is no surprise that artists, and all the cultural elite, had no sympathy for the Left, with its perceived desire to subjugate Finland to Russia and rejection of Finnish culture in favor of an alien ideology.

This demonstrates it is a mistake, and historically false as I have discussed elsewhere, to believe that artists necessarily lean left—and, in fact, the Right today desperately needs outstanding artists. Doubtless this rejection by the cultural elite frustrated the Reds, a feeling exacerbated by no public demonstrations of popular support, in part because Finland is cold and the culture not prone to overt emotion, but mostly because those not on the Left stuck in Red Finland saw “the Reds as betraying the national cause,” in Upton’s words, and simply stayed out of the way.

The Red Guards were used as the formal military of the rebels, though not all were sent to the front. Training was nominal at best—the Reds had the loyalty of few men with experience of military command, almost zero NCOs or professional officers.

The negative impact of poor training was exacerbated because pseudo-democracy was the order of the day, thus taking orders wasn’t the forte of the Red Guards, who, no surprise, often preferred simply to loot and pillage, rather than frontally assault enemy positions.

When orders were received, often units chose whether or not to obey, and in any case the Red leadership often had little knowledge of where units were. Panic among the Red Guards after any battlefield reverse was very common, and discipline for such failures, and worse ones, such as outright cowardice or looting, was none.

While the Bolsheviks supplied a great deal to the Reds, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, signed on March 3, required the Russians to leave Finland immediately, and to cease supporting the Reds. The Bolsheviks had no choice but to sign, and anyway Finland was the least of their concerns. Lenin told the other Bolsheviks that after a “breathing space,” world revolution would solve the problem in the Red Finns’ favor.

When other Bolsheviks demanded they nonetheless keep materially supporting the Red Finns, Lenin said “Wars are not won by enthusiasm but by technical superiority. Have you got an army? Can you give me anything but blather and slogans?” Nonetheless, he agreed to keep supplies flowing to the Reds sub rosa, but at a lesser level than before, and as the Russians left Finland to return home, they mostly gave their weapons to the Red Finns. Bolshevik volunteers in modest quantities (Upton estimates up to 4,000, or about ten percent of Red front-line total troops) also remained to fight with the Finnish Reds. Of course, this gave force to the Whites’ claim that the Reds, by allying with Russians, were fighting against Finnish independence, so it was a double-edged sword for the Reds, costing them propaganda points.

When battle was fully joined in various locations, at the end of February, it centered around thrusts along the rail lines, aiming to take control of crucial chokepoints. The Reds were helped by that they initially held most of these points and they also had several armored trains supplied by the Russians. The Whites were helped by their superior organization and training.

Fighting was concentrated in three areas along the three main north-south lines—the Häme region in the west, which included the city of Tampere, site of the largest battle in the war; Savo in the central section of the country; and Karelia in the east, toward Lake Ladoga and what was now Petrograd. The Reds, knowing they were under time pressure (and fearful, in addition, of German aid to the Whites), and holding the crucial city of Tampere already, attacked north in Häme on March 9. If they had been successful, they could have severed Mannerheim’s hold on the northern east-west rail line, splitting his forces in two and likely defeating the Whites. But they failed.

On March 15, with inferior numbers, Mannerheim then attacked south, using frontal assaults for the most part, simply because those were dictated by terrain and weather. He isolated Tampere, but was unable to quickly capture the city, which had around 4,000 Red fighters. Mannerheim retrenched, among other moves bringing the Jäger regiment, regarded as the most competent force he had, to Tampere.

By April 4, using artillery and street-by-street fighting, Mannerheim had ground down the Red defenses, and captured Tampere on April 5. This probably decided the Civil War; by this point Mannerheim had destroyed one of the two Red major armies, killed 2,000 Reds (as against 600 White dead), and captured 11,000. Moreover, Mannerheim’s troops had made significant inroads in Karelia. In other areas the Reds tried to push forward, and failed, although in several areas the fighting was bitter and resulted in hundreds dead.

Red morale collapsed. As always, the Red leaders did not shine; they peddled delusional lies to their followers while making plans to escape themselves. They could have fought on; they still had 30,000 men on the front lines, and at least another 30,000 Red Guards in rear areas. Moreover, they still had geographic links to Russia; they had not been split, merely lost their western forces. They still held the capital, Helsinki.

However, their cause took another hit when on April 3 the Germans landed 10,000 troops in extreme southern Finland, on the Hanko Peninsula. These took Turku, and the Red civilian leadership promptly fled Helsinki, the obvious next target for the Germans, while lying they had not, leaving their leaderless troops behind to defend the city. Those troops lost quickly to the Germans, so the capital fell to the Whites.

The Red military leadership then ordered all remaining troops and the non-front line Red Guards to fall back eastwards, toward Russia, abandoning even positions that were not under immediate threat. The Reds fled east on foot from their various positions, large and small, discipline falling apart, killing and looting along the way, making this the month with the highest body count for the Red Terror. (This suggests that the extreme Red Terror common to all revolutionary Left regimes was mostly just partially delayed by circumstance, and that had the Reds won they would have killed much larger numbers of people).

The SPD leadership, on April 14, simply abandoned the fight, fleeing to Russia (from whence those who survived the purges would return, in 1939, to again attempt to subjugate the Finns to Communism) while exhorting their followers to keep fighting, to cover their escape—an orthodox Marxist option, but not one that earned them any honor among their followers, or Finns generally.

The Red rank-and-file didn’t get far, being encircled near Lahti, and 20,000 of them surrendered by May 2. Those whose original station had been farther east, in Karelia, another 18,000 men, centered around Viipuri (now Vyborg, in Russia), had been defeated by April 29 (after engaging in mass executions of White prisoners).

This marked the end of large-scale fighting.
So, by May, the Whites had won, saving the nation and ensuring its independence, and they had 80,000 prisoners whose crimes had to be dealt with. All the authors maunder on about the supposed postwar “White Terror.” To call right-wing restoration of the rule of law “terror” at all is mostly a misnomer—a very deliberate one, designed to conceal the essential fact that terror is a standard tool of the Left, but rarely used by the Right.

Terror as used by the Left is violence outside the rule of law directed at enemies to break their will; guilt or innocence of action is irrelevant, the point is to keep the populace as a whole terrified and therefore compliant. But it is a historical fact that the Right rarely, if ever, relies on such methods. Instead, the Right views punitive repression of specific guilty individuals who are proven to be, or are known to be, guilty, as a tool of restoring and maintaining power. This deliberate confusion of the word “terror” to cover two distinct tendencies is not accidental; it is designed to protect the Left from the opprobrium of their actions.

True, one might argue that killings of prisoners by the Finnish Whites were “terror.” No doubt those shot were in fear. But those surrendering risk being killed in any war due to the height of emotions and the charge of adrenaline, and the goal of their killing was simply not the same as Left terror directed at civilians. No argument can be made that post-war trials by the Whites were “terror.”

They followed the entire structure of the rule of law, including appeals, but it is that period to which the mendacious term “White Terror” is usually applied by Left propagandists, both of Finland and in other places where the Right has beaten down Left savagery, such as Hungary in 1919 or Spain in 1939 (though, from recent events in Spain, it appears that beating it down again there will be necessary).

It is also true, more generally, that formal right-wing political repression reactive to preceding left-wing terror is difficult to analyze, because unlike left-wing political terror, a global phenomenon that has killed well more than a hundred million people, right-wing political killings are something that have never occurred on a wide scale, always only briefly, during and after wars, though often without the punctilious application of the rule of law the White Finns insisted on. (I leave aside here, for later further treatment and distinction, the brief mid-century period of twentieth-century “right-wing” ideological murders based in race and religion).

Did Pinochet’s extrajudicial killings of a few thousand known Communists, whose rule would have meant the deaths of hundreds of thousands or millions, constitute “terror”? Not in the same sense as the countless global Red Terrors. Pinochet’s targets were few in number, and they were guilty, of specific crimes, not being “class enemies.” Pinochet’s real crime was beating the Left, and he has never been forgiven, nor will he be, until the global Left is utterly and permanently broken and destroyed.

The reality in Finland was that even though many trials were held, very few people were executed after the war—thirty, to be precise, after 265 death sentences were confirmed by the Supreme Court, which rejected some of the 403 original death sentences on appeal (although several thousand captives had already been summarily killed during the war, to be sure).

In the usual right-wing way, quite a few prison sentences of short duration were handed out, which were quickly commuted or amnestied in almost all instances—by the end of 1918, in fact, with every single prisoner being released by 1927. The biggest failure that can be laid at the feet of the Whites is the death of 13,000 prisoners between May and August in prison camps, of malnutrition-exacerbated disease.

Of course, this was the height of the Spanish flu, and food was short in the camps because food was short everywhere, not due to deliberate starvation. So perhaps there was little way to avoid these deaths, but it still is a strike against the Whites. Naturally, though, the mythology of the prison camps has been used ever since by the Left to further whip up class hatred.

So ended the Civil War. Mannerheim, hero of the hour, was soon enough sidelined by the White civilian leadership, tired of his high-handed ways. Twenty years later, in the Winter War, Mannerheim helped to save his country again. But that is another story, as also is how immediately the Finnish peasants were rewarded for their loyalty to the Whites with extensive land reform, and how within a very few years, the Finnish Left were fully readmitted to politics, though they failed to achieve working-class political unity, and they suffered social debilities for another twenty years.

Still, Finnish society knitted itself together, no doubt because the winning side did not have an ideology, and was happy to simply return to the days of parliamentary rule, and very happy that Finland had, at last, achieved independence.

And what does all this tell an American of today? Quite a bit. First, that the revolutionary Left will never stop voluntarily. They cannot; to do so contradicts the basic premises of their world view, today as in 1789, and all the years in between, most of all that human perfectibility is achievable and that any price, especially a price paid by those who would deny others heaven on earth, is worth paying.

Second, for the Left, whenever power is not handed to them, those who do hold power are held to be necessarily illegitimate, and any action to strip them of power justified.

Third, they can be stopped, because in their nature their reach exceeds their grasp, but stopping them cannot be done with words, since to the Left, words are meaningless. It will always and ever, until their hold on the human imagination is broken forever, be only possible to stop them by force. This is our future, whether we like it or not.

We can hope it will be through the current institutions of order, if those are not yet wholly subverted by the Left. If not, it will be by some other mechanism, as the Finns found to their sorrow. The time is not yet – it probably would have been, had Donald Trump beaten the margin of fraud, since our Left would have been certain to, and was preparing to, react in the same way as their ideological predecessors and comrades, the Finnish Left, did in 1918. Maybe we get a break for a while. Or maybe not.

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 image shows “The Attack,” by Edvard Isto, painted in 1899. [The Russian doubleheaded eagle is attacking the maiden Finland].

Echoes Of The Great War Resound Differently In Poland

The famous book, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, by British professor Christopher Clark, investigates World War I, diagnosing it to be more of a tragedy than a crime. The Great War was started by the “sleepwalkers” of the title, who were unaware of the historical scale of the catastrophe they were perpetrating. Not only did the hecatomb of victims and the scale of the destruction prove to be cataclysmic – but, above all, there followed the collapse of the European political order, admired by many to the present day as the “beautiful 19th century.”

Six years ago, when the centenary of that war took place, Clark’s book became the “political bible” for politicians and intellectuals who, smacking their lips with appreciation, discussed its thesis at countless conferences, always concluding with the same caution against repeating the “sleepwalking” precedent.

Looking from the Western European perspective of la belle époque, which was brutally interrupted by that war, one may say that this kind of narration dictated to Europe by Clark is not only logical but also nobly moral. However, what must strike a Pole in this narrative is the radically different experience of the 20th century in Central and Eastern Europe. And it is a difference that a contemporary French, Italian or even German probably does not notice, let alone accept.

One of the most famous passages from Polish literature, kept in the memory of every Pole from school-days, is the prayer from the Pilgrim’s Litany by the greatest Polish poet, Adam Mickiewicz: “For universal war on behalf of freedom for the nations, we beseech Thee, O Lord!” This prayer is regarded as a prophesy about the outbreak of war which, after more than a hundred years of occupation, would finally bring Poles freedom and the possibility of living in their own country. In this Polish narrative, 1914 is neither a “crime” nor a “tragedy.” Quite the opposite – it is a historical declaration of freedom restored four years later. And the unexpected result of that war entailed the fall of the three occupying emperors: German, Russian, and Austrian.

This was a key moment for the Polish understanding of the world and the position of Poland in it. Having won the war, England and France paved the way for Poles to regain freedom; and thus, these two powers were inscribed as “friendly” and “allied” in the code of Polish political self-awareness, passed down from generation to generation. But that is not all. Every child in Poland knows that the victory was only possible because of the fact that the Americans entered Europe for the first time in history. When they left the continent shortly after, disgusted with the quality of European politics, it did not take long for the tragedy to strike again – the Second World War. So, this belief in the almost “magical” power of American presence in Europe became deeply rooted in the political DNA that shaped the identity of Poles.

The Polish state, reborn in 1918, could not think of itself other than in terms of some broader Central European union. Obviously, it was a memory of the old days gone by when the Lithuanian Jagiellonian dynasty ruled a vast federal power with two capitals in Krakow and Vilnius. Although there were other ethnic categories (for which the Polish national movement was leading the way in the new statehood) – the fact that Józef Piłsudski came to power (on the day of the historic Armistice of Compiègne on November 11, 1918) meant that it was not “nationalists,” but “Prometheists” that came to define the post-war mission of the Polish state. The military alliance with Ukrainians and Belarusians (who were also liberating themselves from Russian domination), meant to re-establish a union in Central and Eastern Europe, broke down under pressure from the Bolsheviks.

Thus, there was barely enough strength left to defend the endangered Polish statehood against the Bolsheviks who, in the summer of 1920, gathered just near the outskirts of Warsaw. It was also impossible to marshal enough energy to renew the idea of a union in Central Eastern Europe. Although such a union was not formed then, and this part of Europe was soon to become a battlefield of nationalism, nevertheless, immediately after the Great War, this period became an echo constantly resounding in Polish politics throughout the last century until today.

Primarily, it is an echo of a dream of political integration which could no longer be established specifically in the centre of the Eastern part of Europe. Over time the inability to maintain such a state of affairs became more and more obvious. However, the dream could be realized through a great European integration project for the whole of Europe. One should bear that in mind in order to understand the enthusiasm of Poles for their own accession to the European Union in the 21st century, but also the enthusiasm for its enlargement to include Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and Georgia. The peculiar “transfer” of the Union to the East has built the political mission of the contemporary Polish state; and without awareness of this fact, it is impossible to understand the Polish policy of the last 25 years.

Unfortunately, there is also a distant echo ringing loudly in Poland’s memory of the fact that at a time when in 1920 all Polish plans threatened to fail, as did the very existence of the Polish state, the “allied” and “friendly” European powers, in particular England under the rule of Lloyd George, paradoxically took the side of the Bolsheviks. This was at the same time as the Spa Conference when the Polish government was forced to surrender to Soviet Russia half of its territory – that is everything that the Russian Tsars forcibly appropriated themselves in the 18th century.

Never again has it been possible in Poland to eliminate this intuitive distrust of European “friends,” a distrust further strengthened in September 1939 and which, in fact, continues to this day. In turn, however, the still resonating echo of those events also provokes a particular Polish sensitivity to harm and the rejection by Europe of Ukrainians and Belarusians, i.e. the only nations that a century ago faced the Soviet threat with armed force, alongside the Poles. Everyone who wants to understand today why over a million Ukrainian immigrants, who have been welcomed with open arms, live and work in Poland need only remember this previous anti-Soviet alliance. Also, we will learn about this alliance at the European Union Summit, where the Polish Prime Minister is (successfully) striving for a plan for extensive economic support of Belarus which is to start when its citizens manage to remove the tyranny that has prevailed there so far.

In his famous book, Professor Clark proved that the echoes of the Great War are clearly heard in contemporary politics. And this is certainly true. However, the Polish echoes resound a bit differently from those heard by the great British historian.

Jan Rokita is a Polish philosopher, opposition activist in the communist era, former MP and deputy of the Sejm (the lower house of the Polish Parliament).

This article was published in the monthly Wszystko Co Najważniejsze (Poland) as part of a historical education project of the Institute of National Remembrance.

The image shows, “Cud nad Wisłą” (“Miracle on the Vistula”), by Jerzy Kossak, painted in 1930 (Museum of the Diocese in Torun).

The Birth Of The Catholic Reason Of State

I. France, The Anti-Empire

Any attempt to build a metaphysics of nations is doomed to failure. There remains, however, the possibility of affirming a definition of the intimate affinity of nations with certain political forms based on their historical biography. In the case of France, however, this biography arises historically from a truly disconcerting paradox. France, the only nation that retains the name of the Germanic tribe that restored the Empire in Europe, has been the nation that has fought the most. According to Erwin von Lohausen: “Among the various powers that, one by one, were facing the Habsburg Empire, France became, more and more after Louis XI, the soul of the rebellion. While French royalty had the same origins as the German Empire, France was, by nature, the anti-Empire.”

Austrian General Erwin von Lohausen, one of the great experts in geopolitics of the twentieth-century, a veteran of World War II under Rommel, insisted in his analyzes that the meaning, and the relationship with space, of the necessities and the passions of people are engines of world history that no religion or ideology can counteract.

These considerations may seem shocking when applied to the definition of the historical personality of the French nation. Has it not been the country that has poured forth with genuine conviction (at least in its declarations) at the service of a universalist mission, be it religious (the Crusades) or secular (the Rights of Man)? And has not this nation also been one to never hesitate to use these “sacred causes” (to take up the expression of Michael Burleigh) to “profess a fierce national egoism” and a “prejudice for the Fatherland?” It is not easy to find any other European people better able to bear the heavy burden of an impossible symbiosis between sacred universalism and chauvinistic nationalism. Hence the German geopolitical analysis of authors like von Lohausen is so valuable.

It was scholars like these who pointed out the striking freedom of France in choosing its own historical causes in comparison with other nations, conditioned by a geography that limited its scope for action in contrast to the comfortable French geopolitical position: “For German geopolitical scientists, France, because of its geographic situation, enjoys a freedom of action that neither Spain, nor Italy, nor Germany ever had. Historically, these three countries had to directly confront the Saracens, the Slavs and the Magyars. They could only act in relation to their needs. France, however, had the freedom to really choose its policy, to proclaim the Crusades and the Rights of Man.”

Indeed, far from seeing in it an insurmountable opposition, perhaps it is its privileged geostrategic position that explains to a large extent France’s historical fondness for leading the great sacred causes of each era and serving them, by attending first to the interests marked by the politics of national individualism. In France, the universal missions are always framed within the friend-foe political duality.

The peculiar historical configuration of the French identity is one of the most relevant keys to understanding the success with which it confronted empires politically, without ceasing to defend, on paper, the sacred causes with which the latter justified the legitimacy of their hegemony. The first-born daughter of the Church was the Catholic nation that most effectively fought the Holy Roman Empire. Thanks to the testimony of France, we better understand the ineradicable political dimension of the so-called “wars of religion.” Not even in that historical context, of mystical fervor in defense of the faith, could the friend-foe dialectic be translated without historical falsification into any other kind of completely crystalline moral or religious duality. There was France and the policy of its kings to deny it.

Once again, France “chose” its policy with full freedom; and did so against the empire and in the name of the same religious cause. The empire never had a fiercer enemy, because not only did France frustrate its expectations of supremacy with the strength of its armies, but France did so with the authority of its bishops and cardinals, as well as the countless Popes affected by the efforts of her first-born daughter. Although separated very soon from the imperial destiny of Charlemagne, France nevertheless preserved the genetic and foundational mark of a divine mission in “mimetic” competition with the empire. It is perhaps one of the most defining features of France’s identity.

Who is to blame for the French superiority complex, the self-assumed grandeur de la fille aînée de l’Église (“greatness of the first daughter of the Church”)? Psychologists speak of the “child emperor” syndrome to refer to children who end up dominating their parents. It is a curious formula since, in the case of France, the syndrome paradoxically afflicted the nation called to fight the empire pushed by the primogeniture privilege of its affiliation with the Church.

And just as psychologists point to the responsibility of parental education to understand the character formation of these imperial children, so in our case we must also point to the parents of France (the Empire of Charlemagne and the Catholic Church) as mainly responsible for an education conducive to the affirmation of a national pride based on the supreme legitimacy of a divine mission. “The bishops made France as bees make the hive,” wrote Joseph de Maistre. This observation is not without value but even it seems too restrictive. It was the entire Church that fed the religious vanity of the French nation. It was the Church that shaped it, that nurtured it, while continuing to excite and glorify with its education the achievements and conquests of its favorite daughter.

II. A State Against The Empire: Richelieu, Founder Of Modern Europe

A large part of the tensions of the history and identity of France are attuned to the aporia of the political form with which it has wanted to serve its universal mission. The State has been a particularist tool that has determined a good part of the historical dynamics that explain the French opposition to the empire. The victory of France in the seventeenth-century against the Spanish hegemony was also the victory of the state political form over the imperial political form.

Where are the historical roots of this crossroads to be located? The Colombian, Nicolás Gómez Dávila, wrote: “The modern State is the transformation of the apparatus that society has developed for its defense into an autonomous organism that exploits it.” France developed an apparatus for its defense. And the architect of that apparatus was Cardinal Richelieu.

The key to understanding the genesis of this apparatus is found, in full harmony with the Hobbesian thesis, in the civil war that bled a France increasingly divided into religious, political and social factions. As Philippe Erlanger, Richelieu’s biographer, recounts: ”No one was a greater creator than Armand du Plessis. When he took the nation in hand, France was not just a nation adrift; total anarchy devoured it. Its weakness in the face of other powers made it a kind of vacant good, an almost virtual entity. Nothing seemed impossible: Its disaggregation, a Protestant republic of the Midi, provinces that proclaimed their independence, others that fell into the hands of the Habsburgs, a fractionation, a satellization, a decadence similar to that of Italy.”

It is at this juncture that Richelieu’s founding idea and policy appear. The political exceptionality of France destroyed by the wars of religion opened the historical horizon to the affirmation of new possibilities of political definition. As Dalmacio Negro writes: “In the founding moments of a political unit – an important classical locus of political philosophy practically abandoned – the situation is in itself exceptional; the decision then being essential. For the political exception is never about something objectively existing and determinable, but has the character of innovation according to a guiding idea. It is a historical decision, about the future; to make a historical possibility viable. In it, other possible options are discarded, in favor of what is chosen and imposed.”

Erlanger exposes it in his own way by raising the historical dimension of the figure of Cardinal Richelieu to the condition of founder of a new political nation after the construction of the first modern State worthy of the name: Louis XIII wanted to restore greatness and cohesion to this lost kingdom. Relying on this royal wish, Richelieu did much more – he remodeled France, transforming it by a revolution quite similar to those of the twentieth-century, and forced it out of its chrysalis to become a modern nation.”

France was undoubtedly the most advantageous candidate in Europe for the definitive construction of the new political form. Educated by the Church, she also imitated the empire that was reborn with the Frankish dynasty. The new French model took many elements from both one (the Church) and the other (the Empire); and no one better than a French Catholic cardinal, devoted to the service of the Capetian monarchy, to lay the foundations of the new political order that would establish the fortress of the newly inaugurated State, despite many internal enemies and imperial external threats.

In practice, the action and work of ecclesiastics such as Cisneros, Wolsey, Richelieu or Mazarin were decisive for the consolidation and configuration of statehood. […] All of them under the imprint of the still dominant ecclesiastical way of thinking, which determined general attitudes. The result was that the State, (…), imitated and took from it (the Church) much more than power. For example, the secularized idea of the political body derived from the theological concept of the mystical body in which the ontological individual becomes a social individual; or, the idea of hierarchy and a large-scale bureaucratic administration; and, in the background of all this, as the driving force and justification of its activity, the aforementioned dynamic idea of mission, now applied to temporary security.”

In his biography of the Cardinal, Hilaire Belloc christens Richelieu nothing less than the “founder” of modern Europe: “The consequence of this, finally, and above all, was the creation, in the center of Europe, of a new modern nation, highly organized and subjected to a strong monarchical centralism, which, quickly reaching the heights of creative genius both in literature, as in the arts, as in military science, was to constitute a model that would serve as an example to the new nationalist ideal. This new organized nation was France; and the man who carried out all this was Richelieu. He was the one who, subordinating everything to the monarchy he served (and, therefore, to the nation), had to place everything under the authority of the crown… He was the one who, by work and grace of his own will, managed to consolidate the seventeenth-century, and with it, although involuntarily, the Europe of yesterday. His work is modern Europe.”

It is necessary to interpret the work of the new cardinal-minister (or the minister-cardinal, to be more precise as per his historical performance) in the light of the theoretical battle between the rights of religion and those of politics. This far-reaching battle was fought against the backdrop of the wars of religion that shook the old continent, and only reached a solution after the political success of Richelieu’s work at the head of the State apparatus built by him to serve the people – the French monarchy.

According to Marcel Gauchet, the history of the relations between the political and the religious begins with millennia of religious colonization of politics, that is, millennia of religious “occupation” of a political terrain used to living in a protected minority, by an archaic mentality of a mythical-sacred character. It should not be forgotten that “the political came from the bosom of the sacred,” as Dalmacio Negro reminds us.

With the advent of Christianity, “the religion of the departure from religion,” a new framework of relationships was established, in which the political began to gain its independence. In triumphant modernity, the tables were reversed and we witness, on the contrary, the political colonization of religion (political or secular religions represent perhaps the most advanced stage of this process). Today we perhaps arrive at the philosophical-universalist colonization of the political by the humanitarian ideology of religious democracy and human rights, a new form of secular and antipolitical gospel that claims its privileges with messianic fervor.

Octavio Paz pointed out that politics limits one side with war and the other with philosophy. Philosophy represents, in effect, the limit-form of a universalism that was always the focus of the imperial political form (pagan or Christian). Faced with it, the state-form, with a particularist matrix, is defined by the limit and the frontier of enmity, formulated from political criteria, and tending to progressively eliminate moral or religious residues.

What does Richelieu’s work represent in Gauchet’s transhistoric scheme? In the tension of the double condition present in the figure of Richelieu, minister of a Catholic monarchy who ended up blurring a prince of the Church, the modern transition from the religious pole to the political pole is embodied as an epitome. The significance of this epitome may not be (apparently) distinguished from other cardinals with similar political responsibilities, such as Cisneros or Wolsey – but its decisive relevance in the construction of the ratio-status, which the new hegemonic power of Europe was going to impose, necessarily endows it with a superior role.

Richelieu’s work should be interpreted as a declared exercise of affirmation of the primacy of (State) politics and its friend-foe logic over the demands of the religious script that a pastor of the Church was supposed to attend to. What is striking in this case is that this statement does not occur within the framework of the new relationships generated by the Lutheran thinking with which the predominance of the new State hegemony is frequently associated, but in the context of catholic monarchy, the oldest in Europe.

Richelieu’s new State at the service of Louis XIII asserts itself inwardly against the remains of the feudal aristocracy, against the Levantine high nobility, and above all, against the “State within the State,” represented by the Huguenot minority yet infiltrating the political and social body of the nation. In its determined will to fight abroad against the Austro-Spanish Empire, Richelieu’s State also deploys its energies against the internal enemy, the devout “collaborationist” party that, for essentially religious reasons, presented itself as a French ally of the monarchy of the Habsburgs.

The failed coup against Richelieu, on the famous “Day of the Dupes,” ruined the last hopes of the devout pro-Spanish party. As Etienne Thuau summarized in his study on the reason of State in Richelieu’s time, “in relation to organized society, this authoritarianism translates the will to destroy infra-national solidarity in the same way that it destroys the supranational solidarity of the res publica christiana.”

The strengthening of the new State apparatus required the complete submission to the new order of the old estates, as well as of the dissident Huguenot elite, in significant contrast to the tolerant pastoral care that Richelieu had sustained in his time as Bishop of Luçon. But now the cardinal did not act as a man of the Church, but as the inflexible executor of the policy that would ensure the new greatness of the French monarchy. The success of the minister of Louis XIII is inseparable from the new European order that will follow his death and which can hardly be separated from his work. The Ius Publicum Europaeum enshrined in the Treaty of Westphalia was, at heart, a Ius Publicum Richelaeum.

We noted earlier that the logic of the minister-cardinal’s work was defined by his novel hierarchy of principles in directing the affairs of the kingdom, both internally and externally. Whether against the Huguenots, against the nobility, against the devout party or against the Empire, the line of action of the former bishop was based on the spirit of the primacy of politics, and more specifically, in that maxim of consistent political intelligence, according to Raymond Aron, in turning yesterday’s enemy into today’s ally. The Catholic monarchy of Louis XIII did not hesitate to make a pact with foreign Protestant forces while fighting the Huguenot cancer of La Rochelle. All this in the name of the new reason of State. The Cardinal, according to the portrait drawn by his enemies, carried the breviary in one hand and Machiavelli in the other.

It is worthwhile analyzing the result of this new logic of political purity in international and domestic relations. The new scenario was translated intellectually into an intensification of the secularization of political thought and power. For the political legitimation of a Catholic power as emblematic as the French monarchy, Richelieu’s endeavor required, especially in the context of the wars of religion, an argument from authority that went beyond the strictly theological dimension with which they used to hide many of the conflicts that were presented on the geopolitical arena.

In this sense, Armand du Plessis’s gamble contributed to the purification of a political thought hitherto accustomed to disguising itself in the name of moral and religious causes, counteracting with all the theoretical energy (and with essentially theological ammunition) the growing impact that Machiavelli’s unmasked proposition was beginning to have. At the level of the concert of nations, the politics of France began to find its own moral argument; but it was an argument of political morality that attended to the danger represented by a unipolar Empire which threatened the geopolitical balance of Christendom. Thus, in a line very similar to that which the theorist of Action française, Charles Maurras, later defend in his work, Kiel et Tanger (and which General De Gaulle came to apply strictly in the Fifth Republic), France was rising for the first time as a defender of multipolarity in the international arena. Its place and its mission consisted in being the arbiter or mediator of Christianity to preserve its constitutive balance.

Faced with Spanish ambition, the most powerful state in the West now had the duty to free Christianity from the threats that weighed against it. Furthermore, the expression of the will of French power did not exclude the desire to restore an international order. Thus, by affirming itself, the national State recognizes other States. For this reason, in the numerous writings that specify or exalt the role of France in Europe, an idea stubbornly persists: That of European balance which will ensure the freedom of the different States.

“However, in the second quarter of the seventeenth-century, a European balance no longer existed. It had been broken by the inordinate ambition of Spain, and it was up to France to assume the mission of putting things back in their state. Statist writers currently claim for the French the glorious titles of “liberators” and “arbiters of Christianity.” This way of speaking was one of the most official. Richelieu himself defined the objectives of French policy in these terms: “…To help restore freedom to its former allies, reestablish peace in Germany and put things back in a just balance because, in the present state, the House of Austria, in no more than six years, when it has nothing more to conquer in Germany, will try to occupy France at our expense.

“In the name of the cause of European emancipation, Richelieu justified his intervention in the affairs of Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. In every military or diplomatic action, it was about liberating a people or a prince from the “oppression of the Spanish,” from the “tyranny of the House of Austria,” from the terror caused by the “insatiable greed” of this House, enemy of the rest of Christianity, and to stop its “usurpations,” to save Italy from its “unjust oppression,” to seek its salvation.”

Although it is paradoxical, this provocative propaganda against the House of Austria did not sublimate the awareness of careful observation of France’s main political enemy, an observation that reached the rank of self-taught education by the method of strategic rivalry. Luis Díez del Corral recalled that “Richelieu admired the organization of the Spanish Monarchy;” although such admiration did not become the pure and simple emulation of its political-administrative structures: “The image of Spain is present in every act, on every page of the Cardinal. Many were the teachings that he received, but not so much to imitate as to replicate, becoming the configurator of a new type of political organization that contrasts with the Austrian Monarchy, and serves to illuminate its historical nature and destiny. The Spanish theme appears especially in the Cardinal’s Political Testament, a work that Carl J. Burkhardt considers Richelieu’s chef d’oeuvre, ‘a compendium of political art, a profoundly French method that will always preserve the value of a model.’”

Indeed, this meticulous observation of the movements of the imperial enemy did not translate into a “mimetic replica” of the structural configuration of the Spanish imperial model, but rather into a replica of an antagonistic State model. This “profoundly French method that will always preserve the value of a model” was, in effect, the result of the war led with an iron hand by Richelieu, who must be considered the founder, not only of Modern Europe (as Belloc pointed out), but also of the state-centered political organization that accompanies it to this day.

As Dalmacio Negro pointed out: “The war was a struggle between the Spanish people and the most perfected State of the time, which has always been the paradigm or prototype of statehood since Richelieu. The Revolution and Napoleon made it the formidable Nation-State to which it owed its superiority.”

The awareness of the superiority of the French model for the war that was being fought also reached those who stood as opposition to it; but the survival of the imperial forma mentis prevented a mimicry in the opposite direction towards the centralization and concentration of power that it implemented. The French crown was marching at a forced pace. The bringing of the Bourbon dynasty into Spain was necessary to initiate, and not without resistance, the slow implementation of the neighboring state- model.

It is well known that Philip IV rejected the suggestion in this sense of the Count-Duke Olivares, having realized that what Richelieu was doing in France – making it the first great state power, with full awareness of what modern sovereignty means in order to centralize political power. According to Jouvenel, Olivares thought like the Cardinal that the good of the nation and of the State justifies violating any law and privilege, that is, crossing the limits that distinguish the power of the potestas.”

The notion of the French theorist, Bertrand de Jouvenel, on the law of political competition in the narration of “natural history” and of the “growth of power,” offers a very adapted historical-theoretical mold to understand the direct relationship between a war fought by the two Catholic monarchies and the formation, at Richelieu’s initiative, of the new French model of a centralized State.

These natural jealousies between the powers engendered, on the one hand, a well-known principle, the momentary forgetting of which demands a heavy payment from States – that any territorial increase by one of them, by expanding the base from which it draws its resources, forces the others to seek an analogous increase to restore balance. But there is another way for the State to reinforce itself, which is more fearful for the neighbors than territorial acquisition – the progress of power to exploit the resources that its own territory offers it.”

Jouvenel himself points out Burke’s cutting observation in understanding this same phenomenon as an experience to remember after the French Revolution when, in 1795, he wrote: “The State [in France] is supreme. Everything is subordinate to the production of force. The State is military in its principles, in its maxims, in its spirit, in all its movements … If France had more than half of its current forces, it would still be too strong for most of the States of Europe, as they are constituted today and proceeding as they do.”

Jouvenel draws a general lesson from this dialectic between war and the growth of power: “Any progress of power with respect to society, whether obtained in view of war or for any other purpose, gives it an advantage in war.” Such an equation can alter the order of the factors involved, without diminishing its degree of historical validity; and it is in this second sense that the tendency towards the concentration of power, which this mimetic bid between antagonistic powers has pushed, must be understood.

Thus, if, on the one hand, every advance of power serves war, then war, on the other hand, serves the advance of power. This dynamic acts as a sheepdog that urges reticent powers to reach the most advancement in this totalitarian process. This intimate link between war and power appears throughout the history of Europe. Every State that has successively exercised political hegemony has sought the means to do so through a more intense pressure on the people than that exerted by the other powers on their respective peoples. And to confront these precursors it grew necessary that the powers of the continent be placed on the same level.”

The author of On Power understood that this process is closely linked to the French resistance to the Spanish Empire, as happened in England: “The development of absolute monarchy, both in England and in France, is linked to the efforts of both dynasties to resist the Spanish threat. James I will owe his great powers to the army. If Richelieu and Mazarin were able to elevate the rights of the State so much, it was because they could continually invoke external danger.”

The testimony of Fontenay-Mareuil (1594-1665), who was a diplomat and military man in Richelieu’s time, is especially relevant, in Jouvenel’s opinion, to give us “an idea of how military urgency contributed to liquidating the old forms of government and cleared the way to absolute monarchy.” In the words of the French ambassador: “It was really necessary to save the kingdom…that the king had sufficiently absolute authority to do everything that pleased him, since he had to deal with the king of Spain, who has so many countries to obtain everything he needs. It is clear that if he had had to gather the Estates General, as is done in other places, or depend on the good will of parliament to obtain everything that he needed, he would never have been able to do anything.”

The increase in number of the French military under Richelieu’s command is quite a telling indicator of the transformation carried out in France as a result of the political and armed confrontation with the Habsburg Empire: Richelieu, who found that all the forces in France had been reduced by Marie de Medici to 10,000 men, raised them to 60,000. Then, after having fought the war in Germany for a long time, and ‘reaching for the purse rather than the sword,’ he raised an army of 135,000 infantry and 25,000 cavalry – forces that France had not seen in eight centuries.”

There is nothing better than the testimony of Richelieu himself to understand this exorbitant growth of the resources made available to the new State machinery. The cardinal justified it all by the “incessant purpose of stopping the advance of Spain.” The war, midwife to absolute monarchy, not only buried the old aristocracies in this way (confirming Vilfredo Pareto’s assertion about the circulation of the elites) but also prepared for the funeral of the Spanish imperial form, without whose threat there would be no emergence of the gigantic apparatus that, brought about by force of circumstances for the defense of the French nation, was already creating the path to that autonomous body eager to exploit it, as suggested by the scholio of Gómez Dávila.

III. Machiavelli, The Afrancesado

In France, the success of this new national model in competition with the Empire could not fail to be understood outside of the historical demands of an adaptation of the discourse to the particular relationships that, within the framework of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, were imposed between the religion and politics. In this doctrinal and theoretical corset, political knowledge struggled to reach the full margin of autonomy possible, in order to meet the demands of a confrontation between opposing Catholic powers.

In this cultural context, it was evident that France had everything to lose against an imperial power as universalist in its aspirations as the Church itself, and for the same reason, more theoretically legitimized to impose its rights to political hegemony before the doctrinal court which protected the ideas and mentalities of a time in need of theological justification. In this sense, Richelieu’s commitment to the propaganda of the ideas of the so-called “State Catholics” should also be considered as one of the successes of his work of directing the political affairs of the French crown.

An intellectual battle was raging, paralleling the political and military battle; and the critical reception in the Catholic world of Machiavelli’s work was central to the controversy. In France, given the nation’s needs for its defensive geopolitical position in the face of the supremacy of the imperial order, there was an urgent need for a split between Christian ethics and morals and the demands derived from the exercise of political power that had now begun to be assumed.

Meanwhile in Spain, there was no room for assimilating a Machiavellian discourse which was directly opposed to the national legitimizing talismans since the Reconquista (however, Tacitism has been judged as a form of “crypto-Machiavellianism,” very widespread in Catholic countries): “The work of Machiavelli, with its political and historical critique of Christian morality and the papacy, could not compete in a Spain in which the State made Catholicism more and more its basilar foundation and which placed the mythical principle in the refuge of Covadonga of its state-construction and imperial expansion.”

Undoubtedly, this frustrated assimilation by the Spanish elites of the new political discourse of propaganda deserves attention which, at the service of the French monarchy, increasingly vindicated the legitimate autonomy of the reason of State within the framework of Catholic thought, all the while denouncing as spurious the theological arguments with which the Spaniards tried to disguise, according to this interpretation, a political and military hegemony that exclusively served their own interests.

Already in 1623, la France mourante showed what danger the policy of the King of Spain posed for France: ‘…If we allow his conquests to be strengthened, it is very certain that he will become master of all Italy, and dominator of the Germanies, and by this means he will encircle this crown everywhere by powers so great that it will be impossible for to resist it…’ The Discours sur plusieurs points importants (1626) denounces ‘…those who have always aspired to the Empire of the Universe.’ La Lettre déchiffrée (1627) attacks Spanish politics that wants to ‘…raise the affairs of heaven to the level of those of Madrid,’ and for whom ‘everything that is done by the Vatican is criminal if it is not ratified in the Escorial.’ In 1626, the preface of Pierre de touche politique specifies the inspiration for the book: ‘…it uncovers the purpose that the Spanish have to oppress all their neighbors under the pretext of Religion and Charity, and to establish by that means their Universal Monarchy, and shows that this nation has always had the interest of God and the Church on its lips, and it has never had it in its heart.’ After the accusation of imperialism, the reproach most frequently leveled at the Spanish is that of using the spiritual for temporal purposes.”

This new anti-imperialist argumentative arsenal was not manufactured in a completely spontaneous way. It was driven by the theoretical ammunition of Cardinal Richelieu himself, who did not hesitate to point out the political servitudes of the “Spanish theology” of the time.

“Richelieu, in his Memoirs, denounces the Spanish pretexts. Foreign policy pamphlets did not stop attacking the ‘new theology’ manufactured by Spain to cover its ambitions… It is therefore well established in the political creed of the ‘good French:’ When the Spanish defend Christianity, we can be sure that it is Christianity that defends the Spanish.”

In the combat between the Empire and the new state-form of the French model, a struggle was also taking place in the field of political thought. In particular, this theoretical controversy took place within the religious framework of Catholic legitimacy, in which France seemed to count, by her birthright as eldest daughter of the Church, with credentials that could compete with those of the Holy Empire.

Despite the undoubted superiority of the state-form to respond to the demands and challenges of the confrontation that was drawn on the geopolitical board, Spain could not assume those new usages that clashed, head-on, both with its own legal and political traditions and with its political history of national reconstruction (the Reconquista), and so attached to a legitimizing religious discourse that there was no room in it for the slightest split for the reason of State independent of the guardianship of the faith.

On the other hand, this national character and this historical-political-religious personality seemed to fit much better with the imperial narrative, especially at a time marked by a Protestant Reformation that reinforced the rights of justification of religious orthodoxy to impose the universal order of the sword of Rome. These roots explain, to a large extent, the costly assimilation of the state-model in Hispanic lands.

As for Spanish political thought, it was forced, in Abellán’s words, to have to live ‘in fact’ under a political form, ‘the State,’ in which, however, ‘it did not theoretically believe.’ And perhaps it is true that the Spanish authors did not believe much in the ‘modern State;’ not so much because religion prevented it, but rather because they believed in something that was not exactly the modern State: A Catholic Empire.”

Unlike Spain, France had all the reasons in the world to believe in the political form of the State; and if reasons were lacking, there was no hesitation in inventing them as much as necessary. The autonomy of the demands of politics from the imperatives of religion was undoubtedly the central philosophy of the new propaganda of the French monarchy and the core from which all these reasons emerged. And it was Richelieu himself who fully advanced it, by asserting, in a famous phrase and with all the religious authority of which a prince of the Church was capable, that the interests of the State are different from the interests of the salvation of the souls.

“Placed between its Protestant allies and Catholic Spain, Richelieu’s France faced a difficult choice. State or religion. Such was the dilemma that arose in the conscience of many French people and the writings of the time attest to their discomfort… In another respect, Richelieu did not say otherwise and, in the instructions to Schomberg often cited, we read: ‘”Different are the interests of the State, which bind the princes, and different the interests of the salvation of our souls”.’”

The link between this new secularization of political thought and the state- political form is of interest in this regard. In addition to the interest that this commitment to a political realism freed from religious ties supposed for theoretical propaganda in the service of the Cardinal, there is an undoubted favorable propensity of the state-scheme towards the intellectual figures of the most secular political thought. These figures found it difficult to break through the legitimacy structure of the imperial form, too impregnated by the weight of the sacred (the “Holy” Empire) and by the will to impose a cosmocracy of universalist ambitions that, in the manner of Campanella, it necessarily contaminated or dissolved the political dualities of the conflict in its purest sense (friend-foe).

IV. Political Creation Outside The Polis

Sheldon Wolin has analyzed the creative facet inherent in political thought and its recurrent disruptive contribution, between the lines of continuity of the inherited Western tradition, as well as the relationship of these creative leaps with the historical transformations of political forms. For Wolin, originally, political thought was related to the characteristic problems of the polis, that is, to its size, problems and intensity, features that offered a general framework marked by a very defining effervescence of a way of living and living together in public space.

This simple intuition immediately translated into another question. If political thought is a thought related to the problems of the polis, can that same model of thought survive in the contexts related to other political forms? In other words, how does an alien spatial configuration affect the spatial limits, concerns, and conflict intensity of the polis in political thought?

The contrast between the “nervous intensity” of Greek political thought, attached to the dimensions and effervescence of the polis, and other human sensibilities, characteristic of a different spatial conception, was raised for the first time in relation to the “the mood of later Stoicism which leisurely, and without the sense of compelling urgency, contemplated political life as it was acted out amidst a setting as spacious as the universe itself.” This first contrast already heralded the decisive influence that this new universalist spatial sensibility, defining the imperial form, was to imprint on the configuration of political thought, impoverishing and blurring its essential categories.

“…Yet the central fact from the death of Alexander (323) to the final absorption of the Mediterranean world into the Roman Empire was that political conditions no longer corresponded to the traditional categories of political thought. The Greek vocabulary might subsume the tiny polis and the sprawling leagues of cities under the single word koinon, yet there could be no blinking the fact that the city denoted an intensely political association while the leagues, monarchies, and empires that followed upon the decline of the polis were essentially apolitical organizations. Hence if the historical task of Greek political theory had been to discover and to define the nature of political life, it devolved upon Hellenistic and later Roman thought to rediscover what meaning the political dimension of existence might have in an age of empire.”

The way to overcome the difficulties associated with the new social representation of space (the enormous distances that were now imposed in the face of the customary relationship of citizen proximity that defined the Greek political atmosphere) consisted in a recovery of the sacred symbolism, which was then thereafter to merge with the discourse of legitimacy of the imperial forms.

Where loyalty had earlier come from a sense of common involvement, it was now to be centered in a common reverence for power personified. The person of the ruler served as the terminus of loyalties, the common center linking the scattered parts of the empire. This was accomplished by transforming monarchy into a cult and surrounding it with an elaborate system of signs, symbols, and worship. These developments suggest an existing need to bring authority and subject closer by suffusing the relationship with a religious warmth. In this connection, the use of symbolism was particularly important, because it showed how valuable symbols can be in bridging vast distances. They serve to evoke the presence of authority despite the physical reality being far removed.”

The impact of this new configuration of the dimensions of the relationship of the men subjected to the new imperial power not only ruined the classical categories of citizenship of Greek thought but also altered the moral and concrete structure (that so characteristic symbiosis of ethics and practical sense) of a perception of the political, marked by a closeness to the real problems of public space and a direct experience of its associated conflicts.

Faced with this hyperesthesia of Greek political realism, an increasingly abstract conception of political life was now rising, which required, to the same extent, the help of a theoretical and symbolic apparatus, twinned with the morphology of a community, without defined contours, and that overflowed the limits and borders of vivid representations, in order to enter the infinite space opened by universal concepts and categories.

With the development of imperial organization, the locus of power and decision had grown far removed from the lives of the vast majority. There seemed to be little connection between the milieu surrounding political decisions and the tiny circle of the individual’s experience. Politics, in other words, was being conducted in a way incomprehensible to the categories of ordinary thought and experience. The ‘visual politics’ of an earlier age, when men could see and feel the forms of public action and make meaningful comparisons with their own experience, was giving way to “abstract politics,” politics from a distance, where men were informed about public actions which bore little or no resemblance to the economy of the household or the affairs of the market-place. In these circumstances, political symbols were essential reminders of the existence of authority.”

The new cosmic sensitivity, initiated by Stoic cosmopolitanism and which adapted so well to the ethos of imperial power (personifying itself even in egregious figures such as Marcus Aurelius), was called to be united, if not to merge, with soteriological ambitions of a religious nature, especially when, in time, the Empire form was to proclaim Christianity as the official religion: Another and far stronger impulse, but one that was equally apolitical, was to suffuse power with religious symbols and imagery…This was a certain sign that men had come to look towards the political regime for something over and above their material and intellectual needs, something akin to salvation.”

From then on, and despite the theological reservations of a Saint Augustine in relation to Varro’s political theology, the historical-political moment was in the best position to correlate religious and political categories to the point of fostering a politics legitimized by theology and a theology endorsed by existing political forms: “This belief in a political savior, as well as the persistent attempts to assimilate the ruler to a deity and to describe the government of human society as analogous to God’s rule over the cosmos, were themes reflective of the degree to which political and religious elements had become deeply intermixed in men’s minds. In a variety of ways, in the conception of the ruler, subject, and society, the “political” quality was becoming indiscernible. At the same time, from the fourth century B.C. until well into the Christian era, men repeatedly thought of the Deity in largely political terms. Thus the paradoxical situation developed wherein the nature of God’s rule was interpreted through political categories and the human ruler through religious ones; monarchy became a justification for monotheism and monotheism for monarchy.”

It is not necessary to appeal excessively to the imagination to understand that this new mentality contributed unexpectedly but decisively to progressively blur the purity of political concepts that had grown in the heat of the conflictive intensity of Greek city life. The political categories that had populated the minds of the leading Greek philosophers were not born out of abstract speculation but out of civic life that, significantly, many of them had experienced in their own lives.

In this way, the advent of the imperial era washed away, if not the ruin of the political categories inherited from Greek philosophy, then at least the experience inherent in the Greek logos mode of political thought, thus generating a collective temperament far removed from it and increasingly apolitical ways of thinking: “In looking back on the kinds of political speculation that had followed the death of Aristotle, it is evident that the apolitical character of life had been faithfully portrayed, but no truly political philosophy had appeared. What had passed for political thought had often been radically apolitical; the meaning of political existence had been sought out only in order that men might more easily escape from it.”

Inevitably, from that very moment, through the infection of sacred symbolism in imperial forms, a path was already opening for the penetration of moral Manichaeisms that were to progressively overlap with the defining dualities of the essence of what political, as studied, for example, by Julien Freund, especially the friend-foe duality for foreign relations and the command-obedience duality for internal ones.

The political world, for this new moralism, was from now on divided into “good” and “bad” (that is, faithful and unfaithful, orthodox and heretics), thus breaking the spatial and theoretical delimitation between the political and the ethical, built by the realism of authors like Thucydides.

From now on, there was no longer a “political” morality (that is, a morality adapted to the demands of political reality), but rather the political (everything political, with its theoretical and practical arsenal) was subjected to “the” moral, a unique and universalist morality called to be colonized, over time, by a faith (the Christian one) that, unlike the other two monotheisms (the Jewish that preceded it, and the Muslim that succeeded it), paradoxically, never harbored any political ambition: “Instead of redefining the new societies in political terms, political philosophy turned into a species of moral philosophy, addressing itself not to this or that city, but to all mankind… Seneca’s suicide was the dramatic symbol of the bankruptcy of a tradition of political philosophy that had exchanged its political element for a vapid moralism.”

From this new scenario, which ultimately prevailed, we can gather striking precedents that, as symbolic advancements, were presented in the unprecedented Alexandrian imperial experiment. Eratosthenes incarnates, avant la lettre, before history the figure of an anti-Schmittian advisor, who conquers for morality the territory hitherto untouched by politics: “When Eratosthenes advised Alexander to ignore Aristotle’s distinction between Greeks and barbarians and to govern instead by dividing men into ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ this marked not only a step towards a conception of racial equality, but a stage in the decline of political philosophy… Eratosthenes’ advice indicated that political thought, like the polis itself, had been superseded by something broader, vaguer, and less political. The ‘moral’ had overridden the ‘political,’ because the moral and the “good” had come to be defined in relation to what transcended a determinate society existing in time and space.”

In conclusion, the historical decline of the polis, understood as a spatial relationship adapted from the human to the political, dragged political thought, originated by the polis, towards an intellectual, religious and moral habitat less adapted for its intellectual survival.

In this environment, which was that of Empire first and feudalism later, political philosophy languished. Although it preserved its theoretical validity in a mausoleum, in which the echo of a vocabulary born from a claustrophobic microcosm of internal rivalries was frozen over the centuries, it awaited its resurrection, by awaiting an ideal environment for palingenesis:The decline of the polis as the nuclear center of human existence had apparently deprived political thought of its basic unit of analysis, one that it was unable to replace. Without the polis, political philosophy had been reduced to the status of a subject-matter in search of a relevant context.”

The relevant context for the regeneration of political thought appeared in a universe that was partly reminiscent of that of the ancient Greek polis. The turbulent air that was breathed into the Italian republics of the Renaissance oxygenated minds capable of restoring a fuller understanding of new (and old) political realities, presenting themselves again under a new day. Machiavelli was the theoretical epitome of the modern political firmament, but the atmosphere explains the phenomenon. “Almost a century before The Prince was written, a viable tradition of “realism” had developed in Italian political thought,” states Wolin.

However, this new sensitivity to political issues would take time to break through and achieve definitive recognition, for the inertia of the old world continued to weigh on it with the tradition of political-religious symbiosis. It is not surprising that the political butterfly did not finally emerge from the chrysalis until these new categories were assumed precisely in the religious habitat that conditioned it.

The nascent national monarchies offered an incomparable setting for the testing of this new offer of understanding of the political fact. In monarchies headed by statesmen who were at the same time princes of the Church, as in Richelieu’s France, the obstacle of theological legitimation could be overcome with greater ease. In the geopolitical context of religious wars, whose moral demands could hardly be reconciled with the incipient reason of State, the fusion of the political with the religious, far from being an obstacle to the autonomy of the former, was presented as its only (and best) platform for its launching.

The following reflection by Wolin, much broader in scope and intent, nevertheless, allows an interpretation in a French way that offers a powerful framework of analysis to understand the progressive secularization of political thought in France ruled with an iron fist by the “man in red.”

“The growing merger of political and religious categories of thought was an intellectual footnote to the spread of political control over national churches. When these tendencies were joined to the growing strength of the national monarchies and to an emerging national consciousness, the combined effect was to pose a possibility which had not been seriously entertained in the West for almost a thousand years: an autonomous political order which acknowledged no superior and, while accepting the universal validity of Christian norms, was adamant in insisting that their interpretation was a national matter. But while Reformation Europe could accept the practice of an autonomous political order and disagree primarily over who should control it, there was greater reluctance to explore the notion of an autonomous political theory. As long as political theory contained a stubbornly moral element and as long as men identified the ultimate categorical imperatives with the Christian teaching, political thought would resist being divested of religious imagery and religious values.”

There is no doubt that the new political and religious scene had little to do with that of the Greek polis in which men such as Plato, Aristotle or Thucydides had been born and lived. Almost two millennia had passed and the men of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-centuries lived immersed in the dogmas of a faith unknown to the ancient Greeks.

However, far from what might seem at first glance to be the spirit of secularism that genuinely characterized the letter (and spirit) of the believers in Jesus Christ, there yet awaited a favorable context for the definitive conquest of a political autonomy that did not contradict, said its postulates, as seriously as in the case of those who followed the law of Moses or Muhammad.

Furthermore, as Jerónimo Molina notes, the anthropological pessimism of the political conception of a Machiavelli was an unwitting debtor of Christian theology; and, although the echoes of the creator of The Prince seem to resonate in the history of the Peloponnesian war, the profundity of the intellectual equipment on the condition of man, which distinguished the Florentine, as a result of more than 1500 years of Christian tradition, was not within the reach of a military man like Thucydides.

This pessimistic strain, which grew out of the realization that the new knowledge must be conversant with evil and that its major concern was to avoid hell, confirms that it was a post-Christian science rather than one inspired directly by classical models. The assertion that ‘all men are wicked and that they will always give vent to the malignity that is in their minds when opportunity offers’ was one which Greek political science never entertained and Christian doctrine never doubted.”

V. Laicization And The “Catholic” Reason Of State

In this context of French opposition to an imperial power that based its political legitimacy on an authority that appealed to arguments of a religious nature, the autonomy of the political did not appear as the result of an independent intellectual construction, but rather from the demands of a propaganda at the service of military and political action determined by an atmosphere of religious hegemony in the field of argumentation about temporary realities.

Discovered or rediscovered by the statists of Richelieu’s time, the idea of the autonomy of politics does not come from pure speculation, but from a whole series of concrete conflicts: The dispute over Gallicanism, the problem of relations with the Protestants, and above all the Franco-Spanish conflict. The principle of the independence of politics was the anti-Spanish weapon par excellence.”

All of this explains why the course of the debate led to probably unforeseen conclusions. This is proved by the fact that the cardinalist propaganda accepted the challenge of the religious foundation of the theoretical reasons to present in the face of Spanish demands. Spain had chosen a bad enemy to uphold the sacred superiority of her cause. The first-born daughter of the Church would not hesitate to connect with the foundations of a divine mission so frequently highlighted by the Petrine See: The religion of the monarchy could not but confirm the French in the idea that their country had a mission and that it continued the tradition of the Gesta Dei per Francos so well expressed by the words of Joan of Arc: ‘Those who make war on the Holy Kingdom of France, wage war on King Jesus.’”

Nevertheless, the religious dialectic used in the conflict did not cease to be, for the political interests of the French monarchy, a defensive weapon designed specifically to counter the offensive of the Habsburgs, no matter how few actually used it with full conviction. Little by little, strictly political arguments came to the fore, while religious rhetoric was progressively located in the space of stage decoration. After all, the confrontation of the two greatest Catholic powers of the time was not the most appropriate terrain for a resolution of the conflict on a religious basis. As it is a markedly political struggle, it was inevitable that the political arguments would gradually come to occupy the space with the greatest protagonism.

The Catholic State was not just a name of one of those government pamphlets serving Richelieu’s policy. The name chosen for that publication indicates the general inspiration for its content. Undoubtedly, this periodical, which appeared at the beginning of Richelieu’s ministry in 1624, was distinguished by its doctrinal vigor, in its defense of the cardinal’s new policy. The exact title was Le Catholique d’État ou discours politique des alliances du roi très chrétien contre les calomnies de son État. As the scholars of the press of the time pointed out, this pamphlet constituted the hardcore of propaganda in the service of the minister of Louis XIII.

The cardinalist pamphleteer revolted against the intellectual and moral contempt that at the time was directed at the association of the figure of the “Catholic” and the idea of “State policy.” In this way, it placed with pride in its very title the spirit of this association, elevating it to the rank of national and religious communion and apologizing to those who, like the sovereigns of France, knew how to combine the interests of the State and the Catholic Church. However, in the end (and beyond the immediate intentions of its promoters), the thrust of its doctrinal argumentation contributed to progressively dissociate the foundation of the political order from any religious horizon, reworking the foundations of a matched political realism to the interested analysis of the French position in the conflict against the Spanish Empire.

The paradox of the Catholique d’État resides in the fact that after having founded absolutism on an authoritarian conception of religion, it came to separate politics from religion. It does not approximate the power of God except to better ensure its independence… Rejecting the religious arguments of Spanish propaganda and underlining the separation of politics and morals, the Catholique d’État placed the conflict between France and Spain in its true light – that of the confrontation of two national interests.”

As a consequence of this growing translation – from the space of religious definition to the field of political definition – the terminology of the cardinalist writing progressively colors the friend-foe duality of the political opposition with national and non-religious characters, thus affirming a delimitation of intellectual conflict in terms ever closer to the real meaning of political confrontation: While foreign pamphlets separated men into Christian and ungodly, the Catholique d’État took a different view… Thus, in the cardinalist writing, the friend-foe distinction, capital in political thought, was based from now, not on religion, but on nationality and patriotism.”

Thus, from the study of propaganda publications, such as, the Catholique d’État, it is possible to analyze the general meaning of a process of gradual doctrinal decantation. Although the opposition against the Catholic Empire forced a response in the theological field (or more exactly, in the theological-political field), the prolongation of the conflict imposed, in addition to the refutation of the foe’s religious “pretexts” with the same Catholic ammunition that it used, a necessary transfer of the epicenter of the intellectual confrontation towards a political territory, not sown by the theological-moral seed. Without this historical circumstance (fundamentally political and military, as well as religious) that surrounded the cardinalist publication, the “para-doxa” of the Catholique d’État cannot be understood.

Not without its literary qualities, the Catholique d’État contains, in abbreviated form, the theory of the authoritarian State of the reign of Louis XIII, and defines the ideal of a ‘political Catholic,’ of the ‘good patriot.’ Its paradox consists of starting from a religious conception of power in order to separate politics from religion; or, more exactly, from a religion understood in the Spanish way… By developing a new conception of politics, there is a sense of that laicization of power that became the dominant feature of Richelieu’s time.”

The new climate brought about by the Franco-imperial conflict was to propitiate a state of mind tending to consider with suspicion the religious pretexts adduced by a Spanish-Austrian foe maliciously inclined, in the eyes of cardinalist propaganda, to locate the theoretical epicenter of the confrontation in the doctrinal space most adapted to its own benefit. This suspicion unconsciously contributed to disavowing the religious legitimation of political causes, presenting it as a veil, self-interestedly used by a hand determined to hide the true face of its owner.

The similar arrangement of the pieces on the board between the two contenders (Catholic powers competing in moral authority in an atmosphere of religious hyper-legitimacy) originated the unexpected transformation of the rules of the game, until then in force, and with it the consequent secularization of the political thought. It can be said that the Spanish imperial hegemony gave rise to a reason (Catholic and French) of State.

The consequence of this process to Spain and its supporters was, without a doubt, to make religious justifications in politics suspect. Here is a curious detail of the history of political thought in the seventeenth-century: The idea that religion is a deception of the rulers and a secret of domination has been spread by publicists of the very Christian king writing against the pamphleteers of the very Catholic king. The conception that makes religion an imposture of the powerful has been, if not produced, at least reinforced by the confrontation of great nation states. Thus making religion suspect, what could remain as the law of international relations but the interest of each State and natural law? And indeed, if one looks for the basis that the statist writers give to Richelieu’s policy, it is found that they increasingly invoke the national interest and the reason of State. They certainly do not make the kingdom of France a secular state, but they are led to separate more clearly than their predecessors and their opponents the interests of the State from those of religion. The fact that Spain and its supporters insisted on the union of faith and politics undoubtedly contributed much to this secularization… If they still mixed religious arguments and rational arguments, the predominance of the latter is noticeable.”

Thus,” Etienne Thuau writes, “reason of State prepared to become the main argument of Richelieu’s policy.” This “politics of sleeplessness,” a peculiar form of French-style Machiavellianism in a national-Catholic guise, must be understood as the necessary reaction to a given context. The uncomfortable truth of a political realism, purged of moral mystifications and theological disguises, could not break through without attending to that context.

It seems that in Richelieu’s time pro-Spanish publicists and French pamphleteers opted for a veiled politics to that of wakefulness… Thus, in the eyes of many seventeenth-century Frenchmen, Gallic ‘naivety’ was opposed to Spanish hypocrisy. This naivety consisted, at the outset, in revealing to a limited public the levers of power and in taking the layman behind the scenes of government. More profoundly, it tended to desecrate power and detach it from the moral and religious justifications with which it was often illegitimately cloaked. It is not always pleasant to speak the truth, and it is to his lucidity that Richelieu owes, as with Machiavelli, his bad reputation.”

The reference to Machiavelli is not without meaning and perhaps helps to place the doctrinal debate, limited by the circumstances of Richelieu’s time, in a broader context. The “French” reason of State does not arise from the intellectual import of the “letter” of the Florentine’s thought, but rather from the adaptation of its “spirit” to the concrete historical plane of a conflict marked by very precise connotations. And, fundamentally, because of the remarkable personality and ambition of a figure of the stature of Richelieu.

The enigmatic Richelieu in fact embodied for his contemporaries the type of politician marked by Machiavellianism… Faithful, if not to the letter, at least to the spirit of Machiavelli’s doctrine, they made political thought progress since, thanks to them, under the Richelieu regime, the Machiavellian current came to merge with that of the Reason of State.”

The peculiar religious circumstances of the conflict between the French monarchy and the Habsburg Empire help to understand the emergence of this “Catholic” Machiavellianism in Gallic lands and the scope of the contradictions that it carried within it. Another factor that should not be forgotten, when interpreting the period and the historical precipitate (essentially involuntary) that happened to it, is the existential personification of these contradictions. By this we mean that the undoubted political motivations of its main architects were not combined with their religious responsibilities at the cost of a tribute to cynicism or hypocrisy, as a certain distorted and caricatured exhibition tried to underline later, especially in field of literature (The main responsibility, in this regard, is that of Alexander Dumas and his three musketeers).

The genuine religious spirit of men like Richelieu and Father José, the most intimate collaborator of the cardinal’s politics, but also a Capuchin steeped in a fervent missionary ideal, should not be underestimated with chronocentric criteria, if one does not want to blur the real significance of the events of the time (The most representative work on the historical significance of the figure of Father José and his contribution to Richelieu’s political career remains that of Aldous Huxley, Gray Eminence). The sincerity with which these ministers and religious lived their own internal conflicts genuinely fed the sense of politics and the thinking of the main protagonists of the moment, leaving a legacy that would decisively influence the future of a new Europe.

Richelieu may not have had his breviary and Machiavelli at his table, but his Machiavellianism was as indisputable as his faith. Father José dreamt of the Crusade at the same time that he worked for the ruin of the very Catholic Monarchy… The thought of the statists, like that of the men of the seventeenth-century, united the contradictions. They glorified the prince, vice-king of God, responsible before his Creator and, at the same time, invoked the irresponsibility of the reason of State… In good logic, the opposing ways of thinking in life are summoned and completed. Inconsistencies also have their logic… What seems to us incoherence is, to a certain extent, the very mark of life. Those seemingly incompatible principles that coexist are actually the past and the present facing each other.”

Although the sense of criticism of figures like Richelieu usually insists on the amoral character of their political endeavors and on the religious instrumentalization of their power interests, the truth is that many of the men who collaborated with those endeavors were also moved by a sincere desire for religious purification. The delimitation of the respective fields of politics and religion should not only serve to liberate politics from religious servitude but also, and for the same reason, to emancipate religion from bastard political ties.

Closer to reality, the statism of Richelieu’s time, assuming violence to overcome it, tried to agree on force and reason. Attempting to reconcile violence and reason, flirting with Machiavellianism to overcome it, statism propagated a new conception of the relationship of men with each other and of man with God. By secularizing political thought, Richelieu developed natural law and a new theology. Statists reject in the first place any religion that mixes God too much with human affairs and that is preached by people ‘more political and carnal than spiritual.’ as Theveneau put it. They judge very suspiciously political-religious endeavors in the Spanish fashion, such as the League, the Evangelization of the Indies, the holy war against the heretics or the infidel. They aspire to a purer, more interior religion, oblivious of material interests and the narrowness of dogma.”

The characteristic realism of this “Catholic Machiavellianism” could thus enlist the support of sincerely religious men, without whom the contemporaneity of its emergence could hardly be assimilated with the appearance of eminently spiritual figures such as Pascal (1623-1662), and his decisive and parallel contribution to both scientific and religious thought.

“Reason, for the seventeenth-century, is therefore, to a certain extent, daughter of the State of Richelieu,” as Etienne Thuau pointed out, and continued: “The brutality of the time of Louis XIII made political apriorisms impossible… But this oppressive thought is also an instrument of liberation. In its positive aspect, the statist works of our period contribute to secularize the State and the League of Nations, and the most remarkable fact of this influence is that the progress of rationalism is parallel to that of the State.” The environmental secularization of the spirit of the time undoubtedly purified the political analysis but also engendered a new moral and religious sensibility, announcing, on the other hand, the new ideological and cultural winds of the great revolutionary rupture of the late eighteenth-century.

This Christian statism placed ample confidence in the human will to build civil society. It is based on ancient and modern rationalisms and gave great autonomy to the State… It is the same with the political polemics of Spain, as with Pascal’s polemics with the Jesuits: They did a lot to secularize thought and expand the morals and politics of honest men. Equally distant from Spanishized theology and from Machiavelli’s atheism, the politics of honest men – or, more precisely, that of the bourgeoisie, men of law and civil servants – tends to be based on natural law, a Christian rationalism and, very often, deism.”

To relate the links of this great (and indeed foundational) “French Machiavellian moment” with the revolutionary hecatomb, which will take place a century and a half after the death of Richelieu, constitutes the task of a work that goes beyond the limits of this one. Instead, we will content ourselves with pointing out, by way of a conclusive synthesis, that the Catholic reason of State that stands as the main novelty of French political thought at the time of Louis XIII, which in his reign allowed the great Cardinal to fulfill his incomparable foundational and restorative dictatorship,” is a paradigmatic example of that creative factor that accompanies the history of Western thought – in that permanent tension between continuity and innovation, analyzed by Sheldon Wolin, as we have highlighted throughout this brief study as hermeneutical support of our interpretation. This creative factor is undoubtedly linked to that imaginative dimension inherent in political thought, as highlighted by the American author, but also to the socio-historical circumstances that incardinate the imaginative leaps of the philosopher.

The varied conceptions of space indicate that each theorist has viewed the problem from a different perspective, a particular angle of vision. This suggests that political philosophy constitutes a form of ‘seeing’ political phenomena and that the way in which the phenomena will be visualized depends in large measure on where the viewer ‘stands.’”

In other words:

The concepts and categories of a political philosophy may be likened to a net that is cast out to capture political phenomena, which are then drawn in and sorted in a way that seems meaningful and relevant to the particular thinker. But in the whole procedure, he has selected a particular net and he has cast it in a chosen place.”

Although Richelieu’s time did not have the support of a political philosophy similar to that of an observer of the English Civil War such as Thomas Hobbes, it nevertheless developed an analogous propaganda apparatus for self-defense, mutatis mutandis, which we have met in the twentieth-century. The interests of the cardinalist press constituted that socio-historical context to which Wolin refers, and which no longer represented so much the perspective adopted by the “observer” (who is associated with an impartial and almost scientific agent), but the approach taken by whoever he observed and at the same time influenced events, in a position similar to that which defined the trajectory of the diplomatic Machiavelli. “The political philosophy of the Richelieu regime is therefore less the fruit of disinterested reflection than of the mask of the will of the State and an instrument of domination. The impression of incompleteness that his works offer comes from his practical aspirations,” Thuau also pointed out.

It is no coincidence that this scholar of reason of State during Richelieu’s time emphasized that “thanks to creative distortions and respectful falsifications, jurists, theologians and men of letters worked for ‘statist crystallization.’” The reference to the creative factor and the fundamentally proactive position of its new interpreters (observers and actors at the same time) clearly delimits the peculiar socio-historical dimension of the imaginative character that we can attribute to the political thought that germinated to the beat of the cardinal’s work. The fusion of the jurist, theologian and man of letters came to be represented, with a similar political role, by the twentieth-century intellectual.

The echoes of this desacralization sponsored by the propaganda demands of the French throne defended by Richelieu were felt, over time, beyond the space-time coordinates of the Spanish-French conflict that saw it born, attacking the descendants of Louis XIII with arguments similar to those used by cardinalist advertising. Only two centuries later, the argument for the desacralization of politics that favored the geopolitical interests of the kingdom of France ended up ruining its own internal foundations.

However, the antecedents that culminated in the French Revolution had, in the meantime, become contaminated with the infection of a new secular matrix moralism, an enlightened humanitarianism that undoubtedly inherited the transcendent desacralization of power that was initiated involuntarily at the initiative of the propagandized, in the service of the Cardinal, but which reoriented the religious potential of the French tradition towards intramundane purposes. Hence, we must ask ourselves about the weak intellectual offspring of the crude political realism that emerged as a result of the claims of affirmation of the French monarchy of Louis XIII.

One feature of the cardinalist propaganda deserves to be noted: Its tendency to offer a brutal vision of reality… The cardinalist press therefore tended to present political life as a confrontation of forces, a harsh view that seemed to “free spirits” a sign of truth. This feature of Richelieu’s time is striking when his accomplishments are compared with those of a later time.”

Perhaps the French theory of reason of State that emerged in Richelieu’s time died as a consequence of its success. French absolutism was to dominate European geopolitics from the treaty of Westphalia. The requirements of his policy, from then on, were to be different from those under the command of the man in red. If Richeulian Machiavellianism is to be fairly considered as one of the golden ages of political realism, its profound nature is better understood if it is seen, in the pre-Westphalian European context, as a brief parenthesis between theological moralism that it preceded and the immanentist secular moralism that buried it.

We can indeed wonder if the time of Richelieu, who made Machiavellianism flourish, was not the moment of truth of the century. Indeed, the seventeenth-century, a century of violence, seems to have been a “Belle époque” for political realism… The Middle Ages lived in a world that was made bearable by the presence of God. The Age of Enlightenment, without ignoring the miseries of the human condition, nurtured a humanitarian ideal. Our gloomy period only looks at the gross facts without any ray of light coming to illuminate them.”

This is the paradox that perhaps summarizes the history of the vision of the political, which is also the history of its visionaries: That all light outside their domain is not a light that illuminates but a light that blinds.

Domingo González Hernández holds a PhD in political philosophy from the Complutense University of Madrid. He is a professor at the University of Murcia. His recent book is René Girard, maestro cristiano de la sospecha (René Girard, Christian Teacher of Suspicion) He is also the Director of the podcast “La Caverna de Platón” for the newspaper La Razón. He has explored the political possibilities of Girardian mimetic theory in more than twenty studies and academic papers. His latest publication is “La monarquía sagrada y el origen de lo político: una hipótesis farmacológica” (“Sacred monarchy and the origin of politics: a pharmacological hypothesis”), Xiphias Gladius, 2020.

The image shows a portrait of Armand Jean du Plessis, Cardinal Richelieu by Philippe de Champaigne, painted ca. 1633-1640.e, painted in 1648.

Translated from the Spanish by N. Dass.

The Unique Basque Country

We are so pleased to offer our readers the very first English translation of the “Prologue,” by the great scholar of modern Spain, Professor Stanley Payne, to the new book, Vascos y navarros: Mitos, historia y realidades identitarias (Basques and Navarrese: Myths, History and Realities of Identity), by the renowned historian Dr. Arnaud Imatz whose work we have had the great privilege to present in the Postil.

In another place I have observed that all history is individual and singular, and that of all the lands of the West none has a more singular history than Spain. Within Spain, there is no other region as unique as the Basque Country, not even the Catalonia of the fet diferencial.

The Basque Country is especially individual for several reasons – its native language, its specific institutions (individualized by provinces even within the region) and its history. However, it also participates in the same general social structure and common culture of Spain; and its anthropological basis is, despite everything, and if we follow the conclusions of Julio Caro Baroja, probably more similar than the ultra-nationalists want to admit.

Arnaud Imatz is a French writer and intellectual who has devoted a long time to the history and problems of Spain, although he is not as well known within the country as he deserves. His important works published in Spain have dealt with Francoism and other significant issues, from Al-Ándalus to current problems. As a Basque-French with a long background on both sides of the Pyrenees, it is only natural that he has devoted a lot of attention to Basque history.

A dominant aspect of current Spanish culture is the misrepresentation of history, both within and without the country. And the part of Spain whose history that has been the most misrepresented is the Basque Country proper. All nationalism, without the slightest exception, mythologizes the history of the nation; but the myths of Basque history are even more outlandish than those of some other nations or regions.

That is why Arnaud Imatz has prepared this book on Basques and Navarrese, which constitutes a profile or tracing of the most important events, personalities and factors in Basque history, with the goal of presenting the facts and realities of this story.

In addition – which is equally important – it offers a much more complete perspective, because it includes the history of the French Basque Country and Navarre. Given the oppressive self-absorption of historiography in Spain, this fuller perspective is usually lacking, however indispensable it may be. For this reason, such a historical profile by Imatz constitutes a unique work, indispensable to understand the basic historical structure of “both” Basque Countries, and also how Navarra is related to this history, while also following its own history.

I would like to illustrate the complexity of this story with a personal anecdote, which has to do with the very origin of my own interest in the Basque Country, and which refers to the personality of the original Basque Lehendakari, José Antonio de Aguirre, who has been, as Imatz says, both the most famous and the most popular of all those who have occupied that position. Unlike the other Republican leaders in exile, Aguirre spent most of World War II in the United States, a circumstance that no doubt had to do with the perpetual search at that time for an international sponsor.

During the war, I had presented a short cycle of lectures at my university, Columbia (USA), and my thesis supervisor, who had known him, provided me with a personal letter of introduction, because in 1958, I had thought to start my first research trip to Spain, with a brief stay in Paris to meet the main republican exiles, some of whom helped me generously.

Aguirre received me immediately and with great cordiality at his office at the “Délégation d’Euzkadi” on rue Singer de la Rive Droite in Paris. The President had a great gift for being with people, and was easygoing and open in his dealings, with a lot of human warmth. Furthermore, he had the time to chat for an hour with an unknown 24-year-old North American PhD candidate, in part because nationalism was at a low point in those years.

I visited him again in June 1959, after my research in Spain, and he received me in the same cordial manner. With his great personal geniality, Aguirre spoke extensively on the history of nationalism and the Basque Country and was very open to questions. In other venues, he was undoubtedly a lot more controversial; but on a personal level he was not controversial at all.

As an example of his frankness, I will mention the fact that it was Aguirre who first explained to me that in 1936, opinion in the Basque Country was divided into three, with a third in favor of nationalism, another in favor of Spanish Catholic rights and the last, a third, supporting the Spanish left, which was true. Or, as Imatz says, the Spanish civil war was also a civil war between Basques. Aside from the historical issues, I will always remember the Basque President with the greatest affection for his generosity and kindness.

He also introduced me to other personalities, especially the great Basque bibliographer Jon Bilbao, who would soon be a good friend and colleague for life. Jon, who had been born in Puerto Rico, was an American citizen but had been a young gudaris officer in the war. He later earned a Ph.D. at Columbia, where his professors, somewhat baffled by the uniqueness of the Basque language in which Jon wanted to specialize, placed his research project in none other than the Ural-Altaic languages section, another example of the perplexity raised by the language (as Imatz will explain).

Years later, Jon became the librarian, and special, advisor at the Basque Studies Program at the University of Nevada, the first in North America with that specialty. Then, during the brief period of my research on the Basque Country (1971-1973), it was Jon who insisted that I expand my limited monograph on nationalism under the Second Republic, requested by the Rivista Storica Italiana, into a short book on the entire first phase of nationalism. In those last years of the Franco regime, it was the first professional study on a subject that later, in the democratic era, would become an extensive industry.

For these and other reasons, it is a real pleasure to write this foreword to the work of Arnaud Imatz, which because of its unusually broad perspective and its objectivity constitutes a unique book, short but absolutely basic. His text is sober, exact, very concise, objective and demystifying, but without controversial tones. It is especially useful at this time for any reader interested in knowing the fundamental data of the history of the Basque provinces and Navarra – without myths.

The image shows, “The Little Village Girl with Red Carnation,” by Adolfo Guiard, painted in 1903.

Translated from the Spanish by N. Dass.

History Is Not Manichean: A Conversation With Arnaud Imatz

This month we are so very pleased to publish the English version of an interview with Dr. Arnaud Imatz, the renowned French historian, who has published over a dozen books and numerous articles in both European and American journals and magazines. Dr. Imatz has contributed several times to the Postil. Here, Dr. Imtaz is in conversation with La Tribuna del Pais Vasco in regards to his new book, Vascos y Navarros (Basques and Navarrese).

La Tribuna (LT): How did the idea of writing the book, Vascos y Navarros, come about?

Arnaud Imatz (AI): I started by writing a chronological article in French and was surprised to see it published in a tourist guide in which they did not even mention my name. As a result, I decided to considerably revise and expand that article. More than anything, it is a small tribute to my ancestors. They were Basques, Navarrese and Béarnais. They were fishermen, bakers, vintners, public works contractors, military men, carpenters, tobacco growers, booksellers, restaurant owners and hoteliers, located for the most part in Hendaye.

I was born in Bayonne, but after a few months of life I was already going with my mother to the beach at Hendaye, La Pointe, right by Fuenterrabía. A beautiful place, now gone, having been replaced by the beautiful but conventional marina, the marina of Sokoburu. With my wife, my son and my two daughters, I first in Paris and then for twenty years in Madrid. I have unforgettable memories of Madrid and close friends (even a true “spiritual son”). But I spent most of my time – more than forty years – in the Basque Country, an exceptional place in the world.

Of course, my Galician, Breton, Andalusian or Corsican friends may disagree. This is normal. My children and grandchildren, who live further north, and my wife, born in the Ile-de-France (although of partly Biscayan descent), sometimes make fun of my excessive attachment to the land. But what difference does it make! I also had my doubts and reacted with skepticism when in the distant 1980s a Basque friend, a professor of Law, who had been a member of the tribunal that examined my doctoral thesis, answered my questions: “How about La Reunion? La Martinique?” etc.: “Well, well, but you know that when you see Biriatu ….” He didn’t even bother to finish his sentence. Now I know he was right.

LT: So your family has deep roots in the Basque Country?

AI: Yes, indeed. My surname, Imatz or Imaz, meaning “wicker,” “of wicker,” “pasture,” or “reed,” is found, above all, in the Basque Autonomous Community, but it is also present, although less frequently, in Navarre and the French Basque Country. On my mother’s side of the family, there are a good number of Basque surnames. Most were born and lived in Hendaye. Some moved away, went to work in different cities in France or Spain (Madrid, Palencia or Andalusia), even in America. But sooner or later almost all of them returned to their native town in the French Basque Country.

My maternal grandfather was Basque, Carlist and of course Catholic. He kept a beret his whole life which was given to his family by Don Carlos. He worked in hotels in Guayaquil and London and later in the María Cristina de San Sebastián, when it opened in 1912. During the First World War, he was a gunner in the Battle of Verdun. Once demobilized, he returned to Hendaye to take over his parents’ hotel. He spoke Basque and French, but also Spanish, like most of the members of my family at that time; and by the way, they were very closely connected with Spain and the Spanish.

At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, my great-grandfather had a brother, who was parish priest in Biriatu. He was dedicated to his priesthood, but he also liked to play pelota. Yes! And always wearing his cassock. He became very involved in the defense and safeguarding of the Basque language and culture. Such were the famous French-Basque priests of yesteryear.

My great-aunt used to play the piano and she taught me, among other things, the Oriamendi and the Hymn of San Marcial. From her house, located on the banks of the Bidasoa, she could see the Alarde de Irún and at night hear, although very rarely, the whispers of the smugglers. My great-aunt and great-grandmother (a strong widow who had been the director of the Hendaye Casino in the 1920s) told me many memories of our border family.

LT: Can you tell us about some of these memories?

AI: Some anecdotes. A few months before he died, my Carlist grandfather, naturally in favor of the national side, negotiated with Commander Julián Troncoso, a friend of his, for the exchange of a friend from the Republican side, Pepita Arrocena. As a result of the attempted Socialist Revolution, in 1934, Pepita had crossed the border with her driver and with the socialist leader, Indalecio Prieto, hidden in the trunk of her car.

Also, French friends of my grandfather participated in the unsuccessful assault on the Republican submarine C2, which was anchored in the port of Brest. I must say that during the Civil War, many foreign correspondents used to stay at my grandparents’ hotel.

At the end of the war, my grandmother, now a widow, was close friends with the wife of Marshal Pétain, French ambassador to Spain. But two years later, being in the so-called “forbidden” area, in the middle of the Nazi occupation, and despite her friendship with Annie Pétain, the “Marshal,” my grandmother sympathized with the Gaullists and participated in anti-German Resistance. She was in contact with the ORA (Organization de Résistance de l’Armée) of the Basque Country, along with her friend, Dr. Alberto Anguera Angles, from Irune, who was in charge of routing messages of those escaping from France.

The other branch of my family, the paternal one, was Béarnaise, from Pau and Orthez. My paternal grandfather was a Catholic Republican, a non-commissioned officer who was one of the most decorated soldiers of the First World War. Handicapped by the war, he settled in Hendaye in 1919, with his wife and four children as a tobacconist and bookseller. His son, my father, was born in Hendaye six months later.

My father was a great athlete, who was four times French pelota champion in the 1930s and 1940s, with the long bat (pala larga) and in the plaza libre (court). My paternal family was then divided between the stalwarts of Marshal Pétain (my grandfather), and the supporters of Charles de Gaulle (his four sons, among whom were my father and my godfather). The oldest of my grandfather’s sons was seriously injured at Dunkirk.

All these family memories made me understand very early that history is not Manichean, that it is always made of light and dark, that there are no absolute good and bad, that there are no so-called historical or democratic justices as peddled by the traffickers of hatred and resentment, who are miserable political puppets who live to play with fire.

LT: In your opinion, do more things unite or separate Basques and the Navarrese?

AI: To answer in detail it would be necessary to refer to the long history of the medieval Basque counties, the kingdom of Navarre, Spain, the Hispanic Empire and the French nation-state. These are topics that I address, albeit briefly, in the historical summary given in my book. I would of course be unable to summarize all these substantial issues in a few words. I concede that personally, despite my nationality, and due to my Spanish-French culture, I sympathize much more with the Hispanic Catholic Empire of Charles V and Philip II than with the Gallican-Catholic French nation-state of Richelieu, Louis XIII, Louis XIV and the Revolutionaries of 1789 and 1792. We already know that the “reason of state” of these French politicians was greatly influenced by Machiavelli and indirectly by the writings and attitude of the Protestants. That said, five, ten or fifteen centuries of common history cannot just be erased, manipulated, or misrepresented.

Now, if in your question you refer essentially to our own time, I will tell you that, paradoxically, there are more and more things that unite the Basques and Navarrese and less that separate them. But, beware! This does not mean that I fall into those independence or separatist dreams. What I think is happening is that both these peoples are losing their specificities and are gradually uniting – but unfortunately into nothingness, in the great meat-grinder of globalism.

Let me explain. At this point, we are all victims of globalization, consumerism, commercialism, demographic decline, multicultural individualism, the decline of religion and the Church and Christianity – all these many plagues that have shown themselves, in the long run, to be much more corrosive and deadly for both the Basques and the Navarrese (and also in general for all the peoples of Europe) than the “forty years of Franco’s dictatorship,” or the “Bourbon centralism of the 19th century,” or “French Jacobin centralism.”

It is true, thank God, that our lands (which have sometimes been marked by savage violence unworthy of human beings) have not endured the horrors of Nazism, or worse still (because of the sheer number of deaths) the monstrosities of Marxist-communist totalitarianism. In this, the radical nationalists are completely blind and are totally wrong as to who the enemy is. Torn apart by the hodgepodge of Marxist internationalism and what Americans call “cultural Marxism,” the radical, Abertzale left has become the perfect ally of hypercapitalism or globalist turbocapitalism. The two, globalists and nationalist-separatists, are tearing apart the best of the Navarrese and Basque values, the deepest roots of both peoples. In the background are two grips of the same vise.

LT: In your opinion, what does Euskara mean for the reality of Basques and Navarrese?

AI: It is an important factor, but not enough to define the entirety of Basque identity and reality. Just as important are ethnicity, demographics, culture, and history. There are Euskaldunak Basques, because they speak the Basque language. There are Euskotarrak Basques because they are ethnically defined as Basques, even though they express themselves in French or Spanish. And there are Basques who are Basque citizens because they reside in the Basque Country and love the Basque Country. In the Autonomous Community of Navarra, which is founded on a long and brilliant history of its own, it is another story: there are Basques who feel Basque and many Navarrese who are not and do not feel Basque.

What the Basque Government does to defend the Basque language seems to me to be quite successful, despite all the cartoonish and meaningless actions that have been taken against the Castilian language or – better said – Spanish, which is one of the two or three most widely spoken languages in the world. We already know that language is not enough. In addition to this, it should not be hidden, the results of the policies in favor of the Basque language are rather negligent. The reality is that there is no nation or country possible without a historical legacy, combined with consent and a will to exist on the part of the people. Nicolas Berdiaev and other famous European authors such as Ortega y Gasset spoke of unity or community of historical destiny. Well, without the harmonious combination of the historical-cultural foundation and the voluntarist or consensual factor, without these two factors, there can be no nation. And that is why there is no longer a true Spanish nation today, as there are no true nationalities or small nations within Spain today.

The same can be said of the rest of Western Europe, whose power is in clear decline, if we compare it to the current great powers. In France, it is very significant that a professional politician like Manuel Valls, who always believes he has an ace up his sleeve, has recently admitted that “French society is gangrenous, fractured by Islamism.” For this very reason, the Catalan authorities and Catalanists, who emphatically declare or hypocritically imply that they prefer North African immigration that does not speak Spanish, considering it more prone to learning Catalan, than a Catholic and Spanish-speaking Spanish-American immigration, are ignorant and incoherent. With them the days of fet Catala are numbered. At least, and for the moment, the immigrationist nonsense of the Catalanists does not seem to prevail so strongly among the radical Basque nationalist militants.

LT: How would you define the Navarrese feeling of identity?

AI: I think I have already answered in part. For me, Navarrismo is in the past; its hallmarks were Catholicism and traditionalism. It was the same as the Requetés, the red berets that my maternal grandfather admired so much and that today only exist in homeopathic doses. I would say the same about the figure of the noble, catholic, deep-rooted, hard-working and honest Basque of yesteryear.

It seems that the “elites,” the Basque and Navarrese oligarchy or political caste have chosen, I do not know if definitively or not, the path of harmonization and alignment with the values and presuppositions of globalism or alter-globalism (which does not matter), or of the so-called progressive transnationalism. They pretend to believe that the Basque and the Navarrese are defined only administratively or legally from a document or an identity card. It seems that they are eager to populate the future Basque and Navarrese territories with the homo economicus, asexual, stateless and phantasmagoric, so criticized in the past by the Basque-Spanish Unamuno, and by the most important figures of Basque nationalism.

If to this we add the ravages of the terrible demographic crisis, undoubtedly the worst in all of Spain and possibly in all of Western Europe, the prospects are not very encouraging. And, all the while, young Basques listen to Anglo-Saxon music, play “Basque rock,” eat hamburgers, consume drugs (young Abertzales more than anyone else), demand the opening of borders, immigration without limits, aggressive secularism, gender theory, transhumanism, hatred of the state and the history of the Spanish nation, and all the bullshit imported from American campuses. I could just say in French or English: “Grand bien leur fasse /Best of luck to them.” But I have the intimate and terrible conviction that if there is not a quick reaction against them, they will bring us a bleak, raw and bloody future in which our descendants will suffer.

LT: What do you think of Stanley Payne’s statement in the Prologue to your book, pointing out that “The Basque Country is the most unique region in Spain?” What are your feelings towards the Basque Country and towards Navarre?

AI: Stanley Payne belongs to that tradition of Anglo-Saxon historians who almost never lose their cool, or they say things with a certain degree of caution and balanced composure. He is a researcher and historian; but he is also a man and not a robot. That is why he opines, judges and interprets, although always with a certain sobriety and consideration. In the Prologue, he refers to the uniqueness of the Basque language, institutions and history (ignoring ethnicity). Now, he is American. I am not. And if I say that I agree with him when he says that “the Basque Country is the most unique region in Spain” many will say that this is due to my personal preference. Precisely as a result of that Prologue by Payne, a friend of mine, not without a sense of humor, wrote me: “This is very good, although I think that Galicians are more particular than Basques.”

In the book Vascos y Navarros I have tried to be as rigorous, honest and disinterested as possible. I have always thought that true objectivity does not lie so much in a hostile withdrawal, as in a kind of well-intentioned will that is capable of understanding and explaining the ideas of others without giving up one’s own reasons. That said, let me say and repeat here that, despite recent evolutions or regressions and the shortcomings of the pseudo or self-proclaimed Basque-Navarrese political “elites,” the Basque Country and Navarre are my favorite lands.

LT: How do you see the recent history of the Basque Country and Spain from the point-of-view of the French Basque Country?

AI: Partisanship, ignorance or disinterest, not only of the majority of the French but also of the majority of French politicians and journalists, for the history and politics of the Basque Country and Navarre, and more generally for Spain in its entirety – is abysmal, unfathomable. The trend is slightly different in the French Basque Country due to the proximity of the border and the presence of a weak but not insignificant Basque nationalist electorate, representing 10% to 12% of the general electorate. Generally, many feel Basque, but as in the rest of France, most are disinterested in the history and politics of the peninsula, unless a momentous event occurs. As for the small Basque nationalist minority in the north, they tirelessly recycle Hispanophobic clichés, although they sometimes fear being swallowed up by their powerful brothers to the south.

In my case, I have not surrendered. With the help of a handful of young and veteran French historians and courageous editorials, I continue and will continue to explain, denounce and refute black legends, misconceptions, censored data, instrumentalized facts and Hispanophobic nonsense, spread by the ignorant, the wicked and, unfortunately, by a good part of the Basque, Navarrese and Spanish political caste.

The image shows, “Landscape Of The Basque Country,” by Charles Lacoste, painted in 1925.

The Spanish version of this appeared in La Tribuna del Pais Vasco. Translation by N. Dass.